There are three different weapons used in fencing: Epee, Foil and Sabre. All weapons in general, are based off of the same basic set of rules making it relatively easy to switch between epee, foil and sabre. Although, each weapon has its own unique subset of rules which affects the speed, duration and style of a fencing match.
The epee is considered the original dueling sword. It was developed in the middle of the 19th century to train individuals for duels. If you’ve seen any movie with a lot of swordplay in it chances are you are watching epee. The weapon’s blade is somewhat triangular in shape and quite stiff to bend. Since the whole body is considered target, the guard is large and bell-shape to protect the hand from hits. Hits to target are made with the point of the blade only.
The foil evolved from the short court sword of the 17th and 18th centuries, and started as a lighter and more flexible weapon for the practice of fencing. The blade is quadrangular in shape and since only the front and back of the torsos are considered target, the bell-shaped guard is much smaller than the epee. As with epee, hits are made only with the point of the blade.
The sabre is the weapon developed from the backsword of the Elizabethans and the heavy cavalry sabre. The sabre blade is V- shaped with the point folded over to form a button. This weapon differs in that it is a cut and thrust type weapon. Target includes the head, arms, and trunk to the waist. Because the hand is again considered target, the guard is half rounded to protect the fingers. Due to the fact that saber is a cutting weapon it is the fastest out of the three weapons.
The days of getting suited up in 3 inch thick plate mail are long gone. Now fencing armour consists of thick cotton or even the bullet proof material Kevlar. (Kevlar is required at higher levels.) The armour allows a great deal of protection making fencing a very safe and fun sport.
Fencing masks are the most crucial piece of protective equipment in fencing. Masks are made up of a metal wire mesh that covers the front and sides of the head. A fabric bib is attached to the bottom to protect the throat and neck. On the inside of the mask there is padding absorb the force of a hit as well as make it comfortable to wear. Foil and epee use a standard mask (left), while sabre masks (right) have a metal threaded bib similar to a lamé to distinguish between valid and non valid hits (see description below).
Gloves cover approximately half of the forearm and have extra padding on the back of the hand. Gloves are worn on top of the jacket to prevent blades from slipping under the sleeve. A velcro slit runs up the the wrist of the glove to allow the body wire attach to the weapon.
Fencing jackets are made up of either heavy cotton denim or of kevlar similar to what is used in bulletproof jackets, though not as strong. Cotton jackets are thicker and offer more padding against a strong hit, while kevlar jackets are thinner allowing less restrictive movement as well as better protection against puncturing. Kevlar equipment is usually reserved for competitive fencing, thought it is not required on the Provincial Circuit.
Sous-Plastron (Underarm Protector)
Sous-Plastrons are a fail-safe piece of protective equipment which is worn on the fencer’s weapon arm, underneath the jacket. While the jacket protects the upper body completely, a sous-plastron doubles the protection in the armpit where the jacket has a seam.
Originally, chest protectors were only used by female fencers. More recently however, it has become more common for men to wear them as well. Chest protectors are made of durable hard plastic which prevent bruising and help spread the force of a hit across a larger area.
Breeches protect from just below the knee to several inches above the waist. They are made of either heavy cotton or kevlar. Breeches extend above the waist so that there is an overlap between them and the overlying jacket. long, padded socks are worn to cover the legs from the knee down.
Lamés are jackets threaded with metal wires that conduct electricity allowing the scoring system to distinguish between on and off target hits. These jackets are worn only in foil and sabre are put on over top of the protective jacket. In foil, the lamé covers the torso, while in sabre it coves from the waist up.
Body wires are used to connect the fencer’s weapon and lamé (foil & sabre only) to the reels. There are three types of bodywires. The first, which is specifically used for epee is simple and goes straight from reel to the epee. Sabre and foil share a common bodywire which splits off a single wire that attaches to the lamé. The third wire is only used in sabre and it connects the lamé to the bib of the mask.
Fencer’s attach their body wires to retractable cord that is spooled on a reel. As the fencer moves up and down the the piste, the reel releases and retracts the wire so that the fencer doesn’t trip over it. Reels are then attached to a scoring box located in the middle of the piste by a long floor wire.
Scoring boxes notify the judge to stop the action and assist him with determining valid hits. There are four main lights which show the location of a hit on a fencer. The white lights illuminate when an invalid or off-target hit is made. When the green light illuminates, it means that the fencer on the judge’s left hand side has made a valid, on-target hit. Ther red light means that the fencer to the judge’s right made the valid hit.
The piste is the name given to the metal strip that denote the playing field for the sport of fencing. The piste measures 14m long by 1.5 to 2m wide, and is marked by several lines: (C) Centre Line; (G) En Guard Line; (W) 2 Metre Warning Line; (E) End Line. There is an additional metre or two added at each end of the piste to allow of run offs, but is considered out of bounds.