Featured Fencer

Featured Fencer

Mateo Alonso - Our Spanish exchange student works hard at perfecting skills and tactics to be ready for competitions when he returns home.

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Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to commonly asked fencing questions


What types of swords are used in fencing?

There are three weapons used in fencing, the Foil, the Épée and the Sabre. Each weapon has similarities with the others but they each have their own specific rules and fencing "style". Follow the links below to lea clrn more about each of the fencing weapons.

The Épée

Based upon the classic dueling weapon (épée de combat) used in pre 19th century Europe.

The Épée

The Foil

Developed as a training tool for the use of the épée.

The Foil

The Sabre

Based upon the cavalry cutlass.

The Sabre

What does a fencer wear?

Fencers wear a special uniform that provides protection from head to toe. The material is multiple layers thick and is designed to prevent a broken blade from penetrating far enough to contact the skin. This equipment consists of a jacket and knickers that often include kevlar (the material bullet proof vests are made of) in their construction, a steel mesh mask, a leather glove for the weapon hand and even special socks and shoes.

If a fencer is fencing foil or sabre, they also wear a special electrically conductive lamé and mask that denotes the target area where their opponent can hit to score a touch. Sabre fencers also wear an electrically conductive glove to complete the target area for that weapon. See the articles on foil and sabre for more information on target area and scoring touches.


What are some fencing terms?

In fencing, points are called touches. Each touch a fencer makes against their opponent adds a point to their total score.

Offensive actions are called attacks. These are aggressive, forward moving actions designed to score touches by evading the opponents defenses.

Defensive actions are called a parries. The purpose of the parry is to move the opponents blade away from one's target area so that they cannot score with their intended action. A parry can often be followed by an immediate attack response called a riposte.

A remise is an immediate continuation of an attack after the opponent's parry of the initial attack.

A counter attack is an attack started by a fencer after their opponent has already started an attack.

For a more complete list of terms, see the Parents Guide to Fencing.


What is a fencing match called?

In fencing, a match is called a bout. The format of a fencing bout can be as simple as having both fencers decide upon the desired number of touches and proceed to fence until that number is reached by one of the opponents or, a bout can be more complex, have time limits and fit within the framework of a tournament. Tournament bouts fall into two categories; pool bouts and direct elimination bouts.

How's the water?: Pools...

Pool bouts are used to determine the seeding fencers will receive in the direct elimination bracketing portion of a tournament. The first step during a tournament, is to separate the entire field, as evenly as possible, into pools. Generally, a pool consists of five to eight fencers, depending on the total number of fencers in the field. Once a fencer is assigned to a pool, they will fence one bout against each other fencer in their pool. Pool bouts are five touches or three minutes, whichever occurs first, with an additional one minute period should there be a tie at the end of the three minutes.

The statistics from each fencer's pool bouts are used to determine where they are seeded in the direct elimination portion of the tournament. You can view a copy of a pool bout score sheet here. Depending on the tournament format and age classification, anywhere from the top 70 to 100 percent of the fencers from the pools will be promoted into the direct elimination portion of the tournament.

Still in?: Direct elimination

The direct elimination portion of a tournament is the process by which the field is winnowed down until there are only two fencers left fencing for first place. In direct elimination, if you lose, you're out, except in the case of a tournament where repêchage is part of the format. In tournaments with repêchage, losing fencers are given a second chance to move up in the bracketing however, most tournaments do no include repêchage as part of the format. Copies of direct elimination score sheets can be viewed here.

Direct elimination bouts are usually fenced to fifteen touches or nine minutes, whichever is reached first. The nine minutes is divided into three, three minute periods with one minute of rest between each period. An additional one minute period is added in the case of a tie. Once a fencer becomes forty years old, they qualify to fence in the Veterans division. Veterans bouts are fenced to ten points or six minutes but the remainder of the format is the same.

In USA Fencing national North America Cup (NAC) competitions, medals are awarded through eighth place but most local tournaments recognize first through third places.

Fencing is a team sport?

Up to this point, this discussion has covered fencing events for individual fencers but there is another side to fencing competition which is team fencing. A fencing team is made up of three fencers, and can include an alternate who is available in case one of the other three fencers is injured.

In team events, the competition proceeds directly to the direct elimination bracketing with no pools to determine seeding. These events can also include repêchage in their formats.

When two teams face off, each fencer from each team will fence each fencer from the opposing team for one three minute bout, netting a total of nine bouts. The first team to reach forty-five touches or the team that is ahead at the end of the twenty-seven minute total for all of the bouts is the winner.

Bout scoring in team events is somewhat complicated to explain but isn't too difficult to understand once you've had it run past you a couple of times.

  • The team score is cumulative so the touches for each bout add to the existing score for the team.
  • Each bout is fenced to the next multiple of five touches greater than the last bout so, the first bout would be to five touches, the second to ten, third to fifteen, fourth to twenty and etc... up to forty-five for the ninth bout. The number of touches scored in a bout can be greater than five if a team was behind going into the bout. For example, if at the beginning of the fourth bout, team A has fifteen touches and team B has seven touches, the fencer from team B could score as many as thirteen touches to reach the twenty touch total for the fourth bout if they can keep the team A fencer from scoring five touches first.
  • Each bout has a three minute time limit which, when expired, will halt the bout except in the case of a tie in the final bout in which case, a tie breaker period will be fenced.

Where do you play fencing?

In fencing, the field of play is called a piste or strip. The piste is 14 meters long by one and one half to two meters wide. The parts of a piste are labeled below.

Fencing Strip

A.) Center line.

B.) On-guard (en garde) lines.

C.) Beginning of 2 meter warning area.

D.) Last 2 meters of the piste.

E.) End of piste (rear limit)

At the beginning of each period in a bout and after each time a point is scored, each fencer begins the next action at their en garde line. The last two meters at each end of the piste are marked as a warning. If a fencer moves to a point where both feet are completely beyond their end line, their opponent is awarded a point. If either of the fencers steps off of the edge of the piste, action is halted and the fencer who stepped out of bounds loses one meter of distance toward their end of the piste.


How does fencing incorporate chivalry?

The sport/art of fencing grew out of old European knightly traditions. As such, many protocols involving chivalrous behavior remain deeply rooted in the sport. For example, the modern rules require chivalrous (sportsman like) conduct in the form of salutes at the beginning of each period in a bout as well as a salute and the shaking of the opponent's hand with one's un-gloved hand at the end of each bout. Tantrums and foul language are not tolerated and will result in either a penalty or disqualification depending upon the severity of the infraction.


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Page Last updated:  8/24/2014