Lightsaber Academy, Sparring showcase

The French Rules in Action!

An example of match play using the FFE rule set.

Here it is! We have finally have some good examples of the rules for the French Federation  of Fencing Lightsaber competition. This is of course the system that our own Cedric Giroux produced for the FFE and recently made the news. Ever since then, we have been asked tons of questions about this rule set and where people can do it. 

As of right now, there is no certifications or official anything for people outside of France. This is a national sport there. It does not apply to us outside of the country. However, learning the rule set will become important if the FFE is successful in their plan to create international competitions with the lightsaber. It could very well become one of the more prominent rule sets to use for competition. We will be holding a workshop on the rules in Ann Arbor Michigan, June 22 1-5 pm. More info is available here or at the end of this post.

A quick run through of the rules

You can read the booklets containing the entire rule set here, but for our purposes, a quick over view of the rules, specifically about priority, can help those new to this to understand a bit of what is going on. 

  1. A match is about 3 minutes long. 
  2. One may only attack or score when they have “priority”. You gain priority by “arming” your weapon. 
  3. Arming is needed to throw valid strikes. “Engagement arming” moves the weapon and hand past the lateral midline of the body and is used to open up exchanges (weapon phrases). “Simple arming” is the drawing of the blade tip only back before striking forward. 
  4. Hand and weapon is 1 point, arm and legs are 3 points, head and torso are 5 points.

These arming strikes and the idea of priority is something that might be familiar with people who fence. Often called “right of way” this is one of the most widely used methods of dealing with double hits. With a priority rule in place, one cannot simply attack anywhere they wish when ever they like. They must size the priority away from the opponent. They must also watch the opponent carefully to see when he takes the priority. 

Right of Way, Priority, and Initiative

It is this rule that often gives folks over on this slide of the pond a little pause. Many of us who do weapon combat over here are not used to using a rule like “right of way” or incorporating priority into our games. The most common method of sparring and competing is the “first hit” variety. Scoring hits is basically who hit their opponent first. While this is a very intuitive method, it has the draw back of being plagued with double hits. And often these systems must find novel and sometimes complicated ways of scoring and dealing with double hits in competition. 

The complaint I hear the most over the” right of way” issue, is that it makes the match play artificial an not much like a real sword fight. Many Americans and those used to a very informal way of sparring find the idea of priority limiting and strange. I understand, I was the same. It is not very realistic from their point of view. Having to wait for someone to finish a move before one can attack seems to violate the very principle of martial art which is hit the other guy without being hit. 

While that is very true, the purpose of rules of priority and “right of way” is to better deal with double hits and other pitfalls of two people trying to hit each other without defending themselves. Anyone who has trained in weapon combat for long enough has felt the frustration and difficulty when double hits happen too often in a match or when an opponent is ignoring their own defense and just attacking. If your opponent does not defend, much of your ability to control the match is given up. Strikes that are intended to cause a reaction do not cause that reaction and therefore cannot set up the technique properly. It stalls the game play even if the double hits are legitimate mistakes on the part of each fighter. 

Using a system of priority deals with this problem by making it impossible for one to score if they do not defend. It does take some conscious effort on your part, but it is a simple matter to get used to such a system. People can use these rules as rigidly (the FFE system requires priority to score like foil) or as loosely (only invoking right of way in the event of a double hit) as the group or teacher wishes. 

 Aside from this purpose, fighting with a rule of priority tends to bring one in to the fight more. You need to pay attention to your opponent and figure out how you can either take priority away from them or respond with a defensive maneuver. You cannot simply think about your target but must also think about their follow up. The FFE rule set also aims to create a good spectacle for the audience. This particular system of priority allows fighters to begin exchanges with spins jumps and other fancy and good looking moves. It also encourages longer exchanges, called “weapon phrases” in the system, where there is a conversation of attack and defense between the fighters. The call and response nature of this rule set makes for a dynamic and easier to follow fight for onlookers. 


Full disclosure, I have never fenced foil, nor have I never used a system of right of way before. I have tried versions of it in the past but found it difficult to incorporate and judge without arbitration from a referee. I did not like how it seemed to work in those ways so I have always been skeptical of such rules. 

Having said that, I have found none of that to be true with this rule set. We have been playing with the rules for about 2 months now and have made some great progress in adapting to this way of fighting. It isn’t that much different, as it turns out, once you get the rhythm of a match and shake off other notions of what it is supposed to be. We have been finding the rule set fun and actually fairly useful for teaching as well. This rule set definitely forces one to pay more attention and stay in the fight rather that resorting to “Hit! Hit! Hit!”. And I must confess that it is fun to be able to do things that you normally wouldn’t do in a fight or a duel. Like spinning around spinning your saber over head and coming in to your opponent. A litany of movements from past forms I have done suddenly have a new relevance. Things I never thought I would use now have an arena. And that is very enjoyable. 

Where to? 

So, where do you go or what do you do if you want to start using this rule set yourself? First of all you can download all the rules and arbitration here. As stated before we will be having a workshop on this rule set on June 22nd from 1-5pm. We will be having it at Liberty Athletic Club in Ann Arbor Michigan. If you would like information this work shop you can find it here or contact me here. Cost is $20 per person. For 4 hours, that’s a pretty good deal, if I do say so myself . 

If you can’t make it to this one or are too far to make the journey, we will be putting out more videos on this rule set and how to use it. The above video is an example match. I am planning to break down the arming strikes and mistakes that happen through out so that people can see what these look like. Again you can download the booklets in English here. And remember, many of the rules of this rule set are rules about wearing gear. So, get those helmets and gloves out!

Again, we re going to be doing much more with this rule set and with the FFE in the future.   Stay tuned for news and events related to this and other opportunities. I must confess to enjoying this game quite a lot. It is different than what have done before but it is a great compliment and very fun to play. Give it a try! We will be doing more soon! 

Happy Sabering! 

DISCLAIMER: This is a fairly hastily produced video to answer some questions we have been getting. We are not using the full rule set in this video and are not wearing the legal amount of protective gear. This limits what we can show in these examples. This is primarily to show our experiments with the “arming strikes” . Full gear and thus full rule matches will be coming soon.

4 thoughts on “The French Rules in Action!”

  1. I think the Salvo will be tricky as most fencers hit and stop. Here you have to defend and defend until it works or you get hit in the head or body. Even in the video there is a bit of hit and stop.

    I have come from foil, so I like the system, priority and arming makes for a style of fencing that is very evocative of the movies. I think if they used an epee based ruleset I would be somewhat less excited about the system.

    I have also noted that the rules seem to create a fantastic conversation of blades. Which is that whole attack, parry, riposte, parry, riposte, etc etc. Which is always a lot of fun as you improve and can see the action better.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Actually right-of-way only becomes relevant in foil when there’s a double touch. A single-light touch always counts for the fencer who makes the touch even if he/she didn’t have the priority before the touch, especially in cases like attacks on preparation.

    Or at least that’s what the rules say. Modern foil judges often follow very different conventions that aren’t exactly consistent with the written FIE rules.


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