What’s the deal?
It’s the clank of steel on steel as competitors fight against each other in the sporting version of a swashbuckling duel. For men, it’s one of the original Olympic sports. Female fencers, we hate to say, haven’t had quite the Olympic longevity in the sport. Still, it’s the same excitement of boxing, only instead of controlling and dodging fists, fencers control and dodge blades.
They do so in one of three weapons, each of which has its own rules for how to score points:
- Epee – Fencers can hit their opponent on any part of the body, but they can only use the tip of their sword to do so. Swords are wired so that when the tip depresses, it sets off a buzzer.
- Foil – Fencers can only hit their opponent on the torso with the tip of their sword. Unlike epees, the tip of a foil is a switch that only registers when it hits the proper target area, which is why foilists also wear metallic vests over the scoring area of their body.
- Sabre – Stemming from its use in cavalry, sabreists slash and slice their weapons and can use any part of the blade to hit their opponent anywhere above the waist, including the head. To aid in scoring, they too wear metallic vests and helmets that activate when hit.
But wait, there’s more!
Foil and sabre scoring is also dictated by something called “priority” or “right of way.” A fencer can’t score unless they are first to attack. That doesn’t mean they’re stuck on defense if they don’t get priority. The attack needs to fail, and then priority is up for grabs again. This does pose an extra challenge for watching, because it’s not always obvious who’s able to establish right of way, but figuring that out is also part of the fun.
Men and women compete individually in epee, sabre and foil. This Games, men’s teams will compete in epee and sabre. Women’s teams will compete in foil and sabre.
Why should I watch?
Duh. It’s people wielding swords.
Not your thing? OK, then think about the dexterity, the agility and the speed with which fencers have to read their opponents, make a move and defend themselves. When it comes to thinking on your feet, nobody has to do that better than a fencer. The sheer power they need to explode in an attack and the light hand they have to control their blade is mighty impressive.
Or, if you need other reasons, the knickers are very cool; you’ll see the swords that always show up as crossword clues; and the language of fencing is French. Dig on the referee saying, “En garde…..pret……alles!” with every stoppage.
Potential drinking game:
Drink anytime a penalty (yellow card, red card, penalty point or black card) is awarded.
The perfect snack:
The International Fencing Federation (FIE) is the international governing body for the sport. Find out more information from them or your country’s organizational committee.
Want the challenge of being a referee? In the US, check out the Fencing Officials Commission. In the UK, look for information through British Fencing. In Canada, the Canadian Fencing Federation has an officiating section with more information.