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Fencing is a family of sports and activities that feature armed combat involving cutting, stabbing, or bludgeoning weapons that are directly manipulated by hand, rather than shot, thrown or positioned. Examples include swords, knives, pikes, bayonets, batons, clubs, and similar weapons. In contemporary common usage, fencing tends to refer specifically to European schools of swordsmanship and to the modern Olympic sport that has evolved out of them.

Fencing is one of the four sports which has been featured at every modern Olympic Games and it is the only Spanish Olympic sport. Currently, three types of weapon are used in Olympic fencing:
  • 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"

The word fence was originally a shortening of the Middle English defens, which came from an Italian word, defensio, in origin a Latin word. The first known use of defens in reference to English swordsmanship is in William Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor: "Alas sir, I cannot fence."



The origins of fencing date back to Egypt and ancient Greece around 1200 BC. Carvings found depict bouts being fought using protected tips on swords, masks, and judges.


Fencing teachers and schools can be found in European historical records dating back at least to the 12th century. In later times some of these teachers were paid by rich nobles to produce books about their fighting systems, called treatises.

The earliest known surviving treatise on fencing, stored at the Royal Armouries Museummarker in Leedsmarker, Englandmarker, dates from around 1300 AD and is from Germanymarker. It is known as I.33 and written in medieval Latin and Middle High German and deals with an advanced system of using the sword and buckler (small shield) together.From 1400 AD onwards there are an increasing number of fencing treatises surviving from across Europe, with the majority from the 15th century coming from Germany and Italy. In this period these arts were largely seen as reserved for the knighthood and the nobility – hence most of these treatises deal with the knightly weapons, such as the rondel dagger, longsword, spear, pollaxe and armoured fighting mounted and on foot. Some treatises do cover the weapons more usually used by the common classes however, such as großes Messer and sword and buckler. Wrestling, both with and without weapons, and armoured and unarmoured, is also featured heavily in the early fencing treatises.

clean up, please. ply with other people by the 16th century, with the widespread adoption of the printing press and the increase in the urban population, together with other social changes, the number of fencing treatises being produced increased dramatically. Fencing schools had been forbidden in some European cities (particularly in England and Francemarker) during the medieval period, though court records show that such schools were kept illegally. After around 1500 it seems to have become more socially and legally acceptable to carry swords openly in most parts of Europe, and the increasing fortunes of the middle classes meant that more men were aspiring to carry swords, learn fencing and be seen as gentlemen. By the middle of the 16th century many European cities contained great numbers of fencing schools, often clustered together, such as in Londonmarker in "Hanging Sword Lane". Italian fencing masters were particularly popular in the 16th century and they went abroad and set up schools in many foreign cities. The Italian styles of fencing at this time, bringing concepts of science to the art, were seen as revolutionary and new, and they appealed to the new Renaissance mindset.

In 16th century Germany compendia of older Fechtbücher techniques were produced, some of them printed, notably by Paulus Hector Mair (in the 1540s) and by Joachim Meyer (in the 1570s), based on the teachings of the 14th century Liechtenauer tradition. In the 16th century German fencing developed sportive tendencies. Eventually the newer Italian attitude to fencing grew in popularity in Germany as well as elsewhere.

Today there are many groups around the world recreating the old fencing systems, using the surviving treatises. Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) are growing fast, bringing in people from many backgrounds, including those who have taken part in modern sport fencing and Asian martial arts.

Early modern period

Strictly, the European dueling sword is a basket and cage hilted weapon specifically used in duels from the late 17th to the 19th century. It developed through several forms of the rapier to the smallsword — reflecting the changes from a cutting style of swordplay to a thrusting style ('foining'). This was a result of increasing specialization in their use on the dueling field, and the social stigma attached to carrying and using swords too obviously adapted to the actual "work" of warfare. The smallsword, and the last version of the rapier, were made possible only by metallurgical advances in the seventeenth century as high toughness steels became more readily available.

In Englandmarker, it was not uncommon for fencing masters to take on other fencing masters in a fight, often to the death, often with intervals for medical staff to dress wounds. Such spectacles were generally held in beargardens, particularly in the Southwarkmarker neighborhood near Londonmarker.

The foil was invented in Francemarker as a training technique in the middle of the 18th century; it provided practice of fast and elegant thrust fencing with a smaller and safer weapon than an actual dueling sword. Fencers blunted (or "foiled") its point by wrapping a foil around the blade or fastening a knob on the point ("blossom", French fleuret). In addition to practice, some fencers took away the protection and used the sharp foil for duels. Germanmarker students took up that practice and developed the Parisermarker ("Parisian") thrusting small sword for the Stoßmensur ("thrusting mensur"). After the dress sword was abolished, the Pariser became the only weapon for thrust fencing in German colleges and universities.

