What is Fencing?

fencing

Fencing is an exciting, fast paced sport in which two athletes play each other, using sword-like weapons to attack and score points, and to protect themselves against their opponent's attacks. Fencing is often referred to as physical chess, as both demand focus, attention, good analysis of the game, and a deep understanding of tactics and technique of the game. But above all, fencing is fun, and a place where you can make a lot of friends!


History

fencing history

Fencing was not always the safe and modern sport we see today. It evolved from sword fights and duels, where inevitably, one of the participants involved would end up injured, or even dead. Fencing slowly evolved into a sport during the 1800s century, with the first fencing societies and clubs being created at the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s. In 1896, the sport was part of the first Olympic Games of the modern era. From 1896 on, fencing kept evolving as a sport, with rules, athletes, and the technology involved improving more and more.

Playing Surface

Fencing Playing Surface

The fencing strip, also known as piste, is the metal surface over which athletes fence. The srtip has a rectangular format, 46 feet (14 meters) long and between 4.9 and 6.6 feet wide. In a fencing bout, fencers go back and forth on the strip's 46 feet, and cannot cross each other. The strip has a central line, which marks the middle of the area, placed two meters from it. There are the en guarde lines, one to the left and one to the right of the central line. Three meters from the en guarde line, there is the warning line, where the warning zone starts. The last line on the fencing strip is the final line, placed 7 meters away from the central line, it marks the end of the fencing strip.

The target area in fencing is the area of the fencer's body where points can be scored. If fencers touch their opponents outside of the target area, they will not be awarded a point, although the consequences of hitting off-target vary depending on the weapon; for example, in foil, if a fencer hits an opponent on their arm, a white light will come on on the scorer, and the bout will be stopped. In saber, if a fencer hits another on the leg, nothing will happen, and the bout will not be stopped.

Equipment

Fencing equipment list

Equipment is a big part of fencing, as practicing the sport without it can be very dangerous. Fencing equipment is not cheap, but fencing clubs have gear that their members can borrow. Therefore, there is no need to buy all the needed fencing equipment. Some important pieces of fencing equipment are:

  • Weapon
  • Fencing Uniform
  • Fencing Mask
  • Body cord

Fencing is composed of three different modalities, or three different weapons. They are saber, epee, and foil.

Saber

fencing saber

Saber is the fastest of all fencing weapons. The valid target area in saber is anywhere above the waist, including the mask and the back. To score points, saberists can use both the tip and the blade of their weapons. In saber, scoring is determined by "right of way" rules.

Epee

fencing epee

Fencing epee is a game of patience, as fencers wait until the perfect opportunity to score. In epee, the valid target area is the whole body, from the tip of the toes to the top of the mask. Epeeists can only use the tip of their weapons to score points. In epee, if both fencers touch each other at the same time, they both are awarded a point.

Foil

fencing foil

Foil is often referred to as the mix between saber and epee, as it mixes saber's speed with epee's precision. The only valid target area in foil is the torso, excluding the arms. Like saber, scoring in foil is determined by "right of way" rules.

Gameplay

fencing gameplay

Fencing is a sport where two athletes compete with swords, using them to touch each other and to protect themselves against being touched. Fencing is an exciting sport that can be practiced by kids and adults. Why should you start fencing? Besides the body, fencing is a sport that also exercises the mind, as it is important to have your tactics and techniques sharp to succeed in it.

At the senior level, a fencing bout is played until a fencer scores a set number of points, or until time runs out. At the pool stage of a tournament, fencers fence until someone scores 5 points, or until the 3-minute timer runs out. On the playoff stage, fencers play up to 15, and have three periods of 3 minutes each to reach that score, with one minute breaks in between. The timer is stopped after every touch, and whenever the referee judges necessary.

Rules and Regulations

Fencing Rules and Regulations

For someone who doesn't know the sport well, fencing rules may look and sound confusing. However, they can be easily explained by those who have experience with the sport. In fencing, in addition to the basic rules such as time-keeping and how points are awarded, it is important to know some of the most common faults, for which fencers are penalized.

