Columbia Fencers Club: What is Fencing

About Fencing

Fencing is for everyone. It is a unique, fast-paced workout, which develops endurance, coordination, speed, and balance. While highly physical, it is also a mental game, enhancing concentration, decision making and problem solving ability. It is a lifetime sport for all ages. 

Fencing is also one of the safest sports, its safety record reflects the quality of the equipment and the rules that control the manner of competition. Uniforms are made of Kevlar, the same material used in bullet-proof vests, the masks must strictly adhere to standards in strength for the mesh and bib, and the weapons are designed so that no sharp edge will be exposed, even if the blade brakes.


The main object of a fencing bout (what an individual "game" is called) is to effectively score 15 points (in direct elimination play) or five points (in preliminary pool play) on your opponent before he scores that number on you. Each time a fencer scores a touch, he receives a point. Direct elimination matches consist of three three-minute periods. 

F o i l 
The foil is the only weapon used that does not have a real steel counterpart. It was invented solely for the purpose of teaching and learning fencing. In its earliest form, the foil was nothing more than a sword that had been rendered safe or "foiled". Often, foiling a sword was achieved by putting a piece of cork or a ball on the tip of the blade. This process made fencing lessons much safer and more successful. Later, specific practice weapons were developed, and they were given the name "foil". The foil's target area consists of the body's torso excluding the arms, the legs, and the head. The foil's target area is considered to be deadly, meaning a single hit could kill an opponent. When fencing was still taught for duelling practices, fencing masters thought it best to assure their students the easiest and earliest possible victory in hopes that they would have a repeat customer. The foil is a thrust only weapon, if it were a real weapon only the tip would be sharp and hits could only be made by thrusting your opponent with the tip. The foil is also considered a conventional weapon. Being a conventional weapon means that the foil is governed by a rule called "Right of Way". Right of Way is explained below. 

E p e e 
The epee is a light duelling sword characterized by its large bell guard. Like the foil, it is a thrust only weapon, and its real steel counterpart would only have a sharp tip. Its large bell guard is designed to assist in protecting the weapon hand and arm. The epee differs from foil in its target area. The epee's target area is the entire body from head to toe. The target area of epee is intended to reflect the nature of a real duel where anything goes, and your opponent will attack any open target area. The epee is an unconventional weapon and has no Right of Way. As a result double touches can be scored in epee. The epee is unique as a sword because it was only intended for use in duels. Unlike other swords, it had no role in war or self-defense. 

S a b e r
The saber is believed to have descended from the Middle Eastern scimitar. Historically, it came in three forms: the duelling saber, the cavalry saber, and the naval saber (cutlass). Each type of saber was specialized for a specific type of combat. The duelling saber was lighter and more closely resembles the form of saber fencing practiced today. The cavalry saber was much heavier and was used from horseback. The naval saber (cutlass) was shorter so that it could be more easily manoeuvred in the close quarters of fighting at sea. It was also thick like a machete allowing it to be used to attack the enemy's vessel as well as the enemy. If the rigging on the enemy's ship was destroyed, victory could be attained by sailing away and coming back with cannons firing on the immobile ship. The saber's target area consists of everything above the hips (including the arms and the head). There are two theories for the purpose of the saber's target area. Some believe it is leftover from when saber was practiced on horseback. From the waist up is the only accessible target on a mounted opponent. Others say it is a matter of practicality. Attacking an opponent's legs leaves you open and does nothing to stop your opponent from attacking you. The saber is both a thrusting and a cutting weapon. Its real steel counterparts have a sharp tip, a sharp edge down the front, and a sharp edge a third of the way down the back. The saber is a conventional weapon and is governed by Right of Way. 

Right of Way
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In foil and saber fencing, a fencer may only attack if he/she has Right of Way. A fencer may get Right of Way by making a creditable threat on the opponent's target area. Right of Way can be lost in one of three ways: the attack (credible threat) is parried, the opponent removes his target area from the threat, or the attack is executed and fails to land. Since the weapons used are practice weapons and the fencer is in no real danger, Right of Way forces fencers to consider attacks in the same manner they would a potentially fatal attack in a duel.