What Is An Épée In Fencing?

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Two fencers tediously square off in an intense bout, where a touch on any part of the body can lead to a loss. One fencer dives for the other’s foot, while the other lands a touch on the back of the helmet. This is the type of action we can thank the epee for.

What is an epee? An Épée is one of the three swords used by fencers, and one of the three styles of fencing. The Épée sword is identifiable by its large circular, bell-like handguard. In the sport of epee fencing, the goal is to touch the tip of your sword to any part of your opponent’s body.

If you’re new to the fencing world, you may not know this. And if you’re already a fencer, I’m sure you know and love this sword as much as the rest of us do.

The Épée Sword

However, if you don’t know, the epee is one of the three swords we use in fencing, and it comes along with its own set of rules, tactics, and style of play (as each sword does).

So what is an epee? In fencing, epee is one of the three swords we use. There are three different styles that are accompanied by their own swords. Foil fencing; using the foil, sabre fencing; using the sabre, and of course epee fencing; using the epee.

These styles of fencing are differentiated by different sets of rules and swords. The main rules that differ are the target area, thrust or cut, and the right of way.

Anatomy of the Épée

Let’s take a closer look at what the epee is, and how it looks like a sword.

Out of all three fencing swords, the epee is the largest, heaviest, and most stiff.

fencing epee
Silhouette of the epee, with a French grip

The maximum weight of this weapon is 775 grams or about 1.7 pounds, and competition epees are usually half the weight which may seem light as a feather, but in fencing, even a few grams makes a huge difference. Especially when swords are swinging at the speed of a bullet.

The blade of the average epee (size 5), is 90 centimeters, or 35 inches. Which is standard for fencing weapons. It’s also triangular in shape, as opposed to rectangular.`

It has a larger and rounder handguard than the other two swords, to protect the un-gloved fencing hand from any dangerous strikes. On the handguard is padding, as well as sockets for wires used to register touches in competition.

And for the grip, as usual, you can use either a classic french grip, or the more popular pistol grip. Along with an electric button covering the tip of the blade.

Épée Fencing Rules

Like any fencing match, the objective is to score a predetermined number of touches on your opponent. Epee is a thrusting sword, so only thrust touches count as points.

A player must touch the tip of their sword to the target area of the other player, with a force of 750 grams.

Épée Fencing
The target area for the epee

In epee, the target area is the entire body. Head to toe, no body part is excluded. This means that there are no off-target touches, so halts aren’t often. The only time there’ll be an off-target touch, is if a fencer touches their sword to the ground.

The right of way rule does not apply in epee. If both players touch at the same time, then a point is awarded to both of them. As well, if fencers touch bodies, there is no penalty (the corpse-a-corpse rule).

Most competitions play to 15 points, or 3, 3-minute rounds.

At the end of the match, both players have the same number of points, the priority minute is played.

The priority minute is a one-minute bout, with priority given to one player. The fencers then fence until one has scored, or the minute is up. If the minute expires and no fencer has scored, then the fencer given priority wins.

This concept exists in all types of fencing but happens often in epee since fencers often are too anxious to make any moves. 

History of the Epee

The epee is pretty new for a weapon in a sport that’s centuries old. Born in the 1800s, when authorities started hammering down on fencers who dueled until death. The epee brought fencers to duel until first blood.

A modern fencing sword

Fencers would aim to hit different parts of the body to avoid hitting any arteries, in fear of authorities cracking down on illegal dueling. As the law on fencers harming each other was getting more serious, as the popularity of it grew.

Minor touches to the hand and wrist were adequate when fencers would duel, rather than attacks to the torso or stomach.

This also shows us why fencers wear white because it shows blood better than any other color.

The term epee was officially introduced in the late 1800s for sportive fencing. This sword soon would replace the rapier and would make an introduction into the Olympics around the same time, in the year 1900.

As a relatively new form of fencing, the Épée is still a global competition and just as popular as ever.

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