Types of Fencing

Fencing Basics

Fencing Basics

Epee Fencing

The modern epee typically has a blade which measures 90 centimetres, and weighs up to 770 grams, although it sometimes weighs as little as 350 grams due to various metals and construction techniques. Only hits, or "touches", made with the push-button tip of the weapon are registered. The epee has a three sided blade, in contrast to the foil and saber, which have four and two sides respectively. In competitions a valid epee touch is scored if a fencer depresses their tip with 750g of pressure. Since the hand is a valid target, the bellguard is much larger than that of the foil and is most often made of aluminum or stainless steel. The tip is wired to a connector in the bellguard, then to an electronic scoring device or "box". The bellguard, blade, and handle of the epee are all grounded to the scoring box to prevent hits to the weapon from registering as touches.

In the channel (blood groove) formed by the V-shaped blade, there are two thin wires leading from the far end of the blade to a connector in the bellguard. These wires are held in place with a strong glue that protects them from the rigors of an encounter. The amount of glue is kept to a minimum as in the unlikely (but possible) case that a fencer manages a touch in that glue, the touch would be registered on the electrical equipment, as the glue and blade are not earthed. But in the event of point to point and point to glue hits, a point should not be awarded. A "body wire" with a three-pronged plug at each end is placed underneath the fencer's clothing and attached to the connector in the bellguard, then to a wire leading to the scoring box. The scoring box signals with lights (one for each fencer) and a tone each time the tip is depressed.

The tip of an epee comprises several parts including: the mushroom-shaped movable tip; its housing or "barrel" which is threaded to the blade; a contact spring; and a return spring. The tips are generally held in place by two small screws, called grub screws, which thread into the sides of the tip through elongated openings on either side of the barrel. The screws hold the tip within the barrel but are allowed to travel freely in the openings. While this is the most common system, screwless variations do exist. The return spring must allow the tip to support a weight of 750 grams without registering a touch. Finally, an epee tip must allow a shim of 1.5 mm to be inserted between the tip and the barrel, and when a 0.5 mm shim is inserted and the tip depressed, it should not register a touch. The contact spring is threaded in or out of the tip to adjust for this distance. These specifications are tested at the start of large competitions. During competitions, fencers are required to have a minimum of two weapons and two body wires in case of failure or breakage.

The epee is the heaviest of the three weapons (approaching the weight of an actual court sword). However, ultra-lightweight blades can actually reduce the weight of an epee to below that of a foil. On low-end weapons, the epee has a relatively stiff blade, though new technology has resulted in a flexible blade comparable to the other weapons. The epee is characterized by a V-shaped or approximately triangular cross-section , and a large round guard which offers much more protection to the hand than the foil guard.
Foil Fencing
In modern sport fencing, the foil is used as a thrusting weapon only. Any contact with the side of the blade (a slap) does not result in a score. Modern foils average 35 inches or 89cm in length, and have standardized, tapered, quadrangular blades which are designed to present a blunt (and therefore non-lethal) tip should they snap. To score a touch, one must touch an opponent with the tip of the foil with a force of over 4.90 newtons (500 grams-force).

Foil is governed by right of way rules. As such, points are not necessarily awarded to the first fencer to hit, but to the fencer who hits with priority. Priority is established when one fencer starts an attack. After this, the defender can gain priority by making the attack fail (e.g. by making a parry) then initiating a counter attack or riposte. The initial attacker regains priority if the defender's riposte fails. The priority continues to exchange between the fencers until a hit is scored.

From January 2009, the target will be extended to include that part of the bib below a horizontal line at shoulder level, 1.5 to 2 cm below the chin. As with any fencing weapon, protective equipment must be worn when fencing with foils; this includes a jacket, glove, mask, and knickers (known as breeches in the UK). In electric fencing, the tip of the foil must be depressed while in contact with the opponent's lame (wire-mesh jacket which covers valid target area) to score a touch.

Recently, the FIE changed the timing in the scoring box to minimize the flick. The foil uses a normally closed electrical circuit, and any break in the circuit (broken wire, loose barrel, grip, or other parts, and especially depressing the tip) opens the circuit and the scoring box illuminates the appropriate light.

Prior to this timing change, ANY break in the circuit would fire the light, which is one reason the flick hit worked so frequently if properly executed -- even a relatively flat hit on the back would move the tip around inside the barrel enough for that momentary break in the circuit and fire the light. However, the timing has now been reset so that the tip must be depressed for at least 15 milliseconds before the lights will be triggered. This is a seemingly tiny change, but it has resulted in a significant drop in the number of flicks that are successful, especially those to the back.
Sabre Fencing
The cross-section of the sabre blade is Y- or V-shaped, unlike the quadrangular shape of the foil, but not as stiff as the epee. Adult (Size 5) blades are 88 cm (35 inches) in length. At the end of the blade, the point is folded over itself to form a "button", although no actual button exists. The bell guard of the sword is curved around the handle, giving the fencer hand protection. On electrical sabres, a socket for the body wire is found underneath the bell guard. A fastener known as a pommel is attached to the end of the sword to keep the bell guard and handle on. The handle of a sabre is standardly a French grip, as most other grips are incompatible with the bell guard. The entire weapon is generally 105 cm (41 inches) long, and 500 grams (1.1 lb) in weight. It is shorter than the foil or epee, and lighter than the epee, making it easier to move swiftly and incisively. Many equate the sabre's blade to a matchstick, in that they are easy to snap but relatively cheap to replace.

Unlike the other two weapons, there is very little difference between an electric sabre and a steam or dry (non-electric) one. The blade itself is the same in steam and electric sabres, as there is no need for a blade wire or pressure-sensitive tip in an electric sabre. An electric sabre has a socket, which is generally a 2-prong or bayonet Foil socket with the two contacts shorted together. Early electric sabres were equipped with a capteur socket. The capteur was a device that was intended to detect a parry by use of an accelerometer. If a parry was detected, the electronics were supposed to invalidate any subsequent closing of the scoring circuit due to the flexible blade whipping around the parry. This device never worked as intended and was quickly discarded, and the whipover effect was greatly mitigated when the FIE mandated stiffer sabre blades in the S2000 specification. The electric sabre also has insulation on the pommel and on the inside of the guard to prevent an electrical connection between the sabre and the lame. This is undesirable because it effectively extends the lame onto the sabre, causing any blade contact to be registered as a valid touch.

The target area for sabre consists of the torso above the waist, as well as the arms and head (excluding the hands). When fencing with electric equipment, a manchette, or sabre cuff, is used in conjunction with the lame and electrically conductive mask to ensure that the entire target area forms a single circuit.

Because touches can be scored using the edge of the blade, there is no need for a pressure sensitive head to be present on the end of the blade (thus having the button). When fencing "electric" (as opposed to "steam" or "dry") a current runs through the sabre blade. When the blade comes into contact with the lame, the electrical mask, or the manchette, the current flows through the body cord and interacts with the scoring equipment.