Fencing 101


The sport of fencing is a historic European martial arts formulated to challenge both physically and tactically between two opponents.  It is a prestigious and modern combative sport based on tradition.  In the early 1400s, fencing began the move from a form of military training to a sport.  Both Italy and Germany lay claim to its origins, with German masters organising the first guilds.  The most notable being the Marxbruder of Frankfurt, formed in 1478.

Fencing reflects and cultivates the successful qualities, which are important to contemporary young people who seek a challenge to both body and mind through an effective blend of patience and determination, discipline and competitiveness.  Competitive fencing is one of the five activities which have been featured in every one of the modern Olympic Games; the four being, Athletics, Cycling, Swimming, and Gymnastics.  Modern fencing uses three weapons, and is divided respectively into three competitive scenes: Epee, Foil, and Sabre.

Olympic History

Fencing was included for the first time in the Olympic programme since 1896 in Athens.  The women’s fencing competition entered the Games in 1924 in Paris.  Today, men and women compete in individual and teams event, in which three types of weapon are used and divided respectively into three competitive scenes.   Foil, Epee and Sabre.  The Foil was, at first, the only weapon used by women, until the 1996 Games in Atlanta, when women’s epee was introduced.  Women’s Sabre appeared for the first time on the Olympic programme in Athens in 2004.

Among the figures who have marked this sport, Italy’s Nedo Nadi is the only fencer to have won a medal in every weapon in a single edition of the Games.  In the 1912, at the age of 18, he won in the foil.  Then, after being decorated by his country for acts of bravery during the First World War, he won five gold medals in Antwerp in 1920, a historic and unequalled record: in the individual Foil and Sabre events, and in the team Foil, Epee and Sabre events.

Fencing Weapons

Foil —The Sport of Kings

The Foil is formally used by nobility train for duels.  The foil has a flexible rectangular blade, approximately 35 inches in length and weighs less than one pound.  Points are scored with the tip of the blade and must land within the torso of the body.  The valid target area in Foil is the torso from the shoulders to the groin in the front and to the waist in the back.  It does not include the arms, neck and legs.  This concept of on-target and off-target evolved from the theory of 18th century fencing masters who instructed their pupils to only attack the vital areas of body – i.e. the torso.  Indubitably, the head is also a vital area of the body, but attacks to the face were considered unsporting and therefore discouraged.

The foil fencer’s uniform includes a metallic vest (called a Lamé) which covers the valid target area so that a valid touch will register on the scoring machine.  The flexible nature of the foil blade permits the modern elite Foil fencer to attack an opponent from seemingly impossible angles.

Foil Weapon Target

Epee—Freestlye Fencing

The Epee (pronounced “EPP-pay”, meaning sword in French), the descendant of the dueling sword, is similar in length to the Foil, but is heavier, weighing approximately 27 ounces, with a larger guard (to protect the hand from a valid hit) and a much stiffer blade.  Touches are scored only with the point of the blade, and the entire body, head-to-toe, is the valid target area, imitating an actual duel.

A full-body target naturally makes Epee a competition of careful strategy and patience – wild, rash attacks are quickly punished with solid counter-attacks.  Therefore, rather than attacking outright, Epeeists often spend several minutes probing their opponent’s defenses and maneuvering for distance before risking an attack.  Others choose to stay on the defensive throughout the entire about.

1996 was the first Olympics to feature team and individual Women’s Epee events.

Epee Weapon Target

There are many types of grip in Epee.  The three most common grips are:  The pistol grip, French grip, and the Belgian grip.

Saber—Hack and Slash

The Sabre is the modern version of the slashing cavalry sword, and is similar in length and weight to the Foil.  The major difference is the use of the blade.  The Sabre is a cutting edge of their blade as well as their point.  The target area is from the bend of the hips (both front and back), to the top of the head.  This simulates the cavalry rider on a horse.  The Sabre fencers’ uniform includes a metallic jacket (Lamé), which fully covers the target area to register a valid touch on the scoring machine.  Because the head is valid target area, the fencer’s mask is also electrical wired.

If Epee is the weapon of patient, defensive strategy, then Sabre is its polar opposite.  In Sabre, the rules of the right-of-way strongly favor the fencer who attacks first, and a mere graze by the blade against the Lamé registers a touch with the scoring machine.  These circumstances naturally make Sabre a fast, aggressive game, with fencers rushing their opponent from the moment the referee gives the instruction to fence.  Athens was the first Olympics to feature a Women’s Sabre event.

Sabre Weapon Target

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