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FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
FAQ Part 1 General
Posted by Brillmart 2006-05-08


» FAQ Part 1 General
» FAQ Part 2 Equipment
» FAQ Part 3 Reference

Copied with permission from Thanks to the author Morgan Burke and contributers.


This is a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) with answers, compiled
for the UseNet newsgroup  It is intended to reduce
repetitive discussions on the Net by addressing commonly raised topics.
This document is maintained by Morgan Burke (
Contributions, corrections, and suggestions are welcome.

Most of the questions and answers pertain to FIE (Olympic) Fencing;
Japanese fencing (kendo, kenjustsu, iaido, etc.) is treated in a
separate FAQ list ("Japanese Sword Arts") that can occasionally be
found in the newsgroups or rec.martial-arts, or on
the IAIDO-L mailing list (see section 3.8 for details).  The Japanese
Sword Arts FAQ is maintained by Neil Gendzwill (

The Fencing FAQ is presented in three parts:

1. GENERAL: common questions about starting fencing, training, and
  rules of competition
2. EQUIPMENT: fencing equipment, maintenance, and troubleshooting
3. REFERENCE: organizations, suppliers, reading materials, net
  resources, glossary, etc.

All parts can be found on the UseNet newsgroups,
rec.answers, or news.answers.  Otherwise, consult section 3.8 for
information on finding archived copies of this document.  An HTML
version is available on request.

Here's a quick guide to some of the more persistent topics on

  - Finding equipment retailers - see section 3.2
  - Finding a fencing club - see section 1.10
  - Modern sport vs. classical martial art - see sections 1.2, 1.3
  - Legality of Spanish and Italian grips - see section 2.7.1
  - Analysis and priority - see sections 1.13, 1.14, 1.15, 1.16
  - Flicks - see sections 1.14, 1.17
  - Weapon maintenance and repair - see sections 2.8, 2.10, 2.12, 2.14, 2.15, 2.16, 2.17


PART 1 : General

1.1  What sports and martial arts comprise fencing?
1.2  How did fencing originate?
1.3  How is modern fencing different from the "real thing"?
1.4  Which is the best weapon?
1.5  Is fencing going to be eliminated from the Olympics?

Getting Started:
1.6  Does it hurt?
1.7  How long does it take to become good?
1.8  What qualities make a good fencer?
1.9 How much does it cost to get involved in fencing?
1.10 How do I find a good fencing club?

1.11 What kind of cross-training will help my fencing?
1.12 How can I improve my technique without the help of a coach?

1.13 What is right of way?
1.14 What constitutes an attack?
1.15 What constitutes a parry?
1.16 What constitutes a point-in-line?
1.17 What is the scoop on "flicks" and "whips"?
1.18 What are the latest rule changes?


1.1  What sports and martial arts comprise fencing?

    The Olympic sport of fencing is comprised of three weapons: foil,
    epee, and sabre.  All are fenced on a long rectangular strip, and
    electronic scoring aids are normally used to assist in the
    detection of touches.  The rules governing these three weapons
    are determined by the FIE (Federation Internationale d'Escrime).
    Briefly, the FIE weapons are described as follows:

    Foil:  Descended from the 18th century small sword, the foil has a
        thin, flexible blade with a square cross-section and a small
        bell guard.  Touches are scored with the point on the torso of
        the opponent, including the groin and back.  Foil technique
        emphasizes strong defense and the killing attack to the body.

    Epee:  Similar to the duelling swords of the late 19th century,
        epees have stiff blades with a triangular cross section,
        and large bell guards.  Touches are scored with the point,
        anywhere on the opponent's body.  Unlike foil and sabre, there
        no rules of right-of-way to decide which attacks have precedence,
        and double hits are possible.  Epee technique emphasises timing,
        point control, and a good counter-attack.

    Sabre:  Descended from duelling sabres of the late 19th century,
        which were in turn descended from naval and cavalry swords, sabres
        have a light, flat blade and a knuckle guard.  Touches can be
        scored with either the point or the edge of the blade, anywhere
        above the opponent's waist.  Sabre technique emphasises speed,
        feints, and strong offense.

    The most popular of eastern fencing techniques is kendo, the Japanese
    "Way of the Sword".  Kendo is fought with a bamboo shinai, intended
    to resemble a two-handed Japanese battle sword.  Combatants wear
    armour, and strike to the top or sides of the head, the sides of the
    body, the throat, or the wrists.  Accepted technique must be
    observed, and judges watch for accuracy, power, and spirit.  See the
    Japanese Sword Arts FAQ for more information.

