Fencing: Wikis


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Russian Igor Tourchine and American Weston Kelsey fence in the second round of the Men's Individual Épée event in the 2004 Summer Olympics at the Helliniko Fencing Hall on August 17, 2004.

Fencing, also called modern fencing to disambiguate it from styles of historical fencing, is a family of combat sports using bladed weapons.

Fencing is one of the four sports which has been featured at every modern Olympic Games. Currently, three types of weapon are used in Olympic fencing:

  • Foil — a light thrusting weapon; the valid target is restricted to the torso, the chest, shoulders, and back; double touches are not allowed (see priority rules below). This weapon follows the rule of "right of way"
  • Épée — a heavy thrusting weapon; the valid target area covers the entire body; double touches are allowed. There is no "right of way"
  • Sabre — a light cutting and thrusting weapon; the valid target area is the saddle line, which is from one side of the fencer's hip to the other, and up, this also includes the head. The target area does not include the hands. This weapon follows "right of way" The saber is also used for training because of its light weight.

Modern fencing originates in the 19th century, as a direct continuation of the 18th century French school of fencing which had in turn been influenced by the Italian school of the Renaissance.



Origin of the term

The English term fencing, in the sense of "the action or art of using the sword scientifically" (OED) dates to the late 16th century, introduced to denote systems designed for the Renaissance rapier. The first known use of defens in reference to Renaissance swordsmanship is in William Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor: "Alas sir, I cannot fence."[1] This specialized usage replaces the generic fight (Old English feohtan).

The verb to fence is derived from the noun fence, with an original meaning of "the act of defending", etymologically derived from Old French defens "defence", ultimately from the Latin. The first attestation of Middle English fens "defence" dates to the 14th century.[2]


The origins of armed combat are prehistoric (spear, axe). Fighting with shield and sword develops in the Bronze Age; Bladed weapons such as the khopesh appear in the Middle Bronze Age, and the sword proper in the Late Bronze Age.

Homer's Iliad has some of the earliest descriptions of combat with shield, sword and spear, usually between two heroes who pick one another for a duel on the battlefield. The Roman gladiators are an early example of dual combat in a sport-like setting, evolving out of Etruscan ritual. Tomb frescoes from Paestum (4th century BCE) show paired fighters, with helmets, spears and shields, in a propitiatory funeral blood-rite that anticipates early Roman gladiator games.[3]

Middle Ages and Renaissance

Fencing teachers and schools can be found in European historical records dating back at least to the 12th century. In later times some of these teachers were paid by rich nobles to produce books about their fighting systems, called treatises.

The earliest known surviving treatise on fencing, stored at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, England, dates from around 1300 AD and is from Germany. It is known as I.33 and written in medieval Latin and Middle High German and deals with an advanced system of using the sword and buckler (smallest shield) together. From 1400 AD onwards there are an increasing number of fencing treatises surviving from across Europe, with the majority from the 15th century coming from Germany and Italy. In this period these arts were largely seen as reserved for the knighthood and the nobility – hence most of these treatises deal with the knightly weapons, such as the rondel dagger, longsword, spear, pollaxe and armoured fighting mounted and on foot. Some treatises do cover the weapons more usually used by the common classes however, such as großes Messer and sword and buckler. Wrestling, both with and without weapons, and armoured and unarmoured, is also featured heavily in the early fencing treatises.

By the 16th century, with the widespread adoption of the printing press and the increase in the urban population, together with other social changes, the number of fencing treatises being produced increased dramatically. Fencing schools had been forbidden in some European cities (particularly in England and France) during the medieval period, though court records show that such schools were kept illegally. After around 1500 it seems to have become more socially and legally acceptable to carry swords openly in most parts of Europe, and the increasing fortunes of the middle classes meant that more men were aspiring to carry swords, learn fencing and be seen as gentlemen. By the middle of the 16th century many European cities contained great numbers of fencing schools, often clustered together, such as in London in "Hanging Sword Lane". Italian fencing masters were particularly popular in the 16th century and they went abroad and set up schools in many foreign cities. The Italian styles of fencing at this time, bringing concepts of science to the art, were seen as revolutionary and new, and they appealed to the new Renaissance mindset.

In 16th century Germany compendia of older Fechtbücher techniques were produced, some of them printed, notably by Paulus Hector Mair (in the 1540s) and by Joachim Meyer (in the 1570s), based on the teachings of the 14th century Liechtenauer tradition. In the 16th century German fencing developed sportive tendencies. Eventually the newer Italian attitude to fencing grew in popularity in Germany as well as elsewhere.

The rapier reaches the peak of its popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Dardi school of the 1530s, as exemplified by Achille Marozzo, still taught the two-handed spadone, but gave clear preference to the single-handed sword. The success of Italian masters such as Marozzo and Fabris also outside of Italy shapes a new European mainstream of fencing. The Ecole Française d’Escrime founded in 1567 under Charles IX produced masters such as Henry de Sainct-Didier who introduced the French fencing terminology that remains in use today.

Early modern period

Strictly, the European dueling sword is a basket and cage hilted weapon specifically used in duels from the late 17th to the 19th century. It developed through several forms of the rapier to the smallsword — reflecting the changes from a cutting style of swordplay to a thrusting style ('foining'). This was a result of increasing specialization in their use on the dueling field, and the social stigma attached to carrying and using swords too obviously adapted to the actual "work" of warfare. The smallsword, and the last version of the rapier, were made possible only by metallurgical advances in the seventeenth century as high toughness steels became more readily available.[citation needed]

In England, it was not uncommon for fencing masters to take on other fencing masters in a fight, often to the death, often with intervals for medical staff to dress wounds. Such spectacles were generally held in beargardens, particularly in the Southwark neighborhood near London.[4]

The foil was invented in France as a training technique in the middle of the 18th century; it provided practice of fast and elegant thrust fencing with a smaller and safer weapon than an actual dueling sword. Fencers blunted (or "foiled") its point by wrapping a foil around the blade or fastening a knob on the point ("blossom", French fleuret). In addition to practice, some fencers took away the protection and used the sharp foil for duels. German students took up that practice and developed the Pariser ("Parisian") thrusting small sword for the Stoßmensur ("thrusting mensur"). After the dress sword was abolished, the Pariser became the only weapon for thrust fencing in German colleges and universities.

"Pariser" small sword, derived from the French foil

Since thrust fencing with a sharply pointed blade of any kind is quite dangerous, many students died from (especially) pierced lungs (Lungenfuchser). However, a counter movement had already started in Göttingen in the 1750s, with the invention of the Göttinger Hieber, a predecessor of the modern Korbschläger, a new weapon for cut fencing. In the following years, the Glockenschläger was invented in Eastern Germany universities, also for cut fencing.

1800 to 1918

Fencing advertisement for the 1900 Summer Olympic Games

Thrust fencing (using the Pariser), and cut fencing (using Korbschläger or Glockenschläger), existed in parallel in Germany during the first decades of the 19th century, according to local preferences. Thrust fencing was especially popular in Jena, Erlangen, Würzburg and Ingolstadt/Landshut, two towns where the predecessors of Munich University were located. The last thrust Mensur is recorded to have taken place in Würzburg in 1860.

Until the first half of the 19th century all types of academic fencing can be seen as duels, since all fencing with sharp weapons was about honour. No combat with sharp blades took place without a formal insult. For duels involving non-students, e.g. military officers, the academic sabre became usual, apparently being derived from the military sabre. It was then a heavy weapon with a curved blade and a hilt similar to the Korbschläger.

The term "Classical Fencing" is a relatively new invention, retroactively applied to select periods and methods. As it is understood today, classical fencing derives most directly from the 19th and early-20th century national fencing schools, especially in Italy and France, although other pre-World War II styles such as Russian and Hungarian are also considered classical. Masters and legendary fencing figures such as Giuseppe Radaelli, Louis Rondelle, Masaniello Parise, the Greco brothers, Aldo Nadi and his rival Lucien Gaudin are today considered typical practitioners of this period.

Fencing was one of the disciplines at the very first Olympics Games in the summer of 1896. Épée and Sabre events have been held at every Summer Olympics; foil events have been held at every Summer Olympics except 1908.

Scoring was done by means of four judges who determined whether a touch had been made. Two side judges stood behind and to the side of each fencer, and watched for hits made by that fencer on the opponent's target. A director followed the fencing from a point several feet away from the centre of the action. At the end of each action, after calling "Halt!", the director would describe the action, and then poll the judges in turn. If the judges differed, or abstained, the director could overrule them.

