To appreciate the history of fencing one must consider the impact of the sword on civilization. In prehistoric times man fashioned crude implements such as clubs and stone axes for both offensive and defensive purposes. The development of civilization is mirrored by the increased sophistication of human weaponry. Since the advent of metal weapons in the Bronze Age swords of some description have been fashioned. These have taken a variety of forms from simple copper daggers, through curving scimitars, to the enormous two handed swords of the middle ages. Similarly the usage of these weapons has varied according to circumstance. For example the Roman short-sword complemented the relatively lightly armored, highly mobile troops of the Empire, on the other hand the heavy armour of the Middle Ages required equally heavy weaponry to have any effect. The introduction of gun powder to warfare had a profound impact on the development of the sword. The heavy armour and weapons of the Middle Ages were rendered impractical and the sword evolved into a lighter more manageable weapon.

To master these lighter weapons guilds of masters developed throughout Europe and the art of fencing, in form recognizable to the sport of today was born. These schools developed various techniques and tactics, such as the stance, lunge and parries used today. Further, the growth of dueling in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries provided the traditions of courtesy and customs also found in the modern sport.

Rivalry between various guilds led to the development of international fencing tournaments, this combined with the outlawing of dueling to the death, led to the gradual development of fencing as a sport with its own rules. Indeed fencing was included in the Olympic Games in Athens, 1896. There are three different weapons used in modern fencing, each with differing origins tactics and rules. These are outlined below.


The foil (in England; firetta in Italy; fleuret in France) was developed as a training weapon for dueling in the mid-seventeenth century. The foil is a light sword, the weight of which must not exceed 500g and be less than 110cm in length. The blade is rectangular or square and tapers towards the point. The guard is relatively small and should pass through a 12cm gauge. Hits are scored with the point and must exert 500g of pressure. The curve of the blade shouldn't be greater than 2cm. The Foil target is the upper body (not including the arms or mask bib) down to the groin. This reflects the origin of the weapon i.e. as a practice for dueling, whereby an attack to the torso represents the greatest potential to cause a 'fatal' hit.


Developed from the rapier, this was the everyday sword by the 16th Century, also used for dueling It is the heaviest of the three weapons (up to 770g) with a large shell/guard to protect the forearm (<13.5cm in diameter) and a tapered blade which is substantially wider at the guard than the point. Hits are scored using the point, and the target is unrestricted, so includes all of the fencer’s body and equipment.


The sabre is a lighter reproduction of the cavalry sword. Its origins date from the eastern curving scimitar used my mounted Hungarian troops and the popular naval cutlass. The sabre differs from the other two weapons in that hits can be scored with the edge of the blade as well as the point. Sabre's must weigh no more than 500g and measure<105cm. The guard is curved to protect the hand and forearm. Sabre target area includes everything above the waist, i.e. the target that would be presented to an opponent by a mounted cavalryman.

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