Insights into the world of fencing and thoughts on life

  • Kate

Fencing Newbie: Referee hand signals

Updated: Aug 2, 2020

Every sport has its own terminology and language. Even if you’re not well-versed in the rules of football, you will probably understand this:

Football referee giving touchdown signal


In fencing, referees speak in a kind of sign language that helps fencers, coaches, and spectators understand their calls. These signs demonstrate the referee’s interpretation of the actions that led up to a touch being awarded or the action being halted. They also ensure that people who aren’t close enough to hear the referee (or who can’t speak the language being spoken) will understand what’s happening on strip. Most of the signals are the same across the three weapons–I’ll label the photos of them by action. If the action is weapon-specific, I’ll show it in parentheses. I have also included front (what a fencer sees) and back (what a spectator sees) views of the same hand signals.

A huge “thank you” to SabreCat referee Annamaria Lu for serving as the model in these photos.

Fencing referee giving on-guard signal from the back

En garde signal from front

En garde

Ready signal from the back

Ready signal from the front


Fence signal from the back

Fence signal from the front


Attack from the right signal from back

Attack from the right… (foil and sabre)

Arrives signal from back

arrives. (foil and sabre)

Touch right signal from back

Touch right.

Attack from right signal from front