Fencing seems like it would be a cool sport to watch; after all, sword dueling looks great in movies like "Star Wars" and "The Princess Bride."
However, sports and Olympic fencing can be such a complex and fast-paced flurry of movements that it can be difficult to enjoy as a spectator.
Here are some basic scoring rules for fencing that will help spectators and fans better understand what they see in a fencing match. This article covers the basic rules and equipment of competition fencing, which are explained in greater detail here.
How is Fencing Scored?
The weapons used in fencing are foil, epee, and saber. Foil is the main and most often used weapon. A point is scored when the tip of the blade touches any part of the opponent's torso. Modern fencing is scored by electronic equipment; you can see the wire mesh vest that the fencers wear, called a lame (la-may). When the foil tip touches the lame, the scoring box lights up to show a point scored.
The saber is a thrusting and slashing weapon. A point is scored when any part of the blade touches the opponent's body above the waist, including arms, gloves, and mask. Bouts are scored electronically, in the same manner as foil.
The epee is a heavy thrusting weapon, which scores a point when the tip of the blade touches any part of the opponent's body, head to toe. Unlike foil and saber, epee doesn't require electronically wired clothing for scoring. When a button on the point of the epee is pressed, the score box lights to show a touch.
On Target or Off Target?
In foil and saber, it is possible to touch the opponent outside of a scoring area. If the button on the foil tip is pressed, but is not touching the lame, the score box shows an "off target" touch. An off-target touch halts the action, no point is scored, and both fencers return to their starting line to begin again. Saber touches can also be "off target," stopping the action in the same manner as foil. In epee competition, the entire body is legal target.
Establishing Right of Way
Right of way is established by the fencer who initiates an action first. If two combatants score a touch on target, the point is given to the fencer who began their offensive movement first. This rule comes into play most often when both fencers make a "touch" without parrying. A parry is a move where one uses the blade to block or push aside an attack, using the weapon against the opponent's blade. If both competitors land a touch on target, the point goes to whoever established right of way.
Coming to fencing from a martial arts background, I treated fencing as more of a martial art than a sport. I was frustrated many times when involved in a simultaneous touch with opponents. While their blade might have landed on my hand, foot, or elbow, my blade would land on the opponent's mask or chest. In such cases, who touched a more lethal target doesn't matter, only who established right of way. The referee's keen attention to the action is crucial in these instances. Arguing with the referee is unseemly, and can cost you a point or get you thrown out of competition.
Joe Capristo competed in the USFA for four years, during college. He keeps his blades handy and practices in his backyard.
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