Historically, fencing was a means for settling disputes, originally fought to the death, and later, first to draw blood. As times progressed, so too did fencing, until it evolved into the refined and focussed art that it has become today.
A highly tactical sport, fencing will not only challenge you physically, but mentally as well.
Modern fencing is an extremely safe sport, bound by rules that have grown with the art over many years. A “bout” is won by scoring a set number of “touches” against your opponent, with three different disciplines having unique rulings and techniques. Electronic equipment is used to accurately determine if a point has been scored, and safety improvements are continually being made.
Épée is the classical duelist’s weapon, where points can be scored by hitting your opponent anywhere on the body using the tip of the weapon. Points can be scored simultaneously by both fencers, meaning timing and tactics are an essential part of an épéeist’s repertoire.
Foil was originally developed as a training weapon for épée. Since ancient times however, it has grown into its own discipline. A foil is a lighter weapon than an épée, resulting in faster paced bouts, where agility is a highly valuable skill. Points are scored by hitting the opponent’s torso with the weapon’s tip, but are dictated by rules of “priority”, which determines who has the right to attack and score. Foil is the most popular weapon in NZ and at HVFC, though the others are rapidly gaining traction.
The final discipline is the sabre. This is the fastest and most aggressive of the weapons, though still requires cunning and tactics. Unlike épée and foil, points are scored through a cutting movement on the edge of the blade, against the opponent’s upper body. Sabre bouts are often over very quickly, but similarly to foil, are also dictated by rules of priority.
Whilst the rules for each weapon in fencing do vary, there are a number of expectations that hold constant across the board, and penalties that apply for breaches of the rules. These rules are in place to ensure that everybody is safe, has fun, and the bout is fair, but also require you to respect other fencers, referees, coaches, organisers, and spectators.
Before any fencing bout, you must check that your gear is working correctly, before saluting your opponent and the referee. At the conclusion of the bout, you must again salute, and shake hands with the other fencer and referee. This is a mark of respect and appreciation for everyone present.
It is a referee’s role to ensure that everyone abides by the rules of fencing, to determine who had priority (in foil and sabre), and to keep time and score. Without our volunteer referees, we would not be able to have the fantastic tournaments that so many fencers enjoy taking part in.
Penalties in fencing are broken into three categories. Yellow cards are for minor offences, and serve as a warning to the fencer. A red card is used for a serious or repeated offences, and results in a point being awarded to your opponent. The black card is the final, and most severe penalty, resulting in expulsion from the tournament. These are rarely required, and are only for severe misconduct, cheating, or unsportsmanlike behaviour. A detailed breakdown of the penalties can be found here.
Fencing typically requires a lot of personal gear in order to keep you safe whilst you have fun. Most clubs, HVFC included, have a large selection of gear that you can borrow until you are ready to purchase your own. Protective gear comes with different ratings, 350N or 800N. 350N is sufficient for training and most local tournaments, but 800N is usually required for national and international competitions. Fencing gear is traditionally white, though more colours are beginning to join the ranks. However, black cannot be worn by fencers, as this is reserved for coaches.
Jacket: This is the outer layer of protection. A jacket is made from strong materials designed to absorb the strength of a hit, and prevent sharp objects (such as broken swords) from penetrating.
Plastron: This is worn under the jacket to provide a second layer of protection on the sword-arm side of your body, where you are hit most often.
Chest Protector: This is a hard, plastic covering worn under the jacket and plastron to help reduce the impact of a hit.
Mask: Not a helmet. Made from a steel mesh and kevlar bib, a mask protects your face, head and neck from being hit by a fencing weapon.
Glove: This is only worn on the sword-hand, to protect your fingers and hand from fast moving weapons.
Breeches: Made of a similar material to a jacket, breeches protect your legs and waist from weapons. However, they usually stop just below the knee, so a complemented with a pair of long socks.
Lamé: This is a metallic weave vest (foil and sabre only), used to conduct a current through your opponent’s sword to determine when a point has been scored.
Body/head wire: These are used to connect your weapon and lamé to a centralised scoring box so that the referee knows when a point has been scored.
Weapon: Last but certainly not least, is the weapon of your choice. Within each discipline, there is much choice for a weapon, including size, weight, flexibility, and durability.
FIE is the international governing body for fencing.
Fencing NZ is New Zealand’s governing body for fencing.
Fencing Central is the regional arm of FENZ, covering the lower half of the North Island.
Fencing North is the regional arm responsible for the upper half of the North Island.
Fencing Mid-South is responsible for the upper half of the South Island.