Olympic fencing is comprised of three disciplines: sabre, foil, and epee.
All three weapons in fencing are composed of the following parts:
- A flexible steel blade.
- A grip
- A metal guard that protects the fencing hand. The guard may contain padding or cushion to reduce the effect of blows. It also contains a socket to which the bodywire can be connected.
The modern version of the dueling rapier, the foil is perhaps the best known fencing apparatus. The teaching weapon for the other swords, it has a flexible blade and is used chiefly for thrusting. The maximum length of the entire foil is 3 feet, 6 inches and the maximum allowable weight is 1.1 pounds. The tapering quadrangular blade is made of fine steel.
The sabre owes its heritage to the Middle Eastern scimitar and the 18th-century cavalry sword. It is similar to the foil, but weighs slightly less. It is about one inch shorter, a maximum of 3 feet, 5.3 inches. The steel blade is rectangular.
The guard of a sabre is full and convex, with no rim or holes.The interior of the guard is insulated with insulating paint or a pad. The exterior of the guard, the grip, and the pommel are all completely insulated.
The epee (the French word for 'sword') is the descendant of the ancient dueling sword, the rapier. It developed from the dueling weapons of European noblemen. The blade is 43 inches long and weighs 1.7 pounds.
The epee has a larger hand guard which must measure less than 5.3 inches in diameter and between 1.1 and 2.1 inches deep. Its steel blade is thicker and triangular, measuring one inch wide on each side. It was designed to be effective as a thrusting or stabbing sword.
Fencers wear white uniforms because, in the pre-electric days of the sport, touches were determined by an ink spot left on the uniform by the weapon. Cheating was possible by soaking a uniform in vinegar, so that when a weapon hit the vinegar-treated material, the ink was dissolved and no mark was left behind.
Competitors' clothing must be made entirely of "robust" material able to resist a pressure of 800 Newtons. The material cannot have a smooth surface which might allow weapons' points or touches to glance off the uniform. The way seams are made, especially under the armpits, is particularly important for safety. An under-garment consisting of a protective plastron pad covering the upper body, especially vital organs, is mandatory.
For all weapons, the lower edge of the jacket must overlap the knickers by at least 4 inches when the fencer is in the en garde position. Fencers' jackets include a lining making a double thickness of heavy-duty Kevlar or cotton cloth for the sleeve down to the elbow of the sword arm and covering the flank up to the armpit. An epee fencer is required to wear a regulation jacket, which covers the whole surface of the body's trunk. Women's equipment must include breast protectors made of metal or another rigid material.
For all weapons, every competitor wears a glove on his sword hand. The gauntlet of the glove covers half the forearm of the competitor's sword arm to prevent the opponent's blade from entering the sleeve of the jacket. Foil gloves may be slightly padded. Sabre gloves are made of conductive material, which can be removable or fixed, and should cover the whole arm with the jacket. The conductive material of the glove must make good contact with the sleeve of the conductive jacket by using an elastic band or button.
Knickers are fastened below the knees. Fencers wear socks which cover the legs up to the knickers; the socks can have a turn-over 4 inches high showing the colors of a fencer's nation.
Masks are made of wire mesh with gaps of less than 1/10 of an inch; the wire, with a minimum gauge of 1 millimeter in diameter, is usually stainless steel. The bib of a mask is made with cloth resistant to 1600 Newtons (twice as strong as uniform material). The mask includes a safety strap at the back.
Masks used in foil cannot extend below the chin. They are insulated internally and externally by a plastic material resistant to impact.
Masks for epee must be shaped so the bib reaches below the collar bone prominences (clavicles).
The sabre mask is different from that used in foil andepee; because the head is a valid target area, it has a metallic covering. Also, the metal mesh of sabre masks is not insulated and must conduct electricity. The bib and trim are covered with conductive material with the same electrical characteristics of the conductive jacket used in sabre. The electrical contact between the jacket and the mast is made by means of a wire and one or two crocodile clips. The wire is attached by clip or by being soldered to the mesh of the mask, and is between 11.8 and 15.7 inches long. The crocodile clip is soldered to the other end of the wire.
Electrical Scoring Apparatus
The apparatus consists of a 12V circuit connected to the fencers. The colored lights of this apparatus register valid hits; the white lights register hits landing outside the valid target area. (For more on the electrical scoring apparatus, see the "Scoring" section.)
Fencing competitions take place on a dueling surface known by the French word, "piste." The piste is also referred to as the fencing "strip." It is made from metal, metallic mesh or another substance with a base that conducts an electrical current. The strip measures 14 meters long (46 feet) and 2 meters wide (6 feet, 7 inches).
The piste evolved from dueling, when combatants would draw lines in the dirt. Stepping behind one's line was considered cowardly.
End Line (Rear Limit)
The end lines indicate the rear limit of the fencing strip. If a competitor crosses the rear limit of the strip with both feet, a touch is scored against him or her.
Two warning lines are drawn 2 meters (6 feet, 7 inches) from the rear limit of the piste on each end. The warning lines indicate the start of the warning area.
En Garde Line
Also referred to as the "on-guard" lines, these are drawn on each side of (and parallel to) the center line, 2 meters (6 feet, 7 inches) away. The fencers begin a bout by standing behind these lines in the en garde position. The spacing ensures that with the fencers' arms straight and the blades in line, the points of the two blades cannot make contact.
After a touch, the fencers return to the initial en garde positions. After a break in the action without a touch, the referee places the fencers in the en garde position where the action ended.
The center line is drawn across the piste, dividing it into two equal halves.
From the warning line to the rear limit of the piste, the last 2 meters (6 feet, 7 inches) on each side is clearly distinguished with a different color -- much like the warning track on a baseball field -- to make it easy for fencers to be aware of their position on the strip.
An extension of 1.5 to 2.0 meters is added to the end of the strip on each side behind the end lines to allow the fencer to cross the rear limits onto an even surface.