10 Terms to Know to Better Understand Fencing at the 2012 Summer Olympics

Yahoo Contributor Network

Look, I'm going to make this as simple and easy as possible: everyone should want to watch the fencing events in the 2012 Summer Olympics. I'm not saying everyone should watch the events; I'm saying everyone should want to watch them. There isn't a more exciting sport in the games, and, when contested at the highest level, fencing offers a blend of physical and mental superiority that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

So now, knowing that you readers, intelligent humans that you are, have a burning desire not only to watch, but to understand the sport of fencing, here are ten terms that everyone should know in order to better understand the phenomenal sport that is modern fencing:


This is the correct terminology for what, in layman's terms, is known as a "sword." When a fencer refers to his weapon, it is his sword that he is talking about. Additionally, when discussing fencing, you will sound far more educated if you refer to it as "fencing" with "weapons" rather than "sword fighting" with "swords." There are three kinds of weapons in Olympic fencing: Sabre, Foil and Épée.


This is the term used to describe when one fencer scores a point. In fencing, the athletes do not score "points," but rather they score "touches."


The name of a match in Olympic Fencing. Bouts are either to five or 15 touches in individual competition, or 45 touches in team competition.

En Garde

A duel-use term, it is the word that describes the "ready position" in a fencing bout, and also is the director's call to ready before he commands the athletes to fence.

Right of Way

This is a set of rules that determine which athlete receives the touch in foil and sabre in the event that both athletes score a valid hit. It is rather complicated, but in essence, it gives priority to the attacker, dictating that the defender must first stop his opponents attack before he may begin one of his own.

Yellow Card

A card that is given as a warning for a minor infraction, such as crossing one's feet while moving forward in sabre, or covering target area with the non-weapon hand.

Red Card

A more serious penalty, a red card causes a touch to be given to the opponent. It can either be given out as a result of a repeat violation of a minor infraction, or as an instant response to a more serious infraction, such as corps-a-corps.


The act of fencers coming into physical contact with one another. This is illegal in sabre and foil, and is illegal in épée if any excessive forcefulness is included (either intentional or otherwise). It can result in red or even, in extreme cases, black cards.

Black Card

The most serious of the penalties, a black card results in the fencer or coach who received the card being ejected from the tournament, and often times the entire facility where the tournament was being held.

Advance and Retreat

The terminology to represent a technically correct step forward or backwards in fencing. Since fencing involves special foot placement (the 'en garde' position), it is different than just taking a step forwards or backwards as you walk down the street.

This was just a basic overview. To better understand the terminology and the sport itself, tune in and watch the best in the world compete from July 28 - August 5, 2012, it should be a great show.

Peter Souders is a competitive fencer who has competed for over a decade, been ranked as highly as 14th in the United States, qualified for NCAA Championships in four consecutive years representing Boston College, and has been a multiple-time finalist at North American Cups in Fencing.


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