Check out some of fencing's most important rules:

"Right of Way" rules: Also called priority. The right of way rules are used in saber and foil. Different from epee, in those weapons both fencers are not awarded points if they touch each other at the same time. The right of way rules determine who gets awarded a point in foil and saber.

Exiting the strip on the side: If a fencer exits the strip by one of the sides, the action is stopped, the fencer who exited retreats one meter from the spot where he or she exited.

Exiting the strip on the end: If a fencer exits the piste by the end, the opponent is awarded a point. For that to happen, the fencer must have both of their feet behind the last line.

Yellow Card: A yellow card in fencing works as a warning. The yellow card is given in the event a mild infraction is committed, like if fencers turn their backs to the opponent. If a fencer commits a second yellow card infraction, he or she is given a red card.

Red Card: A red card in fencing awards a point to the opponent of the fencer who committed an infraction. A red card is given if a medium infraction is committed, or if it is the second time a yellow card infraction is committed.

Black Card: A black card is the rarest of them all in fencing. Black cards are given out for serious infractions, like unsportsmanlike conduct, or if a fencer cheats. The black card excludes the infractor from the competition.

Referees and Officials

fencing Referees and Officials

In fencing, referees hold a lot of power in their hands. They are the ones responsible for making a fencing bout go on as smoothly as possible, and that fencers are competing safely, within the rules, and with sportsmanship. In saber and foil, based on the right of way rules, referees must decide who gets the point when both fencers touch each other at the same time. Referees must be treated with great respect by fencers, as they are the maximum authority in a fencing bout. Referees are also the ones who stop and start and the fencing match.

To start a bout, the referee will give fencers a command, "En garde!", indicating that they have to take their guard positions to start the match.

After fencers are in their garde positions, referees will ask fencers: "ready?"

If both fencers are ready to start, the referee will say "fence!" after which fencers can start moving and trying to score points.

If the bout needs to be stopped, the referee will loudly say "Halt!", and fencers must stop fencing.

Lingo and Terminology

Fencing Lingo and Terminology
  • Attack: Motion by which the fencers take the initiative to score a point.
  • Bout: A match between two fencers, either in practice or in a competition.
  • En Garde: The position taken before the fencing starts. Referees will say "En Garde" indicating to fencers that they must take the position.
  • Epee: One of three fencing weapons.
  • Foil: One of three fencing weapons.
  • Fleche: An explosive unbalanced move, used to attack the opponent.
  • Lunge: The most common movement used to score, done by pushing the front leg forward, and extending the back leg.
  • Parry: Defensive movement done with the weapon, used to block an opponent's attack.
  • Pool: First round of a fencing competition in which fencers are divided in groups and fence bouts of 5 points.
  • Riposte: An attack done by the defender, right after parrying the opponent's attack.
  • Saber: One of three fencing weapons.
  • Strip: The surface over which fencers compete

Coaching

Fencing Coaching

Fencing coaches are unquestionably the most passionate people about the sport in the fencing world. Coaching fencing is not easy, it many times involves working long hours in weekend-long competitions, lots of travelling, and a competitive environment. However, fencing coaches still manage it, as they love their jobs. Fencing being an individual sport, the coach-athlete relationship is a special one, it involves a lot of trust and a closeness. Besides helping improve fencing skills, coaches also must help athletes work their minds.

Skills and Techniques

Fencing Skills and Techniques

Practicing skills and perfecting technique is an important part of fencing. Take a look at some important skills and techniques in fencing, and the reason why they are important:

Footwork: Having good footwork is very important in fencing, as it is a game where distance is very important. Explosive and quick footwork allows fencers to get away from their opponents attacks, while making their own attacks more efficient.

Blade Work: In fencing the blade is a big part of both attacking and defending. While in offense, blade work is used to deceive an opponent with feints, effective parrys, which are done using the blade, is an important fundamental.

Coordination (leg and arm): Scoring a point in fencing is often only a matter of timing. Sometimes, even though an opponent may know what you will try to do, doing it at the right time can make it unstoppable. Leg and arm coordination allows fencers to do their actions at the right time.

