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Fencing FAQ (part 1)

( Part1 - Part2 - Part3 )
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Archive-name: sports/fencing-faq/part1
Last-modified: 2002-Nov-18
Version: 5.46

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge

This is a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) with answers, compiled
for the UseNet newsgroup  It is intended to reduce
repetitive discussions on the Net by addressing commonly raised topics.
This document is maintained by Morgan Burke (
Contributions, corrections, and suggestions are welcome.

Most of the questions and answers pertain to FIE (Olympic) Fencing;
Japanese fencing (kendo, kenjustsu, iaido, etc.) is treated in a
separate FAQ list ("Japanese Sword Arts") that can occasionally be
found in the newsgroups or rec.martial-arts, or on
the IAIDO-L mailing list (see section 3.8 for details).  The Japanese
Sword Arts FAQ is maintained by Neil Gendzwill (

The Fencing FAQ is presented in three parts:

1. GENERAL: common questions about starting fencing, training, and
   rules of competition
2. EQUIPMENT: fencing equipment, maintenance, and troubleshooting
3. REFERENCE: organizations, suppliers, reading materials, net
   resources, glossary, etc.

All parts can be found on the UseNet newsgroups,
rec.answers, or news.answers.  Otherwise, consult section 3.8 for
information on finding archived copies of this document.  An HTML
version is available on request.

Here's a quick guide to some of the more persistent topics on

  - Finding equipment retailers - see section 3.2
  - Finding a fencing club - see section 1.10
  - Modern sport vs. classical martial art - see sections 1.2, 1.3
  - Legality of Spanish and Italian grips - see section 2.7.1
  - Analysis and priority - see sections 1.13, 1.14, 1.15, 1.16
  - Flicks - see sections 1.14, 1.17
  - Weapon maintenance and repair - see sections 2.8, 2.10, 2.12, 2.14, 2.15, 2.16, 2.17


PART 1 : General

1.1  What sports and martial arts comprise fencing?
1.2  How did fencing originate?
1.3  How is modern fencing different from the "real thing"?
1.4  Which is the best weapon?
1.5  Is fencing going to be eliminated from the Olympics?

Getting Started:
1.6  Does it hurt?
1.7  How long does it take to become good?
1.8  What qualities make a good fencer?
1.9 How much does it cost to get involved in fencing?
1.10 How do I find a good fencing club?

1.11 What kind of cross-training will help my fencing?
1.12 How can I improve my technique without the help of a coach?

1.13 What is right of way?
1.14 What constitutes an attack?
1.15 What constitutes a parry?
1.16 What constitutes a point-in-line?
1.17 What is the scoop on "flicks" and "whips"?
1.18 What are the latest rule changes?


1.1  What sports and martial arts comprise fencing?
     The Olympic sport of fencing is comprised of three weapons: foil,
     epee, and sabre.  All are fenced on a long rectangular strip, and
     electronic scoring aids are normally used to assist in the
     detection of touches.  The rules governing these three weapons
     are determined by the FIE (Federation Internationale d'Escrime).
     Briefly, the FIE weapons are described as follows:

     Foil:   Descended from the 18th century small sword, the foil has a
        thin, flexible blade with a square cross-section and a small
        bell guard.  Touches are scored with the point on the torso of
        the opponent, including the groin and back.  Foil technique
        emphasizes strong defense and the killing attack to the body.
     Epee:   Similar to the duelling swords of the late 19th century,
        epees have stiff blades with a triangular cross section,
        and large bell guards.  Touches are scored with the point,
        anywhere on the opponent's body.  Unlike foil and sabre, there
        no rules of right-of-way to decide which attacks have precedence,
        and double hits are possible.  Epee technique emphasises timing,
        point control, and a good counter-attack.
     Sabre:   Descended from duelling sabres of the late 19th century,
        which were in turn descended from naval and cavalry swords, sabres
        have a light, flat blade and a knuckle guard.  Touches can be
        scored with either the point or the edge of the blade, anywhere
        above the opponent's waist.  Sabre technique emphasises speed,
        feints, and strong offense.
     The most popular of eastern fencing techniques is kendo, the Japanese
     "Way of the Sword".  Kendo is fought with a bamboo shinai, intended
     to resemble a two-handed Japanese battle sword.  Combatants wear
     armour, and strike to the top or sides of the head, the sides of the
     body, the throat, or the wrists.  Accepted technique must be
     observed, and judges watch for accuracy, power, and spirit.  See the
     Japanese Sword Arts FAQ for more information.

