General Tournament Rules

This document provides the rules common to all tournaments. This is meant to serve as a minimum standard. Each tournament will have additional rules covering quality standards, scoring actions, and illegal actions.
Rules are subject to change up to the commencement of the tournament.

Event Goals

At a high level, the goal of SoCal Swordfight tournaments is to showcase fencing which:

  • Displays good sportsmanship by everyone involved. If everyone isn’t having fun, then the event isn’t worth running.
  • Has a high level of competitive drive and promotes skill development and recognition.
  • Showcases historical techniques applied in a modern context.
  • Demonstrates a knowledge and familiarity with the use of sharp swords and high quality striking mechanics.
Every year the organizers hear “this is amazing, you have a huge event and yet everyone feels chill as if it is a much smaller community” and we want to keep it this way. We can all fight hard, strive for victory, and still come out better friends than when we started.

Match Conduct

  • All fighters will be expected to fight with both skill and control.
  • Fighters are expected to act professionally, and respectful to the officiating staff.
  • Fighters are expected to follow the commands of the tournament staff at all times.

This is a martial arts tournament and all fighters are expected to conduct themselves with respect for the weapon, their opponent, and the tournament staff. Any fighter that is deemed to pose a danger to themselves or others will be addressed at the discretion of the tournament director.

The tournament director will serve as the ultimate authority within the ring. The disciplinary procedure will generally constitute first a warning, then a penalty, then an expulsion from the match or tournament; however it shall remain at the discretion of the director. Fighters who have been banned from attendance of previous SoCal Swordfight tournaments, or from other major HEMA tournaments, must contact staff before attempting to register for any tournaments.

Self Calls

Fighters are able, and encouraged, to self-call attacks received; however this is not required. A fighter who self-calls is only able to provide information to the match director, who may choose to use or discard the information as appropriate (e.g. if the attack was flat).

A fighter may only self-call in a manner which rewards their opponent. Valid self-calls are:

  • Indicating they were struck if judges missed the call.
  • Indicating they were struck in a higher value target than the judges are indicating.
  • Indicating that they did not strike the opponent.
  • Indicating that they struck the opponent in a lower value target than indicated.


Penalties will be assessed as Safety or non-Safety. Safety penalties are escalating in nature, and follow the following escalation:
  • Verbal warning.
  • Point(s) deduction.
  • Forfeit of the match.
  • Expulsion from the tournament.
Based on the severity of the infraction a director may choose to skip steps of escalation. Safety penalties are tracked across all tournaments and the director will base the escalation of the first offense based on the fighter’s prior safety record.
Non-Safety penalties are point deductions, and do not result in any disciplinary action.


All fighters are expected to be ready to fight as soon as their match is called. This includes:

  • Being queued up behind their corner.
  • Having all their gear on.
If a match must be delayed for a participant they will be warned, and subsequent infractions penalized. It may only be a few seconds to you, but it adds up over hundreds of matches! Be courteous to everyone's time and be ready to start with no delays.

Match Length

All matches will be conducted until a point cap is reached as defined by the individual tournament or to 3 minutes of fencing time. Should a match exceed 3 minutes of fencing time the match will go to sudden death.

Scoring Actions

Individual tournaments define scoring actions and determine point values based on specific rules to the weapon set, however certain parameters and rules will apply to how those actions are scored across the board.

Quality Standards

Points will be awarded for cuts/thrusts/slices/etc. in accordance with the rules of the individual tournaments. Points will not be awarded for mere touches with the sword and all attacks must demonstrate:

  • Deliberate intent on the part of the attacker.
  • Sufficient depth. Cuts with the tip of the sword or shallow thrusts are not scoring actions.

Cuts must be delivered with sufficient cutting plane, body structure, and blade arc.

  • Cutting plane is defined as the blade moving in line with a deliberate plane (edge alignment) and the sword moving along such a plane for the position of its movement immediately before striking the target. Special attention will be paid to horizontal strikes, as these typically display poor cutting plane and edge alignment.
  • Body structure is not reflective of how hard the strike hits, but in demonstrating connection between the body and sword at the time of impact. 
  • A sword must display rotation before contact with the target, typically in excess of 60 degrees. Arc should not be considered the only determinant of quality, as some strikes may be acceptable given a very good cutting plane and body structure with shorter arc, and cuts with no structure/cutting plane will not be valid no matter how large the arc. 

Thrusts must demonstrate the ability to penetrate into the target beyond a superficial depth.

  • This is at a bare minimum of at least 3” into the target and can be demonstrated by a bend of the blade or visible force reaction at the point of contact. Should a fighter deliberately shorten the extension of their arm to lower the force of a thrust it will also be considered as a quality attack.
  • It is understood that due to the design of HEMA masks a thrust to the mesh will have a high instance of being deflected on contact. It is further understood that the movement of a fighter may allow them to ‘roll out’ of contact from a thrust. As a sharp sword would stick rather than deflect they are considered valid attacks.  


  • Slices will only be considered as valid when performed against the upper opening and the arm below the shoulder (slices to the off-arm in 1h weapons do not count).
  • The slice must show purposeful placement of edge with sufficient force to display a clear reaction from the target. This may be demonstrated by pushing the target back at the point of contact, or simply preventing the target from being able to move freely.
  • Please note that this requires a very high degree of commitment, and is not simply sawing a blade back and forth on the body.

