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.