Fencing, explained
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Fencing, explained

December 3, 2019


Most sports in the olympics are really pretty
easy to watch. You cross a finish line, hit a target, jump
the farthest, score a point. But fencing is different. It’s so incredibly fast and precise, that
even after watching several matches, for the average viewer, it’s hard to understand
exactly how a point was scored. This is footage from 3 different bouts at
the 2015 world championships. On the surface, they look pretty similar. But what you’re looking at is in fact 3
very different events. There’s the foil, epee, and sabre. They each have their own weapon and set of
rules and their roots can be traced back centuries. My only cultural reference for fencing comes
from the 1998 remake of the Parent Trap, so I decided to travel 2 blocks from our NYC
office to a veritable fencing oasis in the middle of Time Square, the Manhattan Fencing
center. It’s produced 3 Olympians just this year. That’s me, struggling. That’s my very patient coach for the day,
Brando Messinese. Perfect. Very good job. Retreat. Retreat. Parry. Reposte. But it all happens in a half a second
Yeah it happens pretty fast. So, where did fencing come from? An early form of fencing for sport can be
traced back to ancient Egypt but fencing, as we know it today, derives from the European
duel. The design of swords evolved from a defense
and hunting strategy of cutting and slashing to thrusting because it was far more deadly
and effective. The foil is the lightest of the 3 fencing
weapons and it appeared around the 17th century Europe as a practice weapon for the smallsword,
a fashionable weapon often used in a duel to settle disputes. Fencing schools were established in Italy,
Spain, and France elevating the practice to a form of exercise and art Foil fencing rules are the most limiting. You can only hit the torso and back and only
with the tip of the foil blade. This is where the term touche or (touch) comes
from. In the 19th century a sturdier weapon called
the epee was introduced. I would say for a first time viewer of fencing,
the easiest one to watch is epee. That’s because it’s the slowest of the
three events because fencers are more hesitant to initiate an attack exposing their whole
bodies to their opponent. Fencers are more hesitant to initiate an attack,
exposing their whole body to their opponent. It is also the only of the three weapons where
the “right of way” rule is not enforced. What’s “right of way?” Well, in a classic duel the only way to win
if you’re attacked first is to parry or deflect your opponent’s weapon AND THEN riposte
or attack your opponent. With the epee, simultaneous hits can occur
and both fencers will receive a point. And now, the fastest event. The sabre. Sabre is the second fastest sport in the Olympic
games after rifle shooting. That means the blade is moving almost as fast
as a bullet Instead of just thrusting, the sabre fencers
can score on any part of the upper body with slashes and thrusts and because the right
of way is enforced, sabre fencers are more incentivized to attack first. You’ll immediately recognize the difference
between an epee and sabre bout because of the shape of the hand guard and speed of play. Fencing holds a special place in Olympic history
because it’s one of only 5 sports to be featured since the first modern games in 1896. It was a hugely popular sport, drawing crowds
in theaters like big boxing fights would today. This of course is where the salute comes from. Until the 30s, fencing bouts like boxing would
take place in theaters. This of course is where the salute comes from. In the mid 20th century electricity replaced
red chalk to make judging easier. And between 1900s and the early 2000s many
fencing maneuvers further distanced the sport from it’s dueling roots. Nothing did that more than the “flick.” People were used to flick their blades on
the backs of their opponents. But they changed the timings of the machines
and that wouldn’t work anymore. Because a flick was so quick, it’s less
likely to register as a hit. Despite that, foil fencers still attempt this
maneuver. The international fencing federation and the
IOC have done a lot to try and draw outsiders to the sport. At London 2012 the lighting systems alone
looked like a techno dance floor and the masks closely resembled daft punk head gear. But the essence of the sport, a fight between
two people remains. If you can just train your eyes to watch split
second bouts, it’s really exhilarating to watch.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Great to see the sports gain some attention. An update to the right of way rules gave fencers a 2nd options as to the parry though. An evasive manouvre is now enough to overcome the right of way.

  2. Thank God some does our sport right I’ve been an Epee fencer for almost eight years and I’ve made some of my life long friends doing it. Seriously if your thinking about joining please do it’s so much fun and it’s incredibly thrilling and just all out fun.

  3. You can’t forget about the fencing bensons 😔😔true hero’s of mine I saw them back in 1969 when they toured with the tingling brothers

  4. My brothers are fencing champions (not over the world, like only in my city) and I’ve always wanted to try fencing i guess i just panic when there is a lot of people

  5. as a fencer, i see many editing mistakes, the blade for foil and epee images should be swapped, and parry (peri) is spelled incorrectly

  6. I wish duels to the death were legal all over the world today. I think keeping violence between as few people as possible and ending it in the same sense is much LESS destructive.

  7. I used to fence foil and saber. It is a very difficult and expensive sport. I was not good at it, but it was fun.

  8. Even though I don't understand the rules, I still watch it because of the grace and beauty of the participant's movements.

  9. I play the sport and some of these things I didnt know (historically I mean) I do Foil and I want to switch to sabre but no club near me

  10. Check out hema such as classical fencing with smallsword, sabre, or singlestick or even older forms like longsword, rapier, messer, dussack and even unarmed like ringen or abrazare or icelandic glima.

  11. Thank you Vox for helping our fencing community get explored more. I am a national and international level saber fencer btw :p

  12. who else is watching this as a actuall fencer who alredy khnows all this(if ur poor or need $ dont consider fencing im struggling just to buy new equipmetnt after mine breaks)

  13. Very interesting.. I am watching an olympic match right now and have no idea what is happening without the slow motion cameras.

  14. As a epee fencer I feel really honored to watch this video.
    But still epee is very interesting and I recommend it to every one.

  15. one information to correct on this video, the lightest weapon is Saber not foil! foil weighs 500 grams, epee weighs 750 grams while saber weighs lass than 500 grams

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