What is Fencing?
The sport of fencing is fast and athletic, a far cry from the choreographed bouts you see on film or on the stage. Instead of swinging from a chandelier or leaping from balconies, you will see two fencers performing an intense dance on a 6-ft by 40-ft fencing strip. The movement is so fast the touches are scored electrically - more like Star Wars than Errol Flynn.
Foil, epee and saber are the three weapons used in the sport of fencing. While it is not unusual for fencers to compete in all three events, they generally choose to develop their skills in one weapon. Until recently, women were permitted to compete only in foil, but now the USFA & FIE offer national competitions for women in epee and saber. Women's epee was added to the World Championships in 1989 and was held for the first time at the Olympic Games in 1996.
Foil and epee are point-thrusting weapons. Saber is a point-thrusting as well as a cutting weapon. The target areas differ for the three weapons, though all three are scored electrically.
How to Follow the Action
For those new to fencing, it is difficult to follow the lightning speed of the fencers' actions. To become more comfortable in watching a fencing bout, focus on one fencer. The fencer being attacked defends himself by use of a parry, a motion used to deflect the opponent's blade, after which the defender can make a riposte, an answering attack. Thus, the two adversaries keep changing between offense and defense. Whenever a hit is made, the referee will stop the bout, describe the actions, and decide whether or not to award a touch.
Fencers seek to maintain a safe distance from each other, that is, out of range of the other's attack. Then, one will try to break this distance to gain the advantage for an attack. At times, a fencer will make a false attack to gauge the types of reactions by the opponent that can be deceived in the real attack.
As you become accustomed to the speed of the game, the tactics and strategies become more apparent, and you will gain a better understanding for the finesse and fascination of fencing!
One of the most difficult concepts to visualize in foil and saber fencing is the rule of right-of-way. This rule was established to eliminate apparently simultaneous attacks by two fencers.
In essence, right-of-way is the differentiation of offense and defense, made by the referee. The difference is important only when both the red and green lights go on at the same time in foil and saber. When this happens, the winner of the point is the one who the referee determined was on offense at the time the lights went on.
Epee does not use the right-of-way in keeping with its dueling origin - he who first gains the touch earns the point. Or, if both fencers hit within 1/25th of a second of each other, both earn a point. However, it is equally important to have a sound defense for epee, since the entire body must be protected from a touch.
© Printed with permission from the US Fencing Association.