Since thrust fencing with a sharply pointed blade of any kind is quite dangerous, many students died from (especially) pierced lungs (Lungenfuchser). However, a counter movement had already started in Göttingen in the 1750s, with the invention of the Göttinger Hieber, a predecessor of the modern Korbschläger, a new weapon for cut fencing. In the following years, the Glockenschläger was invented in Eastern Germany universities, also for cut fencing.

1800 to 1918

Fencing advertisement for the 1900 Summer Olympic Games
Thrust fencing (using the Pariser), and cut fencing (using Korbschläger or Glockenschläger), existed in parallel in Germany during the first decades of the 19th century, according to local preferences. Thrust fencing was especially popular in Jenamarker, Erlangenmarker, Würzburgmarker and Ingolstadtmarker/Landshutmarker, two towns where the predecessors of Munich Universitymarker were located. The last thrust Mensur is recorded to have taken place in Würzburg in 1860.

Until the first half of the 19th century all types of academic fencing can be seen as duels, since all fencing with sharp weapons was about honour. No combat with sharp blades took place without a formal insult. For duels involving non-students, e.g. military officers, the academic sabre became usual, apparently being derived from the military sabre. It was then a heavy weapon with a curved blade and a hilt similar to the Korbschläger.

The term "Classical Fencing" is a relatively new invention, retroactively applied to select periods and methods. As it is understood today, classical fencing derives most directly from the 19th and early-20th century national fencing schools, especially in Italymarker and Francemarker, although other pre-World War II styles such as Russianmarker and Hungarianmarker are also considered classical. Masters and legendary fencing figures such as Giuseppe Radaelli, Louis Rondelle, Masaniello Parise, the Greco brothers, Aldo Nadi and his rival Lucien Gaudin are today considered typical practitioners of this period.

Fencing was one of the disciplines at the very first Olympics Games in the summer of 1896. Épée and Sabre events have been held at every Summer Olympics; foil events have been held at every Summer Olympics except 1908.

Scoring was done by means of four judges who determined whether a touch had been made. Two side judges stood behind and to the side of each fencer, and watched for hits made by that fencer on the opponent's target. A director followed the fencing from a point several feet away from the centre of the action. At the end of each action, after calling "Halt!", the director would describe the action, and then poll the judges in turn. If the judges differed, or abstained, the director could overrule them.

This method had serious limitations, though it was universally used. As described in an article in the London newspaper, The Daily Courier, on June 25, 1896: "Every one who has watched a bout with the foils knows that the task of judging the hits is with a pair of amateurs difficult enough, and with a well-matched pair of maîtres d’escrime well-nigh impossible." There also were problems with bias: well-known fencers were often given the benefit of mistakes (so-called "reputation touches"), and in some cases there was outright cheating. Aldo Nadi complained about this in his autobiography The Living Sword in regard to his famous match with Lucien Gaudin.

The Daily Courier article is an early description of a new invention, the electrical scoring machine, that would revolutionize fencing.

1918 to present

Dueling went into sharp decline after World War I. After World War II, dueling went out of use in Europe except for very rare exceptions. Training for duels, once fashionable for males of aristocratic backgrounds (although fencing masters such as Hope suggest that many people had only taken one or two lessons, and thus considering themselves trained), all but disappeared, along with the classes themselves. Fencing continued as a sport, with tournaments and championships. However, the need to actually prepare for a duel with "sharps" vanished, changing both training and technique.

Starting with épée in the 1930s, side judges were replaced by an electrical scoring apparatus, with an audible tone and a red or green light indicating when a touch landed. Foil was electrified in the 1950s, sabre in the 1980s. The scoring box reduced the bias in judging, and permitted more accurate scoring of faster actions, lighter touches, and more touches to the back and flank than were possible with human judges.

Forms of fencing

Contemporary fencing is divided in three broad categories:

Competitive 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 and a set of rules called right of way, so as to minimize human error and bias in refereeing. In the United States, athletes compete at a local and national level. At a local level, athletes register for tournaments in their division via a website called "Askfred.net." At a national level, athletes compete in tournaments called "North American Cups", or NAC's for short. At these tournaments, competitors fence each other depending on what age group or division they are in. Some of the age groups are Y12 (Youth 12, or 12 or younger), Y14, Junior (18 or younger), and Cadet (16 or younger). In fencing, your rating represents how good you are in general. Fencers are rated E through A, U if they do not have a rating, or are unrated. E being the lowest, and A being the highest. In certain competitions, fencers may be of any age, but must meet the rating criteria in order to fence. Division I fencing requires fencers to have a rating C through A. Division II requires fencers to have a rating of C or lower. And Division III requires fencers to have a rating D or lower. In tournaments, fencers first fence 5 or 6 other fencers in what are called "pools." Depending on how the fencer does within that pool, the fencer is then put into a table chart with the other fencers of the tournament. In a NAC setting, if that fencer was one of the fencers in the bottom 20%, than that fencer must go home immediately. If not, that fencer must fence the opponent they are paired with, and if they win, they advance in the table chart, if they lose, they must go home. This is why this table chart phase is called "Direct Elimination", or DE for short.

