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Fencing Weapons and Other Equipment

Updated on March 31, 2013

Fencing is a sport in which two contestants engage in attack and defense with a foil, epee, or saber. It is an outgrowth of dueling, but in the modern sport the object is to score a touch (hit) against the adversary rather than to injure him. This is achieved through a series of advances and retreats, the distance between fencers as well as the timing of the attacks and defenses being of utmost importance.

Contestants wear protective clothing and a mask and use a blunted weapon. The sport is enjoyed competitively by both men and women. Women, however, fence only the foil.

Photo Credit: Dorian Widling


Fencing bouts (individual contests) are limited to six minutes for men and five for women. They are directed by a president, who awards a touch, and a jury of four, who determine the validity of a touch. Rules attempt to retain as nearly as possible the similarity of fencing to actual combat. A fencer, for example, may not touch his opponent if his own action permits his being touched at the same time. In foil and saber, an attack or threatening action has the "right of way" and must be parried before a counter action; but in play involving the epee, the contestant who hits first scores.

In men's bouts the first contestant to be hit five times is the loser. In women's foil, four touches are required. Foil and epee, being thrusting weapons only, touches can be scored only with the point of the blade. The saber is a thrusting and cutting weapon; consequently, saber fencers may score with the point or with cuts.

Weapons and Other Equipment

All weapons have a flexible steel blade, a guard, a handle, and a pommel (end). The part of the blade near the hand is the forte, or strong part; the weak part toward the tip is the foible; the middle section is called the medium.

The foil, the lightest of the three weapons, weighs about 17 ounces (500 grams) and is about 43 inches (110 cm) long. The blade is rectangular in cross section. The epee, a stiffer and heavier weapon, weighs about 27 ounces (750 grams); it is as long as the foil but triangular in cross section. The shortest of the three weapons is the saber, which is 41 inches (105 cm) long and weighs about as much as the foil. The saber blade is triangular in cross section. It has two cutting edges: a front edge and the first third of the back edge.

A metal guard protects the fencer's hand. The foil guard is about 12 cm in diameter and may be either flat or round. The epee guard is round and wider than the foil. The saber guard is larger than the foil guard and includes a curved extension to the pommel to protect the knuckles. The handles of the weapons are slightly curved to conform to the shape of the hand.

The mask is made of strong, fine wire mesh. Saber masks have pads on the top and sides to soften the impact of the blows. The jacket and breeches are white and made of strong and resistant material, such as canvas or gabardine. Women wear a metal breast protector; epee fencers, a canvas shield under the jacket. All fencers wear long socks, and sneakers or shoes with flat soles, and a glove on the sword hand.

In foil and epee competition, the validity of a touch may be determined with the aid of an electric apparatus set up at the side of the strip and connected to the specially wired weapons. Foil fencers then wear a metallic vest over the jacket, and when the point touches the target, a colored light registers the hit. A white light shows if a contact is off target. In epee, only colored lights are used because the target area is the entire body.

The portion of the floor used during a bout is called the strip, which is about 6 feet 7 inches (2 meters) wide. An on-guard (starting) line is marked 6 feet 7 inches on either side of the center line. For foil, the length of the strip is about 39 feet (12 meters), and warning lines (to indicate to the fencer that he is near the end of the strip) are marked 3 feet 3 inches (1 meter) in from each end. For epee and saber, the total length is about 78 feet (24 meters), with warning lines 6 feet 7 inches in from each end. A strip of 46 feet (14 meters) may be used, each fencer being permitted to return to the original on-guard starting line once he reaches his own end of the strip.

Participant or spectator? Tell us what you like most about the sport of fencing.

And then check out my article on The Art and Science of Fencing.

Are you a Fencing Fan?

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    • Richard-H profile image


      4 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      The only time I tend to see it is during the Olympics.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I don't mind watching it in the movies, but haven't watched it in 'real' life.


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