The dry (not using electronic scoring) fencing competition bout depends on the quality of the judges and director. Bad judges and directors lead to bad fencing, pure and simple. That means that, if your fencing club is going to hold dry fencing competitions, you must train your members to be good judges.
The skill set is deceptively simple. You see a hit; you raise your hand. But there is so much more.
First, judges have to be honest and unbiased. You see hits and misses; you do not see team mates or opponents. Dishonest judging and shading what you see to benefit one fencer or the other is corrupt cheating, and ultimately destroys the quality of the fencing.
Second, every possible hit must be evaluated with two simple criteria.
(1) “Did it land with the point and arrest so that it would have caused an injury if the point were sharp” for foil and epee, and that plus “did it land with the cutting edge” for sabre. Note that cutting edge means different things to different fencers – the traditional meaning of with the front edge of the blade or the last third of the back edge is effectively superseded by the modern reality that any blade contact will result in a hit.
(2) “Did it land on the target for the weapon or off the target?”
Third, the judge must signal an observed hit immediately. If you see a hit that meets the criteria, immediately raise your hand to signal the director. If there are no hands, the director will not halt the action. Then it becomes impossible to go back three phrases, reconstruct what happened, and award the touch correctly.
Fourth, the judge must be prepared to respond to the director’s questions about the action in the correct time. This means that you must watch the action carefully and match what you saw to how the director calls the action. The difference between a hit on the initial attack and a hit on the continuation of the attack is small, and requires that you watch carefully so that you can distinguish between the two.
Fifth, the judge must know how to respond to the director’s questions. It is a simple set of responses. “Yes” in all three weapons means that a hit (criteria 1) landed on target (criteria 2). “Yes, but not valid” in foil means that a hit (criteria 1) landed but not on the target for the weapon. “No” means that no hit landed; the attack fell short, or landed flat or slid along the body without the point arresting in foil or epee. “Abstain” means that you cannot say with confidence whether or not the hit landed. Your viewing angle may allow you to see direction but not depth or the target may have been obscured.
Sixth, you must be in the right place to see the action. Judging is a job in motion. You should be approximately one meter to the side of the piste and one meter behind your fencer, and move with the fencer, maintaining this distance. Move constantly to keep the correct position. This provides you the best view of the opponent’s target. Keeping one meter to the side and one meter back also keeps you safe from a flailing blade.
And finally, you have to look at the right fencer. You are watching the opponent opposite to the fencer you are standing behind. You really don’t care if the fencer you are behind is hit. You should be focused on the opponent down the strip.
The best way to become a competent judge is to practice. Volunteer to judge whenever you can. Watch directors and how they call the action; this applies not only to directors of dry fencing bouts and competitions, but also referees of electric competitions. Your ability to see and correctly respond to hits is an important part of raising the standard of fencing in your club. This is an important job, so practice, practice, practice.