Pommel strikes are only valid to the front of the mask and must demonstrate both deliberate action and control of force.

  • Pommel strikes do not need to make contact to be considered valid, provided there is an unambiguous path from the termination of the strike and the target.
  • Pommel strikes which do make an impact must demonstrate control of force and respect for your opponent’s safety.
  • The motion of the sword must be in line with the pommel. Wildly pushing your sword hilt back and forth in a high bind does not constitute a pommel strike.
  • Pommel strikes are not permitted in all tournaments, please consult the rules to the individual tournaments you are participating in.

Target Area Definitions

Upper Opening, for the purpose of these rules, includes both the head and cuts landing on the top of the torso, in an area from shoulder seam to shoulder seam.

This is to both reduce judging error for head strikes, and reward fencing based on intention (fencing for high targets) rather than luck (they moved their head out of the way).

Should there be any lack of clarity if a blow struck the “upper opening” or arm target area a default of arm shall be taken - because you already missed the head by a wide margin.

Arm strikes will also include hand strikes. A strike to the handle of the sword will be considered as a strike to the hands. Note that full quality requirements are also in place for strikes to the hands.

In the event of disagreement from the judges on the target area struck the point value will be decided at the discretion of the director. Typically this will take the form of an average point value.

Blade Grabs & Disarms

Disarms are (intentional or accidental) not scoring actions. A fighter must follow up a disarm with a valid scoring action. Should a fighter lose their weapon they may also concede a maximum point strike instead of attempting to enter distance for a grapple.

A blade may only be grabbed if it is not in motion, otherwise it will be counted as a scoring action to the hand. If the sword was in the process of attacking a high point value target, Target Substitution rules will apply.

Target Substitution

Should a deliberate target substitution take place, the point value of the higher point target will be awarded. This includes failed attempts at off-hand weapon control leading to a grapple.

Example: A saber fighter extends their off-hand into the path of an oncoming cut to the upper opening. Their opponent is awarded points for a strike to the upper opening.

Example: A longsword fighter rises to a hanging parry, but fails the execution and is hit in the arms. This is not target substitution, as rising to a hanging parry was a normal fencing behavior.

Timing of Actions

Double Hits

A double hit is defined as simultaneous valid scoring actions that are “in flight” at the same time. This does not indicate simultaneous weapon impacts, but a state where both attacks are in motion at the same time. This means that the attacks do not necessarily need to land in a very tight time window.

Double Hits are recorded as no match score for each fighter, and are factored into the overall indicator score. There is an increasing deduction for each double hit, cumulative over the entire pool. (-1/-2/-3/ etc).

If 3 double hits are recorded in a match:

  • Pool matches: recorded as a loss for both fighters.
  • Elimination match: the match winner will start with a penalty of -1 in their next match, and an additional -1 for every subsequent double.

If a double hit is very obviously the result of one party ignoring the threat of the opponent’s weapon an additional penalty will be assessed to this fighter.
Example: Attacks to the lower torso or legs when the opponent is chambered to cut to the upper opening.

Afterblow Definition

An afterblow is a valid scoring action launched as the next action (this includes attack or step) after a fighter has been struck. An afterblow will deduct -1 from the point value of the initial attack’s score. 

Martial Intent

Should a fighter exhibit a dangerous situation through their own actions (eg: expose back of the head, fall down) the opposing fighter should not strike them, or make every effort to pull back a strike in progress. However if a fighter can demonstrate the ability and intent to deliver a strike to the incapacitated opponent they will receive the maximum allowed point value for the exchange.

Example: A fighter turns the back of the head during an exchange and their opponent stops their blow in mid-flight. The fighter who was able to arrest their attack will be awarded points, and the fighter who exposed the target will be penalized.

Should a dangerous situation arise due to an action outside of the fighters control (eg: gear failure) both fighters should immediately stop fighting and any actions delivered during or after the safety hold will not be valid scoring actions.

Example: A fighter’s elbow pad falls off and they hit the opponent in the next action. It is assumed that their opponent is attempting to withdraw at the sight of the equipment failure, and therefore they were not fully committed to the fencing actions occurring.

Forbidden Actions

Any strike thrown with a complete lack of control on the part of the attacker. Competitive martial arts fighting involves throwing forceful strikes with full intent to make contact, however each competitor is expected to maintain a respect for their opponent’s safety at all times. Should a safety issue arise, a fighter must do everything in their power to arrest their strike in progress.

  • High-amplitude throws are prohibited in all tournaments. A high-amplitude throw is defined as any takedown action which raises the opponent’s hips to the level of their head in the execution, or lifts the participant before depositing them on the ground.
  • The ankle/foot is off target in all tournaments.
  • Exposing the spine or back of the head to the opponent. Note that if your opponent does expose such targets it is still your responsibility to do what you can to arrest the power of your strike.
  • Kicks are not permitted.
  • Repetitive punching is not permitted. However, mask punches or pushes to control the opponent’s head prior to a grapple or cut are allowed. 
  • ‘Mordschlag’ style strikes are not permitted.
  • Throwing the sword or any other object.

Ring Outs

Should both of a fighter's feet leave the ring a hold will be called and they will receive a non-safety penalty for a ring out. Should a fighter ring out with such speed that they leave the immediate ring area they will receive a safety penalty.

Click here to view information on Required and Approved Equipment.