Fencing 101

How does fencing work? What are the basic fundamentals of the game? Get ready to learn about Fencing 101. You don't need any prior knowledge to start learning.

Fencing The Basics

Fencing is an exciting sport that can challenge you mentally and physically, you found it. Fencing, sometimes called "physical chess" is one of five other sports to be featured in every single edition of the modern era Olympic games. In fencing, two fencers use their sword-like weapons to touch each other and score points. In fencing, there are three various types of weapons in the sport; foil, saber, and epee, each very different from the other, with different rules, tactics, and equipment, but we will go over all of them in more detail, so don't worry about it. If it sounds an awful lot like medieval battles, it's because it is, the sport evolved from life or death duels to the challenging game we know today. The sport is played in a metal strip that is 46 feet long and relies on an electronic scoreboard that lights up a green or red light every time an opponent touches the other. At least one referee is always carefully watching the game. Referees are ones who give out the penalties, awards the touches, starts the action, and stops it when necessary.

Fencing Basics

Fencing Equipment and Gear

A lot of equipment is necessary to practice fencing. The sport demands a lot of security equipment so that the athletes don't get hurt, while also needing electronic aid to help determine who scored a point. To practice the sport, you'll need a full fencing uniform made from very strong fabric, a fencing mask, athletics shoes, and of course, your weapon of choice. The rest of the equipment needed will vary depending on the weapon that is going to be fenced. For example, you'll need body cords, but the body cord used for saber differs from that used in epee. In addition to your equipment, you'll also need a space where to fence, with a piste and an electronic fencing scoreboard, which will detect and keep track of the touches awarded by the referee.

Fencing Penalties and Rules

The hardest part about learning fencing is not how to play the sport, but rather its rules. This is especially true for spectators who watch the sport for pleasure. As said before, it is the referee's job to enforce the rules and penalties during a fencing match. Let's start by talking about penalties. There are three different types of cards in fencing, yellow, black, and red, each of them used for various violations. A yellow card is the less severe violations, and it is used for the mildest penalties, such as when a fencer turns its back to an opponent. If a fencer gets a second yellow card in a match, he or she receives a red card, which automatically awards a point to his or her opponent. There are also penalties in which a fencer gets a red card directly, without a yellow before.

An example of this is when a fencer deliberately touches the ground outside the strip to stop the match. The last and most serious penalty card is the black. A black card disqualifies a fencer from the competition, and it's only used in very specific situations, like when a fencer has unsportsmanlike conduct.

Fencing Penalties

Fencing Rules and Regulations

Fencing rules also require a bit of time to understand. The rules vary significantly between saber, foil, and epee. Each weapon has a different valid surface, where a touch can be scored. We'll cover epees, sabers, and foils.


The valid surface in epee is a fencer's whole body, from the tip of the mask to the shoe's sole. In epee, athletes use the tips of their weapons to touch opponents and score points. Epee has the most relaxed rules; every time a fencer touches somewhere in the valid surface, he or she gets the point, and in the case both fencers touch each other at the same time, they both get the point.


In saber, the valid surface is anywhere above a fencer's waist, including his mask. If a saberist touches his opponent outside of the valid surface, the electric scoreboard will not light up, and the match won't be stopped. Something unique about saber is that fencers can use the side of their weapons to touch opponents, in addition to the tip. Different from epee, not every time a fencer touches an opponent, he or she gets the point. Based on who has the priority or right of way, the referee will decide who will get the point. We will look more into priority rules later.


In foil, the valid surface in foil is the torso, not including the fencer's arms. Foil is at times, seen as a mix of saber and epee, as it incorporates elements from both weapons. In foil, fencers can only use the tip of their weapon to score points. Foil also uses right of way rules when awarding touches, but those are slightly different from saber's rules. In foil, when a fencer touches an opponent outside of the valid surface, a white light will light up on the electronic scoreboard, instead of a green or red, and the match will be stopped.  

Important Fencing Concepts

  • Attack
  • Parry
  • Riposte
  • Counter riposte
  • Counterattack
  • Lunge
  • Right of way
  • Valid surface
  • Feint
  • Fleche
  • Engagement
  • Disengagement
  • En garde position
  • Point-in-line
  • Corps-a-Corps

Fencing 101 Terms

  • Foil
  • Saber
  • Epee
  • Mask
  • Electric scoreboard
  • Electric jacket
  • Body cord
  • Pool
  • Direct elimination
  • Federation Internationale d'Escrime
  • Yellow card
  • Black Card
  • Red Card
  • Guard
  • Strip/Piste
  • En garde
  • Underarm protector