London WomenTeam Fencing, / Korean Culture and Information Service viaWikimedia Commons

The rules of fencing

Thibus vs Jeon - Olympics The rules of modern sports fencing are divided into four basic categories:

  • the rules of the fencing strip (the piste);
  • the rules of priority or right-of-way;
  • The penalty rules;
  • the organisation rules.

The rules of the fencing strip or piste deal with the position of the fencers in play.

All fencing action takes place on the fencing strip, or piste. The director will stop the bout each time a fencer crosses the lateral boundaries of the strip with one or both feet, or passes an opponent while remaining on the strip.

When a fencer leaves the strip with one or both feet, the action halts and that fencer is penalized one meter of distance. The opponent advances one-meter from the position at the halt. If this distance penalty caused the fencer to retread beyond the end line of the strip, he or she is counted as hit.

The rules of right-of-way determine priority in foil and sabre (but NOT epée) if both fencers land a hit simultaneously.

Right-of-way is based on the general theory that an individual being threatened with a real sword must first defend himself before initiating his own offensive action. The following order of priority:

  1. A point-in-line is a fully extended arm – pointing toward the valid target of the opponent and must be in place prior to initiation of an opponent’s attack and has the highest priority. An advance or retreat by an individual who has established a point in line has no effect on the priority.

  2. An attack is an offensive action made with the arm extending and the point threatening the valid target of the opponent. The attack continues to have priority until it misses the opponent, the opponent parries, or the weapon arm is retracted.

  3. A parry is the defensive action made by deflecting the blade of the attacker away from the target. After successfully parrying the attack, the defender has the right of way to attempt a hit in turn.

  4. A riposte is an attacking action following after a parry.

  5. A defender may also respond to an attack by making a counter attack. Although a counter attack is technically executed in the same way as an attack, the counter attacker does not initiate the action but is merely responding to the attacker. The counter attack does not have priority over the attack. Therefore, if both fencers arrive on the target, only the action of the attacker will be considered. If, however, the attacker fails to hit either valid or invalid target, the action of the counter attacker will be counted, and, if it arrives on the valid target, he will be awarded the hit.

  6. In sabre fencing, off-target hits are not registered on the machine and therefore do not stop the bout.

  7. In epée, there is no right-of way or limited target area. The point simply awarded to the first fencer that hits the opponent, anywhere on the body. If both fencers hit simultaneously, a point is awarded to both fencers.

  8. In all three weapons, the bout is over when one fencer reaches 5 or 15 touches, or time expires.


The penalty rules list the infractions for which touches may be added to the score of the opponent or annulled from the fencer who scored while committing an infraction. More severe sanctions may be awarded for serious offences. This includes awarding yellow, red and black (disqualification) cards.

The organisational rules regulate the manner of conducting a competition; more on this in a later post.

Image credit: London Women Team Fencing, / Korean Culture and Information Service via Wikimedia Commons