The weapons used in fencing

ausfrei.jpgThere are 3 weapons used in modern sports fencing. These are the Foil, the Épée and the Sabre.

The Foil is generally the weapon to start with as it provides basic fencing skills for all the weapons. Once reasonably proficient the fencer can take up either the Épée or the Sabre as a second weapon. There are no restrictions however and you can start with any of the weapons that you wish.

Most fencers who take up 2 weapons tend to fence either Foil or Épée, or Foil and Sabre. They do not tend to fence Épée and Sabre as the techniques are quite different and from a more practical point of view Épée and Sabre competitions tend to be held at the same time and you cannot enter both.


The Foil is a point weapon in that you score by striking your opponent with the point. Hitting with the side of the blade does not score, as the weapon is not an edged weapon. The strike must have the character of penetration, that is to say it must be strong enough that if the Foil had a sharp point it would penetrate the opponents body. Competition weapons have spring loaded switch at the point, which will only register a hit if it has this character of penetration. Don't worry about it, you will not end up like a tea bag.

The Foil comprises a handle, a small round guard, a blade, which is thicker at the base than at the top and a button on the end. Practice weapons also have a safety strap, a martingale, which loops loosely around the fingers and prevents the Foil being knocked out of your hand and hitting an innocent bystander. The shape of the blade is important, the thicker part is called the forte and the thinner part the foible and this arrangement helps prevent the stronger fencer just forcing his blade through the defence.

The target with the foil is a restricted target that excludes the head, arms and legs. Essentially the target is the trunk of the body. Hits on the body would register a coloured light a hit anywhere else would register a white light.

There are conventions in Foil fencing which can cause some difficulty. These are that a fencer can gain right of way by starting the attack first. The opponent must evade or stop the attack with a parry to obtain right of way. So even though both fencers are hit the referee must decide if anyone had right of way and award any hit. If the referee thinks they both attacked at the same time and both hits arrived he will not award any hit. Best to ensure only a single hit (yours) is registered.


The Épée is also a point weapon. It is heavier than the Foil and has a larger guard. The reason for the larger guard is that every part of the body including the hand is target. Epée fencing is the nearest thing to duelling. It does not have the priority conventions of Foil. Basically the first person to hit scores, if both fencers hit at the same time then both score.

Épéeists, because of the extended target tend to fence further apart. The idea that the whole body is the target can be misleading as in practice Épéeists need to be very precise if they are going for a small target like a hand or a foot. Timing and accuracy are very important.


The Sabre is regarded as the fastest of the weapons. It was developed from the cavalry weapon and as a consequence the target is everything above the waistline. Well you wouldn't want to injure your new horse!

The Sabre is an 'edged' weapon and hits can be scored by hitting with the blade as in a cut or with the point. As a consequence of the use of electronic recording apparatus and the speed at which hits are made no distinction is made as to hits with the edge, side or even the back of the blade.

The Sabre has similar conventions to foil. This can cause no end of discussion (argument) unless there is a strong and competent referee to sort things out.