This method had serious limitations, though it was universally used. As described in an article in the London newspaper, The Daily Courier, on June 25, 1896: "Every one who has watched a bout with the foils knows that the task of judging the hits is with a pair of amateurs difficult enough, and with a well-matched pair of maîtres d’escrime well-nigh impossible." There also were problems with bias: well-known fencers were often given the benefit of mistakes (so-called "reputation touches"), and in some cases there was outright cheating. Aldo Nadi complained about this in his autobiography The Living Sword in regard to his famous match with Lucien Gaudin.

The Daily Courier article is an early description of a new invention, the electrical scoring machine, that would revolutionize fencing.

1918 to present

Dueling went into sharp decline after World War I. After World War II, dueling went out of use in Europe except for very rare exceptions. Training for duels, once fashionable for males of aristocratic backgrounds (although fencing masters such as Hope suggest that many people had only taken one or two lessons, and thus considering themselves trained), all but disappeared, along with the classes themselves. Fencing continued as a sport, with tournaments and championships. However, the need to actually prepare for a duel with "sharps" vanished, changing both training and technique.

Starting with épée in the 1930s, side judges were replaced by an electrical scoring apparatus, with an audible tone and a red or green light indicating when a touch landed. Foil was electrified in the 1950s, sabre in the 1980s. The scoring box reduced the bias in judging, and permitted more accurate scoring of faster actions, lighter touches, and more touches to the back and flank than were possible with human judges.[citation needed]

Forms of fencing

Olympic fencing (or simply "fencing") refers to the fencing seen in most current competitions, including the Olympic Games and the World Cup. Competitions are conducted according to rules laid down by the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE), the international governing body. These rules evolved from a set of conventions developed in Europe between mid 17th and early 20th century with the specific purpose of regulating competitive activity. The three weapons used in Olympic fencing are foil, épée, and sabre. In competition, the validity of touches is determined by the electronic scoring apparatus and a set of rules called right of way, so as to minimize human error and bias in refereeing. In the United States, athletes compete at a local and national level. At a local level, athletes may register for tournaments in their division via a website called "Askfred.net."[5] At a national level, athletes compete in tournaments called "North American Cups", or NAC's for short[6]. At these tournaments, competitors fence each other depending on what age group or division they are in. Some of the age groups are Y12 (Youth 12, or 12 or younger), Y14, Junior (20 or younger), and Cadet (16 or younger). In fencing, your rating represents how good you are in general. Fencers can be rated A through E (A being the highest and E the lowest) or U if they have not yet earned a rating ("unrated"). In certain competitions, fencers may be of any age, but must meet the rating criteria in order to fence. Division I fencing requires fencers to have a rating C through A. Division II requires fencers to have a rating of C or lower. And Division III requires fencers to have a rating D or lower. In the most common format for tournaments, fencers first fence 4 to 6 other fencers in 5-touch bouts, in what are called "pools." Depending on how the fencer does within that pool, the fencer is then "seeded" into a table chart with the other fencers of the tournament. Fencers then fence the opponent they are paired with in a single-elimination bout, usually 15 touches (if they win, they advance in the table chart, if they lose, they are eliminated from the competition). This table chart phase is called "Direct Elimination", or DE for short. In a NAC setting, if that fencer was one of the fencers in the bottom 20% after the pools, than that fencer does not advance to the direct elimination rounds. Seeding is usually done so that higher seeds will not face eachother early in the DE rounds.

Wheelchair fencing, an original Paralympic sport, was developed in post-World War II England. Minor modifications to the FIE rules allow disabled fencers to fence all three weapons. The most apparent change is that each fencer sits in a wheelchair fastened to a frame. Footwork is replaced by torso or arm movement, depending on the fencer's disability. The proximity of the two fencers tends to increase the pace of bouts, which require considerable skill. The weapons are identical to those used in Olympic fencing.

Other variants include one-hit épée (one of the five events which constitute modern pentathlon) and the various types of competitive fencing, whose rules are similar but not identical to the FIE rules. One example of this is the American Fencing League (distinct from the United States Fencing Association): the format of competitions is different, there is no electronic scoring, and the priority rules are interpreted in a different way. In a number of countries, the accepted practice at school and university level deviates slightly from the FIE format.


Three weapons survive in modern competitive fencing: foil, épée, and sabre. The spadroon and the heavy cavalry-style sabre, both of which saw widespread competitive use in the 19th century, fell into disfavour in the early 20th century with the rising popularity of the lighter and faster weapon used today. The singlestick was featured in the 1904 Olympic Games, but it was already declining in popularity at that time. Bayonet fencing experienced a somewhat slower decline, with competitions organized by some armed forces as late as the 1940s and 1950s.

While the weapons fencers use differ in shape and purpose, their basic construction remains similar across the disciplines. Every weapon has a blade and a hilt. The tip of the blade is generally referred to as the point. The hilt consists of a guard and a grip. The guard (also known as the coquille, the bell, or the bellguard) is a metal shell designed to protect the fingers. The grip is the weapon's actual handle. There are a number of commonly used variants. In foil and épée the more traditional French grip is approximately straight and usually terminates with a pommel (a heavy nut intended to act as a counterweight for the blade and to hold the handle on the weapon). Some modern designs of French grip do not use a heavy pommel nut, in an effort to construct the lightest épée possible.

The French grip has been entirely replaced in higher level foil fencing, and partially replaced in épée fencing, by a variety of ergonomic designs, called as a group pistol grips or orthopaedic grips. All of the weapons used for modern competition have electrical wiring which allows them to register a touch on the opponent.


Short clip of foil fencing
International valid foil target - the torso, and the portion of the bib 1.5-2cm below chin level. Note that the USFA does not use the bib target in the United States.

The foil is a light and flexible weapon, originally developed in the mid 17th century as a training weapon for the Pariser small sword, a light one-handed sword designed almost exclusively for thrusting.

In modern competitive fencing, 'electric' weapons are used. These have a push-button on the point of the blade, which allows hits to be registered by the electronic scoring apparatus. In order to register, the button must be depressed with a force of at least 4.90 newtons (500 grams-force) for at least 15 milliseconds. Foil fencers wear conductive (lamé) jackets covering their target area, which allow the scoring apparatus to differentiate between on- and off-target hits.

The target area is restricted to the torso, including the front and back. When fencing with electrical equipment, there is an area around each armpit that is not covered by the lamé, and is thus effectively not legal target as well.

A modification in FIE rules from 1 January 2009 onwards means that the valid target area includes that part of the bib below a straight line drawn between the shoulders; prior to this, the bib of the mask was not a valid target. The wisdom of this rule is currently widely disputed; the prevailing attitude in the US is that the rule will lead to a great increase in equipment failures and costs, while European opinion is that this will help prevent fencers from covering target.

This rule has not been implemented uniformly in all National fencing organizations. European fencing organizations have generally decided on September 1, 2009 as the date for all competitions to use the new rule.[citation needed]

As of September 1, 2009, the USFA has decided not to implement the bib as target for foil. After reviewing international competitions, it was observed that very few hits were actually scored under the new rules. Given the expense of having to replace equipment, as well as the safety concerns of allowing hits in the region of the throat, the USFA rejected the change. All domestic competitions in the US will not require the bib target; however, international events such as Junior or Senior World Cup Events will require the bib target. There are currently no plans to adopt the rule in the future.

The target must be hit with the tip of the foil; a touch with any other part of the foil it has no effect whatsoever and fencing continues uninterrupted. A touch on an off-target area stops the bout but does not score a point. Foil fencing also features rules of right of way or priority, which determine which fencer's hit will prevail when both fencers have hit. The basic principle of priority is that the hit of the fencer who begins an offensive action first will prevail over his/her opponent's hit, unless the action of the former fails. A fencer's action fails when it falls short of his/her opponent, when it misses, or when it is parried. When one fencer's action fails, the other's current or next offensive action gains priority, unless they delay too long (longer than one period of "fencing time", the time taken to perform one action at the current tempo of the exchange), in which case the previously defending fencer loses priority. If priority cannot be determined when both fencers have hit each other, no point is awarded. The original idea behind the rules of foil fencing was to encourage fencers to defend and attack vital areas, and to fight in a methodical way with initiative passing back and forth between the combatants, thus minimizing the risk of a double death.

When an exchange ends in a hit, the referee will call "halt", and fencing will cease. The referee will then analyse the exchange and phrase it in official terminology. The first offensive action is called the attack. All defensive actions successfully deflecting an opponent's blade are called parries. An offensive action of a parrying fencer directly following the parry is called a riposte. An offensive action of a fencer, who attacks without first withdrawing the arm directly after being parried, is called a remise. An offensive action of a fencer from the on-guard position, after being parried and then returning to the on-guard position, is called a reprise. An offensive action of a fencer after his/her opponent has lost the right to riposte via inaction is called a redouble. An offensive action begun by a fencer who is being attacked by his/her opponent is called a counter-attack.


