There is more to fencing than standing on a piste and hitting the other person. Especially in a busy competition, where the support of your team or club can have a significant influence on yourself, your opponent or the referee.

The rule book is pretty clear on the role of spectators: “Spectators are obliged not to interfere with the good order of a competition, to do nothing which may tend to influence the fencers or the Referee, and to respect the decisions of the latter even when they do not agree with them.”

Fair enough.

But the reality is that this rule is casually ignored. At last year’s BYCs, when I was unhappy at the level of coaching allowed on the piste on one particular fight, I approached the referee and asked directly how much coaching was allowed. I was given the response “as much as they want”, and my whole attitude changed.

Whether or not you agree with coaching on the piste, it does happen, and it does effect the outcome of fights. Even if you’re unwilling to participate in it yourself, it helps to normalise the experience with fencers so it’s less of a shock when they experience it in competition.

The following exercise is all about “breaking the rules”. It randomly pairs fencers and then simulates a small team event. Team mates are allowed to coach as much as they like, and to some extent disturb that “good order”. Making fun of it in training makes it easier to accept when it happens at competition.

Put names of all fencers in a mask. Draw fencers out in two person teams. First fencer drawn is always Fencer A, second fencer is always Fencer B. Arrange teams on a poule sheet. Fencer A fences Fencer A to ten hits. One minute coaching break at five. Fencer B fences Fencer B to twenty hits. One minute coaching break at fifteen. Coaching is allowed during fights and between points from team mate. Coaching can range from simple encouragement to hit by hit direction. So long as the referee doesn’t show a card, anything goes. Coaches can also attempt to influence referees.