On Guard: Fencing Swords

When it comes to sword fighting, one of the most popular types is fencing.  Originating in Spain, the sport gradually moved through other parts of Europe, including Italy during the Italian Renaissance and eventually developed into modern fencing.  The art of fencing has inspired many competitions, conventions, training schools, and is one of five sports to have taken place at every one of the modern Olympic Games.  As with any recreational activity, the key to success is knowing the right equipment to use and how to use it.  In fencing, there are three main types of swords used.

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The first type of fencing sword is the foil, which is rounded, light-weight, and flexible.  Its name derived from the material it originated from-rolled steel foil.  Due to the simplistic nature of the foil, they are the ideal choice for amateurs to learn fencing basics.  Once these skills have been put into practice, the transition to other swords will be much easier.  When dueling with a foil, the only part of the sword used to strike and score is the tip and the target area is the torso.  This concept dates back to the 16th century where fencing originated and fencers went after the areas of their opponent’s body that would cause the most damage if hit.  It was a means of protection to fatally wound an opponent so that they would not be able to recover and ruthlessly counter attack.  In modern times, a rounded button covers the sharp tip of the foil to eliminate any risk of severe injury in sporting events.  To ensure foil fencing matches are fair, “Right of Way” rules have been put into place.  This allows for fencers to gain points by defending, as well as attacking, and doesn’t allow both fighters to strike at the same time.  Also, action is paused for an off-target hit and is resumed from the “on guard” position.

Swiss Broad Sword 17th C.:

Swiss Broad Sword 17th C.

The epee is the second type of fencing sword.  It closely resembles the foil, but is heavier.  Similar to the way a foil is used, a fencer can only strike with the sword’s tip, but different from the rules of a foil, the epee can hit any area of the body (not just the torso).  Unlike foil fencing, epee dueling does not follow the “Right of Way” rules and thus, opponents can strike each other at the same time and still earn a point.  Duels with epee swords are quite popular and tend to move at a rapid pace with a fierceness, as there are less restrictions here than with foil fencing.

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Last, but not least is the sabre, the third type of fencing sword.  These swords are wide and flat, as compared to the thin and round style of the foil and the epee, and tend to offer little flexibility except for close to the tip.  Sabre fencing originated in the 17th century and this weapon served as the prime choice for cavalry men on horseback.  As a result, the target area when dueling with sabres is the upper body.  Back in the day, a strike below the saddle could hurt the horse and therefore was frowned upon.  Sabre duels also allow a fencer to strike using either edge of the sword, rather than only the tip.  Sabre fencing also adheres to the “Right of Way” rules that foil fencing uses, but action is not stopped for an off-target hit.

Patton Sword:

Patton Sword

In addition to the three primary fencing swords, other swords may also be used in fencing, such as the rapier or the broad sword.  In fact, rapiers were the foundation from which the foil and epee were based.  For a full viewing of fencing swords, as well as other great swords, check out:  http://www.armorvenue.com/

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