• Chris Cyrus

Top 10 Surprising Fencing Facts (Part 1)

Let us be clear -- we’re not talking about vertical slats of wood around your yard. We're talking about our favorite sport, the one that makes great fight scenes in movies and is an Olympic sport. So what's behind all the glitz and glamour? What fencing facts do most folks not know?


We asked some of our current and former students and instructors and their families for their takes on the secrets of the sport. From rules to equipment and everything in between, these opinions just might teach you a thing or two about the sport, and art, of fencing.


If you’re not a fencer, no worries. We’ll help you understand what we're talking about!

INTRODUCTION TO FENCING FACTS

Foil is the type of fencing most people are familiar with. A foil is a thin, light, and flexible sport sword. You can only score points with the blunt tip, not the blade. The target is the portion of your opponent’s body that you can hit with your sword to score points. Touché! In foil, the target area is only the torso. While on the offensive, fencers often lunge, take a long, quick step forward, to suddenly get much closer to their opponent. A parry is a move that blocks an attack.

Because fencing is so fast, advanced fencers use an electronic scoring system. It includes an electronic foil, a lamé (vest of metallic thread), and a body cable that connects to a wire suspended over the fencing strip. The long, rectangular fencing strip is the official playing area.

Even if the electronic system says a touch occurred on the target area, a director, like a referee, interprets the action according to the rules and determines whether a point is awarded. Directors use commands in French, the international language of fencing. At the beginning of a bout, the fencers salute, then the director says “En garde, Prêts / Prêtes? Allez!” (On guard, Ready? Fence!), and “Halte!” when fencers must stop. Even very young fencing students learn to take turns being the director while their classmates have bouts.


Now, without further adieu, let's get to the fun facts...



10: THE OLYMPIC TRUTH

Chris Wiley (Fencing Instructor & Executive Director of The Story School)

Jared Rushanan (Former Student & Instructor, Class E Foil Fencer)


Chris said “There has been a running myth that the fencing tip [blunt end of a foil] is the second-fastest moving object at the Olympics behind a gun-shot. Unfortunately, this is not true. But being clocked at over 100 mph is still impressive!”


Great minds think alike! Both Chris and Jared reported that fencing was one of the five sports at every modern Olympic Games: “Fencing, Athletics, Cycling, Gymnasium, and Swimming,” Chris enumerated. “Modern Olympic games... started in 1896 which was the first year that the International Olympic Committee (IOC)… oversaw the competitions.”

9: FROM FOILS TO WHEELCHAIRS... WAIT, WHAT?

Julie Olson (Former Instructor)

Jared Rushanan (Former Student & Instructor, Class E Foil Fencer)


“Sport fencing has its roots in historical dueling and [military] training practices from the ~16th century,” Julie recounted. In addition to foil, there are other types of fencing, sabre and épée, with different weapons, rules, targets, and qualifications for directors.

A sabre weighs about the same as a foil, but the tip and any part of the blade can score points. “The target is from the waist up and not the hands,” Julie explained. There are different rules for “what counts as a lunge and an attack. Attacking at sabre tempo is the fastest of the three weapons. Its roots draw from calvary fighting, hence your legs not being a target, mimicking you being on a horse.”

Épée “has roots from medieval rapier systems. The weapon is heavier and the bell guard [the part of the sword that protects the hand] is enormous because your entire body is a target, including your hands,” but you can only score points with the tip. “A good portion of the rules is around the type of floor you can fence on because it's easy to be sneaky and hit the floor and try to pretend you hit your opponent's foot.”


In any of the three types, it can sometimes look like both fencers got a point, but Jared said, “A simultaneous touch is virtually physically impossible.” In electronic fencing, he specified that both lights can illuminate on the scoreboard if the second touch occurs within 350 milliseconds for foil or sabre, but only 40 milliseconds for épée. “For non-electric scoring, it is up to the director to determine if two touches are simultaneous or if they happened far enough apart.”


“Fencing is literally for any age type and ability,” Julie noted. [Wheelchair fencing] “requires special equipment to anchor the chair in place, and the targets are slightly different. There are also rules for how much you can come off your seat to ‘lunge.’ Even the director/referee sits in a chair when officiating!”

8: WHY THE WHITE

Chris Wiley (Fencing Instructor & Executive Director of The Story School)


“A popular, though graphic, theory is that white allowed blood to show, and when fencing duels were fought to ‘first blood’ (the person who bleeds first is defeated) using sharpened tips and edges this made it easier to tell. Shocking...but not exactly true. In such planned ‘first blood’ duels, participants, which included female fighters, would most likely have fought bare-chested to avoid embedded cloth in their injuries causing infections and to prevent the loose fabric from hiding the injury.”


In reality, “after the blades were blunted and ‘foiled’ (wrapped in foil to make them safer) one of the best ways to judge a match was to have the tips covered in ink, and wearing white on the torso to show markings.”

7: NOBODY GETS HURT

Meredith Benston (Mother of Current Fencing Student)


Since duels were outlawed long ago, and sword fighting evolved from military activity into a sport, it is quite safe and fun at the same time. This sport helps many kids get exercise, and feel powerful and more confident.


“[My daughter's] favorite part of fencing was being able to actually experience a bout (the physicality of hitting/being hit) as a physical and emotional release.” She said, “I liked stabbing knowing no one could be hurt.”


6: BREAK OUT BY BREAKING FORM

Samuel Chin (Current Fencing Student)


“The ready stance (en garde position) is actually pretty exhausting to maintain (it's basically a squat), so even fencers at the highest level will break their form any time they have the opportunity to do so. Not doing so would render even the most conditioned athlete exhausted in a few minutes. Stamina is a resource that's drained by both your brain and muscles which means that, while it's important to know when to give it your all, it's just as important to know when to relax a little.”



Tune in next week for the second half of our Top 10 surprising fencing facts. If these tidbits intrigued you, why not follow that curiosity into a fencing introduction of your own? We're always ready and willing to help first-time fencers take their beginning steps into the sport. Check out what we can offer at https://www.thestoryschool.org/classes (All classes are run virtually for the time being. Please do not stab your computer unless it strikes first.)

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