     Other martial arts that include elements of swordsmanship are:
     Aikido -- self defence against armed and unarmed attackers.  Includes
        using and defending oneself against Japanese sword techniques.
     Arnis, Escrima, Kali -- Phillipino stick and knife disciplines.
     Iaido -- the Japanese art of the sword draw (also Iaijutsu and
        batto-jutsu, more combat-oriented variants of the same).
     Jogo do Pau -- a Portuguese stick-fighting discipline.
     Jojutsu -- a Japanese stick-fighting discipline.
     Kalaripayitt -- includes sword and weapons techniques from south
     Kenjutsu -- the unadulterated Japanese martial art of the sword.
     Krabi Krabong -- a Thai martial art that includes many sword forms.
     Kumdo -- A Korean variant of Kendo.
     Kung-fu -- a Chinese martial art that includes many sword techniques.
     La Canne -- French Boxing, with a single-handed stick, using
        rules similar to classical fencing.
     Le Baton -- similar to La Canne, but with a longer, 2-handed stick.
     Maculele -- Afro-Brazilian machete forms, related to Capoeira.
     Mensur -- German fraternity "duelling", with schlagers.
     Modern Pentathlon -- the "soldier's medley", a sport that recreates
        demands placed on a pre-20th century military messenger:  running,
        swimming, shooting, equestrian jumping, and epee fencing.
     Pentjak Silat -- Indonesian arts that include sword and stick forms.
     Single Stick -- an ancestor of sabre fencing, fought with a
        basket-hilted wooden rod.
     SCA duello -- rapier-like fencing in the round, with off-hand 
        techniques.  Additional info on the SCA can be found in the
     SCA heavy lists -- medieval-style heavy combat, with rattan weapons,
        armour, and shields.  Additional info on the SCA can be found in the
     Shinkendo -- real-sword-oriented variant of Kendo.
     Tai Chi -- another Chinese martial art that includes many sword

1.2  How did fencing originate?

     Swordfighting as sport has existed since ancient Egypt, and has
     been practiced in many forms in various cultures since then.
     Although jousting and tournament combat was a popular sport in
     the European middle ages, modern FIE fencing owes more to
     unarmoured duelling forms that evolved from 16th century rapier

     Rapiers evolved from cut-and-thrust military swords, but were
     most popular amongst civilians who used it for self-defence and
     duelling.  Rapiers were edged, but the primary means of attack was
     the thrust.  Rapier fencing spread from Spain and Italy to
     northwest Europe, in spite of the objections of masters such as
     George Silver who preferred traditional cutting weapons such the
     English broad sword.

     The Spanish school, under masters such as Narvaez and Thibault,
     became a complicated and mystical affair whose geometrical
     theories required much practice to master.  Italian masters like
     Agrippa and Capo Ferro developed a more pragmatic school in the
     late 16th and early 17th centuries, introducing innovations such
     as linear fencing and the lunge.

     By the 18th century, the rapier had evolved to a simpler,
     shorter, and lighter design that was popularized in France as the
     small sword.  Although the small sword often had an edge, it was
     only to discourage the opponent from grabbing the blade, and the
     weapon was used exclusively for thrusting.  The light weight made
     a more complex and defensive style possible, and the French
     masters developed a school based on defence with the sword,
     subtlety of movement, and complex attacks.  When buttoned with a
     leather safety tip that resembled a flower bud, the small sword was
     known as le fleuret, and was identical in use to the modern foil
     (still known as le fleuret in French).  Indeed, the French small
     sword school forms the basis of most of modern fencing theory.

     By the mid-19th century, duelling was in decline as a means of
     settling disputes, partially because victory could lead to a jail
     term for assault or manslaughter.  Emphasis shifted to defeating 
     the opponent without necessarily killing him, and less fatal 
     duelling forms evolved using the duelling sword, or epee de terrain, 
     an unedged variant of the small sword.  Later duels often ended 
     with crippling thrusts to the arm or leg, and fewer legal 
     difficulties for the participants.  This is the basis of modern 
     epee fencing.

     Cutting swords had been used in bloodsports such as backsword
     prizefights at least as far back as the 17th century.
     Broadswords, sabres, and cutlasses were used extensively in
     military circles, especially by cavalry and naval personell, and
     saw some duelling application in these circles as well.  Training
     was performed with wooden weapons, and stick fighting remained
     popular until Italian masters formalized sabre fencing into a
     non-fatal sporting/training form with metal weapons in the late
     19th century.  Early sport sabres were significantly heavier than
     the modern sport sabre and necessitated a strong style with the
     use of moulinets and other bold movements.  As with thrusting
     swords, the sabre evolved to lighter, less fatal duelling forms
     such as the Italian sciabola di terro and the German schlager.
     Hungarian masters developed a new school of sabre fencing that
     emphasized finger control over arm strength, and they dominated
     sabre fencing for most of the 20th century.

     Duelling faded away after the First World War.  A couple of
     noteworthy duels were fought over disputes that arose during
     Olympic games in the 1920s, and there have been rare reports of
     sword duels since then.  German fraternity duelling (mensur)
     still occurs with some frequency.

