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The Pain Train: Decsi (HUN) v Ibragimov (RUS)

We’re back! This time I’d like to just spend a few quiet minutes appreciating the force of nature that is Tamas Decsi’s long attack. Based on post-match interviews with people who’ve fenced him, I understand that in terms of sheer lethal inevitability, it’s somewhere between a pouncing Siberian tiger and an oncoming avalanche.

What a way to close a bout.

Let’s look at some more in slow motion, just because we can:

Ibragimov was not happy.

No escape.

Goodness me, what is he doing with his feet here. He’s a good Hungarian boy, he can’t possibly be crossing.

Not that it matters: That attack is as terrifying as the irreversible passage of time.

The full match is here. Bout of the tournament.

What do you want from us: A calibration tool for 4m refereeing in the 2014/15 season

We’ve made a new video:

Our philosophy is simple: Refereeing is an exercise in pattern recognition. The written rules tell you nothing, and you can’t learn refereeing from theory. Watch what’s actually happening on the current FIE circuit, learn to see the patterns, and apply them in your own practice.

We’ve put together a compilation of tough calls from the 2014/15 season, grouped by type, to help our refs keep their eye in. Hope it’s helpful!

As always, big thanks to CyrusofChaos for footage.

The background:

  1. You need to understand what both fencers are trying to do. The difference between Attack/Counterattack and Preparation/Attack cannot be reduced to “x did y with their hand”. You must be able to see and recognise what both fencers are attempting, and whether they succeed.
  2. Attempts to classify or explain priority involving specific elements such as “foot takes priority over hand” (or whatever) are doomed to fail, as they will rapidly be gamed by fencers trying to play the rules rather than the spirit of the sport.
  3. To prevent this, the interpretation of the rules changes frequently. This is a considered policy decision from the FIE, not random fads. To ignore or reject changes in interpretation means you are no longer playing the same sport.

Actual concrete training advice:

  1. Watch current FIE matches. Watch them often. Make the calls before the ref does, and compare your accuracy. Assume that what the FIE ref calls is correct unless you have very, very good reason to think otherwise.
  2. To get the feel for the patterns in the first place, follow these steps:
    • Watch close points several times. Watch once at full speed, looking in the middle. Call it. See if you agree with the ref. Watch again, focusing on left and what they’re trying to do. Watch again, focusing on right and what they’re trying to do. Watch again from the centre.
    • A couple of hours of this should give you a decent eye.
    • Take this new eye to your next training session and apply it rigorously to the bouts you see. Do not let fencers push you around.
    • For training purposes, video bouts you ref and review them later, once any emotions have cooled.
    • Repeat step 1 every tournament, with at least a couple of bouts by different refs. Make any adjustments necessary to your calls.

This assumes you already know the basic decision-making process for deciding calls in the 4m. Our guide to that is below. The steps above are for those nasty bits in blue, like “Does one person attack first?”

Basic sabre refereeing by Sydney Sabre

Why does any of this matter? Why can’t I just be cautious and call “simultaneous actions” whenever it’s close?

If refs don’t see and reward attacks over preparations, the entire tactical dynamic of the game is broken. Attack can defined in the most elemental terms as taking a risk. If that risk is not rewarded over the inherently more adaptable position that is preparation, none of the tactics of sabre will work. The game will degenerate into a couple of dudes just running at each other and screaming a lot. This will be incredibly familiar to anyone from anywhere with bad sabre referees.

For sabre to be the beautiful, dynamic and fluid sport it should rightly be, the referees must see and reward the attack. Good refereeing is essential for good sabre.

Sudden Death: Montano (ITA) v Wagner (GER)

The Moscow Grand Prix was on the weekend, and boy, was it something.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many extraordinarily tight 14-14 matches in one tournament before. We’ll be taking a look at some of the best bits over the next week, but I only have time today for one hit. This little beauty was the first one of the night to leave my jaw on the floor:

The most exciting thing to come out of this whole event is that OMG, the FIE have actually done their job and posted every single match, edited and searchable, on the FIE Video YouTube channel, which means I don’t have to spend 12 hours doing it for them. Hooray!

More of this, please!

Do not pass go: Limbach (GER) v Homer (USA)

We return to our regular segment: Nicolas Limbach Parries Things.

It’s fair to say that Daryl Homer is known for his flunge off the line. It’s a shock-and-awe move. It blindsides the best on the circuit.
Limbach wasn’t having a bar of it. We usually feature flashy, crazy, nutball 1% moves, but this right here is pretty much the opposite extreme. This is the benchmark in how to take quarte parry right:

Oh, I’m sorry, were you using that sword?

The rest of the match is pretty killer as well. Go watch it.

I’m going to stop you right there: Montano (ITA) v Limbach (GER) and Szatmari (HUN)

Skyhooks, draw cuts, whatever you want to call the: after falling off the radar for a couple of seasons, they’re now as trendy in sabre as beards.

Aldo Montano can usually be relied on for a little flair, and he wasn’t letting anyone down in Seoul. We’ve previous looked in some detail at his bout with Limbach in the 16, but the drama in that bout wasn’t all about refereeing. There was also some epic sabre to be had:

I know it’s hardly an original observation,  but jeez that guy moves nicely.

He’d done a test deployment in the previous round, where it made Andras Szatmari very sad:

The match was classy as hell, right up to the part where Montano punches Szatmari in the face:

Slick moves.

Things kind of escalated after that. It’s all up on CyrusofChaos, and is worth a look. There’s plenty of drama here as well, although not quite as good as the next round against Limbach. Szatmari is well and truly fired up, which to be fair often happens after you get punched in the face.

