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sport of dueling with foil, épée, and saber.

Modern Fencing

The weapons and rules of modern fencing evolved from combat weapons and their usage. The foil—a light, flexible thrusting weapon with a blunted point—was originally a practice weapon. The épée is a straight, narrow, stiff thrusting weapon based upon the dueling weapons of European noblemen. The saber is derived from the 18th-century cavalry saber and the Middle Eastern scimitar and has a flexible triangular blade with scoring edges along the entire front and one third of the back edge.

International rules stipulate that fencers must attack and parry on a strip that is 14 m (c.46 ft) long and 2 m (c.6 1-2 ft) wide. The strip, or "piste," is marked off by two parallel lines, beyond which the fencer may not step without receiving a warning or a penalty. Protective clothing includes vests, breast protectors, heavy jackets, wire-mesh masks (introduced in the 18th cent.), and leather gloves. A button blunts the weapon's tip, and points are scored by touching the opponent. In foil the torso is the target area; in épée it is the whole body; in saber it is the body above the hip. Winning touches are five in foil and saber, three in épée. Touches are scored electronically except in saber, where judges decide scoring. Although fencing matches are conducted between individuals, team scoring may result from a compilation of individual scores.

The Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (founded 1913) serves as fencing's world governing body and oversees world championships. Prior to the 1960s, France and Italy dominated international competition in foil and épée, while Hungary dominated in saber. Since then Russia, Germany, Poland, Sweden, and others have joined the traditional powers.


Swords have been in use since the Bronze Age, and nearly all people of antiquity practiced swordsmanship. Fencing as a contest has existed at least since 1190 B.C., as shown in a relief carving in Upper Egypt from that time depicting adversaries with covered swordpoints and padded masks under the observation of spectators and judges. In the Middle Ages, swords were essential to civilians and soldiers. England's Henry VIII ordered fencing displays. Not until the 16th cent., however, when the light Italian rapier replaced the heavy German sword, did the sport become widespread and the subject of scientific theory. Fencing schools, or salles, frequented by young aristocrats, soon sprang up all over Europe, and fencing duelsduel,
prearranged armed fight with deadly weapons, usually swords or pistols, between two persons concerned with a point of honor. The duel may have originated in the wager of battle, an early mode of trial in which an accused person fought with his accuser under judicial
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 often settled matters of personal honor. In the late 19th cent., after many countries had outlawed the duel, fencing became an organized sport. Fencing has been a part of the Olympics since the first modern games in 1896, though women did not compete until 1924 and still compete in foil and épée only.


See E. Castle, Schools and Masters of Fencing from the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century (3d ed. 1969); M. Bower, Foil Fencing (7th ed. 1993); R. Cohen, By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions (2002).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) A system of techniques leading to the mastery of cold steel in hand-to-hand combat. Early forms of fencing were known in ancient Egypt, India, Greece, and Rome. In the Middle Ages fencing was considered one of the seven noble passions of a knight. The art of fencing dates from the early 15th century. After the introduction of firearms, armor was done away with, making it possible for steel weapons to be much lighter. The 15th and 16th centuries saw the development of national schools of fencing with thrust and cut-and-thrust swords—first in Spain, where light, durable Toledo blades were produced and dueling was common, and later in Italy, France, and Germany. Manuals were also written on fencing, one of the first of which was a booklet by the Italian A. Marozzo, published in 1517.

Fencing was a mandatory part of a nobleman’s upbringing until the mid-19th century. Through the mid-20th century, fencing with infantry and cavalry sabers and bayonets was part of the program of army combat training and was included in the curriculum of military schools; in Russia, beginning in the early 18th century, rapier science was a required course in the School of Mathematical and Navigation Sciences, the Naval Academy, and other military schools.

(2) An officially regulated sport consisting of bouts in which three types of weapons are used: the foil, épée, and saber. Official competitions include individual and team events for men, using foil, épée and saber, and for women, using only the foil, the lightest weapon. In foil, the fencer may touch only the trunk of his opponent’s body, while in épée he may touch all parts of his opponent’s body except the back of the head, which is unprotected by the mask; in saber he may touch all parts of the body above the waist, except the back of the head. Five to ten touchés are made in men’s competition, and five to eight in women’s competition. In épée, the touchés are recorded by an official who uses an electric indicator. In foil the bouts are judged electrically and visually. Saber bouts are judged visually by a jury of four. Bouts are held on special strips measuring 2 m in width and 14 m in length for foil, and 18 m in length for épée and saber. The fencers wear light protective suits made of a durable white fabric, masks with a metal screen, and a glove on the hand holding the weapon. Competitions are held by the round-robin system, sometimes with direct elimination.

The basic principles of fencing were established in the late 17th century by the French, who synthesized the Spanish and Italian schools; they perfected the techniques and the methods of instruction, improved the weapons, and introduced the protective mask. In the 18th and 19th centuries fencing became one of the most popular sports among the privileged classes of many countries. Individual instruction was given, and the sport was also taught in numerous fencing classes, gymnasiums, and schools.