     The first modern Olympic games featured foil and sabre fencing
     for men only.  Epee was introduced in 1900.  Single stick was
     featured in the 1904 games.  Epee was electrified in the 1936
     games, foil in 1956, and sabre in 1988.  Early Olympic games
     featured events for Masters, and until recently fencing was the
     only Olympic sport that has included professionals.  Disruptions
     in prevailing styles have accompanied the introduction of
     electric judging, most recently transforming sabre fencing.  Foil
     fencing experienced similar upheavals for a decade or two
     following the introduction of electric judging, which was
     further complicated by the new, aggressive, athletic style coming
     out of eastern Europe at the time.

     Women's foil was first contested in the 1924 Olympic games, and
     Women's epee was only contested for the first time in 1996,
     although it has been part of the World Championships since 1989.
     Women's sabre made its first appearance in the 1998 World
     Championships as a demonstration sport, and will likely appear in
     the 2004 Olympics as part of a combined team event.

1.3  How is modern fencing different from the "real thing"?

     If the "real thing" is a duel with sharps, then aside from the
     mortal danger and related psychological factors, the primary
     technical difference is that the duellist can win with only a
     single good touch, whereas the athlete has to hit his opponent as
     many as 15 times and so requires more technical and tactical
     depth.  Many inferior duellists have won their combats through
     sheer dumb luck.  This is far less likely in the sport.  On the
     other hand, the sport fencer takes many defensive risks that
     would be unthinkable in a duel, since he has up to 15 "lives" to
     work with.

     Some purists equate "real" fencing with classical fencing,
     ie. the prevalent styles of the traditional French and Italian
     schools of fencing that predominated before electric fencing was
     popularized.  By comparison, modern fencing is more mobile and
     athletic, while classical fencers were known for their more
     sophisticated phrasing and bladework.

     Modern sabre fencing is performed with lightweight weapons and
     techniques that do not translate well to military sabres and
     broadswords.  There is a certain amount of cross-over with
     lighter turn-of-the-century duelling sabres, however.

     Lastly, it just seems apparent to some that sport fencing has
     evolved away from its bloody origins.  Tactically and
     psychologically, it is true that the sport is a vastly different
     world from the duel.  The sport fencer's life is never in
     jeapordy, and with as many as 15 hits needed to secure victory,
     there often isn't even much figurative danger.  Since the quality
     of a hit is immaterial, fencers will naturally prefer an easy
     "wounding" hit over a difficult "fatal" one, and so glancing hits
     will often win out over strong thrusts.  Technically, however,
     there have been few modern innovations, and the sport fencer
     still possesses all the technical skills necessary to fight a

1.4  Which is the best weapon?
     If the question means "what kind of fencing is the most fun?" then
     the answer is: it depends what aspects of fencing you enjoy the most.
     If you are fascinated by technique, bladework, and tactics, you will
     probably get a lot of satisfaction from foil fencing.  More visceral
     fencers who want to experience the adrenaline rush of a fast,
     agressive sword fight will want to try some sabre.  Most epee fencers
     consider themselves practical, no-nonsense sword fighters who rely on
     as few artificial rules as possible.  Enthusiasts of more medieval
     combat styles, involving armour and heavy weapons, should consider
     kendo or the SCA heavy lists.

     Perhaps the question means "what is the best weapon for a
     beginner to start with?"  Foil is the most common starter weapon,
     and its skills translate most easily to the other weapons.  Sabre
     is less ideal for students planning to try other weapons, due to
     the higher cost of electric sabre gear, and the reduced use of
     the point.  Fencers who begin with epee may struggle with the
     concept of right-of-way if they attempt to learn a second weapon
     later.  However, if the student is certain that they will stick
     with sabre or epee, then there is no harm to starting with those
     weapons immediately.

     On the other hand, if the question means "which weapon is the most
     deadly?"  the answer will depend on a lot of factors, not the least
     of which are the skill of the combatants, the presence of armour, the
     military and cultural context, and the rules of the fight (ie. is
     this a street fight, a gentlemen's duel, or open field warfare?).
     Most swords are highly optimized for performance in a specific
     environment, and will not perform well outside it.  Comparing two
     swords from completely different historical contexts is therefore
     extremely difficult, if not downright silly.

     Then again, perhaps the question means "which style of fencing is
     the most realistic?"  It must be said that questions of realism have
     little relevance to an activity that has almost no practical
     application in the modern world other than sport and fitness.
     Historically, however, epees have the closest resemblance (among FIE
     weapons) to real duelling swords, and the rules closely parallel
     those of actual duels (sometimes being fought to only a single

1.5  Is fencing going to be eliminated from the Olympics?

     Olympic fencing appears to be safe for the present, and was
     recently expanded to include Women's Epee.  Since the IOC
     perpetually changes its roster of Olympic sports, nothing is
     certain in future games.  Although fencing is one of only four
     sports to have been involved in every modern Olympic Games since
     their inception in 1896, it has been mentioned in the past as one
     of the disciplines that may be eliminated from future Games.
     According to Gilbert Felli, Sports Director of the International
     Olympic Committee, the IOC plans to refine future games in 
     various ways, including:
        -- limiting the number of athletes to 15000
        -- increasing participation by women
        -- eliminating "so-called artificial team events"
        -- limiting sports of a similar type
        -- modernizing the Olympic program
        -- encouraging sports that provide a good television spectacle

