What is Fencing?
Fencing is a group of three related combat sports. The three disciplines in modern fencing are the foil, the épée, and the sabre; winning points are made through the contact with an opponent. Fencing was one of the first sports to be played in the Olympics. Based on the traditional skills of swordsmanship, the modern sport arose at the end of the 19th century, with the Italian school having modified the historical European martial art of classical fencing, and the French school later refining the Italian system. There are three forms of modern fencing, each of which uses a different kind of weapon and has different rules; thus the sport itself is divided into three competitive scenes: foil, épée, and sabre. Most competitive fencers choose to specialize in one weapon only.
Competitive fencing is one of the five activities which have been featured in every modern Olympic Games, the other four being athletics, cycling, swimming, and gymnastics.
Fencing’s appeal lies in the interplay of lightning-quick movements and fast-changing tactics. With the lights dimmed and the focus on the piste, the athletes’ explosive attacks and defensive manoeuvres are distilled into tiny moments where an error or hesitation can decide the outcome. Speedy reflexes can compensate for a lack of reach, with openings created in just two or three rapid retaliatory thrusts.
Foil fencers use the flexibility of their sword to make attacks that wrap around the opponent to their back. For the foil and sabre, ‘right of way’ is given to the fencer who first extends their arm and points their sword tip towards their opponent. If the other fencer dodges or parries in defence, they gain right of way and will often launch an immediate counterattack.
There is no right of way in epée matches and a point is awarded any time a sword tip hits the opponent. If both fencers hit at the same time, they are both awarded points. Since the whole body is a valid target, matches play out in a variety of ways as fencers target unexpected parts of their opponent’s body right down to their toes.