Types of fencing and weapons
Foils are the most common sword to start learning with. However, that doesn’t mean they are just for beginners. But the discipline and skills developed by training first with a foil can be transferred to the other two swords.
When dueling with foils, only the tip of the sword may be used to strike your opponent and score, and only the torso may be used as a target.
This is a hangover from the origins of fencing in the 16th century where it was used to train pupils in the art of dueling and sharpen their skills by forcing them to target areas that had lethal consequences. That way, their opponents were less likely to recover and kill them instead!
Fortunately, modern sporting swords have a round button that covers the otherwise sharp tip to prevent it from doing any real damage.
Because opponents may have advantages over each other (such as height), special “Right of Way” rules have been developed to even the odds and reward technical and tactical skill. Points can be scored by defending as well as attacking.
If an attack results in an off-target strike then the action is stopped and resumed from the initial ‘on-guard’ position.
But unlike in Foil fencing, you can strike any part of the body and there is no “Right of Way” rule. If both opponents make a strike at the same time then both score a point.
So Epee duels are very fast and furious, and very popular, probably because almost anything goes!
A sabre fencer. Valid target (everything from the waist up, including the arms and head) is in red.
With Sabres, you can attack with a cutting action and score with a strike from either side of the blade, not just the tip as with Foils and Epees.
Sabre fighting originates from the late 17th century. It was the weapon of choice for cavalrymen on horseback.
For this reason, when dueling with Sabres, the target area is restricted to just the upper body since a cut below the ‘saddle’ line could hit the horse. However, unlike with Foils, that does include the arms and head.
Sabre duels also follow the same “Right of Way” rules as for Foil duels but an off-target hit does not stop the action.