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.

Fencing as a Western martial art

Historical Fencing

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 fencing.

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.

Historical fencing 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 practices.

Other forms of fencing

Finally, there are several other forms of fencing which have little in common besides history with either of the other two classifications.

Academic fencing, or mensur, is a German student tradition that has become mostly extinct but is still sometimes practiced in Germanymarker, Switzerlandmarker and Austriamarker as well as in Flanders, Polandmarker and Latviamarker. The combat, which uses a cutting weapon known as the schläger, uses sharpened blades and takes place between members of student corporations - "Studentenverbindungen" - in accordance with a strictly delineated set of conventions. It uses special protective gear that leaves most of the head and face, excluding the eyes, unprotected. (The special goggles are called Paukbrille.) The ultimate goal is to develop personal character, therefore there is no winner or loser and flinching is not allowed. Acquiring a proper cut on the face with the sharp blade, called a Schmiss (German for "smite"), was considered a visible sign of manly courage and status as "Akademiker", or member of the professional upper class. However, tales of cuts being intentionally manipulated by sewing in horsehairs or rubbing wounds with vinegar or salt have been discredited as popular myths since the 1880s.

Stage fencing seeks to achieve maximum theatrical impact in representing a wide range of styles, including both modern and historical forms of fencing. Theatrical fight scenes are choreographed by a Fight Director, and fencing actions are amended so that an audience with no understanding of the minutiae of fencing techniques can follow the narrative of the action, both physical and dramatic.

Recreational roleplaying often incorporates fencing in the context of historical or fantasy themes in the Society for Creative Anachronism or live-action roleplaying games. Technique and scoring systems vary widely from one group to the next, as do the weapons. Depending on local conventions, participants may use modern sport fencing weapons, period weapons, or weapons invented specifically for the purpose, such as boffers.

The Japanese sport of Kendo has no historic links to western fencing but is an example of parallel evolution, where a sport has developed for sword combat training.

Modern weapons

Three weapons survive in modern competitive fencing: foil, épée, and sabre. The spadroon and the heavy cavalry-style sabre, both of which saw widespread competitive use in the 19th century, fell into disfavour in the early 20th century with the rising popularity of the lighter and faster weapon used today. The singlestick was featured in the 1904 Olympic Games, but it was already declining in popularity at that time. Bayonet fencing experienced a somewhat slower decline, with competitions organized by some armed forces as late as the 1940s and 1950s.

While the weapons fencers use differ in shape and purpose, their basic construction remains similar across the disciplines. Every weapon has a blade and a hilt. The tip of the blade is generally referred to as the point. The hilt consists of a guard and a grip. The guard (also known as the coquille, the bell, or the bellguard) is a metal shell designed to protect the fingers. The grip is the weapon's actual handle. There are a number of commonly used variants. In foil and épée the more traditional French grip is approximately straight and usually terminates with a pommel (a heavy nut intended to act as a counterweight for the blade and to hold the handle on the weapon). Some modern designs of French grip do not use a heavy pommel nut, in an effort to construct the lightest épée possible.

The French grip has been entirely replaced in higher level foil fencing, and partially replaced in épée fencing, by a variety of ergonomic designs, called as a group pistol grips or orthopaedic grips. All of the weapons used for modern competition have electrical wiring which allows them to register a touch on the opponent.


Short clip of foil fencing
International valid foil target - the torso, and the portion of the bib 1.5-2cm below chin level.
Note that the USFA does not use the bib target in the United States.

The 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 thrusting.

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 newton (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 well.

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. 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.

This rule has not been implemented uniformly in all National fencing organizations. European fencing organizations have generally decided on September 1, 2009 as the date for all competitions to use the new rule.

As of September 1, 2009, the USFA has decided not to implement the bib as target for foil. After reviewing international competitions, it was observed that very few hits were actually scored under the new rules. Given the expense of having to replace equipment, as well as the safety concerns of allowing hits in the region of the throat, the USFA rejected the change. All domestic competitions in the US will not require the bib target; however, international events such as Junior or Senior World Cup Events will require the bib target. There are currently no plans to adopt the rule in the future.

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 counter-attack.


Short clip of épée fencing
Valid target area at Épée (the entire body).

Épée, 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 flesh.

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 passed.

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 Victorian era.

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 Italymarker and Hungarymarker, perhaps most notable among them being Italo Santelli (1866–1945).

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.

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 (hands/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.

Protective clothing

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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 Romemarker. 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 mask bib).

