HomeTop PicksWhat is Fencing: Everything about the sport of swords

What is Fencing: Everything about the sport of swords

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

Fencing is among the oldest sports in the world. Based on the traditional skill of swordsmanship, it is a martial arts group comprising of 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 in Olympics and has been one of the five sports to be a part of every Summer Olympic games.

Origin of the sport

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Modern 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 which have separate weapons and a separate set of rules for each.

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.

A page from Domenico’s manual | Credits: Wikipedia
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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 emphasise on footwork and posture, but still, his techniques were much different from the modern game. He was instrumental in making fencing a sport.

Weapons and equipment

The sport has three divisions depending upon the weapon it uses:


Foil KreedOn
Credits: Fencing Gear
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Foil is a light weapon which 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 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.


Epee 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.

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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.


Sabre KreedOn
Credits: Pinterest

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

What is fencing kreedon
The targets of Foil, Epee and Sabre | Credits: Fencing Ireland

Basic techniques of fencing


  • Thrust – Basic attacking technique, where the attacking person points and hits with the tip of the sword at the target.
  • Riposte – Basically 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 has a tendency 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.
What is fencing kreedon
Lunging | Credits: Salle Auriol Seattle


  • 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


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


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

Fencing kreedon
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, an off-target hit is signalled by different coloured 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 offence and defence called the phrase. 

The referee calls “Halt!” to stop the bout. This can happen while scoring a point, an off-target touch, infringement of 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.

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’ tip do not overlap.

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

The bouts are timed, including all the halts and stop 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 as 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.


Modern fencing has 4 grades of penalties, signified by cards or flags. A yellow card is a warning, a red card signifies 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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