Fencing is a combat sport in which two opponents fight with a foil, épée, or saber. Whether for war, training, show, honor, pleasure or sport, fencing has been performed with a wide variety of weapons: the Roman sword, the Japanese saber, the Turkish scimitar, the Carolingian épée, the Spanish rapier and the modern electrical foil.
Rules for fencing tournaments were written down during the Middle Ages. Fencing became popular in Spain in the 15th century, and in 1567, France’s King Charles IX created the Academy of Masters at Arms. The foil, used with elegance, courtesy and skill, first appeared in the 17th century.
In the 19th century, although duels were banned and firearms were becoming widespread, novels recalling the cape-and-rapier era fascinated the public and fencing became popular once again. The École de Joinville, founded in 1852 in France, trained students and made fencing a real sport. It was included in the first modern Olympic Games and, aside from the addition of electric signals, the rules and techniques of fencing have changed very little since its beginnings.
The foil: The foil is a thrusting weapon, which means the touches are made with the tip only. It began as a training and study weapon. Bouts with a foil require excellent technique and can be very animated, like bouts with the saber, or cautious, like those with the épée.
The épée: The épée is a thrusting weapon that requires patience, an excellent sense of observation, and nerves of steel. There are no conventions in épée bouts: the first to touch wins.
The saber: The saber is a thrusting, cutting and slicing weapon, which means that touches can be made with the tip, the edge or the back of the blade. Saber fencing is an Olympic sport for men only.
The 8 basic positions – prime, seconde, tierce, quarte, quinte, sixte, septime and octave –combine to make up the basic parries. There are 4 lines: 2 high and 2 low. Each line has 2 positions that are determined both by the placement of the blade in relation to the hand – tip higher or lower than the head – and by the way the hand is placed – in supination, with the nails up, or pronation, with the nails down. The fingers control the weapon: the wrist acts as a hinge and extension of the hand. This control enables a fencer to “feel the iron” (“sentir le fer”) – a heightened perception of the opponent’s reactions.
Once the signal to start is given, a bout continues until a touch (or hit) is recorded, an illegal move is signaled, the fencers’ bodies touch, or a fencer’s foot goes out of bounds. A bout is composed of 3 3-minute segments with 1 minute of rest between each segment. The winner is the first fencer to score 15 hits, or the leader if neither reaches 15 before time runs out.
If the score is tied after 9 minutes, 1 minute of sudden-death time is added.
All 3 fencing events have individual and team competitions. The International Fencing Federation sanctions international competitions, and world championships take place every year, except in Olympic years.