Fencing is one of five sports which have been featured at every one of the modern Olympic Games, the other four being athletics, swimming, cycling and gymnastics.
Ancient drawings indicate that people have always done something like fencing, initially with sticks or poles.The roots of modern fencing originated from Spain. In conquest, the Spanish forces carried fencing around the then world, particularly to southern Italy, one of the major areas of strife between both nations. Henry VIII encouraged open displays of sword play.
The mechanics of modern fencing originated in the 18th century in an Italian school of fencing of the Renaissance, and, under their influence, was improved by the French school of fencing. The Spanish school of fencing stagnated and was replaced by the Italian and French schools. Many people credit Napoleon with making fencing a sport. As the use of guns increased the use of sword in battle declined. in the 19th century the Italian masters introduced rule to fencing and began to write books on the art of fencing.
Duelling went into sharp decline after World War I. After World War II, duelling went out of use in Europe except for very rare exceptions. Training for duels, once fashionable for males of aristocratic backgrounds (although fencing masters suggest that many people considered themselves trained from taking only one or two lessons), all but disappeared, along with the classes themselves. Fencing continued as a sport, with tournaments and championships.
Starting with Epee in 1936, side-judges were replaced by an electrical scoring apparatus, with an audible tone and a red or green light indicating when a touch landed. Foil first embraced electronic scoring in 1956, Sabre in 1988. The scoring box reduced the bias in judging, and permitted more accurate scoring of faster actions, lighter touches, and more touches to the back and flank than before.
Fencing is governed by Fédération Internationale d'Escrime or FIE. The FIE is composed of 145 national federations, each of which is recognized by its country's Olympic Committee as the sole representative of Olympic-style fencing in that country.
The FIE maintains the current rules used for FIE sanctioned international events, including world cups, world championships and the Olympic Games. The FIE handles proposals to change the rules the first year after an Olympic year in the annual congress.
The Three Weapons
There are Olympic three weapons, foil, sabre and epee. The weapon used also affects the match.
- Foil: a light thrusting weapon that targets the torso, neck, and groin, including the back, but not the arms. Touches are scored only with the tip; hits with the side of the blade do not count, and do not halt the action. Touches that land outside of the target area (off-target) stop the action, and are not scored. Only a single hit can be scored by either fencer at one time. If both fencers hit at the same time, the referee uses the rules of "right of way" to determine which fencer gets the point. If both fencers begin their attack at the same time, neither fencer scores a point. The hand guard on the foil is a small circle that only serves to protect the hand from direct stabs.
- Sabre: a light cutting and thrusting weapon that targets the entire body above the waist, excluding the hands. Hits with the edges of the blade or the point are valid. As in foil, touches that land outside of the target area are not scored. However, unlike foil, these off-target touches do not stop the action, and the fencing continues. In the case of both fencers landing a scoring touch, the referee determines which fencer receives the point for the action, again through the use of "right of way". The hand guard on the sabre extends from pommel to the base of where the blade connects to the hilt. This is generally turned outwards during sport to protect the sword arm.
- Epee: a heavier thrusting weapon that targets the entire body. All hits must be with the tip and not the sides of the blade. Touches hit by the side of the blade do not halt the action. Unlike foil and sabre, epee does not use "right of way", and allows simultaneous hits by both fencers. However, if the score is tied at the last point and a double touch is scored, nobody is awarded the point. The hand guard on the epee is a large circle that extends towards the pommel, effectively covering the hand.