Tournament Rules

Tournament Rules

The following tournament rules are used by Northwest Fencing Academy to train fighters, and for tournament play.  We used these rules successfully for the Accolade Tournament Finals at Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium in February 2013, and we will use them for the upcoming tournament finals at Western Martial Arts Workshop.

Tournaments provide a valuable platform for fighter to test their skill, courage and character, and they also provide a platform for attribute training under stressful conditions.  The goals of tournaments can vary widely: for some, pure sport is the objective, while for others strict fealty to martial tradition is paramount, and there is a vast middle ground where the goals may be mixed.  These are all laudable goals, but they share in common a need to define clearly to the participants the goals and the conditions – the rules – which are set out in support of the tournament goals.  And ultimately a majority of the participants must share the goals for the tournament to be successful.

Like any system of rules, it has its limitations, and we don’t promote it as the ultimate set of rules.  In fact, we vary among different rulesets in our training so that we can use the rules to highlight and promote different aspects of the arts and the manner in which we train them.  For example, pool bouts are frequently fought under a simpler system where fighters are scored on five landed blows (eg the first five exchanges where a blow is landed).  In this simpler system, each blow is worth a single point, and double hits are not scored but count towards the final tally.  Thus, if a bout has two doubles, it will score as 1-2 or 0-3.  Since fighters advance to the finals based on total number of points scored, doubles have a severe negative impact on their potential for advancement.

I would like to acknowledge the Longpoint Tournament Rules created by Jake Norwood, on which I based the weighted scoring system portion of the rules below.

-Sean Hayes, Northwest Fencing Academy


The goal of this set of rules is to provide a framework for fighters to employ good historical and martially correct technique, to give officials a clean and consistent method to evaluate the fighters, and to provide immediate feedback through the refereeing to the fighters and to the spectators.  It is not intended to simulate a “real” or antagonistic fight, as the combination of protective gear, blunt swords and friendly play rules out such a scenario.  The rules will use a combination of judging by Priority of Action that is used in classical fencing, which is designed to promote clean, martially correct technique; and a Weighted Scoring System.

Priority of Action

Classical fencing uses a system referred to as “Priority of Action.”  This system analyses each action of a given exchange between the fencers and assigns them priority based on the time in which the actions were performed, as well as basic correctness of each action.  Using the classical method as a base, all actions are classed in priority order as follows:

Point in Line
Definition: The fighter has placed the point in line with and directed at the opponent, arms extended, as in the Italian Posta Longa or the German Langenort.

A fighter who attacks into the point in line must either displace or avoid the hostile blade when attacking.  He or she must not be struck by it in the tempo of the attack.  If the fighter holding the point in line retracts the weapon in reaction to the attack, priority is lost and shifts to the attack.  If the attacker, when attempting to deflect the point in line, fails to find it, the right of attack passes to his opponent.

The attack is the initial offensive action made by extending the arms and threatening the adversary with point or cut, immediately followed by the foot or body movement that carries the attack forward to the adversary.  All attacks must be parried (defended against with the weapon) or completely avoided with the body.  Any actions made with bent or retracted arms do not count as attacks with priority, but as Preparatory Actions (“Preparations”) and are subject to the offensive, defensive, or counteroffensive action of the adversary.  However, if a fighter responds to a Preparation as if it was an attack (such as by making a defensive movement), the preparation will be treated as an attack by the referee.

Attacks may be simple (executed in a single movement of the weapon) or compound (executed in two or more movements of the weapon).  In order to judge the correctness of an attack the following points must be considered:

1. The simple attack, direct or indirect, is correctly executed when the extending of the arm, the point or cut threatening the valid target, precedes the initiation of the forward movement of the body (advance, pass or lunge).

2. The compound attack is correctly executed when the arm is extending in the presentation of the first feint, with the point or cut threatening the valid target, and the arm does not retract between the successive actions of the attack and the initiation of the advance, pass, or lunge.

The parry is the defensive action made with the weapon to prevent that attack from arriving.  A correctly executed parry nullifies the attacker’s priority; priority shifts to the defender provided the offensive response is executed immediately and without delay.  If a defender parries but fails to respond immediately, the attacker may reclaim priority with a renewed offensive action.

Note: if an attack is completely avoided with a movement of the body, the attacker loses priority as if he had been parried.  If the defender immediately responds with an offensive action of his own, he has priority.