Short clip of épée fencing
Valid target area at Épée (the entire body).

Épée, as the sporting weapon known today, was invented in the second half of the 19th century by a group of French students, who felt that the conventions of foil were too restrictive, and the weapon itself too light; they wanted an experience closer to that of an actual duel. At the point of its conception, the épée was, essentially, an exact copy of a small sword but without the needle-sharp point. Instead, the blade terminated in a point d'arrêt, a three-pronged tip which would snag on the clothing without penetrating the flesh.

Like the foil, the épée is a thrusting weapon: to score a valid hit, the fencer must fix the point of his weapon on his opponent's target. However, the target area covers the entire body, and there are no rules regarding who can hit when (unlike in foil and sabre, where there are priority rules). Because the entire body is target area, when fencing epee electronically, fencers do not wear conductive lamé jackets as they do when fencing foil and sabre. In the event of both fencers making a touch within 40 milliseconds of each other, both are awarded a point (a double hit), except when the score is equal and the point would mean the win for both, such as in modern pentathlon's one-hit épée, where neither fencer receives a point. Otherwise, the first to hit always receives the point, regardless of what happened earlier in the phrase. Also épées are the heaviest of the weapons. However, with today's techniques, we see some épée blades as light as 150g. An épée is composed of a blade, a point, a bell guard, and a handle or grip (french or pistol grip).

The 'electric' épée, used in modern competitive fencing, terminates in a push-button, similar to the one on the 'electric' foil. In order for the scoring apparatus to register a hit, it must arrive with a force of at least 7.35 newtons (750 grams-force) (a higher threshold than the foil's 4.9 newtons), and the push-button must remain fully depressed for 1 millisecond. All hits register as valid, unless they land on a grounded metal surface, such as a part of the opponent's weapon, in which case they do not register at all. At large events, grounded conductive pistes are often used in order to prevent the registration of hits against the floor. At smaller events and in club fencing, it is generally the responsibility of the referee to watch out for floor hits. These often happen by accident, when an épéeist tries to hit the opponent's foot and misses. This results in a pause in the action but no points. However, deliberate hits against the floor are treated as "dishonest fencing," and penalized accordingly.

Épée has less restrictive rules for footwork and physical contact than the other two weapons. In Épée, a corps-à-corps (collision between fencers) is not penalized unless initialized with intent to harm or if it is excessively violent. There are no restrictions on crossing of the feet or use of the flèche attack in épée; if the fencers pass each other, the attacking fencer may score until he passes his opponent. The defending fencer has the right to one continuous riposte, and may still score after the attacker has passed.

The counterattack is very important in épée; direct, unprepared attacks are vulnerable to counterattacks to the hand or arm, or to the body if the attacker is shorter than his opponent. High level épée is often a game of provocation, with each player trying to lure the other into an attack. Distance in épée is even more important than in the conventional weapons.


Valid target at sabre (everything above the waist, excepting the hands and the back of the head).

Sabre is the 'cutting' weapon: points may be scored with edges and surfaces of the blade, as well as the point. Although the current design with a light and flexible blade (marginally stiffer than a foil blade which bends easily up and down while a sabre blade bends easier side to side) appeared around the turn of the 19th and 20th century, similar sporting weapons with more substantial blades had been used throughout the Victorian era.

There is some debate as to whether the modern fencing sabre is descended from the cavalry sabres of Turkic origin, which became popular in Central and Western Europe around the time of Napoleonic Wars, or one of Europe's indigenous edged duelling weapons, such as the cutting rapier. In practice, it is likely to be a hybrid of the two. Most of the conventions and vocabulary of modern sabre fencing were developed by late 19th and early 20th century masters from Italy and Hungary, perhaps most notable among them being Italo Santelli (1866–1945).

The sabre target covers everything above the waist, except the hands (wrists are included) and the back of the head. Today, any contact between any part of the blade and any part of the target counts as a valid touch. This was not always the case, and earlier conventions stipulated that a valid touch must be made with the point or either the front or back cutting edge, and that a point attack must not merely graze the target and slip along (pass) the opponent's body. These requirements had to be abandoned, because of technical difficulties, shortly after electronic scoring was introduced into sabre fencing in late 1980s.

Like foil, sabre is subject to right of way rules, but there are differences in the definition of a correctly executed attack and parry. These differences, together with a much greater scoring surface (the whole of the blade, rather than the point alone), make sabre parries more difficult to execute effectively. As a result, sabre tactics rely much more heavily on footwork with blade contact kept to a minimum. Also, play is not halted by an off-target (hands/below the waist) hit in sabre. To prevent both fencers from immediately charging each other at the beginning of fencing action, crossing of the feet is not allowed, which also prohibits use of the flèche. This results in a penalty against the offending fencer (a warning, followed by awarding a penalty touch if the offense is repeated). A maneuver called a 'Flunge' is sometimes used as a replacement for the outlawed flèche: the fencer leaps at the opponent, being sure to keep his rear foot behind his front as long as possible. Safely landing following this move requires crossing the feet, thus the hit must be scored while airborne. Sabre matches are often decided very quickly compared to the other weapons.

Protective clothing

Chest protector (women's)

The clothing which is worn in modern fencing is made of tough cotton or nylon. Kevlar was added to top level uniform pieces (jacket, breeches, underarm protector, lamé, and the bib of the mask) following the Smirnov incident at the 1982 World Championships in Rome. However, kevlar breaks down in chlorine and UV light, so the act of washing one's uniform and/or hanging it up in the sun to dry actually damaged the kevlar's ability to do the job.

In recent years other ballistic fabrics such as Dyneema have been developed that perform the puncture resistance function and which do not have kevlar's weakness. In fact, the FIE rules state that the entirety of the uniform (meaning FIE level clothing, as the rules are written for FIE tournaments) must be made of fabric that resists a force of 800 newtons (1600 N in the mask bib).

The complete fencing kit includes the following items of clothing:

  • Form-fitting jacket covering groin and with strap (croissard) which goes between the legs (note that in sabre fencing, jackets that are cut along the waist and exclude the groin padding are also sometimes used), a small gorget of folded fabric is also sewn in around the collar to prevent a blade from slipping upwards towards the neck.
  • Plastron , an underarm protector, which goes underneath the jacket and provides double protection on the sword arm side and upper arm. It is required to not have a seam in the armpit, which would line up with the jacket seam and provide a weak spot.
  • One glove for the sword arm with a gauntlet that prevents blades from going up the sleeve and causing injury, as well as protecting the hand and providing a good grip
  • Breeches or knickers which are a pair of short trousers. The legs are supposed to hold just below the knee.
  • Knee-length or Thigh high socks which should cover knee and thighs.
  • Shoes with flat soles and reinforcement on the inside of the back foot and heel of front foot, to prevent wear from lunging.
  • Mask, including a bib which protects the neck. The mask can usually support 12 kg on the metal mesh, 350 newtons of penetration resistance on the bib, however FIE regulation masks must withstand much more, 25 kg on the mesh and 1600 newtons on the bib. Some modern masks have a see-through visor in the front of the mask. These can be used at high level competitions (World Championships etc.).
  • Plastic chest protector, mandatory for female fencers. While male versions of the chest protector are also available, they were, until recently, primarily worn by instructors, who are hit far more often during training than their students. Since the change of the depression timing (see above), these are increasingly popular in foil, as the hard surface increases the likelihood of point bounce and thus a failure for a hit to register. Plastrons are still mandatory, though the chest protector must be worn next to the skin.
  • Fencing Masters will often wear a heavier protective jacket, usually reinforced by plastic foam to cushion the numerous hits an instructor has to endure. Sometimes in practice, masters wear a protective sleeve or a leg leather for protection of their fencing arm or leg.
  • Electric Fencing-In electric foil and sabre there is a layer of electrically conductive material (called a lamé) worn over the fencing jacket, and entirely covers the valid target area. In foil the lamé is sleeveless, and in sabre the lamé has sleeves and ends in a straight line across the waist. In all weapons, a body cord is also necessary to register scoring: it attaches to the weapon and is worn inside the sleeve of the normal jacket, down the fencer's back and is then attached to the scoring box. In sabre and foil, the body cord is connected to the lamé in order to create a circuit to the scoring box, where another part of the body cord attaches, can record where one has been hit.

