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Fencing weapons Types of guard
Procedure Officials
Attack and defence Fouls and misconduct
Scoring Equipment
The fencing piste Glossary

Fencing piste

The fencing piste


Objective: A duel with a type of sword, with the winner striking the opponents body more times than being struck themselves.

Note: The weapons have flexible steel blades and do not have sharp ends, and competitors wear protective clothing. Direct injuries from fencing are extremely rare. See Equipment for more details.

The length of time a bout can last varies. At épée for one hit in Pentathlon it lasts 3 minutes. With all weapons (épée, sabre, and foil), for five hits, the bouts last 4 minutes, and for 15 hits, the bouts last 9 minutes, split into three sets, each lasting 3 minutes. In some top level matches, there are three rounds of five hits in 6 minutes.


Choose your weapon

Bouts will be contested using one of three types of fencing weapon, the foil, the épée, and the sabre. They all have flexible steel blades. Foils and épées have a button at the end, a guard, and a hilt to hold the weapon.

In foil and épée, hits can only be made with the point. The sabre can be used more flexibly, using all of the front edge, and the top third of the back edge.

In foil, the target area of the opponent's body is the chest and stomach, nowhere else. In épée, the entire body, including the head and feet is the target area. For sabre, anywhere above the waist is the target area, including the head.


The first fencer stands with their open side (side not holding the weapon) towards the president (see Officials, below). The contestants face each other with a distance of 2 metres (6 feet 6 inches) between them at the centre of the piste (playing area).

The president calls en garde (on guard), then asks the competitors if they are ready, then calls allez. The bout stops when the president calls halte.

Why the bout could be stopped

- After a hit has been given

- Dangerous play

- If a competitor is disarmed

- If a player leaves the piste

Attack and defence

For foil and sabre, the fencers' movements must follow the right procedure. When attacked, the fencer must parry (block) before making a riposte (counter-strike). The attacker is the one who is extending the weapon arm towards the opponent, and will remain the attacker until the opponent parries.

In a compound attack (several movements made together to mislead the opponent), the defending fencer may make a stop hit (counter-action) at the attacker, providing that it reaches the target before the attacker has finished their attack.

In foil and sabre, the sequence is thus: attack, parry, riposte, counter riposte.

In épée, there is no fencing phrase (sequence) and no priority of movement. The first to hit the opponent scores one hit.


To score a hit, the attacking fencer has to strike the opponents target area with the sword point, (also with the edge in sabre). The fencer must be on the piste for the hit to count.

In foil and sabre, if the hit lands off target because the defender has put themselves in an unusual position to avoid it, the hit counts. A hit off target brings the phrase to an end.

In épée, if both fencers make a hit with 1/25 of a second of each other a double hit is recorded, and they are both credited.

There is no double hit in foil or sabre. If both fencers make a hit at the same time, it is either simultaneous action, in which case neither hit counts, or because one fencer has attacked out of turn. In this case, the president would award the hit to the non-offending fencer.

A hit can be scored while passing the other fencer, but not after passing.

Electronic scoring equipment is often used. The weapons are wired, and when it makes contact with the other fencer's clothing, electricity is conducted through a body wire, and registers a hit on the scoring equipment.

The fencing piste

Piste diagram

A - Centre line
B - On guard line
C - Last two metres lane
D - Rear limit (all weapons)
E - End run off

The piste is the fencing area. It must be flat and well lit, and can be indoors or outdoors. It can be made of wood, linoleum, rubber, plastic and metallic mesh, or cork. It is 14 metres (46 feet) long, and can be between 1.5 metres and 2 metres (5 feet to 6 feet 6 inches) wide.

Types of guard

High line - target position above the imaginary line mid-way through the fencer's body

Low line - target position below the imaginary line mid-way through the fencer's body

Pronation - position of the sword hand, knuckles uppermost.

Supination - position of the sword hand with the finger-nail uppermost.


Octave - low line, semi-supinated guard on the sword-arm side.

Prime - high line, pronated guard on the non-sword-arm side.

Quarte - high line, semi-supinated guard on the non-sword-arm side.

Quinte - low line, pronated guard on the non-sword-arm side (foil and épée), high guard at sabre to protect the head.

Seconde - low line, pronated guard on the sword-arm side.

Septime - low line, semi-supinated guard on the non-sword-arm side.

Sixte - high line, semi-supinated guard on the sword-arm side.

Tierce - high line, pronated guard on the sword-arm side.


The main official who oversees a fencing bout is the president. There are also four judges, or two if electronic scoring equipment is used. There are also scorers, timekeepers, and electronic equipment supervisors.

