Fencing

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Fencing has been practiced for centuries, originally as training for the deadly combat of the duel, later for sport.

The sport of fencing is fast and athletic, a far cry from the choreographed bouts you see on film or on the stage.  Instead of swinging from a chandelier or leaping from balconies, you will see two fencers performing an intense dance on a six-feet-by-40-feet strip.  The movement is so fast the touches are scored electrically – more like Star Wars than Errol Flynn.  Fencing, as a sport, is becoming more and more popular because it provides such a high degree of exercise, both physical and mental.  It develops coordination, speed, and agility as well as the additional benefits of poise and self-assurance.  Three weapons — the foil, the sabre, and the épée — are used in fencing, and there are individual and team competitions for each.

Foil and épée are “point thrusting” weapons, while the sabre can both thrust and slash with its blade edge.  All three weapons have been modified to allow for electronic scoring.  All fencers wear protective masks and clothes.

Foil

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The foil has a flexible rectangular blade, approximately 35 inches in length, weighing less than one pound.  Points are scored with the tip of the blade and must land within the torso of the body.  The valid target area in foil is the torso, from the shoulders to the groin, front and back.  It does not include the arms, neck, head and legs.

The foil fencer’s uniform includes a metallic vest (called a lamé) which covers the valid target area, so that a valid touch will register on the scoring machine.  A small, spring-loaded tip is attached to the point of the foil and is connected to a wire inside the blade.  The fencer wears a body cord inside his uniform which connects the foil to a reel wire, connected to the scoring machine.

There are two scoring lights on the machine.  One shows a green light when a fencer is hit, and one shows a red light when her opponent is hit.  A touch landing outside the valid target area (that which is not covered by the lamé) is indicated by a white light.  These “off target” hits do not count in the scoring, but they do stop the fencing action temporarily.

One of the most difficult concepts to visualize in foil fencing is the rule of right-of-way.  This rule was established to eliminate apparently simultaneous attacks by two fencers.  In essence, right-of-way is the differentiation of offense and defense, made by the referee.  The difference is important only when two lights go on at the same time in foil.  When this happens, the winner of the point is the one who the referee determined was on offense at the time the lights went on.

Épeé

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The épée (pronounced “EPP-pay”), the descendant of the dueling sword, is similar in length to the foil, but is heavier, weighing approximately 27 ounces, with a larger guard (to protect the hand from a valid hit) and a much stiffer blade.  Touches are scored only with the point of the blade.  The entire body is the valid target area.  Épée does not use the right-of-way in keeping with its dueling origin – he who first gains the touch earns the point.  Or, if both fencers hit within 1/25th of a second of each other, both earn a point.  However, it is equally important to have a sound defense for épée, since the entire body must be protected from a touch.

The blade is wired with a spring-loaded tip at the end that completes an electrical circuit when it is depressed beyond a pressure of 750 grams.  This causes the colored bulb on the scoring machine to light.  Because the entire body is a valid target area, the épée fencer’s uniform does not include a lamé.

Sabre

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The sabre is the modern version of the slashing cavalry sword, and is similar in length and weight to the foil.  The major difference is that the sabre is a thrusting weapon as well as a cutting weapon (use of the blade).  The target area is from the bend of the hips (both front and back), to the top of the head, simulating the cavalry rider on a horse.  The sabre fencer’s uniform includes a metallic jacket (lamé), which covers the target area to register a valid touch on the scoring machine.  The mask is different from foil and épée, with a metallic covering since the head is valid target area.

Just as in foil, there are two scoring lights on the machine.  One shows a green light when a fencer is hit, and one shows a red light when the opponent his hit.  Off-target hits do not register on the machine.

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