was originally a shortening of the Middle English defens, which came from an
Italian word, defensio, in origin a Latin word.Fencing is one of the four
sports which has been featured at every modern Olympic Games.
Currently, three types of weapon are used in
Foil — a light thrusting weapon; the valid target is restricted to the
torso, the chest, shoulders, and back; double touches are not allowed (see
priority rules below). This weapon follows the rule of "right of way"
Épée — a heavy thrusting weapon; the valid target area covers the entire
body; double touches are allowed. There is no "right of way"
Sabre — a light cutting and thrusting weapon; the valid target area is the
saddle line, which is from one side of your hip to the other and up, this
also includes the head. The target area does not include the hands. This
weapon follows "right of way"
Some practitioners of fencing approach it as a
Western martial art, with the goal being to train for a theoretical duel.
The element of sport is absent (or nearly so) from these forms of fencing,
but they all share a common origin with each other and with competitive
Classical fencing is differentiated from competitive fencing as being
theoretically closer to swordplay as a martial art. Those who call
themselves classical fencers may advocate the use of what they see as more
authentic practices, including little or no emphasis on sport competition.
There is strong interest within the classical fencing community in reviving
the European fencing practices of the 19th and early 20th century, when
fencers were expected to be able to fight a duel using their training.
Weapons used are the standard (non-electric) foil, standard épée (often
equipped with pointe d'arret), and the blunted dueling sabre. AFL fencing is
often referred to as classical fencing, but this is a misnomer.
is a type of historical martial arts reconstruction based on surviving texts
and traditions. Predictably, historical fencers study an extremely wide
array of weapons from different regions and periods. They may work with
bucklers, daggers, polearms, navajas, bludgeoning weapons, etc. One main
preoccupation of historical fencers is with weapons of realistic weight,
which demand a different way of manipulating them from what is the norm in
modern Fencing. For example, light weapons can be manipulated through the
use of the fingers (more flexibility), but more realistically-weighted
weapons must be controlled more through the wrist and elbow. This difference
is great and can lead to drastic changes even in the carriage of the body
and footwork in combat. There is considerable overlap between classical and
historical fencing, especially with regard to 19th-century fencing
There are numerous inter-related forms of competitive fencing in practice,
all of which approach the activity as a sport, with varying degrees of
connectedness to its historic past.
Olympic fencing (or simply "fencing") refers to the fencing seen in most
competitions, including the Olympic Games and the World Cup. Competitions
are conducted according to rules laid down by the Fédération Internationale
d'Escrime (FIE), the international governing body. These rules evolved from
a set of conventions developed in Europe between mid 17th and early 20th
century with the specific purpose of regulating competitive activity. The
three weapons used in Olympic fencing are foil, épée, and sabre. In
competition, the validity of touches is determined by the electronic scoring
apparatus, so as to minimize human error and bias in refereeing.
Wheelchair fencing, also known as jousting, an original Paralympic sport,
was developed in post-World War II England. Minor modifications to the FIE
rules allow disabled fencers to fence all three weapons. The most apparent
change is that each fencer sits in a wheelchair fastened to a frame.
Footwork is replaced by torso or arm movement, depending on the fencer's
disability. The proximity of the two fencers tends to increase the pace of
bouts, which require considerable skill. The weapons are identical to those
used in Olympic fencing.
Other variants include one-hit épée (one of the five events which constitute
modern pentathlon) and the various types of competitive fencing, whose rules
are similar but not identical to the FIE rules. One example of this is the
American Fencing League (distinct from the United States Fencing
Association): the format of competitions is different, there is no
electronic scoring, and the priority rules are interpreted in a different
way. In a number of countries, the accepted practice at school and
university level deviates slightly from the FIE format.
foil is a light and flexible weapon,
originally developed in the mid 17th century as a training weapon for the
small sword, a light one-handed sword designed almost exclusively for
In modern competitive fencing, 'electric' weapons are used. These have a
push-button on the point of the blade, which allows hits to be registered by
the electronic scoring apparatus. In order to register, the button must be
depressed with a force of at least 4.90 newtons (500 grams-force) for at
least 15 milliseconds. Foil fencers wear conductive (lamé) jackets covering
their target area, which allow the scoring apparatus to differentiate
between on- and off-target hits.
The target area is restricted to the torso, including the front and back.
When fencing with electrical equipment, there is an area around each armpit
that is not covered by the lamé, and is thus effectively not legal target as
A modification in FIE rules from 1 January 2009 onwards means that the valid
target area includes that part of the bib below a straight line drawn
between the shoulders; prior to this, the bib of the mask was not a valid
target. This rule has not been implemented uniformly in all National fencing
organizations. For instance, the USFA has not decided on a timetable for
adopting the rule, while the European nations have generally decided on
September 1 2009 as the date for all competitions to use the new rule. The
wisdom of this rule is currently widely disputed; the prevailing attitude in
the US is that the rule will lead to a great increase in equipment failures
and costs, while European opinion is that this will help prevent fencers
from covering target.
