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Articles: Fencing


Fencing is a fight sport where 2 opponents engage in a duel using swords. Rather than kill each other a duel is won by points. Points are awarded for a hit on the opponent in specific places or getting him to withdraw far enough.

Practicing swordsmanship for combat purposes exists since the Bronze Age; however, the modern sport of fencing finds its origins in Spanish ‘classical fencing’. The sport as we know it originates in Italy in the 18th century. Fencing was then adopted and developed by the French school in the 19th century. Fencing became very popular in Europe amongst the upper classes since it was seen as a preparation for a duel.

Fencing was first set up as a sport in London in 1763. Over a hundred years later, in 1880, the first fencing tournament, the ‘Grand Military Tournament and Assault at Arms’, was held in Islington, London.

The modern sport of fencing is governed by the Federation Internationale d’Escrime (FIE), founded in 1913. Whilst the sport itself has been an Olympic sport since the inception of the Olympics in 1896, the biggest development in modern fencing occurred in 1933, when the Laurent-Pagan electrical scoring device was introduced and replaced side judges.

A fencing match

Modern fencing tournaments are either team or individual events in which both men and women take part. To balance play, fencing groups participants are classified by age such as junior, adult, and seniors. Some subdivisions exist within some of the categories.

A modern fencing match takes place on a 14 meters long, 1.5 to 2 meters wide strip, referred to as a ‘piste’. There are lines set up 2 meters on each side of the strip’s center line called the ‘engarde lines’.

Fencers wear a Lamé in foil and sabre competition, which is a layer of electrically conductive material worn over the jacket that covers the legal target areas. The Lamé is not necessary in the epée discipline since the entire body is a target. In foil, the Lamé is sleeveless, while in sabre, the Lamé has sleeves and terminates directly across the waist.

To be able to register points, a wire is necessary - it is attached to the weapon, runs up the sleeve of the jacket, down the back and then exits to be attached to the electrical scoring box. In sabre and foil, the body cord connects to the lame in order to create a circuit to the scoring box.

Three types of fencing swords

Foil: a light stabbing sword which cannot weigh more than 500 grams. It can be used against the torso (including the back), neck, and groin. The fencer is not permitted to use it against the arms or legs of his opponent.

Epée: a stabbing sword like the foil, but meatier, with a maximum weight of 770 grams. When using the epée, the entire body is a valid target. The hand guard on the epée is a large circle that extends towards the pommel and protects the hand from being targeted.

Sabre: this is a light slashing and stabbing sword designed to target the entire body above the waist, with the exception of the weapon hand. The maximum allowable sword weight is 500 grams. The fencer can score a point with a touch using either the point or the edge of the blade.

Fencing clothing

The fencing dress is quite elaborate since it needs to be able to protect the player from injury. A body hugging jacket with straps between the legs (croissard) is worn, along with an underarm protector underneath the jacket. This protector provides double the protection on the sword arm side and upper arm, and is called a ‘Plastron’. On the fighting hand, the fencer has a glove with a gauntlet that prevents blades from going up the sleeve and causing injury to the weapon wielding arm. Breeches, which end just below the knee, are worn on the legs; they are required to have 10 cm of overlap with the jacket and are generally fitted with suspenders (braces). Fencers also wear knee or thigh high socks and flat soled shoes, which are reinforced on the inside of the back foot and heel of the front foot.

In order to protect the athlete’s face, a mask with a bib to cover the neck is worn. Masks must be able to withstand 25 kg of pressure on the mesh, and 1,600 Newtons on the bib. There are separate types of mask for the foil and sabre, as well as some three-weapon masks. On top of that, plastic chest protectors are obligatory for females, and male versions of the chest protector are optional.

How a match begins

With the referee standing at the side of the ‘piste’, the fencers step onto the ‘piste’ with their masks off and plug their cables into the electronic scoring device spools before testing their weapons against each other. They then retreat to their en-garde lines and salute each other. Following on from the salutes, the referee calls "En-garde!” - Masks are donned, and the fencing stance is adopted. When every player is ready, the referee calls "Ready?", and then calls "Play!" or "Fence!" to start the duel.

Rules of fencing

Once the bout commences, the players will lunge thrust and parry until a point is scored or the referee calls a halt. This can be because there has been an infraction, or because the action is too disorganized to be safe and recognizable. If a point is awarded, then the fencers return to the en-garde lines. If no point was awarded, they recommence where they are.

Fencing matches are composed of 1, 5, or 15 point matches. The match is then split into 3 minute bouts with the clock stopping every time there is a stoppage. In 15 point matches, there is a 1 minute break between each of the 3 minute bouts. However, play does not carry on indefinitely - in a 15 point match, after 9 minutes of fencing the current points leader is the winner, and in a 5 point match, after 3 minutes the points leader is the winner.

In case the score is tied, the referee determines a fencer at random to have ‘priority’. Then 1 minute of fencing begins and the first fencer to score a point wins - if not, the player with priority wins. There are further ‘Right of way’ rules, which are somewhat complex, but they basically state that the fencer who initiates the attack is awarded the point, even if both fencers score simultaneous points with their swords. Finally, if a fencer is forced to retreat of the back of the ‘piste’ due to the ferocity of the opponent’s attack, the opponent is awarded a point.

Flow and tactics

Due to its combative nature, fencing tends to be explosive, with frenetic activity and sudden halts. Tactically, a player will choose an offensive strategy or a defensive countering strategy depending on whether they are leading in the match or not.

Professional fencing

There is no real professional fencing; fencers who are able to make a living from the sport earn their money from sponsors, but even then, it is generally not sufficient to be a full time occupation. Most top level fencers are supported through their national sporting associations.

There are tournaments for both individuals and teams. Individual tournaments tend to be structured as a group round robin stage, followed by a direct elimination stage. On the other hand, team events are direct elimination only - in these tournaments, each fencer fights 3 times and the team with the highest total of points wins. The biggest competitions in the fencing world are the Olympics, the World Championships, and the various intercontinental championships. Additionally, there are one or two events held each month worldwide in all the different fencing disciplines.

Betting on fencing

Generally, betting on fencing tends to be confined to the main marquee tournaments. Most fencing bets are straight up bets on the winner of a match, or on the winning team. There are occasionally some additional bets to be had on the first player to reach a certain number of hits.