In his rules for a match or contest for prizes, Hutten recommends two judges and a referee. Each judge watches a single fencer, halting the fight when he sees a hit land. Then he and the referee decide if the blow was valid or not, taking into consideration the quality of the strike and whether or not the other judge saw a blow land of the other fencer.
However, there is one additional rule that I think we should take note of:
The presence of the judge does not absolve the combatants from honorably acknowledging a fair hit when it has taken effect.
This is very different than most HEMA longsword tournaments today that encourage participants to actively shrug off blows in the hopes that the judge didn’t see them.
The current situation also discourages fencers from using thrusts and tight cuts, as the judge is less likely to see them. Instead they should prefer larger cuts from the shoulder, which are more visible and, unfortunately, more likely to cause injury.
There is another rule from Hutten that I like,
Rule 1. The cuts and thrusts must not be given too heavily, hard hitting does not constitute good play.
I will admit that it looks pretty cool when we see sparks flying during a steel match. But they also suggests that the fencers are not in control their actions and are relying on sheer brute strength. Which of course leads to ever increasing amount of armor in our “unarmored” tournament and the honest inability to acknowledge blows.
Something that Hutten didn’t mention, but I think is important, is also a willingness to give up a point. Sometimes a blow will be called good when in fact it was flat or struck a quillon. When this happens fencers of good repute should be encouraged to wave off their point.
Now I don’t want to over-stress the importance of self-acknowledging blows. The judges, and ultimately the referee, are still have a very important role in any public match. I’m just saying that they should work in partnership with the participants in awarding points.
The SoCal Swordfight’s Rapier tournament worked like this. In addition to self-reporting blows, the referee would ask the fencers where the blow landed when the judges were in disagreement.
As the tournaments continue to move away from simple attacks and counters into faster and more technical fights with lots of tight cuts and thrusts from the bind this will only become harder for the judges to award points correctly.
Note of bias: I’m writing this in part because several people, my own students included, lost points in the SoCal beginner’s longsword because of a well executed thrust or zwerch was missed by a judge.