    Other martial arts that include elements of swordsmanship are:

    Aikido -- self defence against armed and unarmed attackers.  Includes
        using and defending oneself against Japanese sword techniques.
    Arnis, Escrima, Kali -- Phillipino stick and knife disciplines.
    Iaido -- the Japanese art of the sword draw (also Iaijutsu and
        batto-jutsu, more combat-oriented variants of the same).
    Jogo do Pau -- a Portuguese stick-fighting discipline.
    Jojutsu -- a Japanese stick-fighting discipline.
    Kalaripayitt -- includes sword and weapons techniques from south
    Kenjutsu -- the unadulterated Japanese martial art of the sword.
    Krabi Krabong -- a Thai martial art that includes many sword forms.
    Kumdo -- A Korean variant of Kendo.
    Kung-fu -- a Chinese martial art that includes many sword techniques.
    La Canne -- French Boxing, with a single-handed stick, using
        rules similar to classical fencing.
    Le Baton -- similar to La Canne, but with a longer, 2-handed stick.
    Maculele -- Afro-Brazilian machete forms, related to Capoeira.
    Mensur -- German fraternity "duelling", with schlagers.
    Modern Pentathlon -- the "soldier's medley", a sport that recreates
        demands placed on a pre-20th century military messenger:  running,
        swimming, shooting, equestrian jumping, and epee fencing.
    Pentjak Silat -- Indonesian arts that include sword and stick forms.
    Single Stick -- an ancestor of sabre fencing, fought with a
        basket-hilted wooden rod.
    SCA duello -- rapier-like fencing in the round, with off-hand
        techniques.  Additional info on the SCA can be found in the
    SCA heavy lists -- medieval-style heavy combat, with rattan weapons,
        armour, and shields.  Additional info on the SCA can be found in the
    Shinkendo -- real-sword-oriented variant of Kendo.
    Tai Chi -- another Chinese martial art that includes many sword

1.2  How did fencing originate?

    Swordfighting as sport has existed since ancient Egypt, and has
    been practiced in many forms in various cultures since then.
    Although jousting and tournament combat was a popular sport in
    the European middle ages, modern FIE fencing owes more to
    unarmoured duelling forms that evolved from 16th century rapier

    Rapiers evolved from cut-and-thrust military swords, but were
    most popular amongst civilians who used it for self-defence and
    duelling.  Rapiers were edged, but the primary means of attack was
    the thrust.  Rapier fencing spread from Spain and Italy to
    northwest Europe, in spite of the objections of masters such as
    George Silver who preferred traditional cutting weapons such the
    English broad sword.

    The Spanish school, under masters such as Narvaez and Thibault,
    became a complicated and mystical affair whose geometrical
    theories required much practice to master.  Italian masters like
    Agrippa and Capo Ferro developed a more pragmatic school in the
    late 16th and early 17th centuries, introducing innovations such
    as linear fencing and the lunge.

    By the 18th century, the rapier had evolved to a simpler,
    shorter, and lighter design that was popularized in France as the
    small sword.  Although the small sword often had an edge, it was
    only to discourage the opponent from grabbing the blade, and the
    weapon was used exclusively for thrusting.  The light weight made
    a more complex and defensive style possible, and the French
    masters developed a school based on defence with the sword,
    subtlety of movement, and complex attacks.  When buttoned with a
    leather safety tip that resembled a flower bud, the small sword was
    known as le fleuret, and was identical in use to the modern foil
    (still known as le fleuret in French).  Indeed, the French small
    sword school forms the basis of most of modern fencing theory.

    By the mid-19th century, duelling was in decline as a means of
    settling disputes, partially because victory could lead to a jail
    term for assault or manslaughter.  Emphasis shifted to defeating
    the opponent without necessarily killing him, and less fatal
    duelling forms evolved using the duelling sword, or epee de terrain,
    an unedged variant of the small sword.  Later duels often ended
    with crippling thrusts to the arm or leg, and fewer legal
    difficulties for the participants.  This is the basis of modern
    epee fencing.

    Cutting swords had been used in bloodsports such as backsword
    prizefights at least as far back as the 17th century.
    Broadswords, sabres, and cutlasses were used extensively in
    military circles, especially by cavalry and naval personell, and
    saw some duelling application in these circles as well.  Training
    was performed with wooden weapons, and stick fighting remained
    popular until Italian masters formalized sabre fencing into a
    non-fatal sporting/training form with metal weapons in the late
    19th century.  Early sport sabres were significantly heavier than
    the modern sport sabre and necessitated a strong style with the
    use of moulinets and other bold movements.  As with thrusting
    swords, the sabre evolved to lighter, less fatal duelling forms
    such as the Italian sciabola di terro and the German schlager.
    Hungarian masters developed a new school of sabre fencing that
    emphasized finger control over arm strength, and they dominated
    sabre fencing for most of the 20th century.

    Duelling faded away after the First World War.  A couple of
    noteworthy duels were fought over disputes that arose during
    Olympic games in the 1920s, and there have been rare reports of
    sword duels since then.  German fraternity duelling (mensur)
    still occurs with some frequency.