     In the last decade fencing has undergone numerous revisions to
     its rules and structure to improve its value as a spectator
     sport, perhaps in the hopes of improving its Olympic
1.6  Does it hurt?
     Not if done properly.  Although executed with appreciable energy,
     a good, clean fencing attack hurts no more than a tap on the
     shoulder.  The force of the blow is normally absorbed by the flex
     of the blade.  Reckless and overly aggressive fencers can
     occasionally deliver painful blows, however.  Fencing *is* a
     martial art, so you should expect minor bruises and welts every
     now and again.  They are rarely intentional.  The most painful
     blows tend to come from inexperienced fencers who have not yet
     acquired the feel of the weapon.
     The primary source of injury in fencing is from strained muscles
     and joints.  Proper warm-up and stretching before fencing will
     minimize these occurences.
     There is a risk of being injured by broken weapons.  The shards
     of a snapped blade can be very sharp and cause serious injury,
     especially if the fencer doesn't immediately realize his blade is
     broken, and continues fencing.  Always wear proper protective
     gear to reduce this risk.  FIE homologated jackets, pants, and
     masks are ideal, as they are made with puncture-resistant fabrics
     such as ballistic nylon.  If you cannot afford good fencing wear,
     at least use a plastron (half-jacket worn beneath the regular
     fencing jacket), and avoid old and rusty masks.  Always wear a
     glove that covers the cuff, to prevent blades from running up the
     Fencing is often said to be safer than golf.  Whether or not this
     is true, it is an extraordinarily safe sport considering its
     heritage and nature.
1.7  How long does it take to become good?
     There is a saying that it takes two lifetimes to master fencing.  By
     the time anyone has come close to "mastering" the sport, they are
     long past their athletic prime.  Some may feel that this is a
     drawback to the sport, but most fencers see it as a great strength:
     fencing never becomes dull or routine; there are always new skills to
     master, and new grounds to conquer.

     In times past, students often were not permitted to hold a weapon
     until they had completed a year or two of footwork training.
     Modern training programs rarely wait this long, and in many cases
     students will be fencing (albeit badly) almost immediately.
     Novice-level competition is feasible within 3-6 months.
     Competition at this point should be viewed as a learning aid, not
     as a dedicated effort to win.
     Serious attempts at competing will be possible after 2-3 years,
     when the basic skills have been sufficiently mastered that the
     mind is free to consider strategy.  A moderate level of skill
     (eg. C classification) can take a few years of regular practice
     and competition.  Penetration of the elite ranks (eg. world cup,
     international 'A' level) demands three to five days per week of
     practice and competition, and usually at least 10 years of
     Progress can be faster or slower, depending on the fencer's
     aptitude, dedication, quality of instruction, and the age at
     which they begin.  Rapid progress normally requires at least
     three practices per week, and regular competition against
     superior fencers.  With the increasing emphasis on athleticism in
     the modern sport, fencers are getting younger, and the champions
     are getting to the podiums faster.

1.8  What qualities make a good fencer?
     All of them.

     On the athletic side, speed and cardiovascular fitness rank
     foremost.  Other traits that can be exploited are strength (for
     explosive power, not heavy handedness), manual dexterity, and
     flexibility.  Quick reaction time is extremely important.  On the
     mental side, a fencer must be adaptable and observant, and have a
     good mind for strategy and tactics.  Psychologically, he or she
     must be able to maintain focus, concentration, and emotional
     level-headedness under intense conditions of combat.

     As far as body type goes, it is always possible to adapt your
     style to take advantage of your natural traits.  Even so, height
     seems to be most useful in epee.  Small or thin people are harder
     to hit in foil.  A long reach helps in epee, and long legs are an
     asset in foil.

     It should be noted that left handers seem to enjoy a slight
     advantage, especially against less experienced fencers.  This may
     account for the fact that lefties make up 15% of novice fencers,
     but close to half of FIE world champions.

1.9  How much does it cost to get involved in fencing?

     A beginner's dry fencing kit (cotton jacket, glove, dry weapon,
     mask) will cost about US$100-200.  A full set of FIE-spec
     competition gear (FIE jacket, pants, mask, 2 weapons, wires,
     glove, shoes, plastron, electric jacket) will run at least
     US$500-1000.  FIE equipment is recommended both in terms of
     safety and quality, but clothing costs can be as much as halved
     by purchasing regular cotton or synthetic knits.  Used equipment
     can also be bought from retiring or upgrading fencers.  Many
     clubs will provide basic equipment to their beginning

     Club costs vary widely, depending on the quality of the space,
     the equipment provided to its members, and the amount of coaching
     included in the club fees.  Advanced lessons are usually
     purchased separately.

