North Vancouver
Fencing Club
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Fencing, the art of swordsmanship, has been practiced for centuries. First, it was to train for deadly combat, the duel. Now, it is for Olympic gold. Through fencing you can acquire the reflexes of a boxer, the legs of a high-jumper and the concentration of a tournament chess player. The sport develops agility, strength, speed and cunning. And because of the speed of its action, fencing is considered the fastest martial sport. But, most importantly, it is fun.


What Is The Point?
The modern sport of fencing has three different events: foil, epee and sabre. Each has a slightly different history, target area and rules. Foil and sabre were developed as training weapons, while epee is a descendant of weapons used in duels. Just as you would imagine, the goal in all three weapons is to hit the opponent on the valid target without being hit.


Although the motions of fencing are complex and the variations endless, the actions of a bout fall into several basic categories. Either fencer may initiate an offensive action and force the opponent to defend. The fencer first beginning an offensive action is called the attacker. Movement that blocks an attack is referred to as a parry, and the return action after the parry is referred to as a riposte. The fencer attacking into an opponent who has begun to attack has executed what is referred to as a counterattack.


As in other sports, fencers have different personalities. Some prefer initiating offensive actions while others prefer to wait and respond to the opponent’s initiative. The cleverest fencers learn to draw their opponents into traps, fooling the opponent into thinking that he or she is vulnerable and drawing a predictable response which can then be exploited.


Similar to boxing, success in fencing depends largely on the fencer’s ability to manipulate distance. The fencer needs to stay far enough away to avoid being hit, while at the same time get close enough to hit when the opponent is last prepared to defend. Much of the movement on the strip is done to set up proper distance and timing for the final hit. Although the blade work seems complex to the newcomer, the goal is simple. The preparatory blade work is an attempt to get the opponent to respond â�� opening up a part of the target area which can be hit. For example, the attacker feints (pretends to be attacking) towards one part of the target. When the opponent tries to parry this attack, the attacker deceives the parry and hits on another part of the target.


Competition and Bouts

A competition starts with the “elimination pool” system. The fencers are divided into groups (pools) of six or seven fencers; all of the competitors in a pool fence each other. Each pairing is called a bout. The bout begins with the Referee saying: “En garde. Prêt. Allez”, which directly translates to “On Guard. Ready? Go!” A bout lasts for five minutes of actual fencing time or until one fencer scores five touches. Based on the results from the pools, the top eighty percent advance into a direct elimination ladder (similar to a tennis tournament). How the fencers are placed in the draw (seeding) is based on the pool results. In the elimination format, bouts are longer since the losing fencer will be eliminated. The elimination bout lasts for three, three-minute periods, or until one fencer scores 15 touches.


The Playing Ground (Strip)
The playing area for fencing bouts is the strip, 14 metres long (about 46 feet) and 1.5 metres wide (about 6.5 feet). Fencers must be on the strip to score touches. The strip is grounded so that if the weapon hits the strip, no touch is registered. There are warning areas at each end of the strip. If a fencer goes off the end of a warning area with both feet, the opponent is given a point, even is there is no actual hit. Think of going off the end of the strip as falling off a cliff. If a fencer goes off the side of the strip with both feet, the opponent advances one metre.


Watching a Competition
As a newcomer to fencing, your first “friend” will be the scoring lights. Touches are determined in all three weapons by an electrical scoring device, and hits are indicated with scoring lights. When a fencer has scored a hit, the light on the side of the scoring fencer will go on. Hits on the invalid target (foil only) will be indicated with white lights, and hits on the valid target are indicated with red and green lights. A Referee starts the action, which continues until a light does on (indicating a hit) or a rule violation has occurred. The Referee will call halt at this time, interpret the preceding actions, award touches (if appropriate) and start the bout again after returning the fencers to the centre of the strip if a touch is awarded.


When you are watching you may want to try to follow one of the two fencers. This makes following the actions easier, and you may begin to see some of the fencer’s strategy. Probably the most important thing to remember is when you first begin to watch is to ask questions. Someone near you will understand what is going on and will be able to help. Come to a match with an open mind, ask questions and watch carefully. You will begin to follow the score, the actions, and the strategy. Fencing is a beautiful sport all can enjoy.


Fencing is one the safest sports. Its safety record reflects the quality of the equipment and the rules that control the manner of a competition. For instance, the mask must meet international requirements for strength of the wire veering all vulnerable parts of the head. Uniforms were once made of the same materials used in bulletproof vests, Kevlar and ballistic nylon


The Weapons


The foil, the modern version of the court sword, has a flexible, rectangular blade (approximately one yard in length) and weights just over a pound. Touches are scored with the spring-loaded tip of the blade and must land on the torso of the body to be counted.


Foil Scoring
The fencer’s valid target area is covered with a metallic cloth vest, called a lame. When the opponents tip hits the vest, the tip depresses and completes an electrical circuit. This sets off a light and a buzzer on the scoring machine on the side of the one who has landed the touch. A coloured light signifies that the valid target (the metallic vest) was hit; a white light signifies that the hit landed outside the tgarget area. When a light comes on, the Referee halts the bout to determine if either fencer has scored a point. No point is awarded for an off-target hit.


If coloured lights go on for both fencer’s the Referee must decide who gets the point based on right of way. The attacker has the right of way until the other fencer blocks (parries) the attack. The defender then gains the right of way by making a return thrust (riposte)


The Epee (pronounced ep-pay), the descendant of weapons used in duels, has a stiff, triangular blade (approximately one yard in length) and a large guard to protect the hand from being touched. It weights slightly more than a point and and a half. Points may only be made with the spring-loaded tip of the blade. The entire body, from the tip of the toes to the top of the head, is valid target.


Epee Scoring
Touches are registered electrically when the tip of the blade depresses and completes an electrical circuit, triggering a coloured light on the machine for whoever has landed a hit. The fencer who hits first gets a point, and if both fencers hit within 1/25th of a second, both score a point


The sabre is similar to the slashing and trusting cavalry sword of years gone by. It has a triangular blade (approximately one yard in length) and a guard that covers the side of the hand. It weighs just over a point. Touches are scored with cuts as well as the tip of the blade. All cut or thrusts must land from the bend of the hips up just like a cavalry soldier mounted on a horse.


Sabre Scoring
The fencer’s valid target area is covered with a metallic cloth jacket, called a lame. The mask is also electrically conductive and is connected to the metallic jacket. The coloured light indicates that the valid target (the jacket or mask) was hit. Hits made outside the target area are not registered. Anytime a light cones on, the Referee halts the bout and awards, if appropriate, a point.


The actions in sabre differ from those in foil and epee because of the cutting motions. The game appears much faster with more actions. Watch one fencer and look for stop hits, cuts that are counterattacks made to stop the attacker.