    The first modern Olympic games featured foil and sabre fencing
    for men only.  Epee was introduced in 1900.  Single stick was
    featured in the 1904 games.  Epee was electrified in the 1936
    games, foil in 1956, and sabre in 1988.  Early Olympic games
    featured events for Masters, and until recently fencing was the
    only Olympic sport that has included professionals.  Disruptions
    in prevailing styles have accompanied the introduction of
    electric judging, most recently transforming sabre fencing.  Foil
    fencing experienced similar upheavals for a decade or two
    following the introduction of electric judging, which was
    further complicated by the new, aggressive, athletic style coming
    out of eastern Europe at the time.

    Women's foil was first contested in the 1924 Olympic games, and
    Women's epee was only contested for the first time in 1996,
    although it has been part of the World Championships since 1989.
    Women's sabre made its first appearance in the 1998 World
    Championships as a demonstration sport, and will likely appear in
    the 2004 Olympics as part of a combined team event.

1.3  How is modern fencing different from the "real thing"?

    If the "real thing" is a duel with sharps, then aside from the
    mortal danger and related psychological factors, the primary
    technical difference is that the duellist can win with only a
    single good touch, whereas the athlete has to hit his opponent as
    many as 15 times and so requires more technical and tactical
    depth.  Many inferior duellists have won their combats through
    sheer dumb luck.  This is far less likely in the sport.  On the
    other hand, the sport fencer takes many defensive risks that
    would be unthinkable in a duel, since he has up to 15 "lives" to
    work with.

    Some purists equate "real" fencing with classical fencing,
    ie. the prevalent styles of the traditional French and Italian
    schools of fencing that predominated before electric fencing was
    popularized.  By comparison, modern fencing is more mobile and
    athletic, while classical fencers were known for their more
    sophisticated phrasing and bladework.

    Modern sabre fencing is performed with lightweight weapons and
    techniques that do not translate well to military sabres and
    broadswords.  There is a certain amount of cross-over with
    lighter turn-of-the-century duelling sabres, however.

    Lastly, it just seems apparent to some that sport fencing has
    evolved away from its bloody origins.  Tactically and
    psychologically, it is true that the sport is a vastly different
    world from the duel.  The sport fencer's life is never in
    jeapordy, and with as many as 15 hits needed to secure victory,
    there often isn't even much figurative danger.  Since the quality
    of a hit is immaterial, fencers will naturally prefer an easy
    "wounding" hit over a difficult "fatal" one, and so glancing hits
    will often win out over strong thrusts.  Technically, however,
    there have been few modern innovations, and the sport fencer
    still possesses all the technical skills necessary to fight a

1.4  Which is the best weapon?

    If the question means "what kind of fencing is the most fun?" then
    the answer is: it depends what aspects of fencing you enjoy the most.
    If you are fascinated by technique, bladework, and tactics, you will
    probably get a lot of satisfaction from foil fencing.  More visceral
    fencers who want to experience the adrenaline rush of a fast,
    agressive sword fight will want to try some sabre.  Most epee fencers
    consider themselves practical, no-nonsense sword fighters who rely on
    as few artificial rules as possible.  Enthusiasts of more medieval
    combat styles, involving armour and heavy weapons, should consider
    kendo or the SCA heavy lists.

    Perhaps the question means "what is the best weapon for a
    beginner to start with?"  Foil is the most common starter weapon,
    and its skills translate most easily to the other weapons.  Sabre
    is less ideal for students planning to try other weapons, due to
    the higher cost of electric sabre gear, and the reduced use of
    the point.  Fencers who begin with epee may struggle with the
    concept of right-of-way if they attempt to learn a second weapon
    later.  However, if the student is certain that they will stick
    with sabre or epee, then there is no harm to starting with those
    weapons immediately.

    On the other hand, if the question means "which weapon is the most
    deadly?"  the answer will depend on a lot of factors, not the least
    of which are the skill of the combatants, the presence of armour, the
    military and cultural context, and the rules of the fight (ie. is
    this a street fight, a gentlemen's duel, or open field warfare?).
    Most swords are highly optimized for performance in a specific
    environment, and will not perform well outside it.  Comparing two
    swords from completely different historical contexts is therefore
    extremely difficult, if not downright silly.

    Then again, perhaps the question means "which style of fencing is
    the most realistic?"  It must be said that questions of realism have
    little relevance to an activity that has almost no practical
    application in the modern world other than sport and fitness.
    Historically, however, epees have the closest resemblance (among FIE
    weapons) to real duelling swords, and the rules closely parallel
    those of actual duels (sometimes being fought to only a single

1.5  Is fencing going to be eliminated from the Olympics?

    Olympic fencing appears to be safe for the present, and was
    recently expanded to include Women's Epee.  Since the IOC
    perpetually changes its roster of Olympic sports, nothing is
    certain in future games.  Although fencing is one of only four
    sports to have been involved in every modern Olympic Games since
    their inception in 1896, it has been mentioned in the past as one
    of the disciplines that may be eliminated from future Games.

