There are three weapons in modern fencing, each with different rules and target areas:
• Foil is the foremost training weapon
• Epée is descended from the a duelling weapon
• Sabre is a former cavalry weapon
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.
Epée: 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.
The oldest of the three competitive weapons is the foil. The foil is a thrusting weapon, up to 500 grams (1.1 lbs). It has a circular, curved hand-guard. The target area for foil fencing is the torso except for the back below the hipbones; only hits which arrive on the target area score. Hits which arrive off-target stop the action but don’t score a touch.
A set of rules referred to as ‘right-of-way’ determine which fencer scores if both are hit. The basic principle of right of way is that when attacked, you need ensure that you are not hit before attempting to hit your opponent back. If neither fencer has right-of-way and both are hit, then no touch is scored.
Target area: for Foil, as a former training weapon – the trunk of the body only (shown in red)
The sabre can score by hitting with the edge as well as the point. Target area for sabre is the body above the hips, including the arms and head. The blade of the sabre can be up to 88 cm long, and is usually lighter than a foil blade. The handguard is much larger than a foil’s, and curves back over the knuckles to end of the handle. As with foil, right-of-way rules determine who scores if both fencers are hit. Off target hits in sabre are ignored and do not stop the action.
Target area: for Sabre, as a former cavalry weapon – everything above the waist (shown in red).
The Epée, like the foil, is a point-only weapon. Unlike foil and sabre, the entire body is target in Epée, and there are no right-of-way rules. Whoever hits first scores; if both fencers hit at the same time, both score.
The Epée is the heavier than the foil or sabre, weighing up to 770 grams (1.7 lbs).
The blade is the same length as the foil, but has a V-shaped cross-section. The hand-guard is circular, but larger and deeper than the foil guard, in order to more fully protect the hand.
Target area: for Epée, descended from the duelling weapon where ‘anything goes’ – whole body (shown in red)