The Sport of Fencing

What is Fencing?

The sport of fencing is fast and athletic, a far cry from the choreographed bouts you see on film or on the stage. Instead of swinging from a chandelier or leaping from balconies, you will see two fencers performing an intense dance on a 2 meter wide-by-14 meter strip. The movement is so fast the touches are scored electrically – more like Star Wars than Errol Flynn.

Why Fence?

  • Fencing develops good core, leg and arm strength.
  • Fencers have good coordination, balance, and precision.
  • Fencing builds thinking skills: quick responses, impulse control, problem solving.   
  • Fencing provides unmatched opportunities for developing individual strength and building character through challenge and competition.
  • Fencing is a sport that honors good sportsmanship, honesty, courage, empathy, and creativity.
  • Fencing is a lifetime sport with competitive opportunities for all ages.
  • Other really nice people fence!

The Weapons

Foil, epee and saber are the three weapons used in the sport of fencing. While some fencers compete in all three events, most fencers choose to focus their energies on mastering one weapon. MFA specializes in foil and epee.

Foil

The foil has a flexible rectangular blade, approximately 35 inches in length, weighing 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, front and back. It does not include the arms, neck, head and legs. 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. A small, spring-loaded tip is attached to the point of the foil and is connected to a wire inside the blade. The fencer wears a body cord inside his uniform which connects the foil to a reel wire, connected to the scoring machine.

There are two scoring lights on the machine. One shows a green light when a fencer is hit, and one shows a red light when her opponent is hit. A touch landing outside the valid target area (that which is not covered by the lamé) is indicated by a white light. These “off target” hits do not count in the scoring, but they do stop the fencing action temporarily. The tip must be depressed with at least 500 grams of pressure

Épée

The épée (pronounced “EPP-pay”), 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. The entire body is the valid target area.

The blade is wired with a spring-loaded tip at the end that completes an electrical circuit when it is depressed beyond a pressure of 750 grams. This causes the colored bulb on the scoring machine to light. Because the entire body is a valid target area, the épée fencer’s uniform does not include a lamé. The only off-target hits that are possible in épée are the ones that are to the ground. Because there is no lamé to differentiate between what’s on target and off, any hit to the ground can look like a valid touch, and so directors of épée bouts watch closely for that.

Sabre

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 that the sabre is a thrusting weapon as well as a cutting weapon (use of the blade). It also has a much bigger bell guard that protects the hand. The target area is from the bend of the hips (both front and back), to the top of the head, simulating the cavalry rider on a horse. The sabre fencer’s uniform includes a metallic jacket (lamé), which covers the target area to register a valid touch on the scoring machine. The mask is different from foil and épée, with a metallic covering since the head is valid target area.

Just as in foil, there are two scoring lights on the machine. One shows a green light when a fencer is hit, and one shows a red light when the opponent his hit. Off-target hits do not register on the machine at all. MFA does not teach sabre, but we believe that it is still important to show students the significance of the weapon in modern day fencing.

How to Follow the Action

For those new to fencing, it is difficult to follow the lightning speed of the fencers’ actions. To become more comfortable in watching a fencing bout, focus on one fencer. The fencer being attacked defends himself by use of a parry, a motion used to deflect the opponent’s blade, after which the defender can make a riposte, an answering attack. Thus, the two adversaries keep changing between offense and defense. Whenever a hit is made, the referee will stop the bout, describe the actions, and decide whether or not to award a touch.

Fencers seek to maintain a safe distance from each other, that is, out of range of the other’s attack. Then, one will try to break this distance to gain the advantage for an attack. At times, a fencer will make a false attack to gauge the types of reactions by the opponent that can be deceived in the real attack.

As you become accustomed to the speed of the game, the tactics and strategies become more apparent, and you will gain a better understanding for the finesse and fascination of fencing!

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