The complete fencing kit includes the following items of clothing:
  • Form-fitting jacket 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.
  • One glove 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 good grip
  • Breeches or knickers which are a pair of short trousers. The legs are supposed to hold just below the knee.
  • Knee-length or Thigh high socks which should cover knee and thighs.
  • Shoes with flat soles and reinforcement on the inside of the back foot and heel of front foot, to prevent wear from lunging.
  • Mask, including a bib which protects the neck. The mask can usually support 12 kg on the metal mesh, 350 Newtons of penetration resistance on the bib, however FIE regulation masks must withstand much more, 25 kg on the mesh and 1600 Newtons on the bib. Some modern masks have a see-through visor in the front of the mask. These can be used at high level competitions (World Championships etc.).
  • Plastic chest protector, 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.
  • 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.

Traditionally, the fencers' uniform is white in color (black being the traditional color for instructors). This may be to some extent due to the occasional pre-electric practice of covering the point of the weapon in dye, soot, or colored chalk in order to make it easier for the referee to determine the placing of the touches. Recently the FIE rules have been relaxed to allow colored uniforms (black still being reserved for the coaches). The guidelines delineating the permitted size and positioning of sponsorship logos are however still extremely strict.

Practice and techniques

Competition formats

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Fencing tournaments are varied in their format, and there are both individual and team competitions. A tournament may comprise all three weapons, both individual and team, or it may be very specific, such as an Épée Challenge, with individual épée only.And, as in many sports, men and women compete separately in high-level tournaments. Mixed-gender tournaments are commonplace at lower-level events, especially those held by individual fencing clubs. There are two types of event, individual and team. An individual event consists of two parts: the pools, and the direct eliminations.

In the pools, fencers are divided into groups, and every fencer in a pool will have the chance to fence every other fencer once. There are typically seven fencers in a pool. If the number of fencers competing is not a multiple of seven, then there will usually be several pools of six or eight. After the pools are finished, the fencers are given a ranking, or "seed," compared to all other fencers in the tournament, based primarily on the percent of bouts they won, then based secondarily on the difference between the touches they scored and the touches they received. Once the seeds have been determined, the direct elimination round starts. Fencers are sorted in a table of some power of 2 (16, 32, 64, etc.) based on how many people are competing. Due to the fact that it is highly unlikely for the number of fencers to be exactly a power of two, the fencers with the best results in the pools are given byes or the bottom seeded fencers are eliminated. The winner carries on in the tournament, and loser is eliminated. Typically no one has to fence for third place (the exception is if the tournament is a qualifying tournament with limited slots for continuation). Instead, two bronze medals are given to the losers of the semi-final round.

Team competition involves teams of three fencers. A fourth fencer can be allowed on the team as an alternate, but as soon as the fourth has been subbed in, they cannot substitute again. The modern team competition is similar to the pool round of the individual competition. The fencers from opposing teams will each fence each other once, making for a total of nine matches. Matches between teams are three minutes long, or to 5 points, and the points then carry onto the next bout, thus making it a forty-five touch bout fought by six fencers. Unlike individual tournaments, team tournaments almost always fence for bronze.

Universities and schools

Fencing has a long history of association with universities and schools. At least one style of Fencing, Mensur in Germany is practiced only within universities. University students compete against each other at an international level at the World University Games. The United States also holds a national level university tournament including the NCAA championship tournament in the USA and the BUCS Fencing Championships in the UK.

The cost of equipment and the relatively small scale of the sport means fencing at the school level has traditionally been dominated by a small number of schools. National fencing organizations have set up programs to encourage a greater number of students to get involved with fencing at a school level examples include the Regional Youth Circuit program or the Leon Paul Youth Development series in the UK.

In the UK there are two national competitions in which schools compete against each other directly; the Public Schools Fencing Championship, a competition only open to Independent Schools, and the Scottish Secondary Schools Championships, open to all secondary schools in Scotland it contains both a teams and individual event and is one of the most anticipated competition in Scottish youth fencing. However schools also organise matches directly against one another and school age pupils can compete individually against one another in the British Youth Championships.

See also


  • Evangelista, Nick (1996). The Art and Science of Fencing. Indianapolis: Masters Press. ISBN 1-57028-075-4.
  • Evangelista, Nick (2000). The Inner Game of Fencing: Excellence in Form, Technique, Strategy, and Spirit. Chicago: Masters Press. ISBN 1-57028-230-7.
  • United States Fencing Association (September, 2005). United States Fencing Association Rules for Competition. Official document. Retrieved 1 December 2005.
  • Amberger, Johann Christoph (1999). The Secret History of the Sword. Burbank: Multi-Media. ISBN 1-892515-04-0
  • British Fencing (September, 2008). FIE Competition Rules (English) . Official document. Retrieved 16 December 2008.

External links

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