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Basics of Epee Fencing

Updated on February 10, 2009

Epee fencing

Fencing Mens

Fencing Epee

Epee Fencing

Basics of Epee Fencing

Modern fencing has its roots in the ancient art of swordsmanship. It traces its history all the way back to the time man first used flint daggers in the Neolithic period to hunt for food, and, perhaps later, to settle disputes. Flint gave way to copper, copper gave way to bronze, bronze gave way to iron. By the time the Vikings ruled the world, swords have become carbonized iron enforcers of national policy. Even sword making became enshrouded with myth, hence the legends of Weyland theSmith, Siegried’s “Nothung” and King Arthur’s “Excalibur.”

In the 16th century, it became fashionable for gentlemen to carry swords as a statement of sartorial elegance. The presence at all times of a handy means to settle disputes, perhaps coupled with the certainty that one’s swordsmanship is way superior to everybody else’s led to duels to restore one’s honor in the face of an insult. Often, however, these duels were simply “to first blood,” and not to the death. It’s this need for gentlemen to hone their skills in preparation for some future duel that gave birth to fencing. Fencing schools flourished, and fencing masters were not in short supply.


Foil was already being used in the late 19th century when the epee fencing made its entrance. In fact, it was a dissatisfaction with foil fencing that led to the development of the epee. These fencers longed to simulate as closely as possible a real duel; that explains why they held their matches outdoors and required only one touch anywhere on the body. Epee is the most popular form of fencing in international competitions, and is of the sports in modern pentathlon.

Meet the Epee

Along with the foil and the sabre, the fencing epee is one of three weapons used in fencing, the use of which is taught in fencing schools. Like the foil, it’s a thrusting weapon, meaning that only touches made by the point count, those made by the blade don’t. Designed to simulate a duel without being deadly, it has a heavy blade with a triangular cross-section, and the forte is fluted to allow the blood out. It’s the same length as the foil and the sabre, but, at 770 gm, is heavier than either. In epee fencing, the entire body is the target, and not merely the torso (foil fencing), nor the torso and the head (sabre fencing). As the whole body is the target, the handguard of the epee is bigger than the foil’s. Nevertheless, the fighting technique remains similar to that of the foil, made different only by tactical demands dictated by the longer fencing measure, the entire body being the target, the allowing of double hits, and the absence of Right of Way.

As the epee was originally intended to simulate the actual combat conditions of the duel, not only was it held outdoors, but only one touch was originally needed to win. But, probably to make sure that the touch was not a fluke, the number of touches was increased, first in 1932 to best of five, then in 1955 to best of nine. In an electronically-scored bout, the épée’s point has a spring device that’s triggered by at least a 750 gm force.

Fundamentals of Epee Fencing

The line of attack analysis, the guards and parries is the same for epee as for foil. In fact, many epeeists weave their games around foil fundamentals, only adapting it to the larger target. As the target is the whole body and not merely the torso as in foil, the players tend to keep farther apart, and --with the arm extended and the blade level to the ground – take an intermediate guard position on the outside line. Attacks and ripostes are, not surprisingly, often aimed at the wrist and forearm, and sometimes the mask or knee. To go for the body, it’s often necessary to pair an advance or a jump with the lunge, or to make a fleche. It’s common to make offensive actions in opposition, blocking the other blade to frustrate a stop thrust; and parries are done with the strong part of the blade, achieved by raising or lowering the hand.

Some excellent fencers, however, use another tactic, avoiding engagements of the blade, and instead focusing on angled shots under and over the opposing arm both on attack and on defense, counting more on shifting distance and accuracy of point in the stop thrust than on parry and riposte. Still others use exactly the opposite tactic, weaving their game around the straight-arm guard, arm fully extended.


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