The Olympic sport of fencing

A brief introduction


What is fencing?

Fencing is one of five sports which have been featured at every one of the modern Olympic Games, the other four being Athletics, Cycling, Swimming, and Gymnastics.

Fencing is a fast, exciting, energetic, non-contact sport that is suitable for people of all ages. It is an individual and team sport which has such a strong tactical element that it has often been described as ‘physical chess’.

History of Fencing

The ancestor of modern fencing originated in Spain in the 15th Century. When Spain became the leading power of Europe, the Spanish armies carried fencing abroad and particularly into the south of Italy, one of the main battlefields between both nations.

Modern fencing originated in the 18th century, in the Italian school of fencing of the Renaissance, and, under their influence, was improved by the French school of fencing.

Dueling went into sharp decline after World War I, and went out of use in Europe after World War II except for very rare exceptions. Training for duels, once fashionable for males of aristocratic backgrounds, all but disappeared, along with the classes themselves. Fencing continued as a sport, with tournaments and championships. However, the need to actually prepare for a duel with "sharps" vanished, changing both training and technique.

Introduction of electrical scoring apparatus.

Starting with épée in 1936, side-judges were replaced by an electrical scoring apparatus, with an audible tone and a red or green light indicating when a touch landed. Foil first embraced electronic scoring in 1956, sabre in 1988. The scoring box reduced the bias in judging, and permitted more accurate scoring of faster actions, lighter touches, and more touches to the back and flank than before.


There are the three weapons, Foil, Sabre, and Épée. The weapon used determines the rules followed in the match and the differences in these rules makes each weapon almost a different sport entirely from the others. The best way I can explain this is to say that the weapons are different much in the way that badminton, tennis and squash differ – you are basically hitting something (be it ball or opponent) but in a very different way.


A light thrusting weapon that targets the torso, including the back, but not the arms. Touches are scored only with the tip; hits with the side of the blade do not count, and do not halt the action. Touches that land outside of the target area (off-target) stop the action, and are not scored. Only a single hit can be scored by either fencer at one time. If both fencers hit at the same time, the referee uses the rules of "right of way" to determine which fencer gets the point.




A light cutting and thrusting weapon that targets the entire body above the waist, excluding the hands and non-weapon arm. Hits with the edges of the blade as well as the tip are valid. As in foil, touches that land outside of the target area are not scored. However, unlike foil, these off-target touches do not stop the action, and the fencing continues. In the case of both fencers landing a scoring touch, the referee determines which fencer receives the point for the action, again through the use of "right of way".



A heavier thrusting weapon that targets the entire body. All hits must be with the tip and not the sides of the blade. Touches hit by the side of the blade do not halt the action. Unlike foil and sabre, Épée does not use "right of way", and allows simultaneous hits by both fencers. However, if the score is tied at the last point and a double touch is scored, nobody is awarded the point.


Fencing Techniques

These basic techniques can be used when fencing with any of the weapons. Certain techniques are used offensively, with the purpose of landing a hit on your opponent. Others are used defensively, to protect against a hit.



Attack: A basic fencing technique consisting of extending the sword arm with the point aiming at the intended target and attempting to land a hit upon the opponent's valid area.

Feint: An attack with the purpose of provoking a reaction from the opposing fencer.

Lunge: A thrust while extending the front leg by using a slight kicking motion and propelling the body forward with the back leg.


Parry: Basic defensive technique, deflecting your opponent's blade before they can hit you.