The counterattack is an offensive action that intercepts the attack and nullifies it while at the same time striking the attacker, or in which the counterattacker’s body completely avoids the attack while simultaneously striking the attacker.  It is not simultaneous with but is in response to the attack. A counterattack only has priority if the counterattacker is not hit.

Simultaneous Actions That Result in Double Hits
If both fighters attack at the same time and both strike a blow or thrust, the actions of both are nullified (see Scoring below for penalties).  If only one fighter strikes, the referee may award points to that fighter.

If the fighter who is struck delivers an afterblow in the immediately following tempo, taking no more than a single movement of foot, then an afterblow is counted and weighed.  Afterblows by definition never have priority; they are in essence “revenge shots” inflicted upon the adversary.  See Weighted Scoring below for the scoring of afterblows.

The Roles of the Referee, Judges, and Fighters

The Referee, judges and fighters all have specific roles to play in overseeing and administering the tournament.

The role of the fighters is engage each other with clean, correctly executed technique, so that the officials can easily arrive at a determination of the actions exchanged.  It is not the role of the officials to sort out messy, inconclusive play.  The fighters only stop fighting if the Referee calls “Hold!”

The referee oversees the fight, sees that play is safely conducted, monitors the judges, calls out the priority of actions in the exchange between the fighters, polls the judges for their opinions on each individual action, and awards points.  The referee also plays a role in assessing quality of actions and points award should the judges be in disagreement; see Voting below.

There are four judges.  The judges watch the fighters, keep track of the number of actions exchanged, and observe hits on the fighters.  Two judges on opposite sides of the field are assigned to watch each fighter to see if the fighter receives a hit. When a judge sees a hit, he or she immediately raises a hand and calls loudly, “Contact!”  Further actions are then taken by the referee; seeing Conduct of the Bout and Voting below.

The timekeeper keeps track of time and the score.  The clock is started with the referee’s command of “Begin!” and stopped when the referee calls “Hold!”  Only actual fighting time is counted; the time required to adjudicate is not counted.


The entire body is valid target.  No differential point values are assigned based on location of the blow or thrust.

Weighted Scoring System for Blows

Any individual action is assessed, in sequence, for Contact, Form, Control and afterblow.  Judges are encouraged to be conservative in their assessments.

Contact – 0, 1 or 2 points

All blows will be assessed by the appropriate judges and assigned a point value based on the judge’s perception of the quality of the blow.  If uncertain they should abstain (see Voting below).

  • 0 Points
    The blow either missed or was deemed by the judges to be flat or otherwise of little consequence
  • 1 Point
    The blow struck and the contact was significant but not necessarily strong.
  • 2 Points
    The blow struck and made solid contact: a well-placed thrust or a cut with pressure on the blade.

Form – 0 or 1 Point

If a blow is deemed to have made Contact (ie it was awarded 1 or 2 points), it is then assessed for Form.  If the action was performed with good body mechanics and timing, and left the fighter in a balanced, mobile, and tactically viable position, he or she is awarded a single additional point.  If the fighter is in an awkward or unbalanced posture, or appeared to have struck wildly, this point is not awarded.  If uncertain judges should abstain (see Voting below).

Control of the Adversary’s Weapon – 0 or 1 Point

If in the opinion of the judges the blow also controlled the adversary’s weapon, leaving him or her unable to make a response in the next tempo, and additional point is awarded.  If there is an afterblow (see below), then by definition this point is not awarded.  If uncertain they should abstain (see Voting below).

Control may be an opposition action, where the adversary’s blade is contained by edge, flat, or crossguard, or it may be the result of a beating action, where the adversary’s blade is driven clear of the attacker during the tempo of the hit and the instant following.  In this last action, the adversary is unable to strike an afterblow due to loos of weapon control by the attacker’s action.


If a fighter is deemed to have struck an afterblow (see above for the definition of an afterblow), the blow is assessed solely for quality of contact.  If the afterblow is determined to be a well-placed and substantial hit with point or cut, then it subtracts one point from the attacker’s score.  An afterblow can never reduce the attacker’s score more than a single point, and must make solid contact to accomplish even that.  Judges are encouraged to be conservative in assessing the quality of the afterblow.

Note:  Mere contact on the part of the person executing the afterblow is NOT sufficient to reduce the attacker’s score.  The afterblow MUST be a well-placed and substantial hit with point or edge.

Additional Scoring Considerations

Several other historical techniques may result in a score.

