Which sports and martial arts comprise fencing?

Olympic fencing - London 2012The Olympic sport of fencing is comprised of four disciplines: foil, epée, and sabre plus the one-hit épée competition in modern pentathlon. All are fenced on a long rectangular strip (the piste), and electronic scoring aids are normally used to assist in the detection of hits. The rules governing these three weapons are determined by the FIE (Fédération Internationale d’Escrime). Briefly, the FIE weapons are described as follows:

Foil: Descended from the 18th century smallsword, the foil has a thin, flexible blade with a square cross-section and a small bell guard. Hits are scored with the point on the torso of the opponent, including the groin and back. Foil technique emphasizes strong defence and the killing attack to the body.

Épée: Similar to the duelling swords of the mid-19th century, épées have stiff blades with a triangular cross-section, and large bell guards. Hits are scored with the point anywhere on the opponent’s body. Unlike foil and sabre, there are no right-of-way rules to decide which attacks have precedence, so double hits are possible. Épée technique emphasizes timing, point control, and a good counter-attack.

Sabre: Descended from duelling sabres of the late 19th century, which were in turn descended from naval and cavalry swords, sabres have a light, flat blade and a knuckle guard. Hits can be scored with either the point or the edge of the blade anywhere above the opponent’s waist. Sabre technique emphasizes speed, feints, and strong offense.