Traditionally, the fencers' uniform is white in color (black being the traditional color for instructors). This may be to some extent due to the occasional pre-electric practice of covering the point of the weapon in dye, soot, or colored chalk in order to make it easier for the referee to determine the placing of the touches. Recently the FIE rules have been relaxed to allow colored uniforms (black still being reserved for the coaches). The guidelines delineating the permitted size and positioning of sponsorship logos are however still extremely strict.

Practice and techniques

Competition formats

Fencing Tournament. (Note the grounded conductive strips on the floor.)

Fencing tournaments are varied in their format, and there are both individual and team competitions. A tournament may comprise all three weapons, both individual and team, or it may be very specific, such as an Épée Challenge, with individual épée only. And, as in many sports, men and women compete separately in high-level tournaments. Mixed-gender tournaments are commonplace at lower-level events, especially those held by individual fencing clubs. There are two types of event, individual and team. An individual event consists of two parts: the pools, and the direct eliminations.

In the pools, fencers are divided into groups, and every fencer in a pool will have the chance to fence every other fencer once. There are typically seven fencers in a pool. If the number of fencers competing is not a multiple of seven, then there will usually be several pools of six or eight. After the pools are finished, the fencers are given a ranking, or "seed," compared to all other fencers in the tournament, based primarily on the percent of bouts they won, then based secondarily on the difference between the touches they scored and the touches they received. Once the seeds have been determined, the direct elimination round starts. Fencers are sorted in a table of some power of 2 (16, 32, 64, etc.) based on how many people are competing. Due to the fact that it is highly unlikely for the number of fencers to be exactly a power of two, the fencers with the best results in the pools are given byes or the bottom seeded fencers are eliminated. The winner carries on in the tournament, and loser is eliminated. Typically no one has to fence for third place (the exception is if the tournament is a qualifying tournament with limited slots for continuation). Instead, two bronze medals are given to the losers of the semi-final round.

Team competition involves teams of three fencers. A fourth fencer can be allowed on the team as an alternate, but as soon as the fourth has been subbed in, they cannot substitute again. The modern team competition is similar to the pool round of the individual competition. The fencers from opposing teams will each fence each other once, making for a total of nine matches. Matches between teams are three minutes long, or to 5 points, and the points then carry onto the next bout, thus making it a forty-five touch bout fought by six fencers. Unlike individual tournaments, team tournaments almost always fence for bronze.

Universities and schools

Fencing has a long history of association with universities and schools. At least one style of Fencing, Mensur in Germany is practiced only within universities. University students compete against each other at an international level at the World University Games. The United States also holds a national level university tournament including the NCAA championship tournament in the USA and the BUCS Fencing Championships in the UK.

The cost of equipment and the relatively small scale of the sport means fencing at the school level has traditionally been dominated by a small number of schools. National fencing organizations have set up programs to encourage a greater number of students to get involved with fencing at a school level examples include the Regional Youth Circuit program[7] or the Leon Paul Youth Development series in the UK.

In the UK there are two national competitions in which schools compete against each other directly; the Public Schools Fencing Championship, a competition only open to Independent Schools,[8] and the Scottish Secondary Schools Championships, open to all secondary schools in Scotland it contains both a teams and individual event and is one of the most anticipated competition in Scottish youth fencing. However schools also organise matches directly against one another and school age pupils can compete individually against one another in the British Youth Championships.

See also


  1. ^ Harper, Douglas (2001), Online Etymology Dictionary
  2. ^ Robert Manning of Brunne, The story of England (ca. 1330), 8638: "To stonde to fens auailled nought", cited after OED.
  3. ^ Potter and Mattingly, 226; Paestum was colonized by Rome in 273 BCE.
  4. ^ A Description of England and Ireland, in the 17th Century, by Mons. Jorevin, section reprinted in: The Every-day Book and Table Book; or, Everlasting Calendar of Popular Amusements, Sports, Pastimes, Ceremonies, Manners, Customs, and Events, Each of the Three Hundred and Sixty-Five Days, in Past and Present Times; Forming a Complete History of the Year, Months, and Seasons, and a Perpetual Key to the Almanac, Including Accounts of the Weather, Rules for Health and Conduct, Remarkable and Important Anecdotes, Facts, and Notices, in Chronology, Antiquities, Topography, Biography, Natural History, Art, Science, and General Literature; Derived from the Most Authentic Sources, and Valuable Original Communication, with Poetical Elucidations, for Daily Use and Diversion. Vol III., ed. William Hone, (London: 1838) p. 495. Retrieved on 2008-06-20.
  5. ^ [Askfred.net]Ask Fencing Results and Results Database
  6. ^ [1] National Competitions, United States Fencing Association
  7. ^ US Fencing Youth Development Website, Regional Youth Circuit.
  8. ^ Home :: Public Schools Fencing Championships.
  • Evangelista, Nick (1996). The Art and Science of Fencing. Indianapolis: Masters Press. ISBN 1-57028-075-4.
  • Evangelista, Nick (2000). The Inner Game of Fencing: Excellence in Form, Technique, Strategy, and Spirit. Chicago: Masters Press. ISBN 1-57028-230-7.
  • United States Fencing Association (September, 2005). United States Fencing Association Rules for Competition. Official document. Retrieved 1 December 2005.
  • Amberger, Johann Christoph (1999). The Secret History of the Sword. Burbank: Multi-Media. ISBN 1-892515-04-0
  • British Fencing (September, 2008). FIE Competition Rules (English) . Official document. Retrieved 16 December 2008.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

FENCING. If by "fencing " - the art of fence, i.e. of defence or offence - were meant generally the dexterous use of the sword, the subject would be wide indeed; as wide, in fact, as the history of the sword (q.v.) itself. But, in its modern acceptation, the meaning of the word has become considerably restricted. The scope of investigation must therefore be confined to one kind of swordsmanship only: to that which depends on the regulated, artificial conditions of " single combat." It is indeed this play, hemmed in by many restrictions, which we have come to mean more specially by " fencing." It differs, of course, in many respects, from what may be called the art of fighting in the light of nature. But as its restrictions are among the very elements which work to the perfection of the play, it is undoubtedly in the history of swordsmanship as applied to duelling (see Duel) that we shall trace the higher development of the art.

It may be said that the history of fencing, therefore, would be tantamount to the history of private duelling. Now, this is an ethical subject; one, again, which would carry the investigation too far; and it need not be taken up farther back than the middle of the 16th century, when, on the disuse of the medieval wager of battle, the practice of private duelling began to take an assured footing in a warlike society. It is curious to mark that the first cultivation of refined cunning in fence dates from that period, which corresponds chronologically with the general disuse of armour, both in battle and in more private encounters. It is still more curious to note that, in order to fit himself to meet what was an illegal but aristocratic obligation, the gallant of those days had to appeal to a class of men hitherto little considered: to those plebeian adepts, in fact, who for generations had cultivated skill in the use of hand weapons, on foot and without armour. Thus it came to pass that the earliest masters of fence in all countries, namely, the masters of the art of conducting skilfully what was essentially considered as an honourable encounter, were almost invariably to be found among a somewhat dishonoured gentry - gladiators, free companions, professional champions, more or less openly recognized, or bravoes of the most uncompromising character.

In Germany, which may be considered the cradle of systematic swordsmanship, these teachers of the sword had, as early as the r5th century, formed themselves into gilds; among which the best known were the Marxbriider, or the Associates of St Marcus of Lawenberg, who had their headquarters at Frankfort, and branches in all the more important towns. Similarly, in Spain and in northern Italy, professional swordsmen were at various times allowed to form themselves into recognized or at least tolerated associations.

In England " swordmen " had been looked upon with especial disfavour by the powers that were, until Henry VIII., who was a great lover of all manly exercises, found it likewise advisable to turn their obnoxious existence to a disciplined and profitable channel by regularizing their position. The most redoubtable masters were allowed to form themselves into a company, with powers to increase their numbers with suitable and duly tried men, in imitation of the world-famed German Marxbriider or Marcusbriider. Under these conditions they were granted the lucrative monopoly of teaching the art of fight in England. The enormous privileges that the king, in course of time, conferred on his Corporation of Masters of Defence very soon enabled it to put down or absorb all the more ferocious of independent swashbucklers, and thereby to impart to the profession a moderate degree of respectability under the coat of arms granted by the royal heralds: gules a sword pendant argent.

It was in the midst of such corporations and in the fighting dens of independent swordsmen, therefore, that sprouted the first buds of systematic swordsmanship. Among the professional fencers, curiously and happily for the historian, there seem to have been a few with a literary turn of mind.