Grit: Fencing is not an easy sport to get really good at. That way, an important skill to have is grit to practice, knowing that with hard work, you can really improve.

Strategy

Fencing Strategy

When it comes to strategy and tactics, fencing is a unique sport. A fencer's strategy will directly depend on his opponent's, and vice versa. Therefore, the dynamics of fencing strategy can't be easily analyzed, and they change a lot during a bout. Nonetheless, fencing is a sport of attack and defense. Some fencers are better at defending themselves and finding opportunities to score through defending, while others excel at getting through defense. However, the best fencers are those who instead of focusing on their strengths, analyze their opponent, the bout, and are able to adapt in the middle of a match.

Fencing Drills

Fencing Drills

Fencing drills are designed to improve some key aspects of the sport. While there are three different weapons in fencing, with different needed skills, some drills are very general and work out abilities that all fencers need. Drills can be focused on fencing specifics, such as prying drills, timing drills, and attacking drills; or on physical aspects, such as flexibility, coordination, footwork, and leg and arm speed. Different coaches will have different drills, nonetheless, they all seek to make fencers better at the sport.

Olympic Fencing

olympic fencing

Fencing is one of the most traditional Olympic sports. It has been featured in every edition of the Games, since the first one in 1896, when only men competed in foil and saber events. Women's events were first added in 1924, when female athletes competed in a foil event. Today, more than 120 years later, the sport has modernized itself, and continues to be part of the Olympic program. Today, fencing has a total of 12 events in the Olympics, individual male and female events for all three weapons, and team male and female for all three weapons as well. The Olympic Games are the most important competition in fencing, and fencers dream and practice to win an Olympic medal.

Youth Fencing

youth fencing

If you want to start practicing fencing, the first step is to find a fencing club. A fencing club has coaches and other athletes, who will help you learn and get better at the sport. In addition to having fun by practicing a sport, fencing clubs are also very welcoming, they embrace new members, and by joining one you can make friends for a lifetime. Fencing clubs do charge memberships. In many clubs, members pay a fee to come and fence other members, and take group lessons, and can choose to pay extra for individual lessons with a coach.

Fencing Coaches

Fencing Coaches

Some coaches in fencing are well-known around the world for producing elite athletes who have left their marks in the sport. The best fencing coaches in the world usually have deals to coach National Fencing teams. A good example is Andre Cipressa, who is the foil coach for the Italian National Fencing Team. Although Cipressa coaches athletes from his home country, it is not unusual for fencing coaches to work for other countries. For example, Daniel Levavasseur is a Frenchman, who in addition to having worked with French athletes has also coached the Chinese National Team, and worked with athletes from Brazil and Tunisia.

Fencing Athletes

Fencing Athletes

Fencing athletes are very passionate about their sport. Fencers are very strong both physically and mentally, as the sport demands a lot from both. Fencing is also an individual sport, so fencers are people who like to depend on themselves and are confident in their own abilities. Nonetheless, it is still a sport with a lot of camaraderie, as fencing is known to be an open and welcoming community. In addition to that, if you feel like you are a patient, competitive, and determined person, you can also become a fencer. Have a look at a few of the best and most celebrated fencing athletes in history:

FENCERWEAPONNATIONALITY
Mariel ZagunisSaberUSA
Aladár GerevichSaberHungary
Valentina VezzaliFoilItaly
Edoardo MangiarottiFoil/EpeeItaly
Britta HeidemannEpeeGermany
Pavel KolobkovEpeeRussia

Fencing Leagues

Fencing Leagues

Different from other sports, there are no fencing leagues. Fencing is a sport where several competitions are played during the year, which are worth points to a ranking. On the international level, fencers compete in Grand Prixes, World Cups, World Championships and the Olympics, every four years; all of which are worth points to a World Ranking. Besides the prestige of being one of the best in the world, fencers who are highest in the World Ranking get better seeding in competitions. In addition to that, the Senior World Ranking is also used in the Olympic qualifying process.

