About Fencing

What is fencing?

The fight, consisting of two fencers in a combative situation, each trying to score a set number of hits in order to win, takes place on a specially marked out strip called a piste, which is about 2m wide and 14m long. The bout is controlled by a referee, who awards the hits as they occur, and applies the rules. With the foil and épée hits are made with the point, whereas with the sabre, hits are scored by cutting as well as hitting with the point. Whether a hit scores depends on the target. Each of the three weapons has a different target area.


Sabre is the modern version of a cavalry sword; it has a light, flat blade and is the fastest of the fencing swords. It is a point weapon as well as a cutting weapon; therefore, the edge of the blade can make a valid hit as well as the point. The target area for a sabre is everything above the hips including the head and arms. Because the arms are valid targets for a cut, the bell guard of the sabre is curved downward in front to protect the fingers. Sabre technique emphasises speed, feints, and strong offence.


Épée is the modern version of the duelling sword; the blade has a triangular cross section and is stiffer and heavier than a foil, with a larger bell guard. Touches are scored with the point, anywhere on the opponent’s body. Épée technique emphasises timing, point control, and a good counter-attack.


Foil is the modern version of a rapier; it has a thin, flexible blade with a square cross-section and a small bell guard. It is a point weapon, which means that only the point of the blade can score a valid touch. The target area for a foil is the torso of the opponent, including the groin and back but not the head or arms. Foil technique emphasises strong defence and the killing attack to the body.


To Start Fencing…

So you want to fence? The way to start is to come along to one of the club’s sessions at Shottery Hall on Tuesday evening.

All you need is you, with a T-shirt, sweater, jogging bottoms and sports shoes (indoor trainers). You can borrow the rest of the kit you need, your sword, mask and jacket, from the club. You should bring a cold still drink – water is ideal.

Protective Equipment

Beginners can usually borrow enough equipment from the club to start fencing safely. After a few weeks you may want to start buying your own equipment. Although requirements for each weapon vary slightly for competition; the basic protective equipment required for training is the same for all weapons. (Remember when purchasing equipment that plastrons, jackets and gloves are often specifically for right or left handers.)

Jacket*- a long sleeved white jacket. It should be tight fitting, have a high collar and fasten on the opposite side to the weapon hand or at the back. The jacket is double skinned and often extends down over the groin area and has a strap between the legs, which fastens at the back. Women also wear a breast plate/chest protector under their jacket.

Plastron* – an under jacket covering the forward half of the body which protects the armpit of the weapon hand.

Glove* – a padded gauntlet style glove with extra padding on the back of the hand. Gloves are worn on the weapon hand only.

Mask* – a steel wire mesh mask which protects the head and face. A padded bib covers the neck.

Breeches- competitive fencers wear white fencing breeches, which fasten below the knee. For novice events and training trousers can be worn but must be below the knee, made of strong material and any buttons, zips or pockets in the exposed areas must be taped. Shorts are not suitable.

Socks – whilst wearing breeches fencers should wear long white socks which cover the knees.

Shoes – sports shoes with non-slip soles. You can buy shoes designed specifically for fencing which offer additional support to the inside of the sole.

* items marked with an asterisk are essential.

If you intend to take part in fencing competitions it is advisable to check on the required safety standards for equipment before you buy. For example: In cadet competitions plastrons, jackets and the bibs on masks must comply with CEN1 regulations i.e. they must each be able to withstand 350N of force. This information is usually displayed on the garment, so when buying second-hand items check the labels.

The Imperial College Union Fencing Club website has an excellent guide to buying kit, well worth a read if you are unsure.

The British Fencing Association provide very specific guidelines on Safety Standards and Safety in Fencing, which includes equipment guidelines.

Post Script

Whether you are just thinking about starting fencing or are already hooked on the sport, you might like to read an amusing article which appeared in the Evening Standard, about taking up the sport of fencing – “Swordplay that cuts through fat”.

Glossary of Terms

Bout – one single fight

Feint – false attack which deceives the opponent

On guard – ready position before starting to fence

Parry – defending against the opponents attacking blade

Piste – area on which the bout is fought

Riposte – immediate attack following a successful parry

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