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Fencing: A Dynamic Sport for Both Mind and Body

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Have you ever wondered about how can a sport be played with swords inducted into the Olympics? Even more, why is it called Fencing? How is it performed and what are its rules? Let’s take a deep dive and get to know what fencing is.

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Fencing is among the oldest sports in the world. Based on the traditional skill of swordsmanship, it is a martial arts group comprising three different disciplines – Epee, Sabre, and Foil. There used to be a fourth type called Singlestick but it does not exist anymore. Fencing remains one of the first sports to be inducted into the Olympics and has been one of the five sports to be a part of every Summer Olympic Games.

Origin of the sport

The modern game of Fencing originated in the late 19th Century in Italy from European classical fencing. The French later modified this system and gave birth to the current sport. Fencing, as we said, has three disciplines that have separate weapons and a separate set of rules for each.

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Classical Fencing’s origin, most probably in Spain is from around the 1400s. The Treatise on Arms, written by Diego Valera is one of the oldest books on western fencing. But with time, Spanish fencing which was the primary school of fencing became obsolete, and the Italian school replaced it, to be later refined by the French.

Fencing: A Dynamic Sport for Both Mind and Body | KreedOn
A page from Domenico’s manual | Credits: Wikipedia

Fencing was developed as a sport by the aristocracy of England in the 18th Century. Domenico Angelo was the most famous fencing master of that time who taught the aristocrats and his family dominated European fencing circles for a long time. He was the first to emphasize on footwork and posture, but still, his techniques were much different from the modern game. He was instrumental in making fencing a sport.

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Weapons and equipment

The game of fencing has three divisions depending upon the weapon it uses:

Foil

Fencing: A Dynamic Sport for Both Mind and Body | KreedOn
Credits: Fencing Gear

Foil is a light weapon that weighs up to 500 grams and targets the torso but not the head and arms. A circular guard protects the hand and attack is done only by the tip of the weapon. Attacks hit by the blade of the fencing sword do not count but play continues. Those hitting off-target lead to the stoppage in play.

The referee can award a point for a touch to only one of the fencers. If it happens in an interval of milliseconds, the referee uses the “right of way” rule. For the same situation, the first fencer to touch may not get the point, if the hit is invalid.

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Epee

Fencing: A Dynamic Sport for Both Mind and Body | KreedOn
Credits: Fencing Gear

Epee is a slightly heavier thrusting weapon at 775 grams. It has a circular guard which guards the hand, just like the foil but is bigger. But in epee, the whole body is a target, so the hands are guarded more, unlike foil, where the guard is only for safety.

Epee, quite obviously, has no off-target touch because the whole body is a target and there is no “right of way” rule. Simultaneous double points are awarded through the game except if the scores are tied at the end. In that scenario, a double point is null and void.


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Sabre

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Credits: Pinterest

Unlike the other two, Sabre is cutting as well as thrusting weapons. It is the newest of all the weapons and weighs a maximum of 500 grams. The target, in this case, is the whole upper body, including the arms.

A sabre’s guard faces outside during matches to guard the sword-wielding arm. As for rules, they are very similar to foil, except that off-guard strikes do not stop play. Moreover, it is a cutting weapon, so hits with a blade are valid too.

As for equipment, it consists of a jacket, underarm protector or plastron, gloves, breeches, socks, chest protector(mostly for women), electric lame, and sleeve.

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The targets of Foil, Epee and Sabre | Credits: Fencing Ireland


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Basic techniques of fencing

Attacking

  • Thrust – Basic attacking technique, where the attacking person points and hits with the tip of the fencing sword at the target.
  • Riposte – A counter-attack after the initial attacker’s effort is parried, the defender has the chance to take the right of way.
  • Feint – A false attack to evoke a reaction.
  • Lunge – A thrust by extending the front leg.
  • Beat – Hitting the opponent’s weapon. In foil and sabre, this helps to take the right of way while in epee. It tends to disturb the focus of the opponent.
  • Compound attack – An attack following multiple feints, this evokes a parry from the defender allowing the attacker to deceive.
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Lunging | Credits: Salle Auriol Seattle

Defensive

  • Parry – Basic defensive technique; to block the offenders’ weapon to hit the target area
  • Circle parry – A parry where the weapon moves in a circle to deflect the opponent’s weapon


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Rules

The rules are set by FIE, i.e. Federation Internationale d’Escrime, the governing body of international fencing.