1.10 How do I find a good fencing club?
     Start with your local Provincial or Divisional fencing association.
     If you don't know how to find them, contact your national fencing body
     (see section 3.1).  Your national body may maintain a list of known
     fencing clubs in the country.  Otherwise, your local association will
     be able to tell you about recognized clubs in your area.  Many
     universities and colleges also sponsor fencing clubs and teams that
     will often accept non-students as members.  You might also check out
     courses or camps offered by local community centers.

     Fencers with Web access can find a list of U.S. fencing clubs at
     Once you have a list of potential clubs, you will want to
     evaluate them and your needs.  Desirable qualities vary,
     depending on your skill level and what you want to get out of
     fencing.  Look for a good range of skill levels, decent equipment
     inventories, adequate scoring sets, emphasis on your favourite
     weapon(s), a spirited competition ethic, access to personal
     lessons, and a coach or master with a good record (ie. successful
     students).  If you still have a choice, count yourself lucky, and
     choose the club that makes you feel comfortable and relaxed
     without sacrificing the athletic spirit that is essential to
1.11 What kind of cross-training will help my fencing?
     The best training for fencing is fencing.  Fencing development is 
     asymmetrical and few other sports use the same muscle groups, so 
     this is a difficult question whose answer depends largely on what 
     aspect of your training you really want to focus on.
     Cardiovascular fitness and leg strength always help, so anything that
     enhances these will be beneficial.  Cycling, swimming, aerobics, and
     skating are good examples.  Running, sprinting, soccer, basketball, 
     and similar sports can also be helpful, although some athletes dislike
     the stresses they put on the knees.  Racquet sports like tennis,
     badminton, squash, racquetball, and table tennis are also excellent,
     and will exercise your upper body in addition to your legs.
     Circuit or period training (short bursts of high-heart-rate
     exercise followed by brief recovery periods) has been put forward
     as particularly relevant to the demands of fencing.
     Proper weight training can be of great benefit, if it emphasizes
     power development in the legs and lower body, core trunk strength
     for stability, speed, and flexibility.  Improper weight training
     can potentially be detrimental, if it develops strength but not
     power, or sacrifices flexibility for muscle development.

     Some fencers maintain that juggling improves reactions, hand-eye
     coordination, and use of peripheral vision.

     Some coaches and fencers suggest occasional fencing or workouts with
     your opposite hand, both to improve skill and balance your muscular
1.12 How can I improve my technique without the help of a coach?
     It is very easy to acquire bad habits and poor technique if you do 
     not have the guidance of a knowledgable fencing master, coach, or 
     fellow fencer.  If you are serious about improving your fencing, 
     quality coaching is always your best investment.  However, a 
     disciplined fencer still has options if decent instruction is not 
     available on a regular basis.
     Firstly, a solid knowledge of fencing theory and regulations is a
     must.  Freelance fencers should study the FIE Rules of
     Competition and a good fencing manual (see Section 3.3).  They
     should test and apply this knowledge by refereeing whenever
     possible.  An appreciation of good fencing style is also
     essential, so that they can readily identify weaknesses in their
     own and other fencers' techniques.  Observation and comparison of
     skilled or accomplished fencers will develop this ability.
     Training videotapes and videotapes of high-level competitions
     (see Section 3.6) are also helpful in this regard.
     Freelance fencers must be open-minded and critical of their own 
     technique, so that they can recognize problems before they develop 
     into habits.  Discussion of their weaknesses with training opponents 
     will help them clarify the areas that need work.  If possible, they 
     should videotape their bouts and review them to spot defects in their 
     tactics and technique.
     Fencers should seek out opponents who will strenuously test 
     their weaknesses.  More experienced fencers, left-handers, those 
     whose tactics are particularly effective, and even those with 
     annoying (ie. difficult) styles should be courted on the practice 
     strip.  When fencing less skilled opponents, fencers should 
     restrict their tactics to a small set that require practice, and 
     resist the temptation to open up if they should start losing.
     The opportunity to participate in footwork and line drills should
     never be passed up.  When they can find agreeable partners,
     fencers can do more personalized drills to exercise their weak
     areas.  (Of course it is courteous to indulge the needs of your 
     partners when they in turn work on their own training.)

     Lastly, fencers should remain aware of their bout psychology and 
     mental state when fencing, and try to cultivate the mindset that 
     in their experience produces good fencing.