    According to Gilbert Felli, Sports Director of the International
    Olympic Committee, the IOC plans to refine future games in
    various ways, including:
        -- limiting the number of athletes to 15000
        -- increasing participation by women
        -- eliminating "so-called artificial team events"
        -- limiting sports of a similar type
        -- modernizing the Olympic program
        -- encouraging sports that provide a good television spectacle

    In the last decade fencing has undergone numerous revisions to
    its rules and structure to improve its value as a spectator
    sport, perhaps in the hopes of improving its Olympic

1.6  Does it hurt?

    Not if done properly.  Although executed with appreciable energy,
    a good, clean fencing attack hurts no more than a tap on the
    shoulder.  The force of the blow is normally absorbed by the flex
    of the blade.  Reckless and overly aggressive fencers can
    occasionally deliver painful blows, however.  Fencing *is* a
    martial art, so you should expect minor bruises and welts every
    now and again.  They are rarely intentional.  The most painful
    blows tend to come from inexperienced fencers who have not yet
    acquired the feel of the weapon.

    The primary source of injury in fencing is from strained muscles
    and joints.  Proper warm-up and stretching before fencing will
    minimize these occurences.

    There is a risk of being injured by broken weapons.  The shards
    of a snapped blade can be very sharp and cause serious injury,
    especially if the fencer doesn't immediately realize his blade is
    broken, and continues fencing.  Always wear proper protective
    gear to reduce this risk.  FIE homologated jackets, pants, and
    masks are ideal, as they are made with puncture-resistant fabrics
    such as ballistic nylon.  If you cannot afford good fencing wear,
    at least use a plastron (half-jacket worn beneath the regular
    fencing jacket), and avoid old and rusty masks.  Always wear a
    glove that covers the cuff, to prevent blades from running up the

    Fencing is often said to be safer than golf.  Whether or not this
    is true, it is an extraordinarily safe sport considering its
    heritage and nature.

1.7  How long does it take to become good?

    There is a saying that it takes two lifetimes to master fencing.  By
    the time anyone has come close to "mastering" the sport, they are
    long past their athletic prime.  Some may feel that this is a
    drawback to the sport, but most fencers see it as a great strength:
    fencing never becomes dull or routine; there are always new skills to
    master, and new grounds to conquer.

    In times past, students often were not permitted to hold a weapon
    until they had completed a year or two of footwork training.
    Modern training programs rarely wait this long, and in many cases
    students will be fencing (albeit badly) almost immediately.
    Novice-level competition is feasible within 3-6 months.
    Competition at this point should be viewed as a learning aid, not
    as a dedicated effort to win.

    Serious attempts at competing will be possible after 2-3 years,
    when the basic skills have been sufficiently mastered that the
    mind is free to consider strategy.  A moderate level of skill
    (eg. C classification) can take a few years of regular practice
    and competition.  Penetration of the elite ranks (eg. world cup,
    international 'A' level) demands three to five days per week of
    practice and competition, and usually at least 10 years of

    Progress can be faster or slower, depending on the fencer's
    aptitude, dedication, quality of instruction, and the age at
    which they begin.  Rapid progress normally requires at least
    three practices per week, and regular competition against
    superior fencers.  With the increasing emphasis on athleticism in
    the modern sport, fencers are getting younger, and the champions
    are getting to the podiums faster.

1.8  What qualities make a good fencer?

    All of them.

    On the athletic side, speed and cardiovascular fitness rank
    foremost.  Other traits that can be exploited are strength (for
    explosive power, not heavy handedness), manual dexterity, and
    flexibility.  Quick reaction time is extremely important.  On the
    mental side, a fencer must be adaptable and observant, and have a
    good mind for strategy and tactics.  Psychologically, he or she
    must be able to maintain focus, concentration, and emotional
    level-headedness under intense conditions of combat.

    As far as body type goes, it is always possible to adapt your
    style to take advantage of your natural traits.  Even so, height
    seems to be most useful in epee.  Small or thin people are harder
    to hit in foil.  A long reach helps in epee, and long legs are an
    asset in foil.

    It should be noted that left handers seem to enjoy a slight
    advantage, especially against less experienced fencers.  This may
    account for the fact that lefties make up 15% of novice fencers,
    but close to half of FIE world champions.

1.9  How much does it cost to get involved in fencing?

    A beginner's dry fencing kit (cotton jacket, glove, dry weapon,
    mask) will cost about US$100-200.  A full set of FIE-spec
    competition gear (FIE jacket, pants, mask, 2 weapons, wires,
    glove, shoes, plastron, electric jacket) will run at least
    US$500-1000.  FIE equipment is recommended both in terms of
    safety and quality, but clothing costs can be as much as halved
    by purchasing regular cotton or synthetic knits.  Used equipment
    can also be bought from retiring or upgrading fencers.  Many
    clubs will provide basic equipment to their beginning

    Club costs vary widely, depending on the quality of the space,
    the equipment provided to its members, and the amount of coaching
    included in the club fees.  Advanced lessons are usually
    purchased separately.