The oldest manuscripts of fence belong to Italy and Germany. They deal with the methods of carrying out single combats on foot, with any of the most generally accepted weapons - long sword and short sword, dagger and every kind of knives, mace, long and short staff, axes, &c., - and with the tricks of wrestling recommendable therefor. Among the most comprehensive in their scope may be mentioned Il Fior di battaglia di Maestro Fiore dei Liberi da Premariaco; a work which, although illustrated with truly Italian taste and grace, shows, as far as its fighting style is concerned, unmistakable marks of German influence. The text of the MS. bears the date 1410, but the writer was known to be flourishing as a master of fence as early as 1383. A reprint of this invaluable codex has been published, under the care of Francesco Donati, by the Istituto Italiano d'Arti Grafiche. Another is the better known Thalhofer's Fecht Buch, gerichtliche and andere Zweykampfe darstellend (1467), a reprint of which, with its 268 plates in facsimile, was brought out by Gustave Hergsell in Prague. The oldest printed book is likewise German: Ergriindung der ritterlicher Kunst der Fechterei, von Andreas Paurnfeindt, Freifechter zu Wien (1516). This work, which is exceedingly rare, is a very complete exponent of the ways of wielding long and short blades to the utmost of their lethal capacity. It was reproduced (under various titles, very confusing to the bibliographer) in Frankfort, Augsburg, Strassburg, and finally done into French under the name of La Noble science des joueurs d'epee, published in Paris and Antwerp, 1535.

Following the Germans, the oldest printed books of fence are Italian. The first French book on the sword is known to be a translation from the German. Curiously enough, the second, and one of the most notable, Le Traite de l'epee seule, mere de toutes armes, of the Sieur de St Didier, published in Paris in 1573, can be shown to be a transparent adaptation of two Italian treatises, the Trattato di scienza d'arme of Camillo Agrippa, and Grassi's Ragione di adoperar sicuramente l'arme, &c.

It is about this time, namely, the latter half of the 16th century, that swordsmanship pure and simple may be said to rind its origin; for then a great change is perceptible in the nature and tendency of fence books: they dissociate themselves from indecorous wrestling tricks, and approximate more and more to the consideration of what we understand by swordsmanship. The older works expounded the art of fighting generally; taught the reader a number of valuable, if not " gentlemanlike," dodges for overcoming an adversary at all manner of weapons: now the lucubrations of fence-masters deal almost exclusively with the walking sword, that is, the duelling weapon - with the rapier in fact, both with and without its lieutenant, the dagger.

It must be remembered that at this period private duelling and cavalier quarrelsomeness amounted to a perfect mania. The fencing master was no longer merely a teacher of efficacious, if rascally, tricks; he was becoming a model of gallant deportment; in many cases he was even a recognized arbiter on matters of honour. He was often a gentleman himself: at all events he posed as such.

Although the Germans were always redoubtable adepts at the rougher games of swordsmanship, it is in Italy that is to be found development of that nimbler, more regulated, more cunning, better controlled, kind of play which we have learned to associate with the term " fencing." It was from Italy that the art of fence first spread over Europe: not from Spain, as it has been asserted by many writers. The Italians - if we take their early books as evidence, and the fact that their phraseology was adopted by all Europe - were the first to perceive (as soon as the problem of armour-breaking ceased to be the most important one in fight) the superior efficiency of the point. They accordingly reduced the breadth of their sword, modified the hilt portion thereof to admit of readier thrust action, and relegated the cut to quite a secondary position in their system. With this lighter weapon they devised in course of time that brilliant cunning play known as rapier fence.

The rapier was ultimately adopted everywhere by men of courtly habit; but, in England at least, it was not accepted without murmur and vituperation from the older fighting class of swordsmen, especially from the members and admirers of the English Corporation of Defence Masters. As a body Englishmen were as conservative then as they are now. They knew the value of what they had as their own, and distrusted innovations, especially from foreign quarters. The old sword and the buckler were reckoned as your true English weapons: they always went together - in fact sword and buckler play in the 16th century was. evidently held to be as national a game as boxing came to be in a later age. Many are the allusions in contemporary dramaticliterature to this characteristic national distrust of continental innovations. There is the well-known passage in Porter's play, The Two Angry Women of Abingdon, for instance: " Sword and buckler fight," says a sturdy Briton (in much the same tone of disgust as a British lover of fisticuffs might now assume when talking of a French " Mounseer's " foil play), " begins to grow out of use. I am sorry for it. I shall never see good manhood again. If it be once gone, this poking fight with rapier and dagger will come up. Then the tall man (that is, a courageous man and a good sword-and-buckler man) will be spitted like a cat or a. rabbit!" The long-sword, that is, the two-hander, was also an essentially national weapon. It was a right-down pleasing and sturdy implement, recalling in good steel the vernacular quarter staff of old. It required thews and sinews, and, incidentally, much beef and ale. The long-sword man looked perhaps with even greater disfavour than the smaller swashbuckler upon the. new-fangled " bird-spit." " Tut, man," says Justice Shallow, typical laudator of the good bygone days, on hearing of the ridiculous Frenchman's skill with his rapier, " I could have told you more. In these times you stand on distance, your passes, stoccadoes, and I know not what; 'tis the heart, Master Page;: 'tis here, 'tis here. I have seen the time, with my long-sword, I would have made you four tall fellows skip like rats." Now, sword-and-buckler and long-sword play was no doubt a manly pursuit and a useful. But, as an every-day companion, the long-sword was incongruous to a fastidious cavalier; and, again, the buckler, indispensable adjunct to the broad swashing' blade of home production, was hardly more suitable. In Elizabethan days it soon became obvious that the buckler was inadmissible as an item of gentlemanly attire. It was accordingly left to the body attendant; and the gallant took kindly to the fine rapier of Milanese or Toledan make. On the other hand, it is not difficult to understand the rapid popularity gained among the' gentry by this nimble rapier, so much reviled by the older fighting men. The rapier, in fact, came in with the taste for " cavaliero "' style, and may be looked upon as its fit outward symbol already in the days of Queen Mary. In Elizabeth's reign it was firmly established as your only gentlemanlike weapon.

The rapier was decidedly a foreigner; yet it suited the Elizabethan age, for it was decorative as well as practical. Its play was picturesque, fantastic - almost euphuistic, one might say - in comparison with the matter-of-fact hanger of older days. Its phraseology had a quaint, rich, southern smack, which connoted outlandish experience and gave those conversant with its intricate distinctions that marvellous character, at once precious and ruffling, which was so highly appreciated by the cavalier youth of the time. The rapier in its heyday was an admirable weapon to look at, a delicious one to wield. And, besides, in proper hands, it was undoubtedly one that was most conclusive. It was, in short, as elegant and deadly as its predecessors were sturdy and brutal.

By the time that the most perfect, namely, the Italian, rapier fence came to be generally taught in England - that is, during the last third of Elizabeth's reign - the theory of swordsmanship, as applied to a single combat, after having passed through many phases of imperfection, was already tolerably simple and practical. (The exact story of its evolution may be found in a work now included in Bohn's Libraries, Schools and Masters of Fence.) What may be considered as one of the cardinal actions of regulated sword-play on foot, namely, the lunge, had already been discovered. Although a great many movements which, according to modern notions, would be considered not only unnecessary but actually pernicious, still formed part of the system, it may be doubted whether, considering the character of the weapon, anything very much better could be devised, even in our present state of knowledge.

For it must be remembered that the evolution of the forms of the sword and of the theories concerning its most efficient use are closely connected. It is, in fact, sometimes difficult to decide whether the change in the shape of the weapon was the result of a development of a theory; or whether new theories were elaborated to fit alterations in these shapes due to fashion or any other reason.

When systematic fence came over to England it was already much simplified (it should be noted that improvement in the art, from its earliest days down to the present time, seems always to have been in the direction of simplification); yet, for more than a century from the appearance of the first real treatise, simplification never reached that point which would render impossible a belief in the undoubted efficacy of those " secret thrusts," of that " universal parry," of those ineluctable passes, which every master professed to teach. These precious secrets remain long, among a certain shady class of swordsmen, an object of untiring study, carried on with much the same faith and zest as the quest of the alchemist for his powder of projection, or of the Merchant Adventurer for El Dorado. There can, of course, be no such thing as an insuperable pass, a secret thrust or parry; every attack can be parried, every parry can be deceived by suitable movements. Yet there was some justification for the belief in the existence of secrets of swordsmanship in days when, as a rule, lessons of fence were given in jealous privacy; constant practice at one particular pass, especially with the long rapier, which required a great deal of muscular strength, might render any peculiarly fierce, sudden and audacious stroke excessively dangerous to one who did not happen to have opposed that stroke before. Undoubtedly there was little in Elizabethan fencingschools of what we understand in modern days by loose-play between the pupils; practice was almost invariably conducted between scholar and teacher in private; and thus the opportunities for watching or testing any particular fencer's play were few. Such an opportunity would, as a rule, only occur on occasions of an earnest fight; and the possessor of a specially handy thrust (if it came off at all) would of course take good care that his opponent should not live to ponder over the secret. The secret, such as it was, remained. In this guise it was inevitable that an almost superstitious belief in " secret foynes," in the botte secrete of certain practised duellists, should arise.

