Olympic fencing appears to be safe for the present and has even been expanded to include Women’s Epée. Since the IOC perpetually changes its roster of Olympic sports, nothing is certain beyond Beijing. Although fencing is one of only four sports to have been involved in every modern Olympic Games since their inception in 1896, it has been mentioned in the past as one of the disciplines that may be eliminated from future Games.
Fencing recently underwent numerous revisions to its rules and structure to improve its value as a (televised?) spectator sport, perhaps in the hopes of improving its Olympic viability.
The field of play is a long strip, or piste. A scored encounter between fencers is called a bout. Bouts are fenced to either 5 or 15 touches: the first fencer to score the required number of touches wins.
The bout is presided over by the referee (also called the director), who enforces rules, gives out penalties, and (most importantly) determines the right-of-way for foil and sabre.
If a scoring machine is not used, there will also be four judges who watch for touches to occur.
The fencers start out at the centre of the strip. The referee will instruct the fencers to come on guard, ask if they are ready, and then give the command to begin fencing.
The referee stops the action with the command “halt”.
The following situations stop the action:
a touch occurring
a malfunction of the scoring equipment
a fencer leaving the strip
a rules violation
the fencers passing each other
a fencer being disarmed
time running out
a fencer requesting a halt
the referee being unable to clearly see the action
any situation disrupting the safe and orderly conduct of the bout
In foil and sabre, if a touch has occurred the referee will a give an analysis of the action to determine which fencer, if either, had right-of-way and award the touch. If a valid touch is scored, the fencers will return to their starting lines at the center of the strip before fencing resumes. In most other cases (including an off-target touch) the action resumes from where it was halted. Before the start of a bout and prior to putting on masks, the fencers must salute each other. After the conclusion of the bout, the fencers salute again, and then remove their masks and shake hands.
The bout itself, especially when it is between experienced fencers who have mastered the fundamental techniques of attacking and defending, becomes a fast-paced contest of strategy and tactics.
Since there is no action that can’t be countered by an opponent with the proper knowledge and skill, a game of guile and deception is needed to ‘set up’ the opponent to be hit. Actions such as feints and deliberately short attacks are used to draw a reaction from the opposing fencer, which will create an opening. Precise sense and control of distance and timing help a fencer successfully score hits.
Fencing competition are usually organized into two separate parts: an initial round (or rounds) of pools, followed by a direct elimination. In the initial round, the fencers are divided into pools of 4-7 people, and everybody in the pool will fence everyone else. Pool bouts are fenced to 5 touches.
The results from the pool rounds are then used to seed the fencers into a direct elimination table, and the elimination determines the winner of the competition.
Direct elimination bouts are fenced to 15 touches. Fencers can earn ratings by placing in competitions. There are various ratings of competitions, with A-grade, counting toward National and international rankings. What ratings can be earned at a given competition are determined by the number of rated fencers participating and what level ratings they hold.
Fencing as the gentleman’s pursuit of duelling developed an elaborate set of formalities and practices. After all, if two gentlemen were going to kill each other, it were best done in a gentlemanly fashion! Of these, the formal salute at the beginning and end of each bout to demonstrate due respect accorded the opponent and the president overseeing the fight.
Fencing is a safe sport. Regulation equipment conforming to safety standards and common sense fencing helps to maintain our good safety record.
First, always wear a mask when fencing. Occasionally in a controlled lesson, the coach may dispense with the mask while demonstrating a particular point, but this is an exception. Unless the coach says otherwise, the rule is PLAY IT SAFE. …
Finally, a few common sense precautions, although they apply to all, they are directed more to the younger fencer whose enthusiasm and exuberance is sometimes difficult to control!
First, NEVER wave the weapon about in front of people who aren’t wearing masks.
NEVER turn your back an the person you are fencing, this leaves the neck and back of the head exposed. In competition this is illegal and you will be penalised.
NEVER remove your mask in the middle of a fight expecting your opponent to stop without warning The recognised way to stop a fight is to hold up your unarmed hand, palm facing your opponent, and step backward. Do this BEFORE you take off your mask.
Finally NEVER, NEVER slash at your opponent with your sword; this serves no purpose except to injure. There is no warning or penalty, you will be disqualified from a competition or banned from fencing for dangerous behaviour.
Remember, fencing is fun, providing you PLAY IT SAFE.
Except for the pull-over style (a back zip, or collar fastening), the jacket should fasten on the non-sword arm side, that is, zipped on the left for a right-handed fencer. This is to prevent a blade penetrating through the opening. The jacket must not have any holes for the same reason.
Jackets come in different weights (measured in Newtons of force) offering levels of protection. 800N is the current minimum for club use. When buying new, get an 800N jacket.