1.10 How do I find a good fencing club?

    Start with your local Provincial or Regioal fencing association.
    If you don't know how to find them, contact your national fencing body
    (see section 3.1).  Your national body may maintain a list of known
    fencing clubs in the country.  Otherwise, your local association will
    be able to tell you about recognized clubs in your area.  Many
    universities and colleges also sponsor fencing clubs and teams that
    will often accept non-students as members.  You might also check out
    courses or camps offered by local community centers.

    Fencers with Web access can find a list of NZ fencing clubs at .
    Once you have a list of potential clubs, you will want to
    evaluate them and your needs.  Desirable qualities vary,
    depending on your skill level and what you want to get out of
    fencing.  Look for a good range of skill levels, decent equipment
    inventories, adequate scoring sets, emphasis on your favourite
    weapon(s), a spirited competition ethic, access to personal
    lessons, and a coach or master with a good record (ie. successful
    students).  If you still have a choice, count yourself lucky, and
    choose the club that makes you feel comfortable and relaxed
    without sacrificing the athletic spirit that is essential to

1.11 What kind of cross-training will help my fencing?

    The best training for fencing is fencing.  Fencing development is
    asymmetrical and few other sports use the same muscle groups, so
    this is a difficult question whose answer depends largely on what
    aspect of your training you really want to focus on.

    Cardiovascular fitness and leg strength always help, so anything that
    enhances these will be beneficial.  Cycling, swimming, aerobics, and
    skating are good examples.  Running, sprinting, soccer, basketball,
    and similar sports can also be helpful, although some athletes dislike
    the stresses they put on the knees.  Racquet sports like tennis,
    badminton, squash, racquetball, and table tennis are also excellent,
    and will exercise your upper body in addition to your legs.
    Circuit or period training (short bursts of high-heart-rate
    exercise followed by brief recovery periods) has been put forward
    as particularly relevant to the demands of fencing.

    Proper weight training can be of great benefit, if it emphasizes
    power development in the legs and lower body, core trunk strength
    for stability, speed, and flexibility.  Improper weight training
    can potentially be detrimental, if it develops strength but not
    power, or sacrifices flexibility for muscle development.

    Some fencers maintain that juggling improves reactions, hand-eye
    coordination, and use of peripheral vision.

    Some coaches and fencers suggest occasional fencing or workouts with
    your opposite hand, both to improve skill and balance your muscular

1.12 How can I improve my technique without the help of a coach?

    It is very easy to acquire bad habits and poor technique if you do
    not have the guidance of a knowledgable fencing master, coach, or
    fellow fencer.  If you are serious about improving your fencing,
    quality coaching is always your best investment.  However, a
    disciplined fencer still has options if decent instruction is not
    available on a regular basis.

    Firstly, a solid knowledge of fencing theory and regulations is a
    must.  Freelance fencers should study the FIE Rules of
    Competition and a good fencing manual (see Section 3.3).  They
    should test and apply this knowledge by refereeing whenever
    possible.  An appreciation of good fencing style is also
    essential, so that they can readily identify weaknesses in their
    own and other fencers' techniques.  Observation and comparison of
    skilled or accomplished fencers will develop this ability.
    Training videotapes and videotapes of high-level competitions
    (see Section 3.6) are also helpful in this regard.

    Freelance fencers must be open-minded and critical of their own
    technique, so that they can recognize problems before they develop
    into habits.  Discussion of their weaknesses with training opponents
    will help them clarify the areas that need work.  If possible, they
    should videotape their bouts and review them to spot defects in their
    tactics and technique.

    Fencers should seek out opponents who will strenuously test
    their weaknesses.  More experienced fencers, left-handers, those
    whose tactics are particularly effective, and even those with
    annoying (ie. difficult) styles should be courted on the practice
    strip.  When fencing less skilled opponents, fencers should
    restrict their tactics to a small set that require practice, and
    resist the temptation to open up if they should start losing.

    The opportunity to participate in footwork and line drills should
    never be passed up.  When they can find agreeable partners,
    fencers can do more personalized drills to exercise their weak
    areas.  (Of course it is courteous to indulge the needs of your
    partners when they in turn work on their own training.)

    Lastly, fencers should remain aware of their bout psychology and
    mental state when fencing, and try to cultivate the mindset that
    in their experience produces good fencing.

1.13 What is right-of-way?

    Right-of-way (or priority) is the set of rules used to determine
    who is awarded the point when there is a double touch in foil or
    sabre (ie. both fencers hit each other in the same fencing time).
    It is detailed in the FIE Rules of Competition, Articles
    t.56-t.60 (old 232-237) for foil, and t.75-t.80 (old 416-423)
    for sabre.

