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Learn About The Three Different Fencing Weapons

Learn About The Three Different Fencing Weapons

Foil. Saber. Epee. Did you know that there are three different events in fencing, each with their own unique fencing weapons? While all three weapons have their roots in France, each evolved from vastly different needs, hence, differences in rules and styles. In this article, we will delve into each specific weapon.



The most balanced of the three, the fencing foil has its beginnings in sword-play practice in 1700’s France. It is the oldest of the weapons and typically the first style that beginners learn before potentially branching out. Light and flexible, the foil is a thrusting weapon designed to puncture rather than slash. While beginners tend to practice with a “French-grip” in order to hone better finesse and control with the blade, this grip does not provide much power. Conversely, there is the “Pistol-grip” which provides a better grip and power for the user.

Due to the nature of fencing being a gentleman’s sport, there is a very important rule known as “Right of Way” which every foil user must know by heart. During the match, there is always an attacker and defender. Whoever is on the offense has the “Right of Way” and if both fencers were to score simultaneous hits on each other, the person who is judged to be on the offensive by the referee will be awarded the point. Although this rule was originally instituted to help increase the chances of survival during duels centuries ago, the “Right of Way” has become an integral part of fencing with a foil in the modern age.

Out of all three weapons, the foil has the fewest available spots for on-target hits. In order to score a point, the fencer must hit the opponent with the tip of the blade. However, only certain regions of the body is considered on-target. In competitive duels, the fencers typically wear lamés that can detect when it is struck by the opponent for a point. The valid target area is the upper body region excluding the head and arms. If a point is on-target, the light will signal green, while off-target hits will signal white.



Unlike the foil or epee, a fencer using a saber has the unique opportunity to be able to slash at an opponent. Out of the three weapons, the saber is typically the fastest and most aggressive, with each exchange lasting a fleeting moment before the point is decided. Emulating its roots of being a weapon used by cavalrymen, it is weapon designed for thrusting and slashing. Simulating the target areas that cavalrymen would aim for during battles, a saber fencer has the entire upper body region available for an on-target strike. This includes the mask and arms, unlike the foil. Due to the valid slashing motion utilized in this style, the saber has a longer hilt that protects the hand better.

Like fencing with the foil, the fencing saber also utilizes the rule of “Right of Way”. This means that there is an attacker and defender at any given moment. Priority is given to the person who attacks first. However, if the attack fails, then the defender has an opportunity to become the attacker. In such a fast-paced environment, these lightning quick exchanges may make it difficult to determine who had priority, and thus, even with electronic equipment, a referee is there to determine who gets awarded the point.



The fencing epee is the newest style incorporated into modern fencing. During the 19th century when dueling for honor was still an integral part of society, laws changed so that the government enforced a “first blood” rule to minimize casualties. Therefore, it became more important to emphasize light touches on any part of the body rather than going for the heavy body blows that a foil fencer typically targets. From the ashes of necessity, the epee was born.

While it is similar in size to the foil and is used as a thrusting weapon, the epee is the heaviest of the three blades, typically weighing around 27 ounces. Unlike the other two weapons, the epee can hit any part of the body from head to toe for a valid point. Additionally, the hilt is bigger than the hilt of a foil in order to protect the hand from a stray blow.

Due to the heavier weight of the weapon, epee tends to be slower than the other two weapons, but it is one of the most strategically difficult weapons to use. Unlike foil or saber, epee does not utilize the rule of “Right of Way”. Therefore, whoever can land the hit first is awarded the point. If fencers happen to hit each other simultaneously within .04 seconds of each other, then both are awarded points for the exchange. Due to the first come first serve nature of the weapon, a counterattack, an attack which is triggered as a response to an incoming attack, is vital to the tactics of the fencer. While similar in appearance to the foil, the epee is a very unique weapon with its own set of rules.

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