How Is Fencing Played?

Fencing Score BoxThe main object of a fencing bout (what an individual game is called) is to effectively score 15 points (in direct elimination play) or five points (in preliminary pool play) on your opponent before he scores that number on you.

I Don’t Understand the Scoring
Épée is probably the easiest to understand. If there is a hit anywhere on the body then it scores a point for the the person who made the hit. The first to the target number of hits (5 in the initial rounds, 15 in the later ones), or with the highest number of hits when time runs out, wins.

The hits are detected by an electronic scoring apparatus, when a hit is made, a coloured light will come on. If a red light comes on the person on the left has scored, if a green one comes on then the person on the right has made a hit. If both lights come on then both have scored.

A Scoring Box
One of the most difficult concepts to visualise in Foil and Sabre fencing is the rule of right-of-way. This rule was established to eliminate apparently simultaneous attacks by two fencers.

In essence, right-of-way is the differentiation of offence and defence, made by the referee. The difference is important only when both the lights from both sides go on at the same time in Foil and Sabre. When this happens, the winner of the point is the one who the referee determined was on offence at the time the lights went on. If in doubt as to who who has scored watch the referee’s hands, he will raise his hands to indicate which way the hit should be scored.

For Épée and Sabre only the coloured lights are used. For foil the white lights will show if there is an off-target hit, i.e. not on the metallic, Lamé jacket.

How do I Follow the Action?
For those new to fencing, it is difficult to follow the lightning speed of the fencers’ actions. To become more comfortable in watching a fencing bout, focus on one fencer. The fencer being attacked defends himself by use of a parry, a motion used to deflect the opponent’s blade, after which the defender can make a riposte, an answering attack. Thus, the two adversaries keep changing between offence and defence. Whenever a hit is made, the referee will stop the bout, describe the actions, and decide whether or not to award a hit.

Hit to the Right
In this picture the referee indicates that the fencer on the right made an attack on the fencer on the left. The hit landed and was awarded to the the fencer on the right.

Fencers seek to maintain a safe distance from each other, that is, out of range of the other’s attack. Then, one will try to break this distance to gain the advantage for an attack. At times, a fencer will make a false attack to gauge the types of reactions by the opponent that can be deceived in the real attack.

As you become accustomed to the speed of the game, the tactics and strategies become more apparent, and you will gain a better understanding for the finesse and fascination of fencing!