While it has its roots in the training of men to fight with swords from as early as the 12th century, today Olympic fencing is a modern competitive sport practiced by both male and female athletes from countries around the world, and has been contested at every modern Olympic games since 1896. In the United States, fencing is practiced as both a private club sport and in various levels of collegiate competition. Fencing is an individual combat sport. Participants fence one-on-one with special bladed weapons. Each fencer tries to score a hit on his/her opponent by touching them with the weapon, and trying to avoid being touched by his/her opponent’s weapon.
Types of Fencing Weapons
There are three types of weapons used in modern sport fencing. Each type of weapon is different; some can only be used to thrust (touch with the point), while others can be used to cut (strike with the edge of the blade). Each weapon also has different rules for where hits can count; in some weapons, only upper-body hits are counted, while others can score anywhere on the opponent–even the foot!
Foil: The foil is a thrusting weapon. Hits can only be scored by touching the opponent with the point of the foil. In addition, hits can only be scored on valid target area–and this includes only the opponent’s trunk (the torso, both back and front, and the tops of the shoulders). Hits to the arm, head (mask) and legs are not valid and do not result in points being scored. Furthermore, in foil, only one competitor may score at a time; in the event that both fencers are hit, a priority system (called right-of-way) is used to determine which fencer scores a point.
Precision Athletics Fencing Club’s members currently only train with the foil.
Sabre: In sabre, hits may be made either by thrusting with the weapon’s point or by cutting with the edge of the blade. The opponent’s upper body, from the waist up including the head (mask) but excluding the hands, is available for valid hits. Hits below the waist are not valid. Like foil, only one fencer may score at a time and a priority system (right-of-way) is used to determine which competitor scores a point if both fencers are hit.
Epee: In epee, hits are made only with the point. Valid target area includes the entire body, including the head (mask), hands and feet. In epee, both competitors may score at the same time if they touch simultaneously; otherwise, only the fencer who hits first can score a point.
A Fencing Bout
A typical fencing bout is usually contested until one fencer scores five (or fifteen) points. Each point is a separate play; if a fencer is hit, the action stops, and the fencers are reset (compared to boxing, where the competitors don’t stop if someone gets hit!)
The bout takes place on a fencing strip, or “piste”, which serves as the field of play. It is 14 meters long and between 1.5 and 2 meters wide. The fencers can move freely up and down the length of the strip, but they must keep both feet inside the lateral boundaries (side lines), and they may not pass one another; if a fencer steps off of the strip, or the competitors pass each other, the action is stopped and the fencers are reset. Should a fencer retreat over the end line of the strip with both feet, his/her opponent will be awarded a point.
What to Expect Your First Time Fencing
Expect a rigorous workout! Fencing involves a lot of movement, comparable to tennis or boxing. If you’re trying fencing for the first time, please wear athletic shoes (no skate shoes), and sweat pants or shorts. A typical class consists of a warmup, footwork, bladework/target drills, and bouting. Don’t forget to bring water!