What Is A Sabre (Saber) In Fencing?

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Alongside the foil, sabre was one of the first sports seen in the Olympics. Fans of the sport got to see men’s individual sabre in Athens during the first summer Olympics in 1896.

So you ask, what is a sabre? The sabre, is a weapon used by fencers. More specifically, a sword that resembles a pirate’s cutlass at the handle, and a foil at the blade. Like every other sword in fencing, the sabre comes along with its own rulesets and techniques. So it’s not just a sword, but it refers to the discipline within fencing that uses the sabre.

Almost a completely different style of fencing, sabre fencers (known as sabreurs and sabreuses) can score a point with a cutting motion as well as a thrusting movement.

You can think of sabre fencing kinda like pirates, or Jedis. Large swings as well as huge thrusts and lunges. 

In fact, the swords used by pirates are where the sabre comes from; cutlasses. With a guard around the sword-wielding hand to protect it from the large swing, older versions of the saber used to have a curved blade as well.

Overall, sabre is incredibly fun and a great alternative if you want to try a new discipline of fencing. With a long and great history and interesting technique, let’s take a deeper look into the sabre!

Anatomy Of The Fencing Sabre

Starting with the blade, at a maximum of 88cm, or 34.6 inches, the sabre has the smallest blade in fencing. 

Like the foil, it has a rectangular shape, commonly with a rectangular mid-section, starting in a v-shape and transitioning into a rectangle as it goes up the blade.

fencing saber sabre

The total length, including the grip, usually comes out to about 105 cm or just over 41 inches. And a total weight of 500 g, just over a pound.

As you can probably tell, all three swords are pretty similar, in shape, size, and weight. However, the more you continue to fence, the more obvious the differences become in these swords.

One big difference you can see on the sabre is the handguard.

Just looking at the sword, you can see the massive handguard on the grip. This comes from the ancestor of the sabre; the cutlass. It’s also seen on the rapier, which is kind of the grandfather of all modern fencing swords.

And yes, cutlass like the pirate swords. This handguard is used to protect the hand from any large swings. You only see this on the sabre, because there are no cuts in epee and foil, so there’s no need for it, and it would only weigh the weapon down.

Altogether, the sabre is a fantastic weapon, we all love to swing our swords around like a pirate every now and then, even if you don’t happen to be a sabeure. 

History Of The Sabre

Starting from humble begins as a naval/military weapon. Over the past several centuries, the cutlass developed into the sabre we know and love today. 

Modern Fencing Saber

Dating as far back as the 16th century, the cutlass was a popular choice among sailors and designed in a way that it could be used to cut ropes, as those on ships needed to do often. In addition to that, it was the perfect weapon for close-quarter combat.

The first version of the sabre we see is known as a düsak and comes from 16th century Germany. A heavy, chunkier version of the sabre you might think of today.

This sword style inspired the singlestick, used by civilians in sport, around the 17th century.

Soon after in the 19th century, the first cavalry practice swords were invented in Britain. At the same time, the rapier was introduced elsewhere in Europe. These swords soon took over all of Europe, alongside the smallsword.

After years of dueling, advancing weaponry, and fencing as a sport. We’re left today with the modern sabre, the successor to the rapier, as well as the cutlass.

Sabre Rules

Looking past the huge swings and cuts that sabreurs make, the rules in sabre are similar to other fencing bouts, most of the rules of fencing stay the same.

Start the match at en garde lines, no touching bodies, no passing, no stepping off the piste. The goal is to touch your blade to the opponent’s target area, however this time, not only can you use the tip of your blade, but the entire blade.

The target area in sabre, is the entire upper body, including the arms, neck, and head. The hands, and anything below the waist, is off-target and won’t count as a point if touched.

Sabre Fencing
Sabre target area

Once a player has scored 15 points, or the 3 – 3 minute periods have expired, a winner is determined. Obviously, the fencer with the most points wins. 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 sabre, as well as foil 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.

Now that you fully understand your sabre, it’s time to master it. Watch some Olympic sabre matches, or better yet, pick one up and experience it for yourself!

But you can’t forget about the other weapons! Check out the foil and epee as well!

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