Pommel Strike
A pommel strike that sets up a cut, thrust, grapple or takedown is awarded an additional point above and beyond any other points awarded, provided the follow-on technique is performed immediately, and subject to all other rules regarding Priority and afterblows.

A Grapple that results in one fighter having a distinct advantage over the other that is achieved within 5 seconds (a slow count of five by the Referee) is awarded a single point.

A Grapple that results in a takedown within the 5 second grappling period, and results in definitive control of the adversary with a stable and dominant position of the fighter executing the takedown, is an immediate victory condition.

Shown the Door
A fighter who forces another off the Field of Play is awarded a single point.  If this happens during the course of an exchange of blows between the fighters, the exchange is adjudicated as normal, and the additional point awarded.

Disallowed Techniques
Strikes with an armoured fist, such as a steel or mailed gauntlet, are not allowed.

Field of Play

The field of play is determined in part by available space.  A minimum 20’ x 20’ square, clearly marked, is suggested.  The referee will take the field with the fighters, and the judges stay at the edges and just outside the field.

Conduct of the Bout

Combatants are placed at opposite corners of the field.  The referee will ask the judges if they are ready to proceed; upon confirmation the fighters will be instructed to salute.  Fighters salute first each other, and then the officials and spectators on the right, followed by officials and spectators on the left.  The referee places the combatants on guard and asks if they are ready.  Silence gives assent.  The referee then calls “Fight!”  If a judge raises a hand and calls “Blow!” in a loud, clear voice. The referee stops the phrase within one tempo of the judge’s call by calling “Halt!”  The fencing phrase is called, priority determined, and the judges polled for their votes on each action in sequence.  If an action is determined to have landed, it is assessed progressively for Contact, Form, and Control.  If an action is determined to have not landed, judging progresses to the next action in order of Priority.  Following the decision the fighters are placed back on guard in their opposite corners.  This continues until either time runs out or a score of 6 points is earned by one of the fighters.

Points for Victory

Bouts are fought to 6 points.


Bouts are fought to three minutes actual fighting time, or to 6 points, whichever comes first.  The clock is started when the referee calls “Fight!” and stopped when the referee calls “Halt!”

Calling the Phrase

Following the halt, the referee reconstructs the fencing exchange using the conventions described in Priority of Action, above.  The referee then polls the appropriate judges on each action in turn, until an action in the sequence is determined to have scored.  Votes are conducted and points are assigned as outlined in Voting and Point Totals, below.  The final step is to determine if an afterblow was struck, and adjust the score as necessary.


Each judge has several options when voting.  In answer to any question, the judge can state Yes, No, or Abstain. Yes is a positive vote that means the judge is willing to award points.  No is a negative vote that means the judge is unwilling to award points.  Abstain means that the judge cannot be certain and does not vote.  If a judge abstains on a question, he abstains on all questions following.  Thus, if a judge abstains on the question of Contact, he does not get to vote on Form or Control.  If he votes on Contact but abstains on Form, he cannot vote on Control.

Conflicting Judgements

Each judge’s vote is weighed as “one vote,” and the referee’s vote is weighted as “one and a half votes.”  Thus two judges who agree with each other cannot be countermanded by the referee.  If two judges disagree, with one voting Yes and one voting No, the referee can vote either Yes or No and carry the decision.  If one judge has a vote of either Yes or No, and the other judge abstains, the referee can overrule the single judge.  If the judges are in conflict and the referee abstains, the action is assumed not to have hit.  If both judges and the referee abstain, the action is also assumed not to have hit.

In answer to the question, “Did this action hit?” a judge may state one of the following: “Yes, 1,” “Yes, 2,” “No, 0,” or “Abstain.”

When asked to assess Form, a judge may state one of the following: “Yes, 1,” “No, 0,” or “Abstain.”

When asked to assess Control of the adversary’s weapon, a judge may state one of the following: “Yes, 1,” “No, 0,” or “Abstain.”  Note that if the referee has determined that an afterblow was struck, this question will not be voted on.

When asked to assess if an afterblow was of sufficient quality to be counted, a judge may state one of the following: “Yes,” “No” or “Abstain.”

Point Totals
The sum of all points awarded is awarded to the fighter.  If the fighter was struck by an afterblow, a single point is subtracted from the total.


3 comments on “Tournament Rules

  1. Finally, some Historical European Fencers who are not confused as to what is a strike, or for that matter, what they mean to achieve in a tourney. I applaud your rules. And it is good to see that you asked our good peer Norwood to share his insights.

