There are three weapons in modern fencing: foil, epee, and sabre. Each weapon has its own rules and strategies. Equipment needed includes at least 2 swords, a Lame (not for epee), a white jacket, underarm protector, two body and mask cords, knee high socks, glove and knickers.
Foil – The foil is a light thrusting weapon with a maximum weight of 500 grams. The foil targets the torso, but not the arms or legs. The foil has a small circular hand guard that serves to protect the hand from direct stabs. As the hand is not a valid target in foil, this is primarily for safety. Touches are scored only with the tip; hits with the side of the blade do not register on the electronic scoring apparatus (and do not halt the action). Touches that land outside the target area (called an off-target touch and signaled by a distinct color on the scoring apparatus) stop the action, but are not scored. Only a single touch can be award to either fencer at the end of a phrase. If both fencers land touches within a close enough interval of milliseconds to register two lights on the machine, the referee uses the rules of “right of way” to determine which fencer is awarded the touch, or if an off-target hit has priority over a valid hit, in which case no touch is awarded. If the referee is unable to determine which fencer has right of way, no touch is awarded.
Epee – The epee is a thrusting weapon like the foil, but heavier, with a maximum total weight of 775 grams. In epee, the entire body is valid target. The hand guard on the epee is a large circle that extends towards the pommel, effectively covering the hand, which is a valid target in epee. Like foil, all hits must be with the tip and not the sides of the blade. Hits with the side of the blade do not register on the electronic scoring apparatus (and do not halt the action). As the entire body is legal target, there is no concept of an off-target touch, except if the fencer accidentally strikes the floor, setting off the light and tone on the scoring apparatus. Unlike foil and sabre, epee does not use “right of way”, and awards simultaneous touches to both fencers. However, if the score is tied in a match at the last point and a double touch is scored, the point is null and void.
The sabre is a light cutting and thrusting weapon that targets the entire body above the waist, except the weapon hand. Saber is the newest weapon to be used. Like the foil, the maximum legal weight of a sabre is 500 grams. The hand guard on the sabre extends from hilt to the point at which the blade connects to the pommel. This guard is generally turned outwards during sport to protect the sword arm from touches. Hits with the entire blade or point are valid. As in foil, touches that land outside the target area are not scored. However, unlike foil, these off-target touches do not stop the action, and the fencing continues. In the case of both fencers landing a scoring touch, the referee determines which fencer receives the point for the action, again through the use of “right of way”.
Protective clothing – Most personal protective equipment for fencing is made of tough cotton or nylon. Kevlar was added to top level uniform pieces (jacket, breeches, underarm protector, lame, and the bib of the mask) following the death of Vladimir Smirnov at the 1982 World Championships in Rome. However, Kevlar breaks down into chlorine in UV light, complicating the cleaning process. Other ballistic fabrics, such as Dyneema, have been developed that resist puncture, and which do not degrade the way that Kevlar does. FIE rules state that tournament wear must be made of fabric that resists a force of 800 newtons (180 lbf), and that the mask bib must resist twice that amount.
The complete fencing kit includes:
Jacket -The jacket is form-fitting, and has a strap (croissard) that passes between the legs. In sabre fencing, jackets are cut along the waist.(clarification needed) A small gorget of folded fabric is sewn in around the collar to prevent an opponent’s blade from slipping under the mask and along the jacket upwards towards the neck. Fencing instructors may wear a heavier jacket, such as one reinforced by plastic foam, to deflect the frequent hits an instructor endures.
Plastron – A plastron is an underarm protector worn underneath the jacket. It provides double protection on the side of the sword arm and upper arm. There is no seam under the arm, which would line up with the jacket seam and provide a weak spot.
Glove – The sword hand is protected by a glove with a gauntlet that prevents blades from going up the sleeve and causing injury. The glove also improves grip.
Breeches – Breeches or knickers are short trousers that end just below the knee. The breeches are required to have 10 cm of overlap with the jacket. Most are equipped with suspenders (braces).
Socks – Fencing socks are long enough to cover the knee; some cover most of the thigh.
Shoes – Fencing shoes have flat soles, and are reinforced on the inside for the back foot, and in the heel for the front foot. The reinforcement prevents wear from lunging.
Mask – The fencing mask has a bib that protects the neck. The mask should support 12 kilograms (26 lb) on the metal mesh and 350 newtons (79 lbf) of penetration resistance on the bib. FIE regulations dictate that masks must withstand 25 kilograms (55 lb) on the mesh and 1,600 newtons (360 lbf) on the bib. Some modern masks have a see-through visor in the front of the mask. These have been used at high level competitions (World Championships etc.), however, they are currently banned in foil and epee by the FIE, following a 2009 incident in which a visor was pierced during the European Junior Championship competition. There are foil, sabre, and three-weapon masks.
Chest protector – A chest protector, made of plastic, is worn by female fencers and, sometimes, by boys. Fencing instructors also wear them, as they are hit far more often during training than their students. In foil fencing, the hard surface of a chest protector decreases the likelihood that a hit registers.
