What Are the Rules of Fencing?

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If you’ve ever seen a fencing match, chances are if you don’t know the rules you were completely lost. Even if you do know the rules, it can be difficult to keep up with everything that goes on. But fear not, because it may be less difficult and confusing as you may think.

What Are The Rules Of Fencing?

The rules of fencing are simple; you want to hit the other fencer with your sword, without stepping off the piste, or missing the target area.

With that being said, like every other sport there are restrictions that make the sport of fencing much more fun.

Scoring In Fencing

Scoring is simple, whether it be épée, foil, or sabre, the objective of fencing is to touch your sword on the opponent’s target area. However, in both épée and foil you must only use the tip of the blade, while in sabre you can use any part of the weapon. This is called a touch or touché.

Fencing with piste labels

At the beginning of each bout (match), the players must stand at their assigned en garde lines. Once the referee says “allez”, the bout has begun, and the fencers fence until 15 touches have been scored (or 8 in sabre).

If 15 touches have not been scored by 3 minutes, then a 1-minute break is given, and the same for the 6-minute mark. 

If by 9 minutes no fencer has reached 15 touches, the fencer with the most amount is determined the winner. If the match is tied, then the director gives priority to a randomly selected player, they then bout for a minute.

 If a touch is not scored by the end of the minute, the player with priority is determined the winner. If a touch is scored, then the fencer who scored is determined the winner.

Right of Way

The right of way or priority rule is given in sabre and foil fencing to the player who begins a correctly initiated attack or is the aggressor. 

This rule exists to give a point to the more “sensible” fencer, when both players touche at the same time and both land on the target area. The referee determines which fencer is the aggressor. 

This rule is used to ensure that both players fence with aggression.

Target Area

The target area is the area in which a player must hit their opponent with their weapon in order to score a point. The target area differs between each discipline of fencing. In épée the target area is the entire body including the helmet, feet, and hands. 

While in foil it’s the torso, crotch, and back, and in sabre it’s the entire upper body above the waist, excluding the hands.

The Fencers Gear

Fencing in general is a one on one sport. In all situations, it’s two opposing players battling it out on one piste. 

 However, there are team events in fencing where two teams of three go up individually against each other

 Once each fencer has had the chance to fence every opponent, the team with the most points is determined the winner.

A helmet is mandatory in the rules of fencing
A helmet is mandatory in the rules of fencing

The fencer must wear the mandatory equipment for their sport:

  • Mask,
  • Fencing jacket, 
  • Fencing pants 
  • One glove on the arm wielding the sword. 

However, there are other available equipments such as fencing shoes, which aren’t required. Any equipment used must meet the safety standards and be approved by officials.

The off-hand (the hand without a weapon) of a fencer does not need a glove and is to remain out of use for the bout. If it’s used during an attack or to defend, then 1 point may be awarded to the opposing fencer.

The Piste

The piste is a 14 meters long, and 1.5 to 2 meters wide strip, and is the designated fencing area. On the piste are one centerline, two en garde lines (2 meters from the centerline), and two lines at the rear boundaries (7 meters from the centerline).

Before the players have a chance to fence, they must stand at the en garde line and wait for the referee to start the match.

Rules Of A Fencing Piste

At the boundaries are colored areas that extend for 2 meters to show the near limit.

In each discipline, the fencers must remain within the boundaries of the piste. If a fencer steps over the side boundaries, the bout is halted and 1 meter is awarded to the opposing fencer (they move 1 meter away from the centerline in the direction of the violator). 

However, if a fencer crosses the rear boundary, 1 point is awarded to the opposing fencer. 

Penalties And Offences In Fencing

Yellow Card – Warning

Red Card – 1 Point awarded to the opponent

Black Card – Excluded, suspended, or expelled from the tournament

Group 1 offences  –  punishable by yellow card (or red when violated repeatedly)

  • Corps-à-corps, in sabre or foil (making bodily contact with an opposing fencer)
  • Delaying the bout
  • Removing equipment or intentionally dropping a sword

Group 2 offences  –  punishable by a red card

  • Vengeful or violent actions
  • Fencing with unverified equipment

Group 3 offences  –  punishable by red card (or black card when violated repeatedly) 

  • Disturbing the order of the match (yelling, cursing, generally offensive/rude actions)
  • Dishonest fencing

Group 4 offences – punishable by a black card

  • Fencers using communication devices such as bluetooth headsets
  • Falsified weapon expection marks
  • Refusal to fence an opponent
  • Unsportsmanlike conduct
  • Refusal to salute/shake hands

Penalties can be given to non-fencers as well, such as teammates, coaches, or fans.

Non Combativity Rules In Fencing

Non Combativity

Often in matches, fencers may be too cautious or afraid to make a move. If this lasts for 1 minute, or if little to no movement is made then the referee will call non-combativity. 

Once the referee makes this call, the bout automatically proceeds to 1 minute into the next period, without break.

If the call is made on the third period, then the match is moved into the priority minute, if the call is made during priority then the fencer with priority is determined the winner.

This, as well as the right of way, are rules made to help ensure that the players fence an entertaining and aggressive match.

Although there may seem to be tons of rules, as in any sport, it doesn’t take long after getting into fencing to learn the basic rules and restrictions. Whether watching or playing, all it takes is time and you can be an expert in the art of the blade.

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