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.