The target must be hit with the tip of the
foil; a touch with any other part of the foil it has no effect whatsoever
and fencing continues uninterrupted. A touch on an off-target area stops the
bout but does not score a point. Foil fencing also features rules of right
of way or priority, which determine which fencer's hit will prevail when
both fencers have hit. The basic principle of priority is that the hit of
the fencer who begins an offensive action first will prevail over his/her
opponent's hit, unless the action of the former fails.
A fencer's action fails when it falls short of
his/her opponent, when it misses, or when it is parried. When one fencer's
action fails, the other's current or next offensive action gains priority,
unless they delay too long (longer than one period of "fencing time", the
time taken to perform one action at the current tempo of the exchange), in
which case the previously defending fencer loses priority. If priority
cannot be determined when both fencers have hit each other, no point is
awarded. The original idea behind the rules of foil fencing was to encourage
fencers to defend and attack vital areas, and to fight in a methodical way
with initiative passing back and forth between the combatants, thus
minimizing the risk of a double death.
When an exchange ends in a hit, the referee will call "halt", and fencing
will cease. The referee will then analyse the exchange and phrase it in
official terminology. The first offensive action is called the attack. All
defensive actions successfully deflecting an opponent's blade are called
parries. An offensive action of a parrying fencer directly following the
parry is called a riposte. An offensive action of a fencer, who attacks
without first withdrawing the arm directly after being parried, is called a
remise. An offensive action of a fencer from the on-guard position, after
being parried and then returning to the on-guard position, is called a
reprise. An offensive action of a fencer after his/her opponent has lost the
right to riposte via inaction is called a redouble. An offensive action
begun by a fencer who is being attacked by his/her opponent is called a
as the sporting weapon known today, was invented in the second half of the
19th century by a group of French students, who felt that the conventions of
foil were too restrictive, and the weapon itself too light; they wanted an
experience closer to that of an actual duel. At the point of its conception,
the épée was, essentially, an exact copy of a small sword but without the
needle-sharp point. Instead, the blade terminated in a point d'arrêt, a
three-pronged tip which would snag on the clothing without penetrating the
Like the foil, the épée is a thrusting weapon: to score a valid hit, the
fencer must fix the point of his weapon on his opponent's target. However,
the target area covers the entire body, and there are no rules regarding who
can hit when (unlike in foil and sabre, where there are priority rules). In
the event of both fencers making a touch within 40 milliseconds of each
other, both are awarded a point (a double hit), except when the score is
equal and the point would mean the win for both, such as in modern
pentathlon's one-hit épée, where neither fencer receives a point.
Otherwise, the first to hit always receives
the point, regardless of what happened earlier in the phrase. Also épées are
the heaviest of the weapons. However, with today's techniques, we see some
épée blades as light as 150g. An épée is composed of a blade, a point, a
bell guard, and a handle or grip (french or pistol grip).
The 'electric' épée, used in modern competitive fencing, terminates in a
push-button, similar to the one on the 'electric' foil. In order for the
scoring apparatus to register a hit, it must arrive with a force of at least
7.35 newtons (750 grams-force) (a higher threshold than the foil's 4.9
newtons), and the push-button must remain fully depressed for 1 millisecond.
All hits register as valid, unless they land on a grounded metal surface,
such as a part of the opponent's weapon, in which case they do not register
at all. At large events, grounded conductive pistes are often used in order
to prevent the registration of hits against the floor. At smaller events and
in club fencing, it is generally the responsibility of the referee to watch
out for floor hits. These often happen by accident, when an épéeist tries to
hit the opponent's foot and misses. This results in a pause in the action
but no points. However, deliberate hits against the floor are treated as
"dishonest fencing," and penalized accordingly.
Épée has less restrictive rules for footwork and physical contact than the
other two weapons. In Épée, a corps-à-corps (collision between fencers) is
not penalized unless initialized with intent to harm or if it is excessively
violent. There are no restrictions on crossing of the feet or use of the
flèche attack in épée; if the fencers pass each other, the attacking fencer
may score until he passes his opponent. The defending fencer has the right
to one continuous riposte, and may still score after the attacker has
The counterattack is very important in épée; direct, unprepared attacks are
vulnerable to counterattacks to the hand or arm, or to the body if the
attacker is shorter than his opponent. High level épée is often a game of
provocation, with each player trying to lure the other into an attack.
Distance in épée is even more important than in the conventional weapons.
