Procedure of a bout

Staring and stopping

Bouts begin with the two unmasked opponents saluting first each other and then the referee by raising the blade to the chin and dropping it. Then, masks down, the fencers assume the en garde position. The bout begins on the referee's command, "Pret? Allez!" (literal English translation: "Ready? Go!"). The bout stops on the referee's command, "Halt." A halt order is given if...

  • a touch is achieved
  • the fencing of the competitors is dangerous, confused, or against the rules
  • if one of the competitors is disarmed or leaves the piste


In individual competition, the winner of a bout is the first to score 15 touches on the opponent. A bout is a maximum of nine minutes long, divided into three periods of three minutes (with a one-minute break between periods). If the third period is completed before either fencer reaches 15 touches, the fencer with the most touches is declared the winner.

Matches in team competition consist of nine individual bouts; each member of one team faces each member of the other team once. Each head-to-head bout lasts three minutes or until the winning team score reaches a multiple of five. If the ninth bout is completed and neither team has 45 touches, the team with the highest score is declared the winner.

Breaking Ties

In individual competition, if fencers are tied at the end of regulation time, a one-minute, sudden-death tiebreak period is contested. The fencer to score the first touch is declared the winner. If neither fencer scores a touch within the one-minute period, the winner is the fencer who has "priority." Priority is decided by a coin toss before the start of the tiebreak period. This rule encourages the competitors (especially the fencer without priority) to be aggressive in pursuit of the winning touch.

In team competition, if teams are tied at the conclusion of the ninth bout of a match, a one-minute tiebreak period is contested between the fencers who participated in the final bout. The rules of the tiebreak period are the same as in individual competition.


Touches: In foil, touches are scored only when the tip of the blade strikes the opponent's target area with enough force to depress the point

Target area: Foil features the most limited target area of the three fencing weapons. A touch only counts if it lands within the torso of the body (from shoulders to the groin, front and back). The arms, neck, head and legs are not part of the valid target area.

Right of way: In foil, only one fencer can score a touch during an action. When both fencers land an attack simultaneously, it rests upon the referee to decide which fencer had the right of way. The decision is based on a variety of factors. Right of way can be gained by:

  • Initiating the forward extension of the arm before the opponent, which signifies an attack
  • Parrying an opponent's attack, and following immediately with a riposte
  • Establishing a point-in-line by extending the arm and holding it
  • Beating the opponent's blade to begin an offensive action

If neither fencer has priority in a double touch situation, the action is called simultaneous and no point is awarded.


Touches: Unlike the foil, in which only hits with the tip of the blade count for a touch, sabre touches may be scored with the blade's front edge, the last one-third of its back edge, or the tip

Target area: The permitted target area in sabre is from the bend of the hips (both front and back) to the top of the head, simulating the cavalry rider on a horse. This includes both arms and the mask.

Right of way: Same rules as foil


Touches: As with the foil, touches are scored only by the tip of the blade

Target area: The epee athlete's entire body is valid, including head and feet, making it the largest target area of any of the fencing events

Right of way: There is no right of way rule in epee. If both fencers land a touch at the same time, both are awarded a point.

Why is Olympic fencing scored electronically

Fencing is an extremely fast sport, and even the most trained observers can easily miss details within an action. To ensure that bouts are officiated as fairly as possible, electronic scoring has been used in competition since the 1980's.

Fencers are linked to the scoring apparatus via a body wire, which connects to the weapon and also to any piece of clothing that represents valid target area (except in epee, where the entire body is valid target area). 

In foil and epee, any depression of the tip of the blade triggers the scoring system. In foil, if the blade contacts valid target area, a red or green light (depending on if the fencer is to the referee's left or right) illuminates. If the blade contacts a part of the body that is not valid target area, a yellow light illuminates. There is no off-target signal in epee.

In sabre, a red or green light will illuminate any time the edge of the blade contacts the opponent's torso, arms or head. Any contact to other parts of the body does not register and no light illuminates.