What’s sports fencing?

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Sport fencing is a stylized sword fighting sport with tournaments and schools worldwide. It emphasizes honor, respect, and courtesy, and uses three weapons: foil, epee, and saber. Fencers wear protective clothing and helmets, and use electric vests to register legal strikes. The sport incorporates fast, fluid movements and unexpected strikes, making it thrilling to watch.

Sport fencing is a sword fighting sport that has its roots in dueling, although today it is a stylized dance between two athletes, rather than a fight to the death. Sport fencing tournaments and schools can be found all over the world, although the sport is most popular in Europe. Students can learn different styles including French, Hungarian and Italian and also learn how to fence with a variety of weapons.

Sport fencing is steeped in tradition and fencers take their sport very seriously. Honour, respect and courtesy are strongly emphasized in sport fencing, where opponents shake hands and salute each other before starting a fight and do the same at the end. In a tournament, sport fencing takes place within a clearly defined playing field measuring 46 feet (14 meters) by six feet (two meters). Fencers stay within this field throughout the bout, chasing each other up and down to gain the upper hand. A fencer scores a point when he strikes the opponent or pushes the opponent out of bounds.

In sports fencing three weapons are used: the epee, the saber and the foil. The foil was originally developed as a training weapon and is much lighter and easier to use. Most fencers begin by learning foil so that they get used to handling a blade and learn the rules and traditions of fencing. A foil has a small hand guard and a rectangular blade. Points can only be scored with the tip of a foil on the opponent’s torso: limbs are excluded. Many fencers stick to foil, the predominant weapon in tournament play.

A sword is a pointed weapon, with a blade that appears V-shaped in cross section. A large handguard serves to protect the fencer, who with the point of the weapon affects only any part of the body. The saber is a much heavier, slightly curved blade with a y-shaped cross section. It is the only bladed weapon used in sport fencing and can be used on any part of the body above the waist. All parts of a saber can be used to score, and many fencers strike their opponents, just as sword fighters of yore would have.

Other sports fencing equipment includes a heavy canvas jacket that covers the arms, additional chest protection for female fencers, gloves, and tight-fitting trousers to protect the legs. Fencing clothing is designed to allow freedom of movement for quick movement and footwork so that observers can see what is happening. In competition, fencers also wear special shoes designed to help them move quickly and effectively. Finally, fencers always wear a helmet to protect their face and eyes.

Traditionally, a fencing match stops whenever a fencer is hit to determine who gets the point. In a fast-paced bout where multiple hits may have been received by both sides, the fencer who is hit first must surrender the point. Spotters help enforce the honor system, and modern technology has also led to the use of the electric vest, which registers a legal strike with a loud noise.
Watching talented sports fencers can be like watching a dance. Sports fencing incorporates fast, fluid movements, which often seem to come without warning to spectators. Individual fencers try to predict each other’s movements and throw each other with unexpected strikes and lunges. A fencing match might begin with a demure chase up and down the playing field, but end with a barrage of well-timed and skillfully executed strokes that are thrilling to behold.

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