The president awards hits and penalties for fouls. Fouls can be as follows.

Fouls and misconduct

- In foil and sabre, no physical contact is permitted. It is punished by a warning, then by a penalty of one hit. In épée, physical contact is permitted, as long as it is not excessive.

- In foil, the shoulder of the non-sword arm must not be put forward of the sword arm.

- Ducking is allowed, and the empty hand may touch the piste, but if the fencers pass each other, the president will halt the bout and the fencers are repositioned.

- If a fencer crosses the piste limits, they lose ground, 1 metre at foil, 2 metres at épée and sabre. When the action restarts, they would not be at the centre line but further back in their own half.

- Any hit made while of the piste does not count.

- If a fencer goes over the piste lines at the side or the back to avoid being hit, they are punished with first a warning, then a one hit penalty.

- The warning then one hit penalty also applies for wasting time.

- The weapon must only be held in one hand and must not be thrown. The empty hand cannot be used in competition. The fencer would receive a warning, and if it happened again after that, any hits scored until that point would not count.

- Fencers must obey the officials, and compete in a sporting manner. It is customary to perform a fencing salute to the opponent, the spectators, and the referee.

- Fencers must keep the facemasks on until the referee has halted the bout, and may not turn their backs on their opponent during the bout.



Three types of sword are used. There are left and right handed versions, as well as different sizes for different age groups.

Foil - a light, flexible weapon, weighing 500 grammes (1.1 pounds). The blade is rectangular or square and is no more than 90 centimetres (3 feet) in length. The total length of the weapon must not be greater than 110 centimetres (3.6 feet).

The point is flat and covered with a rubber or plastic button, or if it is an electric foil, a sprung metal point assembly. The circular guard must be no more than 12 centimetres (5 inches) in diameter.

French handle foils have a loop of plastic or leather attached to the guard and the handle. It is called a martingale. The fingers hold the handle and go through the martingale to prevent the foil from being dropped during the bout.

The épée - developed from the rapier. It weighs 770 grammes (1.7 pounds). The blade is triangular, and is no more than 90 centimetres (3 feet) in length. The total length of the weapon must not be greater than 110 centimetres (3.6 feet). The guard must have a maximum diameter of 13.5 centimetres (5.3 inches).

Sabre - a lighter and more flexible than the military version, weighing 500 grammes (1.1 pounds). The blade is rectangular and is no more than 88 centimetres (3 feet) in length. The total length of the weapon must not be greater than 105 centimetres (3.4 feet). The guard must pass though a gauge 15 centimetres by 14 centimetres (6 inches by 5 and a half inches).


Fencers wear white clothing. An (under) plastron, a protective half-jacket cover, goes on first, then the jacket on top. The jacket must overlap the breeches by at least 10 centimetres (4 inches) at the waist. A mask is also worn, covering the face and sides of the head.

Breeches are fastened under the knee, and long socks cover the lower legs up to the knees. Women will wear additional chest protectors over the breasts. One glove is worn on the sword hand and this has a long cuff to cover the jacket sleeve halfway between the wrist and the elbow.


Appel - hitting the ground with the ball of the foot

Balestra - a short jump forwards, usually for preparation.

Barrage - a fight-off to determine the result after a tie.

Beat - striking the opponent's blade to deflect it, usually for preparation.

Breaking ground - stepping back.

Ceding parry - parry formed by giving way

Cut - a hit made with the sabre, using the edge of the blade.

Disengagement - passing the blade under or over the opponent's blade.

Displacement - turning or ducking to move the target area away.

Double defeat - in épée, where both scores are the same after time expires.

Engagement - when both blades are in contact.

Envelopement - making a circle around the opponent's blade while retaining contact.

Feint - action to mislead opponent.

Flank - the body area on the sword side.

Flèche (arrow) - attacking movement made by leaning forward.

Foible - the flexible upper half of the blade.

Forte - the lower half of the blade.

Gaining ground - stepping forwards

Lunge - moving forward to make an attack while able to return to on guard.

Patinando - step forwards with appel from the rear foot as the front foot lands.

Pommel - a metal cap on the end of the blade which locks the parts of the weapon together

Rassemblement - stance with heels together, feet at right angles.

Recovery - getting back to the On Guard position.

Repechage - a competition formula which gives eliminated players another chance.

Retire - step back.

Second-intention - action made to provoke a movement from the opponent.

Straight thrust - direct attack landing in the same line.

Tang - part of the blade where the hilt is mounted.

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