During the Middle Ages, the use of armour, which was essentially the only means of protection, hampered the adept use of a sword among Europe’s nobles. Swords were large and heavy, and they were primarily employed to pierce the defensive armour. Armour, on the other hand, fell out of favour with the introduction of gunpowder in the 14th century (musket balls easily pierced the armour, rendering it ineffective in battle). The sword remained the only weapon that could be worn on the body for self-defense, but the abolition of armour necessitated the wearer’s mastery of the sword—a talent that became increasingly important both in times of war and in a gentleman’s daily life.

The Marxbrüder (the Association of St. Marcus of Löwenberg), which was awarded letters patent by the Holy Roman emperor Frederick III in 1480, was the most renowned of the guilds of fencing masters created throughout Europe by the 15th century. The guilds taught early fencing skills that were rough and tumble and included wrestling moves. The guilds guarded their secret moves with zeal, hoping to use the unexpected to defeat an adversary. Fencing was first promoted in England by Henry VIII, who awarded letters patent to many fencing teachers allowing them to teach there sometime before 1540. The continental European rapier combat eventually supplanted the early English style of fighting with a cutting sword and a buckler (a small shield worn on the free arm).

Sport that is organised

Late in the nineteenth century, fencing became a more organised competitive sport. Camille Prévost, a French fencing master, was the first to collect and codify basic principles in the 1880s. The Amateur Fencers League of America was created in 1891, the Amateur Fencing Association of Great Britain was founded in 1902, and the Fédération Nationale des Sociétés d’Escrime et Salles d’Armes de France was founded in 1906. In the United States, collegiate fencing was also organised around this time: the Intercollegiate Fencing Association held its first matches in 1894. (the sport in American universities is now governed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association).

Meanwhile, since their reintroduction in 1896, men’s fencing has been a feature of the Olympic Games. In 1900, the épée was added to the Olympic calendar as an individual event alongside the foil and sabre. In the 1904 Games, team competition in the foil was added, followed by the sabre and épée in 1908. By the early twentieth century, there had been numerous disagreements about various fencing rules. For example, France withdrew their whole squad from the 1912 Olympic Games following a dispute about the foil target area, while the Italians refused to fence in the épée events when a request to raise the allowable length of the épée blade was denied. As a result, the Fédération Internationale d’Escrime was created in 1913 and became the governing organisation of international fencing for amateurs at the Olympic Games and world championships thereafter.


A jacket, a mask, a glove, pants or knickers, white stockings, flat-soled shoes, a body cord, and a weapon are all required for all fencers. Fencing in sabre and foil also necessitates the use of a mask cord and a conductive material lamé worn over the jacket.

Modern fencing weapons and rule variants

The designs and regulations of competition for the three weapons are all different. In foil, hits must be made with the weapon’s point and are only legal if they land on the lamé or the conductive part of the fencing mask, which cover the body’s trunk, groyne, and parts of the neck. At the tip of the foil is a pressure-sensitive button that depresses when 500 grammes of pressure is applied. The hit is legal if the tip makes contact with the lamé; if it makes contact with the nonconductive jacket or underwear, the hit is “off-target” and not counted. After one of the fencers scores an on-target hit, the opponent gets 300 milliseconds to hit before the scoring box locks them out. Fencing comes to a halt for both off-target and on-target hits, but only on-target hits result in touches. When both fencers hit their targets, right-of-way rules are applied to establish who has priority.

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