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The Art of Fencing

Fencing is not a widely publicized sport in mainstream media. You’ll never hear ESPN touting the Super Bowl of fencing tournaments. So why do I bring attention to this obscure sport that requires much of the same skill, both mental and physical, as other major sports?

My sister Gayle recently visited from Hawaii where she’s lived the past 30 years and brought the wonderful world of fencing to my attention. She travels the country, competing in fencing tournaments and, as a 51-year old, she’s proud to say she’s whooped 14 year olds.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with fencing, here’s a quick primer on the history of the sport of fencing according to

“The history of fencing parallels the evolution of civilization, back from the days of ancient Egypt and Rome, to the barbaric Dark Ages, to the fast and elegant Renaissance, up to the modern, increasingly popular fencing of today”.

Fencing has always been regarded as more than a sport; it is an art form, an ancient symbol of power and glory, and a deeply personal, individual form of expression. Fencing is and always has been an intrinsic part of life, from the dueling and battle of yore to the widely captivating movies and facets of popular culture such as Zorro and The Princess Bride.

The earliest evidence of fencing as a sport comes from a carving in Egypt, dating back to about 1200 B.C., which shows a sport fencing bout with masks, protective weapon tips, and judges.

Today, there are three main styles of fencing. provides an easy to understand lesson on what’s involved:

Styles of Fencing

The three main styles of fencing are Epee, Foil and Sabre. All three are used in the Olympics and the main difference is the weight of the weapon and scoring.


The player who scores more “hits” wins. In foil, only hits to the torso are scored. The entire body is in play for epee. Sabre scores points for hits that are above the waistline.


Each fencer wears flatshoes, heavy socks, below-the-knee pants, a protective vest, underarm protection called a plastron, a jacket that snaps under the groin, heavy gloves and a see-through reinforced mask. Most of the materials are made out of cotton with some kind of reinforced padding.

Tournament setting

Each bout takes place on a 14 meter long, 2 meter wide strip of rubber or non-slick metal. There are normally markings on the strip that let fencers know if they are getting out of bounds.

Starting the Match

The two fencers meet at the mid-point of the strip and are separated by a referee. They must salute each other or face losing a point. They must also salute the referee. From there, they put their masks on and go to their starting points when the referee says “en garde.”

The Bout

The bout begins when the referee gives the verbal command. The fencers rush forward and must strike their opponent or defend shots. In major tournaments, the hits are recorded electronically. But in smaller tournaments, four judges on the sides of the platform score points. Fencers return to their starting point after each point scored. Bouts are timed and the player with most points wins.

Some of the ‘Super Bowls‘ of fencing include the CAN/AM Veteran’s Cup.  The event will be held May 14th and 15th, 2011 in Ontario, Canada and is open to age 40+. In Hawaii, there is the Aloha State Games and stateside, the Summer Nationals is a big event in the fencing world.

Fencing is a sport where the mind can be a great equalizer” – Gayle Chavez

Just as in football, fencing dictates that you win the “game” mentally first. In his book, “Winning Ugly: Mental Warfare in Tennis” Brad Gilbert gives solid, concentrated advice for any sport. His advice includes playing smart, recognizing the weaknesses as well as the strengths of your opponent, and learning to identify patterns and technical mistakes in your opponent.

Brad’s advice boils down to two specific goals – what you want to make happen, and what you want to prevent from happening. Sounds like offense and defense on a football field to me; but then I can relate pretty much everything in life to football.

Even for a sports fanatic like me, I constantly find myself learning about new sports and their culture. Have you tried fencing or other ‘lesser-known’ sports? I would love to hear more about it in the comments below.


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2 Responses to The Art of Fencing

  1. Herald August 8, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    My son is just ten and took up fencing some eight months ago after a school trip to Kingswood.  Your site has been helpfull to the mum who knows nothing!  It is a complex sport that we are all beginning to love.  He has chosen sabre and has already been to his first competition.  It does deserve more coverage and maybe to be an option in schools that do not have large fees each term!


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