The sport of fencing is an athletic, skilful and tactical sport but can be enjoyed at all levels. Combining both athleticism and tactics it is often referred to as ‘athletic’ or ‘balletic’ chess! It is a safe sport with any injuries rarely being beyond sprains and strains and the odd bruise. There are strict protective clothing requirements to ensure this with grade of protection required increasing with the level of participation. Principally, protective jacket and mask must always be won (provided by the club) with glove and fencing breeches required at competitions although these are also advisable at club level.
Sword fighting is thousands of years old but so too is sporting sword play. There is a depiction of two sword fighters, a referee and scoring symbols on a temple wall in ancient Egypt. The modern Olympic sport of fencing dates from the onset of the Olympic Games and has three weapon categories – sabre, epee and foil.
SABRE. Derived from the cavalry weapon which had both point and a cutting edge, the sporting sabre is much lighter and has neither but points are still scored by using the blunted point or blunted cutting edge. Although now fought on foot sabre fencing retains the concept of cavalry fighting and hits are only scored on an opponent’s torso, arms or head (wounds to a horse rider’s legs were neither immediately disabling nor lethal).
EPEE. The nearest weapon to the duelling rapier (which had only a sharp point, no cutting edge) hits are only scored using the point.. Not all duels were ‘to the death’, many were just to first blood ie any drawing of even minimal blood anywhere on an opponent’s body ended the duel and this concept is employed at epee where points can be scored anywhere on an opponent from top of head to big toe!
FOIL. Rapiers were unwieldy and heavy so a shorter lightweight version was developed from training use – the foil. Like the epee it is a point only weapon. As duels may or may not be ‘to the death’ training was important both for defence and offence and it concentrated on making of defending against lethal thrusts to the torso. Obviously thrusts to the head would be fatal but as this was practice and in the 18th century masks had not been developed the head was excluded from the target area. This principle continues in the modern sport (even though we do now have protective masks) and hits are only scored on the torso, front and rear.