About Fencing

What is fencing?

Fencing, the sport of sword fighting, is the second-fastest sport in the Olympics (second only to shooting).

The goal of fencing is to score a touch against your opponent. The sport consists of three weapons: foil, epee, and sabre, which each have a unique set of skills and rules. All practice and competition weapons are blunt, and protective clothing and masks are wore at all times.

What are the three weapons?

Foil is typically used as the weapon for beginners to start with. A fencer must score using the tip and within target area, which is around the torso. A foil has a tip consisting of a button; when it is pressed with enough force, a light goes off indicating a hit has landed somewhere. It may register on an opponent’s lame, a metallic vest that constitutes foil target area. If the foil point does not land on the lame, the point is considered “off-target”.

Epee is a heavier weapon than the foil. The entire body (head, toe, torso, etc) is considered valid target area, so a lame is not used.

Sabre is notable for being a weapon that allows cutting (hitting with the side of the blade) in addition to thrusting. Anywhere from the waist up (excluding hands) is considered target area, so saberists wear a lame and a metallic mask.

What are some common tactics?

Fencing can be broken down to very simple components.

  • En garde position: the fencer’s resting stance. It allows minimal exposed target area without compromising movement.
  • Advance: a step forward.
  • Retreat: a step backward.
  • Lunge: the most basic and quintessential attack. It consists of extending your sword arm while pushing off your back leg.
  • Attack: an offensive and threatening action directing towards an opponent.
  • Parry: moving your opponent’s blade away from target area.
  • Riposte: an attack followed immediately after making a parry.
  • Remise: an attack followed immediately after making an attack.

Across all weapons, there are very important factors to consider. Fencers must be aware of their distance, not being too far to not reach their opponent, but not too close to make themselves vulnerable. Timing is knowing the best time to strike or back off. Footwork allows a fencer to move back and forth effectively; it’s needed for explosive attacks or a quick retreat. Tempo change is the ability to move in different speeds, creating opportunities to potentially trip up your opponents. Bladework is how a fencer handles the movement of their weapon; actions must be small but effective, as big attacks are slow and can be easily anticipated. Fencers must always be aware of what actions they plan to do, how their body is moving, etc. They must also be aware of what their opponent is doing and what can be anticipated.

In short, fencing is a tactical sport. It combines athletic ability with mental ability similar to chess.

How are points determined?

In competitions today, fencers utilize electronic equipment that is attached to an electronic scoring box. This box will indicate a hit through a light and an audible beep. A referee is always present to start and stop the bout, test weapons, handle penalties, and determine a fencer’s point.

A colored light (red for left fencer, green for right fencer) indicates a valid touch, assuming the point has hit the opponent. In the case of one light, that fencer earns a point unless a penalty has been issued. A white light indicates an “off-target” touch, which means that the point has hit the opponent, but not at valid target area; this is only present in foil. A point is not given.

In foil and sabre, the rules of right-of-way is followed. This rule determines which fencer is given a point in the case of two “simultaneous” touches. Right-of-way follows the concept of taking control of the action. It gives foil and sabre a “flow”, and it typically makes the bout more aggressive as the fencers strive to get right-of-way.

In epee, right-of-way is not considered. Fencers who both score within a fraction of a second both earn a point, known as a double touch.

How are fencing tournament run?

An individual fencing tournament is broken down into two main parts: the pools and the direct elimination. In the pools, fencers are broken down into groups and fence against everyone in their pool through 3-minute, 5-point bouts. Their performance in the pools will determine their seedings for the direct elimination. Direct elimination is conducted just like any other sport – fencers must win in order to move on. These bouts are 15-point bouts broken down into 3 3-minute periods.

Team fencing tournaments also exists. Pools and direct elimination function similarly to individual tournaments. A team of 3 fencers individually fence against each member in an opponent’s group. The team must collectively earn 45 points or 5+ bouts (depending on the tournament) to win against the team.

The Yellow Jacket Fencing Club is active in local and out-of-state USFA and collegiate tournaments. Tournament attendance is not required, but strongly encouraged. In addition to several inter-club tournaments, the club also hosts its own annual USFA tournament, the Yellow Jacket Open.


Additional sources

ACFencers – What is Fencing?

Fencing – Encyclopaedia Britannica

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