What Is Right Of Way In Fencing?

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There’s one rule in fencing that seems to be a bit of a learning curve for some people, and if you’ve tried to learn fencing, you may know a bit about it.

If you’ve ever seen two fencers touch at the same time and one get a point, you may have been like “What? Why? Where? How?”

No worries, we’ve all been that confused.

In reality, the reason why one fencer gets the point while the other doesn’t is a lot simpler than some people make it out to be. The reason for this is the “right of way rule”, also known as “priority”.

Now, in order to fully understand this rule, we need to know why it even exists. It may seem unnecessary.

The terms “right of way” and “priority” are interchangeable, so call it whichever you prefer, and try not to get confused if you hear both terms.

The Right of Way Rule, What is it?

The right of way is a rule set to help determine which fencer gets the point, when both players score a touch at the same time, and is usually given to the player who attacks first.

Firstly, you should know that this rule doesn’t exist in epee matches, where both players score a point if they touch at the same time. It only applies to foil and sabre.

Once both players make the touch, the action is put to a halt and the referee decides which fencer deserves priority.

Not only does the right of way rule help determine who gets a point when both fencers make a simultaneous touch, but it enforces good, aggressive fencing from both players.

This is one of the few rules we actually don’t mind following since it’s what brings action to the game of fencing.

Let’s face it, without both fencers fighting for priority, all of fencing would look like an epee match… Moving on!

The need for both players to have priority is what causes fencers to want to make the first attack, rather than play the waiting game, as seen in many epee matches.

How To Get Priority In Fencing

To attain priority, a fencer should be playing more aggressively, and generally better than the opposing fencer. This is different in every competition. It’s all in the opinion of the referee.

But this is a general guideline most fencers follow when fencing, and gaining the right of way.

Any movement or action that clearly shows intent to land a touch, will get you priority. Anything from a lunge, to simply pointing your sword to your opponent can get you priority, as long as the move is more aggressive than what your opponent is doing. Just make the first attack!

How To Get Priority In Fencing

However, a sloppy attempt on certain moves can help you lose priority. For example, if you lunge at your opponent without stretching your arm out first, you likely won’t gain priority from this move.

Another way to get priority is to parry an opponent’s attack. If you do choose to play defensively, there’s still hope for gaining the right of way. A simple parry will get you the priority. But don’t let the parry go to waste.

Fencing Parry

You may lose priority if you don’t counter the parry with a riposte attack. After you hit your opponent’s blade away, immediately counter with an attack. Why wouldn’t you riposte anyway? Now would be the perfect time to strike.

Sometimes a phrase (sequences of movements) of parry and ripostes can last a while before a fencer scores or backs out.

Priority is one of the rules that make the counterattack so important after parrying. 

Why Do I Want Priority?

Why would I want priority? All it means is that I’m the more aggressive fencer. You might be thinking this, which you shouldn’t be! Because the right of way is more important than that.

You want priority, because countless times, you and your opponent will simultaneously touch. The best way to ensure you get the point is to be aggressive. Point your blade at your opponent as often as you can, it’s that easy!

Unless you plan on parrying and riposting your opponent’s attack, you’d want to be aggressive anyway. So knowing good form, and how to exaggerate movements in ways that convince the judges that you intend to attack, you’ll end up getting the point. 

A good fencer gets the right of way. So why wouldn’t you want to be a good fencer?

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