What Is A Foil In Fencing?

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The first Summer Olympics Games saw only a few sports in competition, in 1896. One of those sports being the classic foil fencing.

But, what is a foil? A foil is one of three swords used in the sport of fencing. The fencing foil itself is a sword identified by its rectangular blade and circular guard.

Where two fencers saw each other face to face on a piste in front of thousands of Olympian fans in Athens Greece. That day saw the birth of something huge. The birth of modern fencing.

Out of the three disciplines used in today’s fencing (sabre, foil, epee), the foil is the oldest and closest to classic fencing… minus the deadly wounds.

A touch with the tip of the blade to the torso. Plain and simple as that.

Foil is an old sword and an old style of swordsmanship that only has gotten better throughout the hundreds of years that it’s existed.

Foil Sword

The foil differs from the other types of fencing, through the different rules, target areas, techniques, and the entire sword and blade itself.

Foil may be one of the easiest and most basic styles of fencing to learn, so this is great for beginners. But whether you\re new to fencing or not, everyone should know the difference between each sword. 

In order to master the foil, it needs to be an extension of you, so why not learn all about the foil?

Anatomy Of The Foil

What is a foil? Well in fencing, a foil is one of the three swords we use.

The foil itself has a rectangular-shaped steel blade as opposed to the epee’s triangular silhouette. The blade, like all other blades in fencing, is extremely flexible in order to prevent harming your opponent, or to the blade. 

The maximum length of the blade is 90cm. With the tip of the blade covered by an electric button and a pommel at the bottom, the maximum blade for the entire sword in itself is 110cm.

fencing foil

Where the blade meets the handle there is a guard, meant to protect the hand from the opposing sword. The guard on the foil is a lot flatter than the epee but still circular. It’s like a small dome surrounding the hand. 

The handle of the blade can be either a classic french grip or pistol grip. The French grip is a grip shaped like the grip on a hammer, but it’s not held like a hammer. This grip is more classical, however, a lot of fencers prefer the pistol grip (named for its resemblance to a pistol).

On electric swords, the tip of the blade is covered by a button, connected through the blade and into a socket in the handguard. This socket is connected to a wire that runs through the fencer’s clothing, and to a light or a buzzer, which is activated when the button is touched.

On non-electric swords, which are used for practice, there’s no electricity or button. Just a plane rubber tip, covering the point of the blade.

Foil Fencing Rules

With a high demand for accuracy and good form, foil fencing is about as classy as fencing could get. And with a need for good form, there also comes a need for knowledge of the rules. As complex as they may be.

In addition to the normal rules in fencing, the foil has its own specifications in certain parts of the rule book.

The goal in any fencing match is to touch your sword to your opponent’s target area. In foil fencing, the goal is to thrust the tip of your sword directly onto your opponent’s target area, which includes the torso, back, abdomen, and crotch.

Foil Fencing
The target area for foil

To win, a player must get 15 points, or have the most points after 3 rounds. However, if the final bout ends in a tie, a priority minute is set.

The priority minute is a one-minute bout, where one fencer is given “priority” by the judges. This “priority” determines which fencer wins the bout if neither player scores a point within the minute.

Right of Way

In foil, as well as sabre fencing, there is a rule implemented called right of way, or “priority. A lot of people are confused by this rule, but it’s not as complex as most people make it out to be.

In order to understand this rule, we need to figure out what it’s for. The right of way was made to enforce aggressive fencing, with good form, from each fencer. 

During a fencing bout, the fencer who is playing more aggressively, or with better form, is given the right of way.

The player with the right of way is given a point if both fencers make a touch simultaneously. Simple as that.

However, the right of way can be taken if the defensive fencer successfully parries an attack, But will be given back to the other fencer, if they don’t follow up with an attack. This is what makes the parry and riposte so important.

This rule does not exist in epee, because if each player touches at the same time, they both get a point. 

History Of The Foil

The foil can be traced all the way back to the 16th century, where it was used as a training sword for those who use the smallsword. Practice foils for the rapier and longsword existed as well. 

Swordsmen in the military would train with a lighter, and safer version of the longsword, smallsword, and rapier. Not only did fencers exit in the military, but civilians would duel as well.

In the foil’s home country; France, fencers would wrap foil around the tip to cover the sharp point. Some fencers also fastened a knob to the tip.

The foil even made its way into choreographed duels in Shakespearean plays. Although, it was only a practice weapon and the tip was blunted, it could be, and was used as a weapon.

The foil was also the first weapon to make its way into Athens in the summer Olympics of 1986.

Being the oldest weapon still used in fencing today, the foil is an important piece of history, not just to fencing, but to Europe in general. 

I hope you learned something about the beloved foil, let us know which sword is your favorite, we love all three!

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