Just like the old days: Oh (KOR) v Berrè (ITA)

Well, I lasted a whole two days without posting any Koreans. Then I watched Oh Eunseok v Enrico Berrè at Madrid.

I’m just going to leave this here. Pure, absurd, quintessential Oh. Berrè pulls some pretty crazy moves here as well. It’s just a fabulous hit.

It fills me with delight to see Oh back on his game again. I speculated last year that the return of his old coach could lead to a late-career revival: I didn’t seriously think that it would happen. But here we are.

Full match is up on CyrusofChaos:


There’s been enough good stuff from Oh recently for me to finally complete my video cycle on the Korean Big 4.

Don’t turn up the bass or your house will fall down.

Serious Business: A cautionary tale on the role of the referee

I’d like to address an issue in referee training which been recently highlighted in my club, but which I am sure has broader applications.

Much ink has been spilled and much angst expended on technical elements of referee training. This is a fine and noble thing. Incompetent, biased or inconsistent refereeing can break the game. However, undue emphasis on the difficulty and subjectivity of refereeing raises a second set of problems which can be equally dangerous.

Let’s turn for illustration to a aggression-laden bout from the 2015 Seoul Grand Prix:

The real fun starts about 11 minutes in. Its roots originate in the high-pressure nature of the Olympic qualification season, where the lack of a men’s sabre team event at Rio means that for the big nations, everything hinges on a handful of individual events for critical ranking points.

The more immediate problem, though, lies with the referee. And it’s not technical. The calls are fine. There’s nothing particularly controversial about any of them. The truth is that sabre refereeing is really not all that complicated: if you ignore all the shouting and drama and debates, it’s an exercise in pattern recognition. It’s a sport with rules and conventions, and the job of the ref is to effectively and consistently apply them. This referee does a perfectly adequate job of that.

What he is unable to do is to control the bout.

It’s often said that there are three people in a fight, and you can’t beat the ref. What this case graphically demonstrates is that in reality, you can. You can undermine and stress and rattle the referee until their confidence wavers, then exploit that weakness to lobby harder than ever. As their ability to make calls falters, a feedback loop is generated.

It is not the role of the referee to be engaging in debate with the fencers in the middle of a match, but that’s what’s going on here from about the fifth minute, and it’s a disaster. The fencers realise they can act out with impunity, and the situation degenerates as they (and their coaches) expand their challenges to the ref’s authority.

It’s natural to want to avoid rocking the boat too much, but when you have a situation where a coach walks onto the piste and demands that the match be stopped because he has no confidence in the decisions,  even when the coach is as senior as Szabo, a line needs to be drawn.

I am not intending to cast scorn on this particular referee, who was dealing with a hideous situation as best he could. While fully qualified, he’s not one of the big-name refs, and he was up against two World Champions, each on the raggedy edge of qualification for the Olympic Games, each with a powerful coach and a large and rowdy camp of supporters behind him. This match serves as a cautionary tale on the too-often unacknowledged importance of discipline and resolve by referees, and the difficulties they can face in maintaining control.

Everyone loves to bitch and moan about referees who are capricious tyrants, but the opposite extreme is just as destructive. We need to kill the cliche that refereeing is a fundamentally subjective exercise, open to personal interpretation. Consistency and professionalism are being built at FIE level, and need to be encouraged and protected from the base.

Limbach v Montano referee
That, and referees should be given tasers.

More of this kind of thing: Limbach (GER) v Rousset (FRA)

Ok, let’s just get this out of the way first. Are we done? We’re done.


I’m going to start this post with a confession.

Officially, we’ve been absent for ages because we’ve been crazy busy with club stuff and migrating the blog to a new host. But that’s not the real reason I didn’t post anything from the Seoul Grand Prix.

When Junghwan Kim, the last Korean standing by the round of 8, got his second red card for crossing feet and was then knocked out of the tournament on a dirty counterattack from Rousset, I may have thrown something at the television and stormed off like the partisan fangirl I am. I saw the final was Rousset v Limbach and made numerous rude remarks about how I’d rather watch paint dry.

Turns out I’m an idiot, and the final was fantastic. And not just because of the exuberant French and German cheer squads in the stands, displaying the kind of spectator engagement fencing could generally do with more of.

It was a bravura display of ballsy and flamboyant defense from Limbach, who was showing a flair I’d never previously associated with him. He’s still not exactly the most graceful fencer I’ve ever seen, but the combination of precision footwork, hilarious range and exuberant creativity is spectacular.

In that vein, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you our first installment in the new Epic Sabre series:

Epic Sabre Seoul Edition: Nicolas Limbach Parries Things


To quote Andrew Fischl: “Yeah, let’s start like that.”

Lovely bit of countertime. Won Wooyoung would approve.

“Was that a prime? That was totally a prime.” Yes, yes it was. Off a feint seconde.  Anyway, we know who won that sword fight.

Neat. Effective.

Who does prime twice in one match? Limbach, that’s who. Very nearly very awesome, but unfortunately off the strip.

Anyway, then he got sick of prime and decided to go even further down the list of 1% moves.

That, kids, is a classy way to win a grand prix. I suspect point-in-line is easier when you have the kind of wingspan typically associated with exotic Soviet-era cargo aircraft, but still.

Here’s the full match, also featuring a truly vicious counterattack from Rousset, an enthusiastic audience and typically wry commentary from Mr Fischl.

I promise we’ll be back with more in less than 3 months.

Tomorrow in fact.