Sword fighting and duels
Swordplay has been practised for thousands of years, as evidenced by carvings depicting fencers found in a temple near Luxor dating from around 1190 BC. From the 16th to the 18th century, duels were common, with combatants using a variety of weapons including quarterstaffs and backswords. Such bouts were bloody and occasionally fatal.
Birth of the sport
Fencing began the move from a form of military training to a sport in either the 14th or 15th century. Both Italy and Germany lay claim to its origins, with German fencing masters organising the first guilds in the 15th century, the most notable being the Marxbruder of Frankfurt, formed in 1478.
Rules of the game
Three innovations in the 17th and 18th century led to the popularity of fencing as a sport: the “foil” – a weapon with a flattened tip; a set of rules governing the target area; and the wire-mesh mask. Together, these developments ensured the safety of fencing’s participants.
Fencing was included for the first time at the 1896 Games in Athens, and has remained on the Olympic programme since then. The women’s fencing competition entered the Games in 1924 in Paris. Today, men and women compete in individual and team events, in which three types of weapon are used: foil, epee and sabre. The foil was, at first, the only weapon used by women, until the 1996 Games in Atlanta, when women’s epee was introduced. Women’s sabre appeared for the first time on the Olympic programme in Athens in 2004.
Among the figures who have marked this sport, Italy’s Nedo Nadi is the only fencer to have won a medal in every weapon in a single edition of the Games. In 1912, at the age of 18, he won in the foil. Then, after being decorated by his country for acts of bravery during the First World War, he won five gold medals in Antwerp in 1920, a historic and unequalled record: in the individual foil and sabre events, and in the team foil, epee and sabre events.
There are three distinctive and different disciplines in the sport of fencing. Each has it’s own specific style, rules and weapon. Traditionally, fencers begin with the foil and then go on to sample the other disciplines before determining their favorite. Below is a brief description of the three disciplines:
The foil was developed from the smallsword of the eighteenth century. It is a light weapon weighing less than one pound with a flexible rectangular blade, approximately 35 inches in length. The valid target area in foil is the torso. This area includes the front and back but not the arms, neck, head or legs. Points are scored when an opponent hits the torso with the point, and simultaneous hits are governed by ‘right of way’. This means that the fencer who initiates an attacking movement will score the point, unless the defender first deflects the opponent’s blade. This is the discipline we focus on at United Fencing Academy.
The épée (pronounced “EPP-pay”) is descended from the dueling rapier of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is similar in length to the foil, but is heavier with a larger guard and a much stiffer blade. The valid target area in épée is the entire body. Unlike foil, there is no ‘right of way’ rule in épée so simultaneous hits are counted with one point being awarded to each fencer.
The sabre is descended from the 18th & 19th century cavalry sword. The valid target area in sabre is from the bend of the hips (both front and back), to the top of the head, simulating the cavalry rider on a horse. The sabre is unique because it’s a cutting weapon as well as a thrusting weapon.
You can download USFA Parent guidebook here
One of the worlds safest sports.
A recent study of injuries occurring in Olympic competition ranks fencing as having one of the lowest injury rates, making it one of the safest Olympic sports. It ranked above swimming, cycling and even table tennis. The protective gear used in fencing includes leather gloves, masks (which must meet international strength standards), and uniforms (which are made of Kevlar, the same material used to make bulletproof vests). All weapons are made with flexible blades and blunted covered tips.