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Sport Fencing


The Russian word for "fencing" ("fehtovanie") is derived from the German "fechten".

Fencing is a popular modern sport which is open to both men and women, as well as to the disabled. As the emphasis in fencing is on skill rather than speed, it can be enjoyed by all ages from 8 to 80. It sharpens perception and readiness, reaction time, coordination and tactical "smarts". Fencing is a sport developed over hundreds of years which was originally practiced as preparation for war and dueling. It consists of three separate disciplines, or weapons: foil, epee, and sabre. Each requires different techniques and so appeals to different people.

The epee is a thrusting weapon which used to be the most popular dueling sword in the past. The valid target area includes the whole body. Originally, the idea was to reproduce as closely as possible the conditions of an actual duel and consequently the first fencer to hit was adjudged the winner. Fencers of the past learned to hit the opponent to his death, so they needed a safe practice sword for training purposes. Thus appeared blunt and light weapon, similar to the one which is used in the modern sport of today. Lighter than the epee, the foil was first used only for training, but then foil fencing was established as a separate discipline with a specific set of rules. The sabre descended from cavalry swords. In sabre fencing, the target area is from the bend of the hips to the top of the head, simulating the cavalry rider on a horse. Modern sabre fencing has rules and conventions similar to those of foil.



THE FOIL is a thrusting weapon 110 cm long. It weighs approximately 500 g and has a thin, flexible blade and a small (12 cm) bell guard.



Men and women compete in foil separately. 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 500 g. This causes the coloured bulb on the scoring machine to light.

The valid target area in foil is the torso, it does not include the arms, neck, head and legs. The foil fencer’s equipment includes a metallic vest (lame) which covers the valid target area so that a valid hit will register on the scoring machine. A hit landing outside the valid target area is indicated by a white light.

Modern fencing has retained the basic goal of duelling; hitting an opponent with your sword without getting hit yourself. Thus one of the basic fencing rules is that a counter-attack should never precede defense. In foil, if two touches arrive within the same period of fencing time, the fencer who attacked is awarded the touch. Right-of-way can pass over to the opponent if the attacker pauses, bends the sword arm, is parried, or is otherwise interrupted. When a touch is made, the referee stops the action and decides points. Then the fight goes on.



THE EPEE is a thrusting weapon 110 cm long. It weighs about 750 g and has a stiff blade with a triangular cross section and a large bell guard.



Men and women compete in epee separately. 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 g. This causes the coloured bulb on the scoring machine to light.

The touch can be made at any part of the opponent’s body, excluding the back of his head. Off-target hits (at the piste or the weapon) do not register on the machine. There are no rules of right-of-way to determine which actions have precedence. The fencer who hits first scores; if both fencers hit within 0,04 sec, both score a hit.



THE SABRE is a cutting and thrusting weapon 105 cm long. It weighs approximately 500 g and has a light, flat blade and a knuckle guard which protects the hand from being hit.



Touches can be scored with either the point or the edge of the blade, anywhere above the opponent's waist, including the head.

The sabre fencer's equipment includes a metallic jacket (lame), which covers the target area to register a valid hit on the scoring machine. The mask is different from foil and epee, with a metallic covering since the head is valid target area.

The combat phrasing in sabre fencing is very similar to that of foil. It has the same basic rule, i.e. an attacker has the advantage as long as the opponent's target is threatened. The phrasing and advantage then develop as the fencers develop their actions.



Fencers compete on a piste, 14 metres long and 1.5-2 metres wide. It is made of conducting material and isolated from the scoring machine, so that the hits at the piste would not register.

The referee judges the bout and decides points with the help of 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 wire inside his jacket which connects the foil to a spool wire, connected to the scoring machine. Every fencing discipline has its own set of rules, and the referee interprets an action and makes decisions governed by these rules only.

A fencing bout requires a certain succession of actions: it starts with an attack, parry and riposte, followed by the counter-parry and another attack. When the referee analyses the action he points out the fencer who has an advantage and so adjudges the winner.

Before the bout the referee has to inspect weapons, clothing and equipment. Fencing begins when the referee calls "fence!"


Fencing rules (overview):

  1. In foil, the target includes any part of the opponent's jacket except for the arms;
  2. The target area for epee is the entire body;
  3. In sabre, anything above the waist, including head and arms, is fair target area;
  4. The fencer who starts the fight is called the attacker;
  5. The fencer who reacts is called the defender;
  6. A bout consists of a certain number of points (5, 10, 15); fencers compete on the fencing piste 14 m long and 1.5-2 m wide;
  7. In foil and sabre, if two touches arrive at the same time, the fencer who attacked is awarded the touch;
  8. In foil and sabre, the fencer who parried and then counter-attacked simultaneously with his opponent’s next attack is awarded the touch;
  9. In epee, if both fencers hit simultaneously, both score a hit;
  10. In foil and sabre, in the case of two simultaneous attacks, the referee determines the fencer who was on offence judging by his own experience, while in epee it is done with the help of the electric device within 0.04 (0.05) sec.

Source: "What Is Fencing?" CD


There are some fencing terms which you can look up at the page "terminology" (in Russian).

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