1.13 What is right-of-way?
     Right-of-way (or priority) is the set of rules used to determine
     who is awarded the point when there is a double touch in foil or
     sabre (ie. both fencers hit each other in the same fencing time).
     It is detailed in the FIE Rules of Competition, Articles
     t.56-t.60 (old 232-237) for foil, and t.75-t.80 (old 416-423)
     for sabre.
     The core assumption behind right-of-way is that a fencing bout is 
     always in one of three states:
         -- nothing significant is happening
         -- the fencers are conceiving and executing their actions
         -- one fencer is threatening, while the other is
            reacting to the threat

     Since no points will be scored in the first situation, we can ignore
     it.  In the second situation, the fencers' actions have equal
     significance, and it is impossible to award a touch.  Both touches 
     will be annulled and the bout will be resumed where it was 
     The third situation is the important one.  The first fencer to
     establish a threat has priority (right-of-way), even if the other
     reacts by making a counter-threat.  Any hit from the fencer with
     priority takes precedence over a hit from the other.  The job of
     the referee is to decide which fencer did not have right-of-way,
     and annul his touch.  If he cannot decide, the referee should
     abstain, annul BOTH hits, and resume the action where it left
     A proper threat can be either an attack (see question 1.14),
     or a "point in line" (see question 1.16) that is
     established before the opponent attacks.

     Right-of-way is lost when the threat misses, falls short, is
     broken off, or is deflected away from the target by a parry or
     other engagement from the defender.  The defender then has "right
     of attack" for a split second; if he returns the threat
     immediately, he takes over right-of-way and the tables have
     turned.  If he hesitates, however, it becomes a toss-up; the
     first fencer to establish a threat will sieze the right-of-way
     The right-of-way relationships between common fencing actions are as

     - derobement has right-of-way over attacks on the blade
     - attacks on the blade have right-of-way over the point in line
     - point in line has right-of-way over the attack
     - the simple attack has right-of-way over the stop-hit
     - the stop-hit has right-of-way over the renewal of the attack
     - the stop-hit in time has right-of-way over the compound attack
     - the riposte has right-of-way over the renewal of the attack
     - the counter-riposte has right-of-way over the renewal of the riposte
     - the remise of the attack has right-of-way over the delayed riposte

1.14 What constitutes an attack?
     According to Article t.7 (old 10) of the FIE rules of competition,
     "the attack is the initial offensive action made by extending the
     arm and continuously threatening the opponent's target."
     A threatening weapon is normally interpreted to be one that will
     or could hit the opponent if no defensive action is taken.  In
     other words, a weapon threatens if it is moving towards the
     target in a smooth, unbroken trajectory.  This trajectory can be
     curved, especially if the attack is indirect, compound, or
     involves a cutting action.  Hesitations and movements of the
     blade away from the target will usually be perceived as a break
     in the attack or a preparation of the attack.
     One common misconception is that a straight or straightening arm
     is required to assert the attack.  However, a straight arm is not
     an attack, but a point-in-line.  The attack begins
     when the arm begins extending, not once it is fully extended.  It
     is not even necessary that the arm become fully straight,
     although that is normal for attacks at medium and longer
     distances.  Retraction of the arm, however, will usually be
     interpreted as a break in the attack.
     Another common misconception is that an attack does not threaten
     unless the blade is aimed at the target.  This is not generally
     true.  The definition of an attack is the same for cuts and
     thrusts, so cuts and cut-like actions (including coupe's and
     "flicks") must threaten while the blade
     is still out of line.  Generally, an attack threatens if it is
     moving towards the target as part of a smooth, unbroken movement,
     regardless of where the point is located when that movement begins.

     Many fencers are under the mistaken impression that a bent arm or
     out-of-line point constitutes a preparation, and therefore that
     they can rightfully attack into it.  If the bent arm is extending
     and the out-of-line point is moving towards the target, however,
     this assumption is usually false under modern fencing
     conventions.  A successful attack on the preparation must clearly
     precede the opponent's initiation of his final movement, or else
     arrive a fencing time ahead of his touch.

     Sabre fencers must also consider Article t.75 (old 417) of the
     Rules of Competition, which states when the attack must land
     relative to the footfalls of a lunge, advance-lunge, (and fleche,
     historically).  Attacks that arrive after the prescribed footfall
     are deemed continuations, and do not have right-of-way over the
     counter-attack.  Sabre fencers must also remember that whip-over
     touches can be interpreted as remises, and not mal-pare's.

1.15 What constitutes a parry?
     According to Article t.7 (old 10) of the FIE Rules of Competition,
     "the parry is the defensive action made with the weapon to
     prevent the offensive action from arriving".
     A successful parry deflects the threatening blade away from the
     target.  It is normally not sufficient to merely find or touch
     the opponent's blade; the fencer must also exhibit control over
     it--although the benefit of the doubt usually goes to the fencer
     making the parry.  If the attacker must replace the point into a
     threatening line before continuing, it is a remise (renewal of
     the attack) and does not have right-of-way over the riposte.
     However, if the parry does not deflect the blade, or deflects
     it onto another part of the target, then the attack retains the
     right-of-way (mal-pare' by the defender).  In practice, very
     little deflection is needed with a well-timed parry.

