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Know the Rules: What Happens in Non-Combativity

Rule: Pursuant to USA Fencing Rule t87.4., “halt” will be called by the referee when both fencers make clear their “unwillingness to fence.” The rule provides two criteria as to what constitutes “unwillingness to fence”: (1) “approximately” one minute of fencing without a touch, or (2) “excessive distance” for at least 15 seconds. The Non-Combativity Rule does NOT apply in Pool bouts — it only applies in Direct Elimination bouts (and team competition (see below)).

The consequences for Non-Combativity (some fencers call it “passivity” or “inactivity”) after a “halt” is called are the following: if Non-Combativity is called by the Referee (1) during either of the first 2 periods of DE, that period ends and the bout proceeds immediately to the next period without the one-minute rest period; (2) during the third period, that period ends and the the bout proceeds to a “last minute run-off.” A last-minute run-off is a full 60-second bout (or until one fencers reaches 15 touches), with priority determined before it, and the fencers fence in its entirety (with priority determining the winner if the score is tied).


Pool Bouts: The Non-Combativity Rule does NOT apply in Pool bouts. The referee should not call “halt” for inactivity in pool bouts!

“Approximately” 60 Seconds: It appears that the rules allow the referee to have some flexibility to allow actions to be completed right around the 60-second mark. Thus, just because 60-seconds has run in a sequence after “fence” does not mean the “halt” is automatic (i.e., the referee has to have called “halt” for there to be Non-Combativity (not just the fact that the 60-seconds ran out) and it may be a few seconds more than 60 seconds) — the fencer should not stop fencing until “halt” is called!

“Excessive Distance” for 15 Seconds: If the fencers have materially greater distance of an advance-lunge (i.e., far apart) for at least 15 seconds, the referee will call “halt.” Note that this “halt” sometimes occurs mistakenly by fencers, near the end (but greater than 15 seconds remaining) of a period in a DE, who salute each other and try to “kill” the clock to go to the one minute rest period — the penalty for Non-Combativity applies(!). In other words, if a fencer wants to avoid the loss of the one-minute rest period, such fencer(s) needs to at least seem engaged in action until less than 15 seconds remain in a live sequence during a period.

Team Events: Like with some other rules, team competition has some variation for Non-Combativity. If both fencers make clear their unwillingness to fence in a match, the match ends and the referee will proceed with the next bout. If it is the last team bout, then there is a “last minute run-off” (fenced in its entirety (up to the maximum score), with priority established for the winner in a tie after the 60-seconds run).

Interesting Examples: A typical example of Non-Combativity Run-Off is the following: If the score is 12-9 in the 3rd period, and the referee calls a Non-Combativity “halt” with 1 minute and 30 seconds left on the clock (so, no touch since 2 minutes 30 seconds on the clock), the 3rd period automatically ends and the match proceeds to an additional period (with priority determined before hand) until (a) 60 seconds have passed or (b) one of the fencers has scored 15 points (so, the fencer with 9 points has a chance!); if there is a tie at the end of the run-off period, the fencer with priority wins.

A more interesting situation is if there is actually less than 1 minute left in the 3rd period before Non-Combativity is called (say, no touch since 1 minute 30 seconds on the clock, so 30 seconds left). The fencer who is losing may, in fact, gain an advantage from Non-Combativity “halt” as that fencer will gain additional (30 seconds in this example) time. A few factors should be considered, however: (1) can a fencer who is down really worry about running out 60 seconds in the 3rd period as opposed to catching up right now; and (2) query whether the referee will actually call “halt” with such little time left (the referee, under the Rule, has some discretion because of the word “approximately”).

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