Fencing has a long history and is one of just five sports that has competed in every modern Olympic Games. It has an elitist reputation in the United Kingdom, owing to its relationship with aristocratic duelling, but there are efforts to make it more inclusive.

Fencing is mostly associated with Olympic fencing, although there are also classical fencing (which is more martial arts focused) and historical fencing. We’ll focus on the Olympic type and its three branches, foil, sabre, and epée, in this article; the sport is also known as competitive fencing to add to the confusion!

The Goal of the Game

The goal of the game is to strike your opponent with your weapon while avoiding getting hit. Simple, brutal, and painful if done incorrectly.

Players and their gear

Fencing is always a one-on-one sport, though team tournaments sometimes exist. The weapon itself is the most significant piece of equipment, and there are three types: the epée, which is the heaviest sword, the foil, which is a lighter thrusting weapon, and the sabre, which is a cutting and thrusting weapon evolved from the cavalry sword.

Players’ swords, as well as the scoring areas of their bodies, are electronically sensitive and are connected to the scoring box by a body cable in order to register the scores. There is an audible tone and a light that lights when a strike is detected.

To reduce the risk of serious injury, fencers must wear a range of protective gear. This features a mask and helmet that completely covers the head and has a robust mesh in the front that allows fencers to see through while still repelling weapons. A fencing jacket, pads, and a glove for the weapon hand are also required, as are additional pads to protect other body parts.

Fencing takes place on a 46-foot-long and six-foot-wide “piste.” Each round begins with the fencers starting from a central line with on-guard lines six feet to either side across the width of the piste.


In each of the three fencing variants, scoring is done differently. Only hits to the body, neck, crotch, and back count when using the foil, and points can only be earned by using the weapon’s tip, not the blade’s side.

Sword strikes below the waist are not counted, a restriction that dates back to the days of the cavalry, when striking an opponent’s horse was considered ungentlemanly. The contestants may score with both the tip and blade of the sabre, but the hands do not record as a hit. If two players strike each other at the same moment, the referee will apply the “right of way” rule, awarding the point to the person who launched their attack first.

The right of way rule does not apply to the epée, and both fencers may score at the same time unless it is the deciding point, in which case neither strike counts. In epée, only the weapon’s point may be utilised, and the entire body is a target.

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