The Sport of Fencing

Epee, foil, and saber are the three weapons used in the sport of fencing. Today, most fencers choose to focus their energies on mastering one weapon. Bay State Fencers is focuses on epee exclusively. For those new to fencing, it can often be challenging to follow the lightning speed of the fencers’ actions. To become more comfortable in watching a fencing bout, it often helps to focus on the actions of just one fencer. The fencer being attacked defends himself by using a “parry”, a blocking-motion used to deflect the opponent’s blade. After parrying, the fencer may attempt to score with a “riposte” (literally “answer” in French). In fact, you may notice a particular cadence to the bout as the fencers rhythmically alternate roles as attacker and defender.

The epee (pronounced “EPP-pay”) literally meaning “sword” in French and is the descendant of the dueling sword. Touches are scored only with the point of the blade and in epee the entire body, head-to-toe, is the valid target, much like in an actual duel. The point of the epee is fixed with a blunt, spring-loaded button and requires more than 750 grams of pressure to register a touch with the scoring machine.

Fencers seek to maintain a safe distance from each other – that is, out of range of the other’s attack. Then, one may try to close this distance to gain the advantage for an attack. At times, a fencer will make a false attack, “a feint”, to probe the types of reactions and possible defenses by the opponent. Much of the fencing bout consists of this preparation, during which a fencer simultaneously determines their opponent’s true intentions while feeding them false information of their own. The complexity of this “conversation” between the two opponents represents one of the more subtle beauties of the sport.

The fencing strip or “piste” is the playing area for the sport of fencing. The strip is required to be 14 meters long (about 46 feet) and between 1.5 and 2 meters wide (about 5 feet). The last two meters of the playing area on the strip are marked to warn the fencer so they do not back off the end of the strip, and then an additional two meters of run off space is provided as run off space at each end of the strip. The strip is marked with a center line and two “en garde” lines which are located two meters on either side of the center line.

Retreating off the end of the strip with both feet results in a touch or point being awarded to the opponent. Going off the side of the strip with one or both feet halts the fencing action and is penalized by allowing the opponent to advance one meter before returning to en garde position. If the offending fencer would be returned to en garde position behind the rear limit of the strip, a touch is awarded to the opponent. After each touch or point is scored fencers begin again at the en garde line, 4 meters apart. If no touch is scored but play is halted, the fencers return to en garde at the position they were stopped their action.

Most fencing strips are “grounded” to the scoring box, thus any hits that a fencer makes against the strip will not be registered as a touch.

Competitors win an epee bout (what an individual “game” is called) by being the first to score 5 points (in preliminary pool play) and 15 points (in direct elimination play), or by having a higher score than their opponent when the time limit expires. The time limit for preliminary pool play is three minutes and for direct elimination play nine minutes consisting of 3 three-minute periods with a one-minute break between each period. Each time a fencer lands a valid hit, commonly called “a touch”, on their opponent, they receive one point.

Team competitions feature a team of three fencers squaring off against another team in a “relay” format. Each team member fences every member of the opposing team in a sequence over 9 rounds until one team reaches 45 touches or has a higher score when time expires in the final round.

Fencing in the Olympics features a single-elimination table format, much like that used in tennis. There are no preliminary rounds, as the initial seeding into the table is determined by World Rankings.

Fencers score a point by hitting their opponent first. If the fencers hit each other within 1/25th of a second, both receive a point – this is commonly referred to as a double touch. The lack of right-of-way rules used in foil and sabre combined with a full-body target naturally makes epee a game of careful strategy and patience – wild, rash attacks are quickly punished with solid counter-attacks. So, rather than attacking outright, epeeists often spend several minutes probing their opponent’s defenses and maneuvering for distance before risking an attack. Others choose to stay on the defensive throughout the entire bout.

To Learn More please download the USA Fencing Rulebook

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