The piste, or fencing strip, is made of metal or similar conductive material and measures between 1.5 and 2 metres (4.9 and 6.6 feet) broad by 14 metres (46 feet) long, with a 1.5 metre extension, or runback, at each end. A centre line, en-garde lines, caution lines, and rear limit lines are all present on the slope. A spool, or reel, is located at each end of the piste and contains 20 metres (66 feet) of cable. Each fencer attaches their bod cord to the spool closest to them, which retracts and stretches as they move up and down the piste. When a hit is recognised, the spools are connected to the scoring box, which will light up and make a noise. The highest levels of competition use wireless scoring systems, which eliminate the need for spools.
The fencers begin a bout at the en-garde posture, 4 metres (13.1 ft) apart. To assess the bout, a referee stands opposite the piste, facing the scoring box.
Fencing rules and regulations
While each weapon has its own set of regulations, there are some commonalities across the three. Preliminary rounds, or pools, are held in which contestants are separated into small groups of six or seven fencers who compete round-robin style in five-touch bouts with a maximum duration of three minutes. (A bout’s duration is determined only by the amount of time spent fencing; the referee will stop the clock if no fencing is taking place.) Following the pools, a series of direct elimination rounds are held along a bracket with seeding decided by pool performance. These direct elimination bouts are limited to 15 touches, with each bout lasting a maximum of three three-minute sessions with rests in between. Sabre fights, unlike foil and épée, move quickly—15-touch bouts seldom last more than three minutes—so sabreists take a minute break after each fencer has scored eight touches.
Fencing for wheelchairs
One of the most recent breakthroughs in fencing is wheelchair fencing, which was introduced at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, England, by German-born English neurologist Sir Ludwig Guttmann. Guttmann established a number of sports therapy for World War II veterans who had suffered spinal cord injuries, including fencing. At the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948, Guttmann introduced Olympic-style tournaments for impaired athletes, and wheelchair fencing became a regular fencing event in Europe soon after. In the 1950s, the first international wheelchair fencing tournament was held. Since 1960, wheelchair fencing has been a feature of the Paralympic Games. This unusual type of fencing was first introduced in the 1960s in the United States, but it was not actively developed until the early 1990s.
The fencing is done in specially constructed frames that keep the wheelchairs stable. Wheelchair fencers attempt five touches, just like traditional fencers, except they are unable to advance or retreat. To obtain or avoid touches, wheelchair technique includes ducking, half twists, and leaning forward and backward. All touches, however, must be made without the athlete getting out of his or her chair. While many beginning wheelchair fencers depend on muscle and aggressive fencing techniques, more experienced competitors focus on technique and timing. The wheelchair game includes all three fencing weapons.