There are three weapons in modern fencing: foil, épée, and sabre. Each weapon has its own rules and strategies.
- Foil: a light thrusting weapon, with a maximum weight of 500 grams. The foil may target the torso (including the back), neck, and groin, but not the arms or legs. The foil has a small circular hand guard that serves to protect the hand from direct stabs. As the hand is not a valid target in foil, this is primarily for safety. Touches are scored only with the tip; hits with the side of the blade do not count, and do not halt the action. Touches that land outside of the target area (called an off-target touch) stop the action, but are not scored. Only a single touch can be scored by either fencer at one time. If both fencers land valid touches at the same time, the referee uses the rules of "right of way" to determine which fencer gets the point. If both fencers begin their attack at the same time, or the referee is unable to determine who was first, neither fencer scores a point.
- Épée: a thrusting weapon like the foil, but heavier, with a maximum total weight of 770 grams. In épée, the entire body is valid target. The hand guard on the épée is a large circle that extends towards the pommel, effectively covering the hand, which is a valid target in épée. Like foil, all hits must be with the tip and not the sides of the blade. Hits with the side of the blade do not halt the action. As the entire body is legal target, there is not the concept of an off-target touch, except if the fencer accidentally strikes the floor, setting off the electric tone. Unlike foil and sabre, épée does not use "right of way", and allows simultaneous hits by both fencers. However, if the score is tied in a match at the last point and a double touch is scored, the point is null and void.
- Sabre: a light cutting and thrusting weapon that targets the entire body above the waist, except the weapon hand. Like the foil, the maximum legal weight of a saber is 500 grams. The hand guard on the sabre extends from pommel to the base of where the blade connects to the hilt. This guard is generally turned outwards during sport to protect the sword arm from touches. Hits with the entire blade or point are valid. As in foil, touches that land outside of the target area are not scored. However, unlike foil, these off-target touches do not stop the action, and the fencing continues. In the case of both fencers landing a scoring touch, the referee determines which fencer receives the point for the action, again through the use of "right of way".
Female chest protector
Fencing outfits are made of tough cotton or nylon. Kevlar was added to top level uniform pieces (jacket, breeches, underarm protector, lamé, and the bib of the mask) following the Smirnov incident at the 1982 World Championships in Rome. However, Kevlar breaks down in chlorine and UV light, complicating the cleaning process.
In recent years other ballistic fabrics, such as Dyneema, have been developed that resist puncture and which do not have Kevlar's issues. FIE rules state that the tournament outfits must be made of fabric that resists a force of 800 newtons (180 lbf) and that the mask bib must resist double that amount.
The complete fencing kit includes:
- Form-fitting jacket with strap (croissard) which goes between the legs. In sabre fencing, jackets that are cut along the waist. A small gorget of folded fabric is sewn in around the collar to prevent an opponent's blade from slipping under the mask and along the jacket upwards towards the neck.
- Plastron, an underarm protector, which goes underneath the jacket and provides double protection on the sword arm side and upper arm. There is no seam under the arm, which would line up with the jacket seam and provide a weak spot.
- One glove for the weapon arm with a gauntlet that prevents blades from going up the sleeve and causing injury, as well as protecting the hand and providing a good grip.
- Breeches or knickers which are a pair of short trousers that end just below the knee. The breeches are required to have 10 cm of overlap with the jacket. Most are equipped with suspenders (braces).
- Knee-length or thigh high socks which cover knee and thighs.
- Shoes with flat soles and reinforcement on the inside of the back foot and heel of front foot, to prevent wear from lunging.
- Mask, including a bib which protects the neck. The mask can usually support 12 kilograms (26 lb) on the metal mesh and 350 newtons (79 lbf) of penetration resistance on the bib. FIE regulations dictate that masks must withstand 25 kilograms (55 lb) on the mesh and 1,600 newtons (360 lbf) on the bib. Some modern masks have a see-through visor in the front of the mask. These have been used at high level competitions (World Championships etc.), however, they are currently banned in foil and épée by the FIE, following a 2009 incident in which a visor was pierced during the European Junior Championship competition. There are foil, sabre, and three-weapon masks.
- Plastic chest protector, mandatory for females. While male versions of the chest protector are also available, they were, until recently, primarily worn by instructors, who are hit far more often during training than their students. These are increasingly popular in foil, as the hard surface increases the likelihood that a hit fails to register, as well as with youth competitors.
- Lamé is a layer of electrically conductive material worn over the fencing jacket that entirely covers the valid target area. It is worn only in foil and sabre, and serves to distinguish hits on target from those that are off-target. In épée, the entire body is a target, so it is not necessary to have a lamé. In foil the lamé is sleeveless, while in sabre the lamé has sleeves and ends in a straight line across the waist. A body cord is necessary to register scoring: it attaches to the weapon and runs inside the jacket sleeve, then down the back and out to the scoring box. In sabre and foil the body cord connects to the lamé in order to create a circuit to the scoring box.
- Fencing masters often choose a heavier protective jacket, usually reinforced by plastic foam to cushion the numerous hits an instructor has to endure. Sometimes in practice, masters wear a protective sleeve or a leg leather to protect their fencing arm or leg.
Traditionally, the fencer's' uniform is white (black for instructors). This may be due to the occasional pre-electric practice of covering the point of the weapon in dye, soot, or colored chalk in order to make it easier for the referee to determine the placing of the touches. As this is no longer a factor in the electric era, the FIE rules have been relaxed to allow colored uniforms (save black). The guidelines also limit the permitted size and positioning of sponsorship logos.
Most fencing clubs and studios offer equipment for you to try the sport. Once you have decided to pursue this exciting and fast paced sport you can purchase your equipment.
- COMPLETE SETS (Weapon, Mask, Gloves and Jacket)
- Starter equipment sets (3 to 5) pieces can be purchased for less than $100
- Advanced (8) piece sets can cost 250.00+
Weapons can cost from $40 - $200+