As a sport, fencing has been around as the art of sword dueling and self-defense since at least around the 1400s and finds its origin story in Spain. Fencing evolved from a military exercise to a sport in the 1700s as spearheaded by Domenico Angelo at his academy, Angelo’s School of Arms. There, Angelo’s family penned all the works on proper footwork, posture, attacks, and defenses in every blade to teach the aristocracy the fashionable new sport.
Today’s versions of fencing are every bit as passionate without quite as much blood, though. The International Fencing Federation (IFE) requires all fencers to dom multiple layers of protective clothing and equipment to ensure safety. In addition to the every stylish knickers, jackets, and masks, fencers are also required to wear a glove, plastron (underarm protector), breastplate, and lame to conduct electricity and determine touches.
Olympic fencing recognizes three blades, each of which has different historical purpose and thus different rules of play. Fencing has appeared at the Olympics starting in 1896 with the inclusion of the sabre, followed by the foil and lastly the epee.
The “starter” blade is the foil, a slender square blade with a compressible tip. Historically, foil fights were to the death, and as such, the “target area” for foil is only the area from waist to neck and inside the shoulders, and only a touch with the point of the blade scores a point. The rules for scoring a touch in foil are many and complex, but most of them boil down to who had the “right of way” to score.
The Epee is a much larger, heavier blade with a guard covering the hand and a compressible tip much like the foils. However, whereas a foil fight was to the death, Epee fights are only to first blood, and as such, the entire body, from the crown of the head to the soles of the shoes, is target area. Epee disregards the tedium of foil’s rules and awards a point to any touch, sometimes to both fencers in the match.
Lastly, the Sabre is the same weight as the foil but employs a slashing technique, as the whole blade is wired to score a touch, not just the tip. For sabre, any area from the waist up is considered target area. This blade is conducive to the quickest movements by the fencers, although similar “right of way” rules to foil apply.
Fencing is a great sport for players of any age. It requires agility, precision, and lightning-fast thinking. Because it’s not a contact sport, anyone can participate, whether you’re a college-aged pro or a grandparent beginner.
Micha Abeles was an all-Ivy League fencer while he was a student at Cornell University. While completing his MD at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Micha coached the school’s fencing team.