     A well-executed parry should take the foible of the attacker's
     blade with the forte and/or guard of the defender's.  This
     provides the greatest control over the opponent's blade.  In
     other cases (eg. a beat parry with the middle of the blade) the
     parry can still be seen as sufficient if the attacking blade is
     sufficiently deflected.  In ambiguous cases, however, the benefit
     of the doubt is usually given to the fencer who used his
     forte/guard.  For example, if a fencer attempts to parry using
     his foible on his opponent's forte, it will often be interpreted
     in the reverse sense (eg. counter-time parry by the attacker),
     since such an engagement does not normally result in much
     deflection of the attack.  A foible to foible parry could
     potentially be seen as a beat attack by the opposing fencer
     depending on the specifics of the action.

     At foil, the opponent's blade should not only be deflected away
     from the target, but away from off-target areas as well.  An
     attack that is deflected off the valid target but onto invalid
     target can still retain right-of-way.  If the defender clearly
     releases the attacking blade before the continuation of the
     attack lands, then the benefit of the doubt is usually given to
     the parry.
     At sabre, the opponent's blade need only be deflected away from
     valid target, since off-target touches do not stop the phrase.
     Cuts are considered parried if their forward movement is checked
     by a block with the blade or guard.  Contact with the blade or
     guard may be interpreted as a parry, even if a whip-over touch
     results.  Avoiding whip-over touches altogether requires
     exceptionally clean and clear parries.
     At epee, a good parry is simply any one that gains enough time
     for the riposte.  Opposition parries and binds are commonly used,
     since they do not release the opponent's blade to allow a remise.

1.16 What constitutes a point-in-line?

     According to Article t.10 of the FIE Rules of Competition, the
     in-line position is that "in which [the fencer's] sword arm is
     straight and the point of his weapon threatens his opponent's
     valid target."

     Properly done, the arm should be extended as straight as
     possible, and form a more or less continuous line with the blade,
     with the point aimed directly at the high lines of the target.
     Excessive angulation at the wrist or fingers negates the
     point-in-line.  Superfluous movement of the point also risks
     negating the line, especially in sabre.  Derobements/trompements,
     however, are permitted.

     In foil and sabre, the point-in-line has priority over attacks
     that are made without first taking the blade.  With these weapons
     (but not with epee) it is forbidden to assume the point-in-line
     position before the command to fence has been given.  In sabre, a
     point-in-line that hits with the edge is passe'; if a touch is
     registered with the edge, it is properly analyzed as a remise or
     counter-attack, except in the case of a derobement.

     There are wildly differing opinions on the role of the feet in
     the point-in-line.  Some claim that any movement forward or
     backward invalidates the point-in-line, while others claim that
     only forward movement obviates the line.  These interpretations
     are incorrect, although they may still constitute good advice if
     you want to make the point-in-line more obvious to a referee.  It
     was widely held to be an official ruling that steps or jumps
     forward or backward maintained the point-in-line, but lunges or
     fleches obviated it.  This ruling, apparently based on a
     directive from the FIE, was official policy in the USFA for a
     while.  However, the rulebook does not proscribe any footwork
     movements at all, and other FIE rulings hold that footwork, even
     a lunge or fleche, has absolutely no effect on the priority of
     the point-in-line.

1.17 What is the scoop on "flicks" and "whips"?

     Flicks are whip-like attacks that can score against very oblique 
     and even concealed targets.  Sometimes thought of as a recent 
     corruption, flicks actually have a long history that stems from 
     coupe' (the cut-over) and fencers' efforts to throw their points 
     around the parry.  Properly executed and judged, they are effective 
     and beautiful attacks;  poorly executed and judged, they can be
     painful and annoying.

     One common criticism of the flick is that it would cause minor
     injury with a real weapon.  The obvious, if flippant, response to
     this is not to flick if you're trying to kill someone with a real

     Another common criticism is that flicks are difficult to 
     defend against.  One must simply remember to parry them as if 
     they were cuts, not thrusts (using auxiliary parries like tierce,
     quinte, and elevated sixte).  The flick is also highly sensitive 
     to distance, and a well-timed break in the measure will cause it 
     to land flat.

     A third criticism is that flicks are usually given the priority,
     even though the attack often begins with the point aimed at the 
     ceiling.  However, the definition of an attack (see question 1.14)
     says nothing about where the point is aimed, only what it is 
     threatening.  It is normally true that an attack that scores must
     have threatened in at least its final tempo, no matter where it
     was pointed at the start of that tempo.

     Sabre fencing has suffered from a related and more serious 
     scourge, the whip-over.  In this case, the foible bends around the 
     opponent's blade or guard following a parry, to contact the target 
     and register a touch.  The scoring machines attempt to reduce these
     false touches by blocking hits within a certain time window following
     weapon contact, but this is of limited effectiveness and also has the 
     unfortunate effect of blocking the occasional attack through the 
     blade.  Referees have tried to help out by analyzing whip-over
     touches as remises, but they still score over composed or delayed 
     ripostes.  The FIE has been considering and trying various possible 
     fixes, including varying the timeouts and mandating stiffer sabre 

1.18 What are the latest rule changes?

     The FIE Rules of Competition were completely revised for the 1998
     season.  Although the wording of the rules is for the most part
     similar, the article numbers and locations of particular rules
     are completely different.

