The Feisty Nature of Fencing Bouts: Their Origin and Techniques Used

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A lot of the time when you ask someone what fencing is, they’ll either say “I don’t know,” or think of literal fences. Since it’s not a very popular sport in America, only a small number of people know what it is and an even smaller number actually does it. I want to inform more people about it and raise awareness about it so as to apprise the public. Fencing has been around for thousands and thousands of years. It first appeared around 1190 BCE near Luxor, Egypt and began as a military training exercise in Europe. Carvings showing the sport were found in a temple near this area of Egypt. Although many people might think it has french origins, fencing actually originated in Spain. In fact, many important fencing books were written in Spain by fencers. Fencing became an official sport in the 1500s and joined the Olympics for the first time in 1896 in the Games of Athens. This was a huge step for fencing since it meant that it was starting to become popular and nationally recognized as a sport. Naturally, as the sport evolved, new rules and regulations were implemented to make sure the sport was fair and safe. An example of this is the collar of the mask. When electric fencing had just been invented, people in foil used to cheat by making their non-electric collars cover the entire chest target area making it impossible for their opponent to score. To solve this problem, a new rule was implemented that stated that all parts of the collars that were below the neckline had to be electric, thus ridding the competition of this problem.

There are 3 different kinds of fencing. The first being foil, the second being epee, and the third being saber. These 3 kinds are all different from each other. In foil, the main way to score a point is to get the right-of-way and score or neutralize the attack your receiving by doing a parry riposte or any other motion to stop an oncoming attack. The target area for foil is smaller compared to the other two, including only the torso, neck, and back. If an opponent hits anywhere else, the hit is labeled as “off-target.” Epee has the largest target zone out of the three kinds of fencing since it includes the entire body, except the actual sword of course. To get a point in epee, all you have to do is hit anywhere on your opponent’s body since there is no right-of-way needed. The blade is also different from foil. The bell guard is much larger and covers the hand holding it more so as to make it harder for the opponent to score on the hand. Saber’s target area is waist and above, excluding the hands. Like foil, to score a point you must have the right-of-way or counterattack before scoring. A good way to score in saber is by cutting and thrusting your blade towards the opponent’s target area.

To be able to fence, fencers need to get a lot of equipment. The first few things needed are a jacket and a lamé. An average fencing jacket is white with a strap that passes between the fencer’s legs. A lamé is an electric vest worn over the jacket and entire target area in foil and saber so as to easily determine if someone hit on target or off-target. More things that are needed are a chest protector and a plastron, which is also called an underarm protector. Both of these protect your upper body from getting injured when you are getting hit there while fencing. The chest protector is made of plastic and covers the upper chest part so as protect it from harsh blows. The underarm protector is made of cloth and has one sleeve to put the dominant arm through. This prevents the arm from getting scratches when and if fencers miss their target and hit your arm instead. Gloves, socks, electric mask, knickers, body cords, mask cords, and shoes are the rest of the vital equipment pieces needed to fence. A glove is worn on the hand that holds the sword to prevent scratches and cuts when people hit. Socks are also worn to prevent scratches and cuts on the legs from stray blades. An electric mask is an obvious necessity so as to protect the face from the sword and to include the neckline in the target area. Knickers are also needed because they protect the upper legs of the fencer very well from blades. Body cords and mask cords are needed because without them you wouldn’t be able to connect to the score box and know when you hit on target during a bout. Lastly, special athletic shoes are needed for fencing because regular day to day shoes don’t have enough grip for the strip.

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Learning to fence can be difficult but if you know the basic moves and techniques it makes it much easier. The most basic stance is the on-guard stance. To do this you first must touch both your heels to each other, then make them perpendicular by making the back foot vertical and the front foot horizontal, and lastly take your front foot and move it forward so that your knees are bent and have a solid stance. In fencing, you must also hold your sword correctly. To do that your dominant hand holding the sword must be aligned be with your shoulder, the sword must be held in a diagonal position and have the point be level with your opponent’s eyes. The 4 most basic moves are the lounge, advance, and retreat. An advance is when you move forward by first stepping forward with your front foot and then having the back foot follow it. The retreat is almost the same except you move backward by first stepping back with your back foot and then have the front foot follow. A lounge is a way to attack your opponent. It is done by first extending your sword and then taking a big step forward with only your front foot, leaving your back foot in place. This move is done to cover more ground when you attack and it is useful because it is easy to get back in the on-guard position in case you have to defend yourself quickly. Another basic move is called the parry. It used when a fencer needs to defend themselves from an oncoming attack that is aiming for the center of their chest and it also gives the right-of-way to the person who uses it. To correctly and successfully use this move you must move your wrist in the direction of the oncoming attacking blade and then hit it out of the way. A parry is usually accompanied by a riposte which is basically just extending the arm and hitting in the target area. By doing these 2 moves in rapid succession against an oncoming attack from the opposite fencer, then it gives you the right-of-way and ensures that the point scored is yours. They are only used in foil and saber when fencers are being attacked though because in epee right-of-way is not needed to ensure that the point scored is yours.

Fencing bouts are done on 14-meter strips. Each of these strips has 7 lines. The one in the middle splits the strip in half. 2-meters away from that center line, on each side, lie the on-guard lines where each fencer lines up to begin all bouts. 3-meters away from those lines lie the 2-meter warning lines, that caution the fencer that they are reaching the end of the strip. Finally, the last lines, are the end of the strip telling the fencer that they are off the strip. To see who scored a point, there is an electrical box connected through wires to each fencer. The fencer has a body chord that is connected to their sword, electric jacket, and a box at the back of the strip that connects to the main scoring box. For the score box to work without problems, the fencer must make sure that all their electrical equipment is functional and that there aren’t any problems. If any problem does arise, the box will start to flash white on the fencer’s side of the strip that is having issues. At competitions and tournaments, it is required that you check your electrical equipment at a booth provided before getting ready and right before beginning any bouts to make sure that your equipment works. At the booth, they stamp the functional equipment and if it doesn’t work you are forced to buy a replacement for the defective equipment. Also, right before beginning the tournament, the director checks to see that all the competitors have been stamped and that there won’t be a risk of defective equipment. If the director does find a problem while you are fencing, you are given a yellow card and the bout must wait until you’ve replaced the faulty equipment.

As you can tell, fencing has been around for a very very long time, has modernized greatly over the years, and has evolved to adapt to any problem it might face. Fencing has been a crucial part of history and will not stop to progress and advance as the years go by. It was, is, and always be a permanent and lasting sport in the world’s past and future.

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