    However, a few concerns, maybe you would explain:

    Priority of Action: Why this? Why care that it was part of “classical fencing”? What does it help to do?

    Judge Abstains: Do you not think this gives judges a cop-out? And what if a judge has personal bias against a given fencer? He could simply mask his bias by (all pun intended) judicial use of abstaining.

    Field of Action: Should not a minimum area be larger, like 30 ft X 30 ft ? I thought I read somewhere that was an accepted historical minimal standard (sorry, cannot find that source presently…). It just seems better.

    Eisenfaust: Why the prohibition of ye olde armoured fist-punch? Surely it was historically known. I am unsure how that is any more dangerous than smiting foe with your blunt Feder. Do you mean not to punch foe in his bare face or what?

    In summary, though, it seems a very good set of rules. And I say that as a known critic of the whole developing tourney scene. However, I do wish you good luck and enjoyment at your tourneys!

  2. Jeffrey,

    Thanks for taking the time to reply. I’m travelling and typing this on a moble, so I can’t necessarily be as responsive or complete as I would like.

    Classical fencing and sport fencing is simply where the priority rules originate. I mention that to make clear that I didn’t make them up out of whole cloth. As I also mention, these rules make NO attempt to simulate a “real” fight, something that IMO can’t be done unless it’s an antagonistic scenario with sharps blades and the real possibility or crippling injury or death.

    If a judge wants to cheat, no rules system can prevent a judge from cheating. And if I’m required to render a decision and I deliberatey lie, that’s cheating. Abstentions can occur for any number of good reasons, such as “I did my best but I just couldn’t see what happened and I am not going to guess.” If the trained and experienced judges can’t see the action, perhaps the fencers need to fence more clearly. Pick good people, train them well, and it should go just fine.

    Filed of action in these rules is limited by the size of my floor and a desire to not smash the mirrors that line one wall. 30×30 is fine – use what ever you like for what ever reasons you like; its all good.

    Armoured fist: I have seen an armoured fist (steel gauntlet) concuss and loosen the teeth of a combatant in a fencing mask, and even the maker of the Tindill masks so many of us use specifically does NOT recommend this use.

    Yes, there’s a risk to any of this. Steel fist and fencing mask is not one I will allow, but no one is required to use these rules just as I wrote them. And if it was a proper steel helm, that would be different: I’ve had poleaxe hafts broken over my steel helm; I’ve also taken shots with steel-tipped spears that knocked on my ass and bruised me severly in the chest; and at heavy sabre one of my stdudents had an elbow cup failure that left her arm numb and immobile from the elbow down for *hours.* We’ve all got stories, and regrettably there is no perfect safety system.

    People can do as they wish with these rules – use them, ignore them, dismiss them – it makes no difference to me. I use them because they promote things I find valuable in fencing. I also fight under different rules systems as well, because there’s nothing sadder than one trick pony fencer.

    I competed in sport epee for several years and enjoyed it very much – and there is no enforcement of Priority Rules. The joke is that all an epee ref doesn’t even have to know how to do is count accurately if there’s a scorekeeper on the strip as well. (We never get tired of that one.)

    But the concepts of priority, which were drilled into me with foil and sabre, where extremely valuable. Don’t get hit. If attacked, don”t get hit, avoid or defend instead. Or counterattack if you’re that good or he’s that bad. If your attack is parried and he’s not a duffere, he WILL riposte. Don’t get hit. Avoid or defend instead. Counterattack if you’re that good or he’s that bad….

    This trains things I want my fencers to do automatically. It also cleans up the fencing quite a lot. There’s more than one goal and more than one opinion about how to get to goals. And that’s just fine!

    Thanks again,


  3. Hello Sean:

    Everything you said has validity, and I appreciate that you spent time & energy to clarify.

    The explanation of priority was quite sensible, and indeed, I recall now that Mondschein helpfully explained it in similar fashion at HEMAA Forum too. So it is appreciated that guys like both of you do so.

    Lastly, I found this statement compelling:

    “As I also mention, these rules make NO attempt to simulate a “real” fight, something that IMO can’t be done unless it’s an antagonistic scenario with sharps blades and the real possibility [of] crippling injury or death.”

    It seems to me such realisation & distinction should hold more sway in the historical fencing world.

    BTW: Good luck to you in Eugene 🙂



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