        - Crossing the boundary of the piste with one or both
          feet results in a halt, and the loss of 1 metre of ground by
          the offending fencer.  Hits launched before the halt by
          the offending fencer are valid only if one foot remains on the
          piste.  If both feet leave the piste, only the hit made by
          the opposing fencer is counted, and only if one of their feet
          remains on the piste. (2002)
        - Falling is no longer an offence. (2002)
        - Immediate penalty (Group I/yellow card) if a fencer 
          signals he/she is ready to fence with an illegal bend to 
          their blade. (2002)
        - Only team members and trainer are permitted inside the
          designated team zone during team competitions.  Penalties
          for violating this rule are directed against the team, and
          remain valid for the duration of the match. (2002)
        - Leaving the piste with one or both feet earns a verbal 
          caution for first offense, and group 1 penalties
          thereafter. (1998) [This rule replaced by a new
          out-of-bounds rule, above, in 2002.]
        - In sabre, any action in which the rear leg is crossed in
          front of the fore is a group 1 penalty, with the hit annulled.  
          A correctly executed touch from the opponent is still valid. (1994)
        - Salute of opponent, referee, and audience is mandatory
          at the start and end of the bout.  Failure to do so is a
          group 3 penalty (if by one fencer at start of bout), group 4
          penalty (if by both fencers at start or end of bout),
          suspension (if by loser at end of bout), or annullment of
          hit (if by winner at end of bout). (1994)

        - Scoring lamps must indicate who scored the touch, not
          who received it. (2000)
        - FIE2000 sabre blades required. (2000)
        - Clear masks required in all FIE foil and epee events. (2000)
        - 800N underarm protector (plastron) is required in addition
          to the regular 800N jacket. (1994)
        - Clothing may be of different colours, but those on the body
          must be white or light-coloured. (1994)
        - Minimum width of the strip is now 1.5 metres. (1994)
        - The proposed rule extending the foil target to include
          the bib has been dropped.

        - Pool and relay bouts are now of 3-minute duration. (2002)
        - At sabre only, the first period of an elimination bout
          will end when 3 minutes have elapsed, or the score of one
          fencer has reached 8 touches. (2002)
        - Coin flip to determine winner in the event of a tie shall be
          made at end of regulation time, and one additional minute
          shall be fenced.  The winner of the coin toss shall be
          recorded as the victor if the bout is not resolved by sudden
          death in the extra minute. (1994)
        - No more 1-minute warning, although fencers can request the
          time remaining at any normal halt in the action. (1994)
        - Fencers shall be placed at the en garde lines at the
          commencement of each 3-minute period in 15-touch elimination
          bouts. (1994)

        - When time runs out, scores are recorded as is, rather than
          elevating the winner to 5 and the loser by an equivalent
          amount. (1997)
        - Following pools, fencers are sorted by V/M, HS-HR, HS. (1997)
        - In sabre, simultaneous attacks that both arrive on the valid
          target do not result in any points being scored. (1994)
        - In the team relay, the first pair of fencers fence to 5
          points or 4 minutes, whichever comes first.  The next pair
          continue from this score up to 10 points within 4 minutes,
          and so on up to a total score of 45 points. (1995?)


Author: Morgan Burke (
Contributors: special thanks to Suman Palit, Guy Smith, Greg Dilworth,
        Kevin Taylor, Eric Anderson, Blaine Price, Steve Hick, Kim
        Moser, David Glasser, Bryan Mansfield, Donald Lane, Ann McBain,
        Hagen Lieffertz, Mark C. Orton, Mike Buckley, Dirk Goldgar,
        Scott Holmes, Arild Dyrseth, David Airey, Renee Mcmeeken, Marc
        Walch, Eric Speicher, Anton Oskamp, Bernard Hunt, Francis Cordero,
        Kent Krumvieda, David Van Houten, John Crawford, Kim Taylor,
        Brendan Robertson, Ivo Volf, Kevin Wechtaluk, Frank Messemer,
        Benerson Little, Mark Crocker, Eileen Tan, Mark Tebault, Tim
        Schofield, Peter Gustafsson, Kevin Haidl, Peter Crawford,
        Camille Fabian, Matt Davis, Fernando Diaz, Anders Haavie,
        Rüdiger Schierz, Todd Ellner, George Kolombatovich,
        Padraig Coogan, Steve Lawrence, Bryan J. Maloney, Colin Walls

(C) 1993-2002 Morgan Burke
Permission is granted to copy and distribute all or part of this document
for non-profit purposes.

End of FAQ part I
d of FAQ part I

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