Fencing measures its tradition in centuries yet is as modern as a computer chip. Fencers today use blades that would be familiar to someone in the 16th century yet are linked to split second electronic scoring.
Fencing is no longer a matter of life and death as it was in the days when being able to handle a sword to defend your honour was an essential life skill.
Today, people fence for enjoyment, fitness and the competitive challenge. Fencing is a sport for everyone, girls and boys, men and women from under 7 to over 70.
Fencing values courtesy and respect. When you step onto that piste you salute your opponent and at the end of the bout you salute again and shake hands. Whatever the result, you win with humility and lose with grace.
THE THREE FENCING WEAPONS
Foil is a light and fast weapon. The target area is your opponents’ torso, front and back. Only hits in this area count. Foil is a ‘point weapon’ with hits scored with the point of the blade. Foil is also a ‘priority weapon’ which means you can only score a hit if you have earned the right to do so by taking priority. Priority is taken by initiating an attack or by blocking an attack with a parry then counter-attacking with a riposte (reply).
Epee is also a point weapon, but not a priority weapon. You can attack at any time and hit any part of your opponent’s body, including the mask and feet. The modern epee is closest to the rapiers that were used in duels in centuries past. While epee is the heaviest weapon and bouts tend to take longer, it is a weapon of finesse often with deft scoring touches on the opponent’s wrist and arm.
Sabre is not a point weapon as hits can be scored with any part of the blade but it is a priority weapon. As with foil, in sabre you take priority by initiating an attack or by parrying your opponent’s attack and responding with a riposte. The target area in sabre is the upper body, including the torso, arms and mask. While all fencing is energetic, sabre is particularly fast and furious – so fast that the bouts are not timed.
Scoring is done by electronic equipment hence the conductive jackets, made of woven metallic material that are worn by foil and sabre fencers. Epee doesn’t need a metallic jacket as all parts of the body are targeted.
THE FENCING GAME
Fencing is conducted on a metallic piste 14 metres long by 1.5 metres wide – fencers move rapidly up and down the piste as they strive to attack their opponent and defend themselves against attack. Bouts are conducted in 3 minute sessions.
In the preliminary (ranking) round you fence each other fencer in your group or pool, usually of 7 fencers, in bouts of up to 5 hits.
For the direct elimination round, fencers are ranked according to their results in the pools round. Then higher ranked fencers compete with lower ranked fencers in a knock-out competition until the winner is decided. Usually four medals are awarded – gold, silver and two bronzes.