    The core assumption behind right-of-way is that a fencing bout is
    always in one of three states:

        -- nothing significant is happening
        -- the fencers are conceiving and executing their actions
        -- one fencer is threatening, while the other is
            reacting to the threat

    Since no points will be scored in the first situation, we can ignore
    it.  In the second situation, the fencers' actions have equal
    significance, and it is impossible to award a touch.  Both touches
    will be annulled and the bout will be resumed where it was

    The third situation is the important one.  The first fencer to
    establish a threat has priority (right-of-way), even if the other
    reacts by making a counter-threat.  Any hit from the fencer with
    priority takes precedence over a hit from the other.  The job of
    the referee is to decide which fencer did not have right-of-way,
    and annul his touch.  If he cannot decide, the referee should
    abstain, annul BOTH hits, and resume the action where it left

    A proper threat can be either an attack (see question 1.14),
    or a "point in line" (see question 1.16) that is
    established before the opponent attacks.

    Right-of-way is lost when the threat misses, falls short, is
    broken off, or is deflected away from the target by a parry or
    other engagement from the defender.  The defender then has "right
    of attack" for a split second; if he returns the threat
    immediately, he takes over right-of-way and the tables have
    turned.  If he hesitates, however, it becomes a toss-up; the
    first fencer to establish a threat will sieze the right-of-way

    The right-of-way relationships between common fencing actions are as

    - derobement has right-of-way over attacks on the blade
    - attacks on the blade have right-of-way over the point in line
    - point in line has right-of-way over the attack
    - the simple attack has right-of-way over the stop-hit
    - the stop-hit has right-of-way over the renewal of the attack
    - the stop-hit in time has right-of-way over the compound attack
    - the riposte has right-of-way over the renewal of the attack
    - the counter-riposte has right-of-way over the renewal of the riposte
    - the remise of the attack has right-of-way over the delayed riposte

1.14 What constitutes an attack?

    According to Article t.7 (old 10) of the FIE rules of competition,
    "the attack is the initial offensive action made by extending the
    arm and continuously threatening the opponent's target."

    A threatening weapon is normally interpreted to be one that will
    or could hit the opponent if no defensive action is taken.  In
    other words, a weapon threatens if it is moving towards the
    target in a smooth, unbroken trajectory.  This trajectory can be
    curved, especially if the attack is indirect, compound, or
    involves a cutting action.  Hesitations and movements of the
    blade away from the target will usually be perceived as a break
    in the attack or a preparation of the attack.

    One common misconception is that a straight or straightening arm
    is required to assert the attack.  However, a straight arm is not
    an attack, but a point-in-line.  The attack begins
    when the arm begins extending, not once it is fully extended.  It
    is not even necessary that the arm become fully straight,
    although that is normal for attacks at medium and longer
    distances.  Retraction of the arm, however, will usually be
    interpreted as a break in the attack.

    Another common misconception is that an attack does not threaten
    unless the blade is aimed at the target.  This is not generally
    true.  The definition of an attack is the same for cuts and
    thrusts, so cuts and cut-like actions (including coupe's and
    "flicks") must threaten while the blade
    is still out of line.  Generally, an attack threatens if it is
    moving towards the target as part of a smooth, unbroken movement,
    regardless of where the point is located when that movement begins.

    Many fencers are under the mistaken impression that a bent arm or
    out-of-line point constitutes a preparation, and therefore that
    they can rightfully attack into it.  If the bent arm is extending
    and the out-of-line point is moving towards the target, however,
    this assumption is usually false under modern fencing
    conventions.  A successful attack on the preparation must clearly
    precede the opponent's initiation of his final movement, or else
    arrive a fencing time ahead of his touch.

    Sabre fencers must also consider Article t.75 (old 417) of the
    Rules of Competition, which states when the attack must land
    relative to the footfalls of a lunge, advance-lunge, (and fleche,
    historically).  Attacks that arrive after the prescribed footfall
    are deemed continuations, and do not have right-of-way over the
    counter-attack.  Sabre fencers must also remember that whip-over
    touches can be interpreted as remises, and not mal-pare's.

1.15 What constitutes a parry?

    According to Article t.7 (old 10) of the FIE Rules of Competition,
    "the parry is the defensive action made with the weapon to
    prevent the offensive action from arriving".

    A successful parry deflects the threatening blade away from the
    target.  It is normally not sufficient to merely find or touch
    the opponent's blade; the fencer must also exhibit control over
    it--although the benefit of the doubt usually goes to the fencer
    making the parry.  If the attacker must replace the point into a
    threatening line before continuing, it is a remise (renewal of
    the attack) and does not have right-of-way over the riposte.
    However, if the parry does not deflect the blade, or deflects
    it onto another part of the target, then the attack retains the
    right-of-way (mal-pare' by the defender).  In practice, very
    little deflection is needed with a well-timed parry.

