Separating attacks: Off the line with no stops – with examples

There are a lot of instances where both fencers make an attacking action at the same time and are looking for priority.

This post will deal with cases where:

  • Both fencers start moving forward at the same time
  • Neither fencer obviously stops
  • There is no blade contact

For making calls in other situations, such as actions not off the line, or if one fencer is retreating, or if there is a beat or a dodge, this post goes into more detail about these simpler calls.

Simultaneous Actions

To start with, we should ask the question – When should you call simultaneous?

Many beginner referees have a tendency to call “together” too often. If both fencers seem to start moving forward roughly the same time, it seems like a safe call, because you feel like you’re not robbing anyone of a point – however that’s not the case.

If one fencer is actually pulling the metaphorical trigger earlier and with more conviction than the other fencer, a simultaneous call is a bad call. That fencer is much more at risk against a defensive action – e.g. falling short, or a counter time type riposte. If they are not rewarded for committing, and the fencer who is holding back and hedging their bets with the possibility of a beat or something isn’t punished then both fencers will be incentivised to move forward slowly and merge every action, which is not going to be a fun bout to ref.

When should you call simultaneous?

Arguably, no action is truly simultaneous. If you go right down to the minute details, someone always starts microseconds ahead of their opponent, someone always commits slightly more, someone is always making a better action than the other person. Obviously the realities of human perception and the variance of subjectivity means that sometimes “you both looked the same” is a perfectly reasonable call.

However, understanding that a ref should endeavor to split actions if they can is a good place to start from. Knowing that, a simultaneous action should basically have no asymmetries. It should look like a mirror was placed between both fencers. Both fencers should commit very similarly, they both should accelerate at the same time, and they both should deliver the attack onto each other.

Simultaneous attacks

This action, both fencers make a step lunge at very similar speeds. Both fencers extend roughly the same amount. They both lunge at the same time. Simultaneous is a perfectly acceptable call here, and both fencers know it.

What should you use to separate actions?

Ultimately, the question is – “Who attacked first”. What the referee is generally looking for is commitment and intention – comparatively, which fencer committed and decide to commit and attack and which might have been holding back and hedging their bets a little bit more.

If both fencers are immediately moving forward, without stopping, off the line, there are some rules of thumb that can help indicate who actually was the attacker.

Who accelerated to the target first?
  • The fencer that ‘pulls the trigger’ first and accelerates to the target with the intention to touch in a single movement, is often the one who attacked first.
Who committed with their arm more / earlier?
  • Similar to the above, if one fencer really commits with the arm and delivers the touch, while the other fencer holds back, the fencer that holds back is sort of hedging their bets, maybe keeping the possibility of a parry. The fencer that actually goes to the target is the one who actually attacked first.
Who went more direct to the target?
  • Similar to holding back, if one fencer changes lines, while the other fencer goes direct, the fencer who delivered with the most conviction is generally rewarded with the attack.

None of these are strictly a rule, but good indicators to help determine who attacked first. A straighter arm, or a faster step off the line doesn’t mean anything if the fencer is not actually attacking with intention, which is fairly subjective but kinda easy to see.

Sometimes one fencer will try to do a ‘pretty’ or ‘technically correct’ attack, without any conviction, while the other fencer obviously planned to go and hit the other guy. The above rules of thumb help determine that, but aren’t the end all be all.


All of the following calls are clear – with at least 2 FIE refs agreeing with the call made in the video, and no disagreement.

Attack from the right

This action is incredibly clear. Despite the fact that the fencer on the left is objectively more attractive than the fencer on the right, it’s clearly attack from the right. Even though both fencers move forward off the line at the same time.

  • The fencer on the right accelerates to the target while the fencer on the left moves at a consistent speed
  • While both fencers come forward, the fencer on the right actually delivers the attack and lunges, while the fencer on the left kinda just moves forward
  • The fencer on the right extends their arm early while the fencer on the left doesn’t ever extend

This action is a no brainer. You could say that both fencers attacked, but the fencer on the right really attacked, while the fencer on the left just kinda hoped for priority.

One fencer accelerates to the target first

Attack from the right

In this action both fencers extend to the target and both fencers deliver the attack with a lunge that reaches, but the fencer on the right accelerates into their lunge first.

One fencer extends earlier / more clearly

Attack from the right

Both fencers accelerate towards each other roughly equally, but the fencer on the right clearly extends and delivers the lunge with an extended arm, while the fencer on the left delivers with a bent arm and kinda ‘walks-it-on’. Clearly attack from the right.

Attack from the left

This is very similar to the previous action, but from the other side. Both fencers accelerate towards each other roughly equally, but the fencer on the left clearly extends and delivers the lunge with an extended arm, while the fencer on the right delivers with a bent arm

One fencer changes lines

Attack from the left

Both fencer advance and lunge at the same time. However the fencer on the right changes lines, going from the outside to flicking to the chest. The fencer on the left just goes straight to the target, and is rewarded with the attack.

Other considerations

Some combination of the above

This is where it gets really tricky and there are no clear rules. If one fencer really extends, but doesn’t really accelerate and commit while the other fencer really accelerates with their feet but delivers with a bent arm, there are all sorts of gray areas that can exist. Referees will use their subjective judgement to decide which was more of an attack than the other persons.

Retreats, stops, beats, searches, pauses

Retreats, stops, beats, searches, pauses all don’t strictly change the rules about who is attacking – it’s still just a matter of who commits and attacks first – but it does add a layer of complexity which I hope to address in another post.

When fencers pause or stop, or if one is retreating and the distance could be larger or smaller than the space between them when they come on guard, then the dynamic can change and these rules of thumb might not necessarily apply.

For example, a straighter arm, nor a quick acceleration shouldn’t generally be used to excuse a retreat or dodge.

Once again, what a referee is looking for is “who really attacked first”. These rules of thumb help indicate that, but aren’t actually the definition of the attack, nor are they exclusively the things to watch for. Moreover, in practice the actual rulebook definition of the attack isn’t really the definition of the attack.

Some calls are very tight, but if you have the thought “who really attacked first” in your mind, calls like the examples given above should come quite easily.