Sabre is the 'cutting' weapon: points may be
scored with edges and surfaces of the blade, as well as the point. Although
the current design with a light and flexible blade (marginally stiffer than
a foil blade which bends easily up and down while a sabre blade bends easier
side to side) appeared around the turn of the 19th and 20th century, similar
sporting weapons with more substantial blades had been used throughout the
There is some debate as to whether the modern fencing sabre is descended
from the cavalry sabres of Turkic origin, which became popular in Central
and Western Europe around the time of Napoleonic Wars, or one of Europe's
indigenous edged duelling weapons, such as the cutting rapier. In practice,
it is likely to be a hybrid of the two. Most of the conventions and
vocabulary of modern sabre fencing were developed by late 19th and early
20th century masters from Italy and Hungary, perhaps most notable among them
being Italo Santelli (1866–1945).
Like foil, sabre is subject to right of way rules, but there are differences
in the definition of a correctly executed attack and parry. These
differences, together with a much greater scoring surface (the whole of the
blade, rather than the point alone), make sabre parries more difficult to
execute effectively. As a result, sabre tactics rely much more heavily on
footwork with blade contact kept to a minimum. Also, play is not halted by
an off-target (below the waist) hit in sabre. To prevent both fencers from
immediately charging each other at the beginning of fencing action, crossing
of the feet is not allowed, which also prohibits use of the flèche. This
results in a penalty against the offending fencer (a warning, followed by
awarding a penalty touch if the offense is repeated). A maneuver called a
'Flunge' is sometimes used as a replacement for the outlawed flèche: the
fencer leaps at the opponent, being sure to keep his rear foot behind his
front as long as possible. Safely landing following this move requires
crossing the feet, thus the hit must be scored while airborne. Sabre matches
are often decided very quickly compared to the other weapons.
The sabre target covers everything above the waist, except the hands (wrists
are included) and the back of the head. Today, any contact between any part
of the blade and any part of the target counts as a valid touch. This was
not always the case, and earlier conventions stipulated that a valid touch
must be made with the point or either the front or back cutting edge, and
that a point attack must not merely graze the target and slip along (pass)
the opponent's body. These requirements had to be abandoned, because of
technical difficulties, shortly after electronic scoring was introduced into
sabre fencing in late 1980s.
The clothing which is worn in modern fencing
is made of tough cotton or nylon. Kevlar was added to top level uniform
pieces (jacket, breeches, underarm protector, lamé, and the bib of the mask)
following the Smirnov incident at the 1982 World Championships in Rome.
However, kevlar breaks down in chlorine and UV light, so the act of washing
one's uniform and/or hanging it up in the sun to dry actually damaged the
kevlar's ability to do the job.
In recent years other ballistic fabrics such as Dyneema have been developed
that perform the puncture resistance function and which do not have kevlar's
weakness. In fact, the FIE rules state that the entirety of the uniform
(meaning FIE level clothing, as the rules are written for FIE tournaments)
must be made of fabric that resists a force of 800 newtons (1600N in the
The complete fencing kit includes the
following items of clothing:
covering groin and with strap (croissard) which goes between the legs (note
that in sabre fencing, jackets that are cut along the waist and exclude the
groin padding are also sometimes used), a small gorget of folded fabric is
also sewn in around the collar to prevent a blade from slipping upwards
towards the neck.
Under-arm protector (plastron)
which goes underneath the jacket and provides double protection on the sword
arm side and upper arm. It is required to not have a seam in the armpit,
which would line up with the jacket seam and provide a weak spot.
for the sword arm with a gauntlet that prevents blades from going up the
sleeve and causing injury, as well as protecting the hand and providing a
or knickers which are a pair of short trousers. The legs are supposed to
hold just below the knee.
with flat soles and reinforcement on the inside of the back foot and heel of
front foot, to prevent wear from lunging.
including a bib which protects the neck. The mask can usually support 350
Newtons, however FIE regulation masks must withstand much more, 1600
Newtons. Some modern masks have a see-through visor in the front of the
mask. These can be used at high level competitions (World Championships
mandatory for female fencers. While male versions of the chest protector are
also available, they were, until recently, primarily worn by instructors,
who are hit far more often during training than their students. Since the
change of the depression timing (see above), these are increasingly popular
in foil, as the hard surface increases the likelihood of point bounce and
thus a failure for a hit to register. Plastrons are still mandatory, though
the chest protector must be worn next to the skin.
Knee-length or Thigh high
socks which should cover knee and thighs.
Fencing Masters will often wear a heavier protective jacket, usually
reinforced by plastic foam to cushion the numerous hits an instructor has to
endure. Sometimes in practice, masters wear a protective sleeve or a leg
leather for protection of their fencing arm or leg.
Electric Fencing-In electric foil and sabre there is a layer of electrically
conductive material (called a lamé) worn over the fencing jacket, and
entirely covers the valid target area. In foil the lamé is sleeveless, and
in sabre the lamé has sleeves and ends in a straight line across the waist.
In all weapons, a body cord is also necessary to register scoring: it
attaches to the weapon and is worn inside the sleeve of the normal jacket,
down the fencer's back and is then attached to the scoring box. In sabre and
foil, the body cord is connected to the lamé in order to create a circuit to
the scoring box, where another part of the body cord attaches, can record
where one has been hit.