    A well-executed parry should take the foible of the attacker's
    blade with the forte and/or guard of the defender's.  This
    provides the greatest control over the opponent's blade.  In
    other cases (eg. a beat parry with the middle of the blade) the
    parry can still be seen as sufficient if the attacking blade is
    sufficiently deflected.  In ambiguous cases, however, the benefit
    of the doubt is usually given to the fencer who used his
    forte/guard.  For example, if a fencer attempts to parry using
    his foible on his opponent's forte, it will often be interpreted
    in the reverse sense (eg. counter-time parry by the attacker),
    since such an engagement does not normally result in much
    deflection of the attack.  A foible to foible parry could
    potentially be seen as a beat attack by the opposing fencer
    depending on the specifics of the action.

    At foil, the opponent's blade should not only be deflected away
    from the target, but away from off-target areas as well.  An
    attack that is deflected off the valid target but onto invalid
    target can still retain right-of-way.  If the defender clearly
    releases the attacking blade before the continuation of the
    attack lands, then the benefit of the doubt is usually given to
    the parry.

    At sabre, the opponent's blade need only be deflected away from
    valid target, since off-target touches do not stop the phrase.
    Cuts are considered parried if their forward movement is checked
    by a block with the blade or guard.  Contact with the blade or
    guard may be interpreted as a parry, even if a whip-over touch
    results.  Avoiding whip-over touches altogether requires
    exceptionally clean and clear parries.

    At epee, a good parry is simply any one that gains enough time
    for the riposte.  Opposition parries and binds are commonly used,
    since they do not release the opponent's blade to allow a remise.

1.16 What constitutes a point-in-line?

    According to Article t.10 of the FIE Rules of Competition, the
    in-line position is that "in which [the fencer's] sword arm is
    straight and the point of his weapon threatens his opponent's
    valid target."

    Properly done, the arm should be extended as straight as
    possible, and form a more or less continuous line with the blade,
    with the point aimed directly at the high lines of the target.
    Excessive angulation at the wrist or fingers negates the
    point-in-line.  Superfluous movement of the point also risks
    negating the line, especially in sabre.  Derobements/trompements,
    however, are permitted.

    In foil and sabre, the point-in-line has priority over attacks
    that are made without first taking the blade.  With these weapons
    (but not with epee) it is forbidden to assume the point-in-line
    position before the command to fence has been given.  In sabre, a
    point-in-line that hits with the edge is passe'; if a touch is
    registered with the edge, it is properly analyzed as a remise or
    counter-attack, except in the case of a derobement.

    There are wildly differing opinions on the role of the feet in
    the point-in-line.  Some claim that any movement forward or
    backward invalidates the point-in-line, while others claim that
    only forward movement obviates the line.  These interpretations
    are incorrect, although they may still constitute good advice if
    you want to make the point-in-line more obvious to a referee.  It
    was widely held to be an official ruling that steps or jumps
    forward or backward maintained the point-in-line, but lunges or
    fleches obviated it.  This ruling, apparently based on a
    directive from the FIE, was official policy in the USFA for a
    while.  However, the rulebook does not proscribe any footwork
    movements at all, and other FIE rulings hold that footwork, even
    a lunge or fleche, has absolutely no effect on the priority of
    the point-in-line.

1.17 What is the scoop on "flicks" and "whips"?

    Flicks are whip-like attacks that can score against very oblique
    and even concealed targets.  Sometimes thought of as a recent
    corruption, flicks actually have a long history that stems from
    coupe' (the cut-over) and fencers' efforts to throw their points
    around the parry.  Properly executed and judged, they are effective
    and beautiful attacks;  poorly executed and judged, they can be
    painful and annoying.

    One common criticism of the flick is that it would cause minor
    injury with a real weapon.  The obvious, if flippant, response to
    this is not to flick if you're trying to kill someone with a real

    Another common criticism is that flicks are difficult to
    defend against.  One must simply remember to parry them as if
    they were cuts, not thrusts (using auxiliary parries like tierce,
    quinte, and elevated sixte).  The flick is also highly sensitive
    to distance, and a well-timed break in the measure will cause it
    to land flat.

    A third criticism is that flicks are usually given the priority,
    even though the attack often begins with the point aimed at the
    ceiling.  However, the definition of an attack (see question 1.14)
    says nothing about where the point is aimed, only what it is
    threatening.  It is normally true that an attack that scores must
    have threatened in at least its final tempo, no matter where it
    was pointed at the start of that tempo.

    Sabre fencing has suffered from a related and more serious
    scourge, the whip-over.  In this case, the foible bends around the
    opponent's blade or guard following a parry, to contact the target
    and register a touch.  The scoring machines attempt to reduce these
    false touches by blocking hits within a certain time window following
    weapon contact, but this is of limited effectiveness and also has the
    unfortunate effect of blocking the occasional attack through the
    blade.  Referees have tried to help out by analyzing whip-over
    touches as remises, but they still score over composed or delayed
    ripostes.  The FIE has been considering and trying various possible
    fixes, including varying the timeouts and mandating stiffer sabre

1.18 What are the latest rule changes?

    The FIE Rules of Competition were completely revised for the 1998
    season.  Although the wording of the rules is for the most part
    similar, the article numbers and locations of particular rules
    are completely different.

