Directing the Director

Herz So Bad

The two foil fencers move together, their blades meet, there is a flurry of action and the director (i.e. referee) shouts "halt." He glances at the electric lights that indicate whether a fencer has been touched and both the red and green are lighted. He stands puzzled, trying to decide who attacked first, and thus should get the point. His deliberation is interrupted by a shout from the Harvard sideline, "Nice attack, Anne." The director, his memory refreshed, relaxes and remarks confidently, "there's an attack from the right, touch for Harvard."

Two sabre fencers (no lights with this weapon) rush together, blades wavering threateningly above their heads. A blur of frenzied combat is followed by the familiar "halt" from the director, who supports his chin with the palm of his hand as he tries to reconstruct what happened in his mind. His pondering is interrupted by a fierce cry of "I'm waiting" from an Army assistant coach bearing down on the director with an intimidating stare. The director as much as turning his head in the direction of the shout calls "no touch" and restarts the bout. The Army coach is still waiting.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But one thing is for sure, work or not, manipulating the director's calls, or, as it is called in the trade, "fencing the director" is an activity which occupies the thoughts of coaches and fencers for more than a little time. For as often as not a fencer's loss is due not to his incompetence but to that of the director. Just ask any fencer.

The machinations that fencers and coaches go through to direct poor, misguided--to say nothing of short-sighted--directors vary from the subtle to the tactless.

One of their favorite psychological ploys is typified by the first story above. Either an onlooker or the fencer himself will make the tacit assumption that they or their man has won the point. The most dramatic method of assumption is the ripping off of a mask by a fencer who believes he's made the fifth and bout-winning touch.

What fencers do not know or, at least, ignore, is that director's maintain that premature assumptions cost rather than gain duelers points. Directors depend on their ability to re-create what has happened as an image in their brain. And, as local directors Gabor Demjen and Israel Colon explain, when their attention is distracted by a fencer or someone on the sideline, their re-creation can be confused and they are forced to rule no touch.

A second favorite tactic of fencers or coaches is to ask the director to explain any call they disagree with. The theory is that asking the questioner makes the director feel guilty, makes him believe he owes something to his interrogator.

Directors themselves are quick to assert that these tactics vary from useless to worse than useless. Colon explains that if he is asked quietly to explain his call he is glad to. But an angry request (or should it be demand) for explanation only makes him tense. And though he naturally tries to remain objective, he says "I know I'm annoyed by it."

There is one kind of psychological manipulation that Colon does admit may have some affect. He acknowledges that he is affected when coaches or fencers who never complain or voice their dissatisfaction with a call do, for once, raise an eyebrow. It is impossible, Colon says, to dismiss their judgement as easily as that of those who from the frequency of their complaints, you know are biased.

So, fencers take note. If you yell fire too often the director knows you're heated up about nothing. Your temper, in fact, can only help extinguish your chances. Remaining cool through it all however, you will be able to do more in a glance than an army of screaming armchair directors.