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Fencing Introduction 101

Updated on August 27, 2017
jackclee lm profile image

I am retired and a former epee fencer at CCNY Varsity and USFA. I have achieved the rank of A and have competed in National tournament.


What is the sport of fencing? It is sword fighting for the aristocrats of olden days. It is a competition of 9 member teams. There are three different weapons of foil, epee and saber, with different rules for each weapon. It is nothing like the swashbucker fights you see in movies. It is a game of the mind as well as the body. It is also one of the safest sports. There is no physical body contact and you wear protective gear.

- Aug. 2017

A bit of History

Fencing has been around since the early dawn of mankind. At first, it was done with wooden sticks and later with the invention of metals, swords. It is a challenging sport and requires some discipline. Like most sports, it requires skill and training that cannot be taught in a short period of time. The actions of fencing is also not intuitive. What comes as natural motions are not very effective in the sport of fencing competition.

Before the invention of guns and pistols, fencing was the weapon of choice in duels. It is a way to defend your honor without getting killed. A duel consist of a fight betwen two people and the first one that draws blood is the winner. In a way, it is a civilized way to settle a dispute and defend one's honor.

Modern Fencing

The sport of fencing has evolved into modern days. It is one of the sport in the Olympiads. There are both team and individual events. The sport can be practiced in many ages and in fact it is one of the few sports where age and experience can have an advantage. Why are there three different weapons? Historically, there are three ways to use swords to fight. The foil is light and good for close combat. The epee is a little heavier and used in duels. The saber is mostly used while riding on horseback.

Therefore, the various rules reflect to this background and determine the valid target areas and right of way and certain actions.

It also determines the type of physique of the fencer. A small body physique is ideal for foil, where as a tall slender body shape is ideal for epee and a strong stocky body is most suitable for saber.

Some Key Points...

Even though the three weapons are very different, they do share some common traits. They all require the fencer to be mobile on their feet. They all require the fencers to control their weapons and become an extension of their arm and fingers. They all require a strategy to win. They require a certain amount of speed, agility and stamina in order to last a typical bout of 5 minutes.

How Do You Score?

A bout is a contest between two fencers. They are conducted on a strip of a fixed size. A director calls the shots of when to start and stop the action. He also rules who has the right of way. The scoring is done electronically. The weapons are electrified with switches. When a person is struck, a light will come on indicating a hit has been landed called a "touch". The scoring machine has built in timing mechinism such that a different of 1/30 of a second can distingush who has landed first. Anything less would be counted as a double touch. A bout ends when 5 touches are scored or when the clock runs out. The person ahead in score wins. If the score is tied, the bout ends in a tie.

Before electonic scoring, the fencing scores were performed by 4 judges. Two behind each fencer. When the director called stop to the action. The judges are polled to see who landed a touch. It is up to the director to establish right of way and award the final score depending on the judges eye withness report.

Fencing is Not a Spectator Sport

The actions in fencing is very fast. It is very hard for the spectator to follow what is happening. Unless you know the rules, it is hard to understand what happened. The scoring lights only tell half the story sometimes. That is why it is not a popular sport like football or baseball or even tennis.

The sport is most rewarding for the individual fencer. He is competing against another individual and competing based on their physical ability and mental ability. The strategy in fencing is very similar to playing chess. There are actions that are meant to deceive and gain advantage. The skills of each fencer varies and depends on their individual ability. Some actions are better used against one opponent than another. The fencer who can adapt his style against his opponent usually has the upper hand. It is not necessary the fastest or strongest opponent wins. The one with the better strategy usually comes out ahead.


This is a short introduction to the sport of fencing. This sport takes years to master. It can be enjoyed on many levels. It is a competitive sport but it is also fun. To be able to execute a complex move and score is very satisfying. Only the two people on the fencing strip can comprehend this. It also can be enjoyed well into old age. There are fencers still active at age 80. It is a great way to stay fit. The hand, eye, foot coordination is great exercise at any age.

© 2017 Jack Lee


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    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 9 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Yes I saw that. Laughter is the best medicine.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 9 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Jack....I actually knew all that...and of course I'm glad you realized I was joking. Oh..and speaking of running with the bulls.....have you seen that terrific TV commercial where the men are running like crazy.....and coming up behind them is about 10 darlings bulldog puppies??? One man falls to the ground and a puppy licks his face! It's so cute it's funny!

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 9 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Paula, that is funny. You know, contrary to popular believe, fencing is one of the safest sports around. The weapon or blade is just a piece of flexible steel. There are no sharp edges or points. The only reason for wearing a mask is to prevent the poking of an eye... never the less, when the light score and a touch is awarded to an opponent, your ego do feel a bit deflated.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 9 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Yeah, fencing appeals to me too. It's the only artistic/athletic activity where you can appear dignified, graceful, agile & swift, just before your opponent jabs a long razor sharp sword through your chest and out your back. Quite stupendous indeed. Less stress and perspiration than running with the bulls..... I dare say.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 9 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Bill, thanks for stopping by. It is never too late. There are some people fencing till over 80 years old...

      I am getting back to fencing after a hiatus of 10 years.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      This is one of those sports that always looked fascinating to me, one I wish I had tried when I was younger. There is something about it that appeals to me. Thanks for the education.

    • Mamerto profile image

      JR Mamerto 9 months ago from Cabuyao

      Kali is a Filipino Martial arts. We trained in hands and bladed weapon, but we sparred with sticks. Western fencing is very different from Kali, yet I love how it is played :)

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 9 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Yes, I have been to the club downtown Seattle. One of my friend use to coach there. It is very good.

    • Misfit Chick profile image

      Catherine Mostly 9 months ago from Seattle, WA - USA - The WORLD

      This was fun, Jack. I have been interested in Fencing since Star Trek Next Gen's Capt. Picard (or maybe it was The Princess Bride... "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die). I have even looked for classes on it. I just haven't followed through on them, yet. LoL! (Yes, Seattle has a few options for learning Fencing.) Thanks for the intro! :)

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 9 months ago from Yorktown NY

      What is Kali?

    • Mamerto profile image

      JR Mamerto 9 months ago from Cabuyao

      I have a Kali background and I love watching fencing match!


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