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The Modern Sport of Fencing
 
The modern sport of fencing uses three distinct weapons: foil, epee and sabre. Their rules are different and they use different target areas for scoring hits. The three weapons have their own historic origins - foil as a lightweight training weapon, epee as the duelling rapier and sabre as a cavalry sword - and these are still recognised in the way that they are used for fencing. For further information on the history of the weapons, visit our Short History of Sword Fighting.

The field of play is the same for all weapons: the piste is 14m long and between 1.5m and 2m wide. Lines on the piste show the starting (en garde) position, where action resumes after a hit, and provide a warning mark two metres from the end of the piste. A fencer who retreats off the back of the piste concedes a hit.

Fencing competitions usually involve two stages. The first comprises pools where the competitors are placed in groups of between 5 and 7 fencers who fence all the other members of their pool. The results for all competitors are then used to calculate seedings for a Direct Elimination, or knockout, round that runs through to a final where the winner is decided. Fights in the pool round are the first to 5 hits, with a maximum of 3 minutes fencing time; fights in the Direct Elimination round are the first to 15 hits, with a maximum of 3 periods of 3 minutes fencing time. If the scores are level when time expires, a further minute of overtime may be fenced to decide the winner. The timing of Direct Elimination fights at sabre is amended slightly however because of the rapid accumulation of hits that usually occurs at this weapon: fencers will take a break when the first of them reaches 8 hits and then resume to continue up to 15 hits. It is virtually unknown for a sabre fight to extend into a third period!

Fencers at foil and sabre wear lame jackets containing a fine stainless steel thread that allows the electronic scoring equipment to distinguish between on-target and off-target hits. Hits in the valid target area covered by the jacket show as coloured lights on the scoring apparatus (the 'box') while off-target hits at foil show up as white lights. (Off-target hits at sabre do not register on the box.) Epeeists do not need to wear a lame jacket as the whole body is the target area. Whenever a hit is scored, the referee will call a halt in the action and will award the hit, if appropriate.

 
Foil

Foil Target
The target area at foil

Olympic foil fencing

The foil is a lightweight, thrusting weapon and hits can only be scored with the point. The target area is the torso while the arms, legs and head are off-target.

Foil is a 'conventional' weapon - the convention being that a fencer has to have the 'right of way' to score a hit. In general terms, the right of way goes to the fencer who attacks first and his opponent has to end the attack, usually with a parry, before he can seize the right of way and launch his own, scoring move.

Newcomers to fencing usually begin with foil because its techniques cover all the important areas of attack and defence that can later be applied to epee or sabre if the fencer decides to change weapon.

 
Epee

Epee Target
The target area at epee

Olympic epee fencing

The epee is a heavier, thrusting weapon and hits can only be scored with the point. The whole body is the target area, which means that the scoring box will only display coloured lights at this weapon.

Epee is the only weapon at which double hits may be awarded as there is no right of way rule. If both fencers hit their opponent within 1/25 second of each other, both coloured lights will show and both fencers will be awarded a hit. If the interval between the hits is greater than 1/25 second, only the first light will register and only that fencer will score a hit.

 
Sabre

Sabre Target
The target area at sabre

Olympic sabre fencing

The sabre is a lightweight sword that can be used to score hits with both the edge and the point. The target area is the whole body above the waist, representing the visible area of a cavalryman on horseback, a recognition of the weapon's historic origins.

Like foil, sabre is a conventional weapon although the rules that are used to identify right of way are different from foil due to the different techniques involved with a cutting weapon. Sabre is typically the fastest of the weapons as many sabreurs find it best to concentrate on attack because of the difficulties of finding parries to attacks that can come from a wide range of angles with both edge and point.

 
Useful links
British Fencing

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Federation Internationale d'Escrime (FIE)

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For more information, contact Gary Longthorn by e-mail at
Gary.Longthorn@westlancsfencing.co.uk


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