Be that as it may, there is no doubt that towards the end of the 16th century there were many free-lances in the field of arms who professed to teach, in exchange for much gold, strokes that were not to be parried. From one truculent personage, whom Brantome mentions, Tappa the Milanese, you could learn how to cut (if it so took your fancy) both eyes out of your adversary's face with a rinverso tondo, or circular " reverse of the point." From Caizo, another Italian teacher, at one time much favoured by the French court, lessons were to be had in the special art of ham-stringing. Caizo's botte secrete seems to have been nothing more nor less than a falso manco, that is, a left-handed drawing cut, at the inside of the knee. But, as practised and taught by him, it was infallible. This stroke has come down to us as le coup de Jarnac - a stroke, be it said, which, notwithstanding its bad name, was quite as fair as any in rapier fence. One Le Flamand, a French master in Paris, was reputed the inventor of a jerky time-thrust at the adversary's brows, which was a certainty. This special foyne, which was merely an imbrocata at the head, has become legendary in the fencing world as la botte de Nevers. English fencers have their own legends about " the very butcher of a silk button," and this brings us to the first writer on the rapier in England, Vincenzio Saviolo, the great expounder of that Italianated fence which was so obnoxious to the old masters, withal so much admired of Elizabethan courtiers; the man, in short, who - there seems to be much internal evidence to show it - was Shakespeare's fencing master.

Vincenzio was not the only foreign master of note established in London during the latter part of Elizabeth's reign. One, Signor Rocco, had, we hear, a very gorgeously appointed academy in Warwick Lane, near St Paul's, where he coined money rapidly at the expense of gulls and gallants alike. But this man came to grief ultimately in an encounter with the longsword with an old-fashioned English master of defence. Another popular teacher was a certain "Geronimo"; but he also met with a melancholy and premature end by the hands of one Cheefe, " a tall man in his fight and natural English," says George Silver, the champion of the Corporation of Masters of Defence. Saviolo, however, seems to have remained unconquered. In his work (Vincentio Saviolo, his practise, in two bookes, the first intreating of the use of the Rapier and Dagger, the second of Honor and honorable quarrels. London. Printed by John Wolfe, 1595) are expounded in a most typical manner the principles of rapier play.

The fencing phraseology of Elizabethan times is highly picturesque, but with difficulty intelligible in the absence of practical demonstration. Without going into technical details it may be pointed out that the long Elizabethan rapier, however admirably balanced it might otherwise be, was still too heavy to admit of quick parries with the blade itself. Thrusts, as a rule, had to be avoided by body movements, by ducking, or by a vault aside (incartata), or beaten away with the left hand, the hand being protected with a gauntlet or armed with a dagger. In fact, one may say that the chief characteristic of Elizabethan sword-play was the concerted action of the left hand parrying while the right delivered the attack. Benvolio's description of Tybalt's fight is graphic: " With piercing steel he tilts at bold Mercutio's breast, Who, all as hot, turns deadly point to point, And with a martial scorn, with one hand beats Cold death aside, anc4 with the other Sends it back to Tybalt, whose dexterity Retorts it. .. " Of these body movements, in Saviolo's days, the most approved were: the incartata, just mentioned; the pass (the " passado," in the ruffling Anglo-Italian jargon), that is, passing of one foot in front of the other whilst delivering the attack; the botta lunga, or lunge; and the caricado, which was a far-reaching combination of the two. Of systematic sword movements there were six: stocata, a thrust delivered with nails upwards; imbrocata, with nails down; punta-reversa, any thrust delivered from the left side of the body; mandritto, a cut from the right; rinverso, one from the left; stramazone, a right-down blow with the point of the sword.

The new art of fence, as systematized by the principles of rapier play, was on the whole already accepted in England during the last decade of the 16th century, and was, as we know, destined to endure. Nevertheless, there were still many partisans of the older school: lovers of the national short-sword and the buckler. Their tenets are to be found embodied, in very strenuous language, by the George Silver mentioned above, a member, it would seem, of the now dwindling company of Masters of Defence, in his small work: Paradoxe of Defence, wherein is proved the true ground of fight to be in the short ancient weapons, etc. Printed in London, 1599 (The work has been reprinted by Messrs George Bell & Sons.) The Italians were undoubtedly the leaders in sword-play; but, towards the beginning of the 17th century, the Spaniards developed a peculiar school of their own, which for a short while was all the mode in England as well as in France. The last trace, be it stated, of that school is now extinct. Yet the Spaniard of cavalier days was undoubtedly a formidable duellist; that was no doubt owing to the quality of the man, not of his art. The Italian's fence was artistic; the Spaniard's dexterity was essentially scientific. In Spain were to be found typically those " Captains of Complements," who not only understood in their most intricate mazes the proper " dependencies " for the cartel, but also the mathematical certainties for the " reason demonstrative." These Spanish books are marvellously pedantic; one may as well say it, frankly ridiculous. Spanish masters instructed their scholars on mathematical lines, with the help of diagrams drawn on the floor within a circle, the radius of which bore certain cryptic proportions to length of human arms and Spanish swords. The circle was inscribed in squares and intersected by sundry chords bearing occult but, it was held, incontrovertible relations to probabilities of strokes and parries. The scholar was to step from certain intersections to certain others. If this stepping was correctly done the result was a foregone victory. " A villain," exclaims Mercutio, indignantly, " who fights by the book of arithmetic." Elizabethan comedies bring us many an echo of its great expounder of mathematical swordsmanship, the magnificent Carranza, the primer inventor de la Ciencia de las Armas, the writer of treatises so abstruse on " the first and second cause," in questions of honour and swording, that they have never been quite understood to this day.

Perhaps the most curious matter in connexion with the Spanish fence is that the most splendid treatise of the sword published in the French language is in reality purely Spanish (we have seen that the first was German, and the second an adaptation of Italian treatises). This third work, Academie de l'epee de Girard Thibault, d'Anvers, etc., is indeed a monument; one of the biggest books ever printed, and beyond compare the biggest book of fence. It was issued in 1628 by the Leiden Elzevirs, and took fifteen years to complete. Nine reigning princes and a vast number of private gentlemen subscribed to meet its stupendous expenses.

This work was spoken of as a " monument." It may, in some respects, be looked upon as the funeral monument of the old rapier fence; for soon after that period rose an entirely new school, one adapted to the use of a less portentous weapon, the small-sword of French pattern; a school destined to endure, and to lead to the perfection of our modern escrime. The evolution of this new school is an instance of the influence of fashion upon the shape of the sword, and hence upon theories concerning its use. The French school of fencing may be said to owe its origin to the adoption, under Louis XIV., of the short court-sword in place of the over-long wide-hilted rapier of the older style. With a weapon of such reduced dimensions, of such reduced weight, the advantage of the dagger as a fencing adjunct at once ceased to be felt. The dagger, last Gothic remnant, disappeared accordingly; and there arose rapidly a new system of play, in which most of the defensive actions were performed by the blade alone; in which, at the same time (the reduction in the size and weight of the weapon rendering the efficiency of the edge almost nugatory in comparison with that of the point), all cutting action was ultimately discarded.

It is from that date, namely, from the last third of the 17th century, that the sword, as a fighting implement, becomes differentiated into two very different directions. The military weapon becomes the back-sword or sabre; the walking companion and duelling weapon becomes what we now understand by the small-sword. Two utterly different kinds of fence are practised: one, that of the back-sword; the other, what we would now call foil-play.

The magnificent old cut and thrust rapier still flourished, it is true, in parts of Italy and Spain; but by the end of the 17th century it had already become an object of ridicule in the eyes of all persons addicted to bon ton - and it must be remembered that bon ton, on the Continent everywhere and even in England, at that time, was French ton. The walking sword, fit for a gentleman's side, was therefore the small-sword of Versailles pattern. Its use had to be learnt from French masters of deportment; the old magniloquent Italo-Spanish rapier jargon was forgotten; French terms, barbarized into carte, tierce, sagoon, fianquonade, and so forth, were alone understood. In fact, French fencing became as indispensable an accomplishment to the Georgian gentlemen as the fine Italianated foyning had been to the Elizabethan.

