Wait. What? There are instructions for how to watch fencing bouts? Not exactly, but there are definitely some things you can do — as a parent, friend, or even new fencer — to make the most out of your time watching others compete. Fencing isn’t necessarily as popular as other sports, so a lot of parents and supporters come to their first competitions unsure of what to expect and with little idea as to what will happen. 

Learn the General Rules

Most fencing bouts start with the same procedures. COmpetitors test their weapons, test their bell guards, and salute their swords from their starting lines before beginning. The majority of bouts will run until someone scores 5 points or for three minutes, whichever comes first. If there is a tie, the bout is extended by another minute. The referee can stop the bout to assess potential penalties, to address safety issues, when there is a touch, or for any other reason he deems necessary. 

There is usually a scoring machine you can use to keep track of hits, as they usually light up a competitor’s designated color when there is a hit. Some machines will also keep track of the total number of points or the time left in the match.

Understand Your Competitor’s Weapon

Everyone has to start somewhere, reading up on the type of weapon your child or loved one has chosen will help you with the more intricate details. While the basics of fencing are similar across the board, some of the rules change depending on if they are competing in foil, epee, or sabre. 

Be Respectful

It’s ok to be excited, especially when your fencer has made a hit or scored a point. Just remember to be respectful of those around you — in other words, celebrate with your fencer, and take the appropriate cues when they stop. You will often hear the fencers themselves yell when they make a hit, especially as they gain more experience. No matter what, you should avoid yelling to the fencers, giving instructions (that’s what their coaches are for), or being disruptive or rude to the referees. 

Doing a little homework in advance and staying focused during the competition will help you get the most out of your first fencing bouts. If in doubt, talk to your coach about what you can do to better see and understand what’s happening. The fencer in your life will really appreciate the enthusiasm you’re showing!