In the second half of the 19th century, the basic rules and programs of official fencing competitions were established, as were the standards for the equipment and protective gear. In 1896 fencing became part of the Olympic Games; women’s fencing competitions were first held at the Olympic Games of 1924. European fencing championships were held from 1906 to 1936, and world championships have been held annually since 1937. The 1960’s saw the introduction of individual and team events for the European Cup, and in the 1950’s the first individual world titles for juniors were introduced; junior-class championships have been held since 1964. In the first half of the 20th century, fencers from Italy, France, and Hungary made the strongest showings in international competitions.

Fencing has been practiced as a sport in Russia since the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Until the mid-19th century it was practiced only by members of the feudal nobility, who were trained by foreign fencing masters. In the mid-19th century the first Russian fencing manuals were published, including those by Sokolov and I. Siverbrik, and in 1860 the first official competitions were held, although they were exclusively for officers. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, private fencing gymnasiums, courses, and clubs were established in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and a number of other cities; among them was the Moscow Military Fencing and Gymnastics School (1910). Fencing competitions were held as part of the Russian Olympic Games in 1913 and 1914, and Russian fencers competed in the Olympic Games of 1912.

During the first years of Soviet power, fencing was taught in courses and clubs as part of universal military training, and in newly opened schools of fencing. The first teachers included S. O. Agafonov, V. M. Zhitkov, P. A. Zakovorot, V. M. Zakharov, and A. P. Mordovin. In 1924 the first championship of Moscow was held, and in 1925 an all-Union fencing organization was established; in 1958 it was named the Fencing Federation of the USSR. Fencing was included in the All-Union Spartakiad of 1928. USSR championships were first held in the 1930’s and have been held annually since 1943. Competitions have been held since 1948 for juniors and since the 1950’s for adolescents over the age of 15, young men, and young women. From the 1930’s to 1950’s official competitions were held using carbines with rubber bayonets. The first victories in Soviet fencing were won by R. I. Chernysheva, A. M. Ponomareva, T. I. Klimov, V. V. Vyshpol’skii, K. T. Bulochko, V. A. Arkad’ev, and I .I. Manaenko.

In 1952 the All-Union Fencing Organization joined the International Fencing Federation (founded 1913 in Paris), which in 1976 comprised the national federations of 76 countries. Members of the Soviet federation began competing in major international competitions, including the Olympic Games. Between 1958 and 1976, Soviet teams won the Grand Prize of Nations 15 times for overall team victory in world competitions and Olympic Games and were awarded 64 gold medals. During this period 26 gold medals were won by the Hungarian People’s Republic, 13 each by the People’s Republic of Poland and France, ten by Italy, and six by the Federal Republic of Germany. Soviet fencers won 25 gold medals in this period in world championships for juniors, and Soviet club teams took first place in 22 European Cup contests.

Fencers who won Olympic championships more than once include G. E. Gorokhova, A. I. Zabelina, V. K. Rastvorova, T. D. Samusenko, E. D. Belova, E. K. Efimova, V. G. Nikonova, A. V. Nikanchikov, V. F. Zhdanovich, Ia. A. Ryl’skii, G. Ia. Kriss, V. A. Sidiak, V. A. Nazlymov, V. P. Putiatin, M. S. Rakita, G. A. Sveshnikov, V. V. Stankovich, A. A. Roman’kov, B. S. Khabarov, and V. A. Krovopuskov.

Contributions to the development of the Soviet school of fencing have been made by the coaches V. A. Arkad’ev, V. A. Andrievskii, G. M. Bokun, L. P. Bokun, K. T. Bulochko, A. P. Golianitskii, E. Ia. Kolchinskii, I. I. Manaenko, M. P. Midler, A. N. Ponomarev, L. V. Saichuk, M. V. Sazonov, D. A. Tysh-ler, and Iu. T. Khozikov.

As of Jan. 1, 1976, there were approximately 40,000 fencers in the USSR, including more than 400 Masters of Sport. Fencing is promoted in 20 sports societies and organizations; the best fencers are from Dynamo, the Armed Forces team, and Burevestnik, which all have centers in Moscow, Kiev, and Minsk.

Fencers who have won the greatest victories in world championships and the Olympic Games include A. Gerevich, R. Karpati, and Ilona Elek (Hungary), C. d’Oriola (France), and E. Mangiarotti and N. Nadi (Italy). Hungarian saber masters won nine Olympic championships between 1908 and 1960 in team events.

Fencing with épées is part of the modern pentathlon.

National forms of fencing include Nanai fencing, in which poles are used, and the Georgian form with swords and shields.

A special form of fencing is used on the stage and screen to depict hand-to-hand combat, duels, and the like. Such fencing bouts are performed according to a script and the requirements of stage action.


Fekhtovanie. Edited by V. A. Arkad’ev. Moscow, 1959.
Tyshler, D. Skrestim klinki. Moscow, 1959.
Ponomarev, A. N., and L. V. Saichuk. Fekhtovanie na shpagakh. Moscow, 1970.
Fekhtovanie: Spravochnik. Moscow, 1975.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the practice, art, or sport of fighting with swords, esp the sport of using foils, ?p?es, or sabres under a set of rules to score points
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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