Fencing Teams

Fencing Teams

While fencing is an individual sport, it is not unusual to hear people talking about "teams." That is because fencing also has team events, in which teams of fencers face each other. Fencing teams are composed of four fencers, where three fencers start and one is the reserve who can be subbed in during the match. Team events are fenced at both the international level and the club level. At national competitions there are often team events, in which fencers from the same club compete against other clubs. On the international level, fencers are on teams divided by country, and they fence fencers from other countries.

Fencing Events

Fencing Events

The events in fencing are divided by gender (men's or women's), weapon (foil, saber, epee), age, and type (individual or teams). While at the Olympic games there are 12 events, male and female for all three weapons, both individual and teams, that is rarely the case. Most competitions are weapon specific, or age specific. Also, it is unlikely to find team events at age groups younger than 17.

Fencing Tournaments

Fencing Tournaments

Fencing tournaments are the best and most exciting part about fencing. It is when all the hard work in practice is shown, and although some tournaments may end up better than others, it is always a learning experience. Although the format of a tournament can change, most follow the follow this structure:

Based on rankings, fencers are divided into pools of 5 to 7 athletes. Fencers on the same pool fence each other on bouts of 5 points.

After all pool bouts have been fenced, all athletes in the tournament get ranked in a general qualification, based on their number of wins, points scored, and points allowed.

Fencers are then displayed on a bracket, where the fencers with the best records after the pools fence the ones with the worst records in a bout of 15 points. For example, in a tournament with 32 fencers, the fencer ranked number 2 after pools will fence the one ranked number 31.

Fencers will follow the bracket established after the pools in a playoff system, until there is only one fencer left, the winner of the tournament.

Fencing Books

fencing books

You can learn a lot about the sport, its history, and regulations by reading books. If you are looking for a fencing read, take a look at some recommendations below:

BOOKAUTHOR
ProudIbtihaj Muhammad
American FencerTim Morehouse
Fencing Is My LifeSergei Golubitsky
Art and Science of FencingNick Evangelista

Fencing Websites

Fencing Websites

Fencers are very passionate about their sport, and about teaching it to other people. There are quite a few interesting fencing websites that produce interesting content. Check some of them out:

  • Fie.org: FIE is the worldwide fencing governing body. Their website has world rankings, tournament results, and more.
  • Fencing.net: Fencing.net brings everything about fencing, from news, to guides, and useful information for those who are starting at the sport.
  • youtube.com/CyrusOfChaos: Cyrus of Chaos is a dedicated fencing youtube channel. Bouts from all weapons in the most important fencing competitions are available, as well as highlights.

FAQ

Does fencing hurt?

No, fencing does not hurt! Although the idea of fighting with swords may make you think that, fencing equipment is really focused in making the sport safe for athletes. Although athletes may get injured, as in any other sport, fencing is one of the sports with the lowest injury rates!

What is the difference between the fencing "types"?

Fencing has three different weapons, which sometimes is referred to by people not familiar with the sport as different "types" of fencing. The three weapons are saber, epee, and foil, and although they are all fencing, they have different rules and equipment.

Is fencing tiring?

Yes, fencing is very tiring. A fencing bout is rather short; there is, at max, 9 minutes of active fencing time, and so many may think that fencers don't get tired practicing their sport. However, fencing bouts are very intense, and fencers need a lot of explosiveness. In addition to that, athletes play a lot of bouts in a tournament, and thus get really tired after it.

Is it expensive to start fencing?

Although the sport is expensive, it is not expensive for newcomers to get started on fencing. While there is lots of equipment needed to practice the sport, new fencers can borrow or rent most, if not all, of the needed equipment from their fencing club.

Am I too old to start fencing?

No one is ever too old to start fencing. Adults looking for a hobby and a way to get fit find fencing the perfect opportunity to do so. There are veteran competitions for many of the fencers who are not experienced and have just started in the sport. Although someone who starts fencing at an old age may not qualify for the olympics or become a world champion, a good time is guaranteed.