Lame – A lame is a layer of electrically conductive material worn over the fencing jacket in foil and sabre fencing. The lame covers the entire target area, and makes it easier to determine whether a hit fell within the target area. (In epee fencing the lame is unnecessary, since the target area spans the competitor’s entire body.) In sabre fencing, the lame’s sleeves end in a straight line across the wrist; in foil fencing, the lame is sleeveless. A body cord is necessary to register scoring. It attaches to the weapon and runs inside the jacket sleeve, then down the back and out to the scoring box. In sabre and foil fencing, the body cord connects to the lame in order to create a circuit to the scoring box.
Sleeve – An instructor or master may wear a protective sleeve or a leg leather to protect their fencing arm or leg, respectively.
Foil, Epee and Saber Techniques
Techniques or movements in fencing can be divided into two categories: offensive and defensive. Some techniques can fall into both categories (e.g. the beat). Certain techniques are used offensively, with the purpose of landing a hit on your opponent while holding the right of way (foil and sabre). Others are used defensively, to protect against a hit or obtain the right of way. The attacks and defences may be performed in countless combinations of feet and hand actions. For example, fencer A attacks the arm of fencer B, drawing a high outside parry; fencer B then follows the parry with a high line riposte. Fencer A, expecting that, then makes his own parry by pivoting his blade under fencer B’s weapon (from straight out to more or less straight down), putting fencer B’s tip off target and fencer A now scoring against the low line by angulating the hand upwards. Whenever a point is scored, the fencers will go back to their starting mark. The fight will start again after the following commands have been given by the referee (in French in international settings): “En garde” (On guard), “Etes-vous prets?” (Are you ready?), “Allez” (Fence!)
Attack: A basic fencing technique, also called a thrust, consisting of the initial offensive action made by extending the arm and continuously threatening the opponent’s target. They are four different attacks (straight thrust, disengage attack, counter-disengage attack and cutover) In sabre, attacks are also made with a cutting action.
Riposte: An attack by the defender after a successful parry. After the attacker has completed their attack, and it has been parried, the defender then has the opportunity to make an attack, and (at foil and sabre) take right of way.
Feint: A false attack with the purpose of provoking a reaction from the opposing fencer.
Lunge: A thrust while extending the front leg by using a slight kicking motion and propelling the body forward with the back leg.
Beat attack: In foil and sabre, the attacker beats the opponent’s blade to gain priority (right of way) and continues the attack against the target area. In epee, a similar beat is made but with the intention to disturb the opponent’s aim and thus score with a single light.
Disengage: A blade action whereby the blade is moved around the opponent’s blade to threaten a different part of the target or deceive a parry.
Compound attack: An attack preceded by one or more feints which oblige the opponent to parry, allowing the attacker to deceive the parry.
Continuation/renewal of Attack: A typical epee action of making a 2nd attack after the first attack is parried. This may be done with a change in line; for example, an attack in the high line (above the opponent’s bellguard, such as the shoulder) is then followed with an attack to the low line (below the opponent’s bellguard, such as the thigh, or foot); or from the outside line (outside the bellguard, such as outer arm) to the inside line (inside the bellguard, such as the inner arm or the chest). A second continuation is stepping slight past the parry and angulating the blade to bring the tip of the blade back on target. A renewal may also be direct (without a change of line or any further blade action), in which case it is called a remise. In foil or sabre, a renewal is considered to have lost right of way, and the defender’s immediate riposte, if it lands, will score instead of the renewal.
Flick: a technique used primarily in foil and epee. It takes advantage of the extreme flexibility of the blade to use it like a whip, bending the blade so that it curves over and strikes the opponent with the point; this allows the fencer to hit an obscured part of the target (e.g., the back of the shoulder or, at epee, the wrist even when it is covered by the guard). This technique has become much more difficult due to timing changes which require the point to stay depressed for longer to set off the light.
Parry: Basic defence technique, block the opponent’s weapon while it is preparing or executing an attack to deflect the blade away from the fencer’s valid area and (in foil and sabre) to give fencer the right of way. Usually followed by a riposte, a return attack by the defender.
Circle parry: A parry where the weapon is move in a circle to catch the opponent’s tip and deflect it away.
Counter attack: A basic fencing technique of attacking your opponent while generally moving back out of the way of the opponent’s attack. Used quite often in epee to score against the attacker’s hand/arm. More difficult to accomplish in foil and sabre unless one is quick enough to make the counterattack and retreat ahead of the advancing opponent without being scored upon, or by evading the attacking blade via moves such as the In Quartata (turning to the side) or Passata-sotto (ducking). Counterattacks can also be executed in opposition, grazing along the opponent’s blade and deflecting it to cause the attack to miss.
Point-in-line: A specific position where the arm is straight and the point is threatening the opponent’s target area. In foil and sabre, this gives one priority if the extension is completed before the opponent begins the final action of their attack. When performed as a defensive action, the attacker must then disturb the extended weapon to re-take priority; otherwise the defender has priority and the point-in-line will win the touch if the attacker does not manage a single light. In epee, there is no priority; the move may be used as a means by either fencer to achieve a double-touch and advance the score by 1 for each fencer. In all weapons, the point-in-line position is commonly used to slow the opponent’s advance and cause them to delay the execution of their attack.