Sabre Fencing

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When you first hear the word sabre (or sabre), you may think of images of pirates swinging around those massive swords or even jedis having epic lightsaber duels. 

Whatever picture pops up in your head, I’m sure you were thinking of some sort of sword fighting. Either way, your brain is on the right track!

So what’s sabre fencing? Sabre fencing is one of the three forms of fencing. It uses the sabre sword, and follows a specific set of rules. Sabre fencing has it’s own target area, actions, technique, and much more to separate it from epee or foil fencing,

By the way, it doesn’t really matter which way you spell it. Sabre or sabre, we all know what you’re talking about. (but please… spell it as sabre).

Sabre fencing is a slashing, and thrusting style of sword fighting. It honestly resembles sword fighting in the movies more than epee or foil fencing does. Since the other two forms of fencing don’t count cuts as points, you see a lot more swinging in sabre and thus new techniques and rules.

That’s what makes it so fun to watch! The craziness!

Sabre fencing was among the first events played during the first modern Olympic games in 1986.

Five fencers were seen in Greece competing for the gold medal. The very first sabre fencing gold medalist was Ioannis Georgiadis. 

Sabre is the only fencing event that has been in every Olympic game since the beginning. And since then it has been a beloved and thrilling sport.

Equipment for Sabre Fencing

Sabre fencing doesn’t look very much different at first glance. Both fencers are still holding a thin sword, wearing a white outfit, and a weird beekeeper helmet. So what gear do you need for sabre fencing? And is it different from epee and foil equipment?

The main difference in equipment for each part of the sport is the sword. The sabre easily differentiates from the other two weapons, by the massive handguard surrounding the sword’s hilt. Kinda like a pirate’s cutlass, that guard is there to protect the sword hand from getting smacked by the opposing fencer’s sword.

The sword itself extends about 40 inches (102 centimeters), and is extremely light. About 500 grams, just over a pound. 

The blade of the sabre is extremely light and flexible. The weight and flexibility of the sword allows for fast movements and techniques, like the flick. It also allows bendability to prevent injuries when fencers get hit. 

Sabre fencers also must wear the mandatory fencing gear which includes the mask, one glove, lame (jacket), breeches (short pants), proper shoes/socks, and optionally a breastplate to protect the chest from damage.

When fencing competitively, fencers also need the proper electronic cables attached to their sword to properly detect hits. This cable runs from the sword, through the fencer’s jacket, and out the back to a device that lights up when the sword makes a touch, or in the case of a sabre, a hit as well.

All being said, the gear used for sabre fencing is identical to that used in foil, and epee fencing. However the sword used is the main difference, and a grand difference it is.

fencing saber sabre

Sabre Fencing Rules

The rules in sabre fencing are probably the most unique of the three. The main rule that makes it stand out is that you can score points with the side of your blade as well as the tip.

The sabre is the only fencing sword that is considered a cutting weapon as well as a thrusting weapon. So you can definitely compare a sabre fencer and a pirate with his cutlas.

The Objective In Sabre Fencing

The objective in any fencing match, including sabre, is to touch your sword to the opponent’s target area to score a predetermined number of points (usually fifteen).

Both fencers step on the piste, follow proper fencing etiquette, and fence!

Hitting Target Area

Whilst scoring a point through cutting or thrusting, you must hit the target area. The target area for sabre fencing is everything from the waist up. Excluding the hands and crotch.

That includes the back, and head. If you’re good enough to land those back hits then you’re welcome to stab as many backs as you like… or cut.

This target area is similar to that of foil fencing. 

Right Of Way 

On the more complicated side of things, the right of way rule does apply to sabre fencing.

This means, that if both players score a point, and both lights go off at the same time, then the judges determine who receives the point  

Usually, the more aggressive fencer or the fencer who most recently parried will get the right of way, or have priority.

Sabre Fencing Tips And Strategies

With the addition of cutting, sabre fencing also has a new set of techniques and ways to score. As well, a new threat to your own target area.

Now these tips are for fencers who already know the basics, how to parry, lunge, thrust etc. So learn those basics, engrave them into your muscle memory, and take your time!

After getting those down, it’s time to turn you from a sabre novice to a knight in shiny white.

One sabre specific tactic we practice is moving backwards as we parry. Standing still while parrying makes you an easy target for a quick cut, so be sure to deflect that sword away, take a step back, and take that shot if you see an opening.

That being said, try to dodge attacks more than you parry. 

Also, take tiny steps. You don’t want all your weight to be on one foot. That’s instant doom for you. Take tiny steps, and when you do need to lunge or step forward heavy, go in and get out!

Another key point is to not look at the point. Do not watch your opponent’s sword, hand, or legs. They move too fast. Many fencers watch the midsection of the opposing player’s chest/shoulders. This way you can watch your opponent’s actions before they happen.

Take these tips into consideration the next time you grab that sabre, and you’ll see improvement right away.

Sabre Fencing Techniques

The Cut

When making your cut, watch your distance! Keep as far away as you can, you want the end of your sword to hit the opponent, so take time to understand your maximum scoring distance,

For high or wide cuts, move your arm into the cut and flick your wrist out at the last second, 

For closer cuts, twist your wrist as your arm extends.

The Thrust

Firstly, try not to thrust when you think your opponent’s making a cut. You don’t want that arm going in there at that time.

As well, every fencer knows to ensure your sword is in line with your elbow, and make the thrust with your whole arm. If you’re lunging or stepping into the thrust, make sure your arm is already extended.

This shows your intent to attack and should give you the right of way. So in the case of you and your opponent landing a touch at the same time, you’ll get the point.

Sabre Fencing In The Olympics

The very first Olympics held in Athens, Greece in 1896, held three fencing events. One of them being individual sabre fencing. Since then sabre fencing has been in the Olympics every single summer.

At one point, there was an event called “master’s sabre”, which is now excluded from Olympic fencing, along with master epee and foil.

Nowadays, we also look forward to team sabre fencing. Where two groups from different countries go at it one on one, until each fencer has fenced once. Or until one team has reached a certain number of wins.

And of course, since the 1920s, each event has had both men and women.

Now that you’ve had time to take in the key points of sabre fencing. Grab that sword and get to work! And next time you hear or see a sabre, think of the men in white (and not pirates)!

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