Fencing fundamentals

Fencing is one of four sports to have featured at every modern Olympic Games. It originally developed as a training exercise for duels, but in modern times has become an athletic and demanding sport with three disciplines:

The Weapons

Foil – a light, thrusting weapon with a small, flat guard. Points are scored when the foil tip touches an opponent’s torso. Foil fencers wear a conductive lame over their white jacket, which registers touches electronically. Only one fencer can score a point during an exchange. If both fencers register a hit, the referee decides the point based on right-of-way rules (priority).

Epee – a heavier weapon with a larger, deeper guard. Points are scored when a weapon’s tip strikes any part of the body, including an opponent’s foot and helmet. Epee does not observe priority; whoever hits first gets the point. If both fencers touch at the same time both are awarded a point.

Sabre – a slightly shorter weapon with a curved bell-shaped guard. Most hits in Sabre are scored with a cutting rather than a thrusting action. The sabre target area is the upper body above the waist including the head. Sabre fencers also wear a conductive lame (with sleeves) and observe right-of-way rules (priority).


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The Gear

Whites - Fencers wear a protective jacket and breeches know collectively as 'whites' and a plastron (undervest). Female fencers also wear a plastic chest protector in most competitions. When competing in national and international competitions, athletes are required to wear whites made of stronger material rated to withstand more force (800N).

Masks – Each weapon has different masks. Sabre masks must be completely conductive, foil masks need a conductive bib and epee masks can’t be conductive at all. A higher standard (1600N) is required for masks used at national and international competitions.

Gloves – all fencers must wear a glove on their weapon hand. The gloves have a long cuff that goes over the sleeve.

Socks – Fencers must wear long socks that cover their legs below their breeches.

Lame – Conductive vests are required for foil (torso) and sabre (torso and sleeves).


Competition Format



Groups of five to seven fencers bout each other. The winner is the first to score five hits or whoever is ahead at the end of a three-minute time period. Fencers are ranked according to their results in the poules and placed into a tableau for direct elimination.

Direct Elimination

Direct elimination bouts have three periods of three minutes with a one-minute break in between each. The first to 15 hits or the person who is ahead at the end of time wins. The winner advances while the defeated fencer is eliminated from the competition.


Team Matches are fenced between two teams of three fencers, with each fencer fencing all the members of the opposing team (for a total of nine bouts). Teams may have a reserve who can substitute in for one of their fencers, but once such a substitution is made, the reserve must fence for the rest of the match. There are two scoring systems for team matches.

Bouts – The members of each team fence against each other in sequence. Each bout is fenced to five hits and the team score is based on how many bouts they have won. The team that wins the majority of the nine possible bouts is the winner.

Relay – The members of each team fence against each other in sequence. Each bout is fenced not to five hits but to the next target score (which are multiples of five hits) – e.g. the first bout goes to five hits, and the next bout, starting from whatever the team scores were at the end of the previous bout, continues until either fencer gets to ten points (or the time limit expires). This means that a fencer can catch up a number of points against an opponent. The winning team is the first to get to 45, or whichever team is ahead at the end of the time limit.

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