fencing

Modern Fencing

The weapons and rules of modern fencing evolved from combat weapons and their usage. The foil—a light, flexible thrusting weapon with a blunted point—was originally a practice weapon. The épée is a straight, narrow, stiff thrusting weapon based upon the dueling weapons of European noblemen. The saber is derived from the 18th-century cavalry saber and the Middle Eastern scimitar and has a flexible triangular blade with scoring edges along the entire front and one third of the back edge.

International rules stipulate that fencers must attack and parry on a strip that is 14 m (c.46 ft) long and 2 m (c.61/2 ft) wide. The strip, or "piste," is marked off by two parallel lines, beyond which the fencer may not step without receiving a warning or a penalty. Protective clothing includes vests, breast protectors, heavy jackets, wire-mesh masks (introduced in the 18th cent.), and leather gloves. A button blunts the weapon's tip, and points are scored by touching the opponent. In foil the torso is the target area; in épée it is the whole body; in saber it is the body above the hip. Winning touches are five in foil and saber, three in épée. Touches are scored electronically except in saber, where judges decide scoring. Although fencing matches are conducted between individuals, team scoring may result from a compilation of individual scores.

The Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (founded 1913) serves as fencing's world governing body and oversees world championships. Prior to the 1960s, France and Italy dominated international competition in foil and épée, while Hungary dominated in saber. Since then Russia, Germany, Poland, Sweden, and others have joined the traditional powers.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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