Epée – the spirit of the duel

Baz epee shoulder flick - wikimedia commons_400_225by Robin Catling:

The epée (pronounced “ep-pay” – literally meaning “sword” in French) is the descendant of the duelling weapons such as rapier, side-sword and court sword. Heavier than the foil, weighing approximately 27 ounces, the epée has a stiffer, thicker blade with a triangular cross-section, and a larger guard. What gives epée fencing it’s character is the unrestricted target and the absence of ‘priority’ rules.

As in foil, touches are scored only with the point of the blade, however in epée the entire body, head-to-toe, is valid target – much like in an actual duel.

Similar to the foil, the point of the epée is fixed with a blunt button, spring-loaded to 750 grams of pressure in order to register a touch on the scoring machine (a little harder than foil). Since the entire body is a valid target area, epée fencers do not have to wear a metallic lamé. There is no concept of “off-target” in epée – anything goes, which has led some people to call it ‘freestyle’ fencing… which is not entirely accurate.

The modern duel

The best mindset for epée is: ‘imagine both weapons are sharp.’ Unlike foil or sabre, epée does not employ a system of priority or “right-of-way.” Fencers score a point by hitting their opponent first. If the fencers hit each other within 1/25th of a second, both receive a point – this is referred to as a double touch, double hit or simply ‘a double’.

The lack of right-of-way, combined with a full-body target makes epée a game of careful strategy and patience. Rather than attacking outright, epéeists often spend several minutes probing their opponent’s defences and manoeuvring for position before risking an attack. Others choose to stay on the defensive throughout the entire bout and only counter-attack in response. With this weapon, wild, rash attacks are quickly punished with solid counter-attacks.

Sheer speed, agility and aggression count far less at epée than the other sporting weapons, which is why epee fencers with patience, precision and cunning can remain competitive for longer than those in foil and sabre.