The new French sword-play was, it must be owned, very neat, quiet, precise, and, if anything, even more deadly than the old fence. It was perfect as a decorous mode of fight, and as well suited to the lace ruffles, to the high perruque and the red heels of the " beau " as the long cup-hilted rapier had been to the booted and spurred " cavalier." The essence of its play was nimbleness of wrist; it required quickness of spirit rather than muscular vigour. It is to be noted, however, that the same sort of popular opposition met the invasion of French fencing, in post-Restoration days, that had been offered to the new-fangled Italian rapier a century earlier. During the Parliamentary period the rapier and its attendant dagger had practically disappeared; they were not true warlike weapons, their chief virtue was for duelling or sudden encounters. But the stout English back-sword survived; and with it a very definite school of back-sword play. Under Charles II., the amusement of stage or prize-fighting with swords had become a la mode. Courteous assaults at many weapons, of course rebated, had been frequent functions under the auspices of the Corporation of Masters of Defence during the second half of the 16th century; it is (be it remarked) in such sword-matches on the scaffold that we find the origin of our modern prize-fights at fisticuffs. The first instance known of a challenge at sharps on the fighting stage is seen in a cartel sent by George Silver and Toby his son, as champions of the Corporation of Masters of Defence, to the obnoxious " Signors " Saviolo and Geronimo. As a matter of fact, the latter, having apparently no wish to improve their excellent social position or to risk forfeiting it, declined this invitation to a public trial of skill. But the idea was right martial and pleasing to the English mind, and the fashion of prize-fighting took the firm hold it retained on English minds till stringent legislation, not so very long ago, was brought to bear upon it. Be it as it may, this prize-fighting with swords endured until middle Georgian days; when, under the impetus given to fistic displays then by the renowned Figg (who was at one and the same time the most formidable of English fencers and the first on the long list of English pugilistic champions), back-swording became relegated to the provinces, and ultimately dwindled into our bastard " single-stick." Fencing, in its restricted sense of purely thrusting play, was always an " academic " art in England. The first great advocate and exponent of the new small-sword fence, as taught by the new French school, was Sir William Hope of Balcomy, at one time deputy governor of Edinburgh Castle, who wrote a great number of quaint treatises of great interest to the " operative " as well as to the " speculative " fencer. Yet, oddly enough, Sir William Hope was instrumental in endeavouring to push through parliament a bill for the establishment of a court of honour, the office of which was to have been the deciding of honourable quarrels, whenever possible, without appeal to fencing skill. The House, however, being at the time excited and busy on the question of the union of Scotland and England, the bill never became act. To resume: since it began to be practised as a regulated art one may say broadly that sword play has already passed through four main phases. The first belongs to the early Tudor days of sword and buckler encounters, whereof, if the best theoretical treatises appeared in Italy, the sturdiest practical exponents were most probably found in the British Isles. Then came the age of the rapier, coeval with the general disuse of the buckler. There may be discerned the dawn of fencing proper, which will fully arise when, in Caroline times, the outrageous length of the tucke will at last be sufficiently reduced no longer to require the dagger as a helpmate. The third was the age of the smallsword. With its light, elegant and deadly practice we enter a new atmosphere, so to speak, on fencing ground. Suppleness of wrist and precision of fingering replace the ramping and traversing, the heavy forcing play, of the Elizabethan. If the rapier age was well exemplified by Vincent Saviolo, this one was typified, albeit perhaps at a time when it was already somewhat on the wane, by the admirable Angelo Tremamondo Malevolti.

In the early days of the small-sword age men still fenced in play as they fought in earnest. But presently there appeared on the scene (during the last years of the 18th century) an implement destined to revolutionize the art and hopelessly to divide the practice of the school from that of the field: that was the fencing mask. Before this invention, small-sword play in the master's room was perforce comparatively cautious, correct, sure and above all deliberate. The long, excited, argumentative phrases of modern assaults were unknown; and so was the almost inevitably consequent scrimmage. But under the protection of the fencing mask a new school of foil-play was evolved, one in which swiftness and inveteracy of attack and parry, of riposte, remise, counter-riposte and reprise, assumed an all-important character. With the new style began to assert itself that utter recklessness of " chance hits " which in our days so markedly differentiates foil-practice from actual duelling. And this brings us to the fourth phase, the fencing art, to what may be called the age of the foil.

If anything were required to demonstrate that foil-play has nowadays passed into the state of what may be called fine art in athleticism, it would be found in the rise of the method which French masters particularize as le jeu du terrain, as duelling play in fact; a play which differs as completely from academic foilfencing as cross-country riding in an unknown district from the haute ecole of horsemanship in the mange. By fencing, nowadays, that is by foil-play, we have come to mean not simply fighting for hits, but a strictly regulated game which, being quite conventional, does not take accidental hits into consideration at all. This game requires for its perfect display a combination of artificial circumstances, such as even floors, featherweight weapons, and an unconditional acceptance of a number of traditional conventions. Now, for the more utilitarian purposes of duelling, the major part of the foil fencer's special achievement and brilliancy has to be uncompromisingly sacrificed in the presence of the brutal fact that thrusts in the face, or below the waist, do count, insomuch as they may kill; that accidental hits in the arm or the leg cannot be disregarded, for they may, and generally do, put a premature stop to the bout. The " rub on the green " must be accepted, perforce, and indeed often plays as important a part in the issue of the game as the player's skill. The fact, however, that in earnest encounters all conventionalities which determine the value of a hit vanish, does not in any way justify the notion, prevalent among many, that a successful hit justifies any method of planting the same; and that the mere discarding of all convention in practical sword-play is sufficient to convert a bad fencer into a dangerous duellist.

It is the recognition of this fact (which, oddly enough, only came to be generally admitted, and not without reluctance, by the masters of the art during the last quarter of the 10th century) which has led to the elaboration of the modified system of small-sword fence now known as epee play. The new system, after passing through various rather extravagant phases of its own, gradually returned to the main principle of sound foil-play, but shorn of all futile conventions as to the relative values of hits. In epee play a hit is a hit, whether correctly delivered or reckless, whether intentional or the result of mere chance, and must, at the cost of much caution and patience, be guarded against.

Per contra the elaboration by the devotees of the epee of a really practical system of fence, that is, one applicable to trials in earnest, has reacted upon the teaching of foil-play by the best masters of the present day - a teaching which, without ceasing to be academical up to a certain point, takes now cognisance of the necessity of defending every part of the body as sedulously as the target of the breast, and, moreover, of warding the many possibilities of chance hits in contretemps. In both plays - in the highly refined, complicated and brilliant fence of the first-class " foil," as well as in the simpler and more cautious operations of the practised duellist - the one golden rule remains, that one so quaintly expressed by M. Jourdain's maitre d'armes in Moliere's comedy: " Tout le secret des armes ne consiste qu'en deux choses, a donner et a ne point recevoir." The point most usually lost sight of by sanguine and selfreliant scorners of conventionalities is that, although with the sword it may be comparatively easy at any time " to give," it is by no means easy to make sure of " giving without receiving." The mutual simultaneous hit - the coup-double - is, in fact, the dread pitfall of all sword-play. For this reason, in courteous bouts, a hit has no real value, not only when it is actually cancelled by a counter, but when it is delivered in such a way as to admit of a counter. In short, the experience of ages and the careful consideration of probabilities have given birth to the various make-believes and restrictions that go to make sound foil-play. These restrictions are destined to act in the same direction as the warning presence of a sharp point instead of a button; and thus, as far as possible, to prevent those mutual hits - the contretemps of the old masters - which mar the greater number of assaults. The proper observance of those conventions, other things being equal, distinguishes the good from the indifferent swordsman, the man who uses his head from him who rushes blindly where angels fear to tread. So much for foilplay.

In modern sword-play, on the other hand, is seen the usual tendency of arts which have reached their climax of complication to return to comparative simplicity. With reference to actual duelling, it is a recognized thing that it would be the height of folly to attempt, sword in hand, the complex attacks, the fulllength lunges, the neat but somewhat weak parries of the foil; so much so, that many have been led to assert that, for its ultimate practical purpose (which logically is that of duelling), the refined art of the foil, requiring so many years of assiduous and methodical work, is next to useless. It is alleged, as a proof, that many successful duellists have happened to be indifferent performers on the fencing floor. Some even maintain that a few weeks' special work in that restricted - very restricted - play, which alone can be considered safe on the field of honour, will produce as good a practical swordsman as any who have walked the schools for years. Nothing can be further from the truth: were it but on the ground that the greater includes the less; that the foil-fencer of standing who can perform with ease and accuracy all the intricate movements of the assault, who has trained his hand and eye to the lightning speed of the wellhandled foil, must logically prove more than a match for the more purely practical but less trained devotees of the epee de combat. The only difference for him in the two plays is that the latter is incomparably slower in action, simpler; that it demands above all things patience and caution; and especially that, instead of protecting his breast only, the epee fencer must beware of the wily attack, or the chance hit, at every part of his body, especially at his sword-hand.

