How to ref the Russian Box of Death like a boss

As is understandable with any brand new set of rules, the New Russian Box of Death has been causing chaos with refereeing. Uncertainty will probably hang around for years before consistent conventions manage to shake themselves out.

But from the noise, some rather lovely patterns are already starting to emerge:

All of the calls in this video are from the men’s sabre team final between Korea and Italy in Gyor. Unfortunately, we have been unable to identify the referees, but the job they’re doing here is impressive. Calls are clear, consistent and razor-sharp.

Critically, they appear to be mostly mitigating the perils of the closer distance: that fencers are just going to run into each other with no margin for error. There’s one nasty guard-clash, but at least there’s no knee clashes (which is more than can be said for earlier rounds).

The upshot:

  • Attacks are being split very, very finely, but consistently. It didn’t feel like the refs were just calling things at random to avoid simultaneous hits.
  • It does appear that it is easier to separate actions in the closer distance, where there’s less time for the fencers to bluff.
  • Priority at the start is being awarded to attacks with early and aggressive direct extension of the weapon.
  • Any kind of holding, hesitation or pulling of the weapon is being heavily penalised. This is leading to a huge increase in the number of calls of preparation/attack.
  • Point hits > direct cuts to head > direct cuts to low line > cutovers  > indirect hits to low line
  • Very small hesitations or decelerations are being called “attack no”. You can’t just bolt forward off the line, slow down, and maintain priority.
  • However, if you do make your opponent fall short on their initial attack, you need to move forward immediately to claim priority. Any hesitation will allow the original attacker to take over.
  • Attack was being called very liberally on actions where the attacker landed the foot before hitting, as long as the defender was in range and looked like they were unsuccessfully fishing for any parry (including parry 3).

This all added up to fencers committing early, extending blade early, hitting from greater distance and reducing the number of collisions. The match was fast and fluid, with plenty of spectacular exchanges.

Overall, we now have a clear idea of how Russian Box of Death should be refereed. If this is going to be the new convention, we’re looking forward to where it leads.

Also we still get plenty of over-the-top victory posing, which after all is what sabre is all about.
And we still get plenty of over-the-top victory posing, which after all is what sabre is all about.
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Learning to love the Russian Box Of Death

Welcome to the new order!

We’ve had our first major events in the New Russian Box of Death*, with start lines at 3 meters. The first was a mess in almost every respect, unless you’re a fan of fencers crashing into each other repeatedly at high speed. It was pretty much exactly what all the nay-sayers, including us, had feared.

The second was an unexpected joy.

One of the clearest explanations for the new distance was given last year by Stanislav Pozdnyakov, who argued that it would reduce the importance of “growth and special physical condition”.  It was highly amusing, then, when the World Cup in Gyor was won by a 195cm Korean with the physique of a comic-book superhero.

If you asked us to find an illustration of the phrase “growth and special physical condition”, it would pretty much be this.

After trying to wing it in Dakar, with predictably miserable results, the Korean squad had a much happier outing in Hungary, having rapidly adapted their signature idiosyncratic style to the new conditions.

The comp as whole was a fantastic display of fast, powerful, athletic sabre, thus demonstrating an important principle we’d kind of suspected, but not been able to prove:

The speed genie is out of the bottle: sabre won’t be slowed down.

Reducing the distance limits the usefulness of the lazy momentum hacks we’ve all been using for years to gain range in the 4 meters. Just as planned, it’s broken the Gu Bon Gil Special. But it hasn’t broken Gu Bon Gil, and it really hasn’t broken his younger and larger colleague.

It turns out that if you remove the lazy momentum hacks, the athletes are just going to compensate with more raw power. The energy efficiency drops, but the speed remains the same.

And this is excellent news. Slow sabre is boring sabre. The New Russian Box of Death has indeed brought us more spectacularity, if possibly not as its creators originally intended.

The main downside is that the Russian Box Of Death has been quite frequently living up to its name:

We’ll be following up with some preliminary notes on the refereeing trends we’ve seen (and liked) tomorrow!

*Author’s note: All articles from November 2016 onwards referring the “Russian Box of Death” are referring to the newer “clarified” version, with start lines market at 3m instead of 4m. The original rule referred to by the term in our older articles involved a start distance of approximately 2m, and remains a vile and absurd abomination which thankfully never saw the light of day. Our position on that remains unchanged.