        - Crossing the boundary of the piste with one or both
          feet results in a halt, and the loss of 1 metre of ground by
          the offending fencer.  Hits launched before the halt by
          the offending fencer are valid only if one foot remains on the
          piste.  If both feet leave the piste, only the hit made by
          the opposing fencer is counted, and only if one of their feet
          remains on the piste. (2002)
        - Falling is no longer an offence. (2002)
        - Immediate penalty (Group I/yellow card) if a fencer
          signals he/she is ready to fence with an illegal bend to
          their blade. (2002)
        - Only team members and trainer are permitted inside the
          designated team zone during team competitions.  Penalties
          for violating this rule are directed against the team, and
          remain valid for the duration of the match. (2002)
        - Leaving the piste with one or both feet earns a verbal
          caution for first offense, and group 1 penalties
          thereafter. (1998) [This rule replaced by a new
          out-of-bounds rule, above, in 2002.]
        - In sabre, any action in which the rear leg is crossed in
          front of the fore is a group 1 penalty, with the hit annulled. 
          A correctly executed touch from the opponent is still valid. (1994)
        - Salute of opponent, referee, and audience is mandatory
          at the start and end of the bout.  Failure to do so is a
          group 3 penalty (if by one fencer at start of bout), group 4
          penalty (if by both fencers at start or end of bout),
          suspension (if by loser at end of bout), or annullment of
          hit (if by winner at end of bout). (1994)

        - Scoring lamps must indicate who scored the touch, not
          who received it. (2000)
        - FIE2000 sabre blades required. (2000)
        - Clear masks required in all FIE foil and epee events. (2000)
        - 800N underarm protector (plastron) is required in addition
          to the regular 800N jacket. (1994)
        - Clothing may be of different colours, but those on the body
          must be white or light-coloured. (1994)
        - Minimum width of the strip is now 1.5 metres. (1994)
        - The proposed rule extending the foil target to include
          the bib has been dropped.

        - Pool and relay bouts are now of 3-minute duration. (2002)
        - At sabre only, the first period of an elimination bout
          will end when 3 minutes have elapsed, or the score of one
          fencer has reached 8 touches. (2002)
        - Coin flip to determine winner in the event of a tie shall be
          made at end of regulation time, and one additional minute
          shall be fenced.  The winner of the coin toss shall be
          recorded as the victor if the bout is not resolved by sudden
          death in the extra minute. (1994)
        - No more 1-minute warning, although fencers can request the
          time remaining at any normal halt in the action. (1994)
        - Fencers shall be placed at the en garde lines at the
          commencement of each 3-minute period in 15-touch elimination
          bouts. (1994)

        - When time runs out, scores are recorded as is, rather than
          elevating the winner to 5 and the loser by an equivalent
          amount. (1997)
        - Following pools, fencers are sorted by V/M, HS-HR, HS. (1997)
        - In sabre, simultaneous attacks that both arrive on the valid
          target do not result in any points being scored. (1994)
        - In the team relay, the first pair of fencers fence to 5
          points or 4 minutes, whichever comes first.  The next pair
          continue from this score up to 10 points within 4 minutes,
          and so on up to a total score of 45 points. (1995?)



Author: Morgan Burke (
Contributors: special thanks to Suman Palit, Guy Smith, Greg Dilworth,
        Kevin Taylor, Eric Anderson, Blaine Price, Steve Hick, Kim
        Moser, David Glasser, Bryan Mansfield, Donald Lane, Ann McBain,
        Hagen Lieffertz, Mark C. Orton, Mike Buckley, Dirk Goldgar,
        Scott Holmes, Arild Dyrseth, David Airey, Renee Mcmeeken, Marc
        Walch, Eric Speicher, Anton Oskamp, Bernard Hunt, Francis Cordero,
        Kent Krumvieda, David Van Houten, John Crawford, Kim Taylor,
        Brendan Robertson, Ivo Volf, Kevin Wechtaluk, Frank Messemer,
        Benerson Little, Mark Crocker, Eileen Tan, Mark Tebault, Tim
        Schofield, Peter Gustafsson, Kevin Haidl, Peter Crawford,
        Camille Fabian, Matt Davis, Fernando Diaz, Anders Haavie,
        Rüdiger Schierz, Todd Ellner, George Kolombatovich,
        Padraig Coogan, Steve Lawrence, Bryan J. Maloney, Colin Walls

(C) 1993-2002 Morgan Burke
Permission is granted to copy and distribute all or part of this document
for non-profit purposes.

End of FAQ part I

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