The difference which still exists between the French and Italian schools of small-sword fence - by no means so wide, in point of theory, as popularly supposed - is mainly due to the dissimilarity of the weapons favoured by the two countries. The quillons, which are retained to this day in the Italian fioretto and spada, conduce to a freer use of wrist-play and a straight arm. The French, on the other hand, having long ago adopted the plain grip both for fleuret and epee, have come to rely more upon finger-play and a semi-bent arm. Both schools have long laid claims to an overwhelming superiority, on theoretical ground, over their rivals - claims which were unwarrantable. Indeed, of later days, especially since the evolution of a special " duelling play," the two schools show a decided tendency, notwithstanding the difference in the grip of the weapons, towards a mutual assimilation of principles.

As a duelling weapon - as one, that is to say, the practice of which under the restrictive influence of conventions could become elaborated into an art - the sabre (see Sabre-Fencing) returned to favour in some countries at the close of the Napoleonic wars. Considered from the historical point of view, the modern sabre, albeit now a very distant cousin of the smallsword, is as direct a descendant as the latter itself of the old cutand-thrust rapier. It is curious, therefore, to note that, just as the practice of the " small " or thrusting sword gave rise to two rival schools, the French and the Italian, that of the sabre or cutting sword (it can hardly be called the broadsword, the blade, for the purposes of duelling play, having been reduced to slenderest proportions) became split up into two main systems, Italian and German. And further it is remarkable that the leading characteristics of the latter should still be, in a manner, " severity " and steadfastness; and that the former, the Italian, should rely, as of yore, specially upon agility and insidious cunning.

Concerning the latter-day evolution of that special and still more conventional system of fence, the Schlager or Hau-rapier play favoured by the German student, from that of the ancestral rapier, the curious will find a critical account in an article entitled `' Schldgerei " which appeared in the Saturday Review, 5th of December 1885.

See also the separate articles on Cane-Fencing (canne); EPE-DE-Combat; Foil-Fencing; Sabre-Fencing; and Single-Stick.

Authorities. - The bibliography of fencing is a copious subject; but it has been very completely dealt with in the following works: Bibliotheca dimicatoria, in the " Fencing, Boxing and Wrestling " volume of the Badminton library (Longmans); A Bibliography of Fencing and Duelling, by Carl A. Thin-1m (John Lane). For French works more especially: La Bibliographie de l'escrime, by Vigeant (Paris, Motteroz); and Ma Collection d'escrime, by the same (Paris, Quantin). For Italian books: Bibliografia generale della scherma, by Gelli (Firenza, Niccolai). For Spain and Portugal: Libros de esgrima espanoles y portugueses, by Leguina (Madrid, Los Huerfanos). Both M. Vigeant's and Ca y. Gelli's works deal with the subject generally; but their entries are only critical, or even tolerably accurate, in the case of books belonging to their own countries. Concerning the history of the art, Egerton Castle's Schools and Masters of Fence (George Bell); Hutton's The Sword and the Centuries (Grant Richards); and Letainturier-Fradin's Les Joueurs d'epee a travers les ages (Paris, Flammarion) cover the ground, technically and ethically. As typical exponents of the French and Italian schools respectively may be mentioned here: La Thiorie de l'escrime, by Prevost (Paris, de Brunhof) (this is the work which was adopted in the Badminton volume on Fencing), and Trattato teoricopratico della scherma, by Parise (Rome, Voghera). (E. CA.)

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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary






  1. Present participle of fence.




fencing (plural fencings)

  1. The art or sport of duelling with swords, especially the style that originated in Europe.
  2. Material used to make fences.
  3. Fences used as barriers or an enclosure.
    Fencing was erected around the field to keep the horses in.


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Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection

The modern sport of fencing is played at many levels, from students learning at a university to professional and Olympic competition. The sport is primarily played in a duel format, one fencer dueling another.

These duels usually take place at tournaments. The early rounds of a competition which establish seeding for the final round will usually be "five touch" bouts, meaning the first fencer to score five touches on the other fencer wins the bout. From the first round fencers will be seeded and the knockout round of the competition will commence. In this it is normal to fence until the first fencer reaches 15. However both the seeding round or rounds and the final will have a time constraint and so a bout may finish without the full number of points scored. The winner is then the fencer with the highest score.

What defines a touch is dependent on the style of fencing and the weapons used. The three primary weapons are the foil, the epee, and the sabre.

Foil Fencing

The foil is the lightest of the three weapons. It will be the weapon that most instructors will expect students to master before they move to any other weapon.

With the foil, touches may be scored on the torso (groin to neck), with the point only. With the epee, touches may be scored on any part of the body. With the saber, touches may be scored with the point or the blade. The target area is the body from hips to head.

Foil fencing introduces the concept of 'right of way.' An attacker must establish right of way before scoring a valid point. One establishes right of way by extending the blade in a straight line toward the opponent's target area. Until the opponent is able to regain right of way, he/she is on the defensive. Right of way can be gained by parrying (redirecting the opponent's thrust) outside the target area and then extending one's own blade toward the opponent. This counter-attack is termed a 'riposte.' A fencing point often consists of an attack, a riposte, a counter-riposte, and further counter-ripostes in series until a point is scored. Reflecting the dueling origins of modern (European) fencing, action stops after a valid touch and the fencers return to their original position at the center of the strip.

Sabre Fencing

In modern sabre, which is modeled after the cavalry sabre, touches are scored with hits to the head, torso and arms (hands and groin are specifically not target though). Sabre is a slashing weapon, therefore the edge of the blade is generally used to score points, though the point can be used also. This weapon is also governed by the rules of right-of-way, interpreted in the same way as the foil.

The sabre tends to be the fastest and most athletic of the three modern weapons. Fencers engage each other very quickly and the engagements rarely go beyond a few actions. Sabre fencers have had to adapt their tactics to a semi-recent rule that forbids them to bring the rear foot forward of the front. This prevents a type of attack called the fleche, which is a combination of a leap and a run. Fencers have adapted by creating the "flunge,' which is essentially jumping at your opponent. Many sabre matches consist of the two fencers leaping at each other, the weapon is dominated by the quickest and most effective motions.

Epee Fencing

Epee is the heaviest of the three weapons and beginners, used to foil, often find this an issue in moving to this weapon. The lack of right-of-way rule also requires unlearning.

Epee fencing is a bit of a departure from foil and sabre fencing. Epee was created as a reaction to foil fencing with the idea of creating a competition more like a "real" duel. The rules are modeled after the French practice of dueling to first blood drawn; touches may be scored anywhere on the body. Because no system exists for establishing the priority of an attack, both fencers may score a point simultaneously, called a 'double-touch,' as long as the hits arrive within .5 seconds of each other.

Epee tactics differ significantly from those of foil and sabre. Because the arm is also target (it is, in fact, the primary target) fencers stay further away from each other. Epee also tends to rely less on the parry-riposte because there is no need to establish priority. While parry-riposte is still used, counterattacks are used far more frequently instead. Fencers in epee also tend to rely on deeper strategies because of the slower, more defensive nature.

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This is about the sport. You may be wanting to read about a fence.

Fencing is a sport that includes two people with swords. The aim is to score hits. There is also a referee. In the olden times when two people argued they fenced the first one to draw blood was wrong and the person would be dead, so the person that won would claim the dead person's house and belongings.




The foil is a light and easy to bend weapon, first made in mid 17th century as a weapon for practice. 'Hits' can only be scored by hitting the right target area with the point of the sword. The target area is the torso.


The épée is the heaviest of the three weapons. To score a hit, the push-button on the end of the weapon must remain fully down for 2-10 milliseconds, and must arrive (hit) with a force of at least 7.35 newtons.


The sabre is the "cutting" weapon, with a curved guard (to protect the hand) and a triangular blade. However, in modern electric scoring, a touch with any part of the sabre, (point, flat or edge, as long as it is on target) will count as a hit. The target area in sabre is everything from the waist up, except for the hands.


Fencers wear a uniform to avoid injury. They a wear mask of black mesh with a bib. Also, a jacket, short pants and a sort of half-a-shirt (called a underarm protector or plastron), all of white fabric. They must also wear socks that cover their legs. Women must wear a chest protector. These are collectively called "whites."

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