Area

A fencing bout takes place in an area of 1.5-2 meters wide by a 14-meter-long strip of mat. The fencers stand on en-garde lines which are 6.6 metres apart. There are two warning lines, 2 meters from the edge of the strip.

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A fencing mat| Credits: Mountains Fencing club .. Inc

People on the strip

Two participants face each other, accompanied by the referee. Apart from them, there is also an assistant referee and four line judges. Unlike now, this used to be the common system when electronic scoring was not present.

Since electronic scoring has come, every valid touch, invalid touch, and off-target hit is signaled by different colored lights. This makes the match much fairer and immune from the referees’ mistakes.

The current FIE rules allow a fencer to ask for 2 line judges if they think the referees are missing their opponent’s infringements.

Game norms

Before a bout starts, the fencers salute each other, and the referee, refusing to do such may result in disqualification. After this, the fencers don their masks and take guard in the en-garde positions. The referee calls “ready?” and on confirmation calls “fence”. This leads to a chain of events of offense and defense called the phrase. 

The referee calls “Halt!” to stop the bout. This can happen while scoring a point, an off-target touch, an infringement of a rule, or if the referee could not follow an action.

After scoring a point, the fencers return to the en-garde lines. Other than that, the fencers remain stationary if they are in lunging distance and play is stopped.


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The referee asks them to maintain a certain distance to ensure fairness which is done by asking the fencers to step back with hands outstretched so that their swords’ tips do not overlap.

If a fencer needs to adjust his/her mask, he/she taps the backfoot or waves the backhand and the referee calls the match to a halt.

The bouts are timed, including all the halts and stops of play. In Saber, 8 touches lead to a halt in the bout while it is 3 minutes for foil and epee. A maximum of 9 minutes of fencing takes place in a 15-touch bout and the present scores are considered final.

Priority (Right of Way)

This is only applicable only in Foil and Sabre. These rules govern the awarding of a point, where the point is given to the fencer who initiated the attack and executed it cleanly first.


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Penalties

Modern fencing has 4 grades of penalties, signified by cards or flags. A yellow card is a warning, and a red card signifies a warning with a point/touch to the opponent. The final one, a black card, leads to the expulsion of the player.

The 4 grades of penalties :

  • Grade 1 – Delay of the bout, making physical contact, or removing equipment. This leads to a yellow card, and subsequent occurrences lead to a red card.
  • Grade 2 – Violent acts or failure to report with proper inspection marks. This leads to a red card.
  • Grade 3 – Disturbing a bout or falsifying inspection marks. For the first time, it is a red card while subsequent occurrences lead to a black card.
  • Group 4 – Doping, cheating or not saluting. The players receive a straight black card.

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FAQs

What is fencing?

Fencing is a sport that involves two people fighting against each other using swords. The aim is to score points by hitting your opponent with the tip of your sword.

What equipment do I need for fencing?

You will need a fencing mask, jacket, pants, glove, and sword. The sword used in fencing is made of lightweight materials like aluminum or carbon fiber.

What are the rules of fencing?

The basic rules of fencing require fencers to stay within the designated area and to not hit below the waist. Fencers score points when they hit their opponent with the tip of their sword.

What are the different types of swords used in fencing?

There are three types of swords used in fencing – Foil, Sabre, and Épée. The foil is a light thrusting sword, the Sabre is a light slashing sword, and the Épée is a heavy thrusting sword.

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