Sunday, 5 October 2008

Rules, What Rules?

There are many reasons why fencing will never be quite as popular as football is: the expensive kit, the perceived danger (Look, it was just the one person in our club who got poked in the eye. Just once) the fact that it's not usually a big, shouty team sport.

Mostly though, I think it's down to the rules.

You watch the Olympics (presumably not on the BBC, since they showed about five minutes of fencing, none of it live) and I have to admit that even I'm guessing about whose hit it is. My friend Tim, who has somehow come to be worshipped by the Irish as the God of Presiding (we sent him over there to look through some telescopes... or something) can't work out whose hit it is. Even with the slow motion I can't work out whose hit it is consistently. How is anybody else supposed to?

The biggest problem isn't the over-complicated right of way rules, or in my own lack of knowledge (tommorrow I'll be stepping into a room where I've been fencing longer than almost anybody there has been alive) but one simple point: no one fences to the rules as they are written.

It's insane. The rules say that an attack shall last one unit of fencing time (basically one step). The presidents usually give it as lasting as long as the person continuously extends their arm. The rules say that an attack must threaten the target area, but when some respected coaches point out that the modern tendency to trail the arm below waist level (and yes, I'm guilty of this) doesn't threaten much of anything, they're shouted down. The rules make no mention of a defence through distance, but we still treat it as though there is (by giving the right of way to whoever has just made their opponent miss and look silly).

What other sport would do this? Would an American Football referee say 'I know it says ten yards in the rulebook, but I'm interpreting it as eleven?' Would a cricket umpire ignore the rule about where the bowler is allowed to deliver from, giving them the sort of advantage that sabre people are getting by extending an attack all the way down the piste?

More importantly, how am I supposed to go into fencing training tomorrow and explain all this to the group of newbies I'll get assigned while maintaining a straight face?

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