This post has been edited to reflect the changes to the rule taking effect Jan 1, 2023.
A rule that club fencers are sometimes not aware of but is important for tournament fencers is the convention for “unwillingness to fight” or passivity. There is quite a history and backstory around this, but the short version is that some years ago in a team event, an epee fencer spent several three minute periods not attacking. He was a very good defensive fencer, so his opponents didn’t attack either. It didn’t help that this was also a featured Olympic event and it didn’t do a great job to grow the reputation of the sport being exciting as no one did anything but stand there. To ensure that fencers actually fence, a series of new rules under the notation “unwillingness to fight” were created.
The wording of the rule reads, ”There is unwillingness to fight when there is one minute of fencing without a hit or without a hit off target…if the fencers are equal, the referee sanctions both [fencers] with a P-yellow card.” After the P-yellow at the next infraction, both fencers will receive a P-reds and then at the 3rd infraction, a P-black is issued. If there is a P-black, the fencer in the lead wins or, if the score is tied, the fencer with the higher _initial_ seed wins if. The passivity or unwillingness to fight rule does not apply to pool bouts and only effects the direct elimination matches.
P-cards are not given when the bout is tied at 14-14 (but they can be given when there is a 9-9 tie in Y10 or vet events). The clock will reset for an off target hit even in epee (such as a floor touch), but is not reset for an invalid touch such as a touch registered after passing on a fleche. There is also a standard penalty card for intentionally hitting the floor, so don’t do that to reset the clock unless it happens by accident on a legitimate attempt.
It is important to note that the initial seed refers to the seeding before the start of pools. Fencers are seeded first by their national ranking, then by their letter rating, and then unrated fencers are randomly assigned a position so that everyone has an initial seeding. It is helpful to check your and your opponent’s initial seeding prior to elimination bouts. Experienced fencers have been known to goad people into P-blacks when the opponent does not know the rules. Lex is a generally defensive fencer so we have seen our share of P-cards, but have not yet had a P-black situation. The P-cards are separate from the general penalty cards so you can still get routine yellow and red cards for those infractions (such as failing weapon’s test or turning your back on your opponent during the match, etc). Since we don't often have a clock running on matches at the club, it can be helpful to beginner fencers to have someone note when the time is running low and to think about practicing a timed match or two before their first tournament.