The referee officiating a dry bout (a bout fenced without electrical scoring equipment) has a variety of responsibilities to the fencers, to fencing in general, and to the tournament in which the bout is being fenced. Understanding the job description is vital to being a good referee.
The most basic responsibility of the referee is to be calm, confident, consistent, and impartial. A calm and confident referee inspires confidence on the part of the fencers and sets the stage for orderly bouts. Indecision, hesitation, and inconsistent calling of the same action in different ways guarantees the fencers will lose confidence in the referee.
Before the pool starts, the referee obtains the score sheet from the Bout Committee.
The referee is in charge of the other officials at the strip. This means that he assigns judges to their positions and makes certain that they understand their duties. Given the prevalence of modern electric fencing, this includes making certain that they understand the target, how hits are made, and how to indicate a hit has been observed. Where possible, the referee makes certain the judges are balanced both by ability and by club affiliation.
The referee briefs the fencers on how the pool will be run and makes certain their equipment meets safety requirements. It is a good practice for the referee to explain how bouts will be called (by name or by number), and how fencers will be informed they are on deck (next up to fence).
The referee calls the fencers to the strip in the order of bouts printed on the score sheet, expects the fencers to salute, and positions the fencers on guard on the on guard lines with the command "on guard." She then ensures the fencers are ready to fence with the command "ready?" If there is no reply, he gives the command to "fence." The referee allows fencing to continue until either a hit is signaled, a dangerous condition occurs, or a fencer steps off the strip; the referee immediately stops the fencing with the command "halt."
If a hit is signaled, the referee describes the action (establishing the right of way in foil or sabre), and polls the jury in the order of the phrase working from first action to second to third, etc., until a hit is awarded.
If a hit results, the referee has the fencers return to the on guard line for the next touch. If no hit is awarded the referee positions the fencers in the center of the strip and has them take distance equally from the center of the action at the halt.
If there is an infraction of the rules, the referee applies the penalties (loss of distance on the strip, warning by Yellow Card, touch penalty by Red Card, or exclusion by Black Card) provided for in the rules.
The referee ensures that both he and the judges maintain the correct positions on the strip to be able to observe the action. She also ensures that spectators do not create a safety hazard by crowding around the strip.
When half of the touches have been scored in a bout the referee has the fencers change ends. If one of the fencers is left handed (and both fencers are positioned so that their chests are facing the referee), the judges change ends.
The referee ensures that the fencers do not converse with the judges or with each other during the bout. Any matter or problem a fencer needs resolved should be directed to the referee.
The referee ensures that all fencers are treated equally and courteously.
When all of the bouts in the pool are completed, the referee checks the score sheet (or completes it if there is no scorekeeper) and has the fencers sign the score sheet attesting to its accuracy. The referee then returns the score sheet to the bout committee.
This is an overview of the key elements of the referee's duties at a competition. The referee must know the rules of fencing and be able to apply them to the management of the contest. This requires study, training, practice, and more practice. You get to be a good referee by refereeing at every opportunity that presents itself.