The sport of fencing is fast and athletic. It is a very far cry from the choreographed bouts you see on film or on the stage. Instead of swinging from a chandelier or leaping off from balconies, you will see two skilled fencers moving back and forth on a 6-feetby 44-feet strip. The action is so fast the touches are scored electronically.
Swordplay has been practiced for thousands of years, and many lay claim to its origins. Irrespective of its exact origins fencing has a wonderful history in various parts of human history. Some evidence point to carvings in Luxor, Egypt dating back to about 1200 B.C., which shows a sport fencing bout with masks, protective weapon tips, and judges.
The ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, and Romans all had some form of fencing. The Greek and Roman civilizations favored short swords and light spears, and taught their warriors in schools called ludi. It was not until the beginnings of the Renaissance in the 14th century that light, fast weapons such as the rapier came back into use, primarily because gunpowder rendered heavy armor obsolete.
Moving forward throughout both recorded and unrecorded history, fencing as an elite sport comes to the fore in the hands of the 13th Century Europeans. Both Italy and Germany lay claim to its origins, with German fencing masters organising the first guilds in the 15th century, the most notable being the Marxbruder of Frankfurt, formed in 1478. It is from these written works that we can trace the modern Olympic fencing.
Fencing was included for the first time at the 1896 Games in Athens, and has remained on the Olympic programme since then. The women’s fencing competition entered the Games in 1924 in Paris. Today, men and women compete in individual and team events, in which three types of weapon are used: foil, epee and sabre. The foil was, at first, the only weapon used by women, until the 1996 Games in Atlanta, when women’s epee was introduced. Women’s sabre appeared for the first time on the Olympic programme in Athens in 2004.
THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF FENCING
Research has shown that a mind regularly challenged is less prone to degenerative diseases of the brain like Alzheimer’s or dementia. Fencing has a number of health and fitness benefits to improve your body’s performance. These can include:
- Improves flexibility.
- Increases reflexes (famously there is the story that Polish fighter pilots stationed in Britain during WWII insisted on fencing as a method of maintaining their reflexes at a high level).
- Boosts mental strength and concentration.
- Increases the nimbleness of feet and hands.
- Fencing can provide a fun way to stay fit or get in shape
- Improves speed, agility, flexibility and reflexes
- Enhances integrity, sportsmanship and the desire to excel
- Brings opportunities for competition in sports
- Offers a dynamic circle of peers and mentors
- Leads to scholarships, Olympic and international opportunities
- Increases focus and concentration
- Hones strategic thinking and decision making skills
- The sport is that it can be continued life-long.
THE BENEFITS OF FENCING FOR CHILDREN
Fencing provides physical and cognitive benefits. Students describe fencing like a physical “game of chess.” It takes strategy and quick reflexes. Your opponent can make an attack in any number of ways and your defense needs to come in a split second, and in the next split second, you’ve got to make your attack.
Fencers learn good sportsmanship, self-discipline, gain quick reflexes and how to compete independently. They gain a sense of accomplishment when winning and learn to profit from their defeats. They learn to Take complex decisions, analyze problems, and think fast on their feet. These ideals help children reach Their potential in many areas other than fencing.
THE WEAPONS AND RULES OF FENCING
The Foil has a flexible rectangular blade, approximately 90cm in length, weighing less than 500g. Points are scored with the tip of the blade and must land within the torso of the body indicated in the image to the right.
The valid target area in Foil is the torso, from the shoulders to the groin, front and back. It does not include the arms, neck, head and legs. The Foil fencer’s uniform includes a metallic jacket (called a Lamé) which covers the valid target area, so that a valid hit will register on the scoring machine. A small, spring-loaded tip is attached to the point of the Foil and is connected to a wire inside the blade. The fencer wears a body wire inside his uniform which connects the Foil to a reel wire, connected to the scoring machine. The Olympic games and certain competitions use an electronic wireless system.
There are two scoring lights on the machine. One shows a green light when a fencer has made a hit, and one shows a red light when their opponent has scored. A hit landing outside the valid target area (that which is not covered by the Lamé is indicated by a white light. These ‘off target’ hits do not count in the scoring, but they do stop the fencing action temporarily).
The Sabre is the modern version of the slashing cavalry sword, and is similar in length and weight to the foil. The major difference is that the Sabre is a thrusting weapon as well as a cutting weapon (slashing use of the blade). The target area is from the bend of the hips (both front and back), to the top of the head, simulating the cavalry rider on a horse.
The Sabre fencer’s clothing includes a metallic jacket (Lamé) which covers the target area to register a valid hit on the scoring machine. The mask is different from Foil and Épée, with a metallic covering since the head is valid target area.
Just as in Foil, there are two scoring lights on the machine. One shows a green light when a fencer has made a hit, and the other shows a red light when the opponent has hit. Off-target hits do not register on the machine.
The Épée, the descendant of the dueling sword, is similar in length to the Foil, but is heavier, weighing approximately 750g, with a larger guard (to protect the hand from a valid hit) and a much stiffer blade. Hits are scored only with the point of the blade. The entire body is the valid target area.
The blade is wired with a spring-loaded tip at the end that completes an electrical circuit when it is depressed. This causes the coloured bulb on the scoring machine to light. Because the entire body is a valid target area, the fencer’s uniform does not include a Lamé like the Foil or Saber). Off-target hits do not register on the machine. Unlike Foil and Sabre, if the fencers hit each other at the exact same time, then two lights show on the machine, and both fencers receive points.