Fencing: How to Play (Continue your virtual intro to fencing)
1. What does a fencer wear?
Fencers wear specialized, head to toe, protective clothing. This gear includes a uniform made of kevlar (which is the same material that bullet proof vests are made from), a steel mesh mask with ballistic padding, protective socks, shoes, and a leather glove for the sword arm only. Because fencers wear so much gear, its important to have well fitting, quality equipment. Equipment that is poorly made or ill-fitting will impede the athlete's movement and maybe not protect him or her at all.
2. What type of swords to fencers use?
Fencers use three types of swords. They are:
All three weapons are especially made to compete safely and do not have a sharp point or edge. Click on the weapon above that you would like to know more about!
3. Where do fencers duel?
Fencers compete on their very own field of play called a "piste" or "strip". A strip is 14 meters long (about 42 feet) and 2 meters wide (about 6 feet). Fencers begin the match in the center of the strip, behind the on-guard lines.
4. How do fencers know who wins?
A match or "bout" lasts for 5 or 15 points (depending on the competition). In this way the athletes can determine which fencers has the most skill and not just the most luck. A bout is officiated by a referee who determines whether a fencer did or did not follow the rules. In addition to the referee, modern competitions and fencing schools use electronic scoring devices which tell the referee who hit who, where and when.
5. How does the electronic scoring machine work?
The scoring machine has at least four lights. Two of the lights are white, a third light is green and the fourth is red. Each white light sits next to either the green or the red light. If the fencer to the left of the machine hits his opponent on-target, then the red light signals the touch. If the fencer to the right of the machine hits the opponent on-target, then the green light signals the touch. The white lights that sit to either side of the colored lights will signal that a fencer has hit the opponent off-target or in a non-valid area of the body (such as the arm in foil fencing).
6. How are competitions run?
Competitions can be age restricted or rating restricted. Competitions can be open to anyone as well. In a standard USFA competition, each fencers is placed in a seeding "pool" of 5-7 fencers. Placement is determined by a fencer's national rank or USFA skill rating. Often there are anywhere from 4 to 20 pools of fencers that will happen simultaneously on different strips in the tournament. Each fencer fences everyone else in the pool. Based on a fencer's performance in the pool, he/she will be seeded into a complete table of all event competitors. The fencer who had the best performance will fence the fencer who did the worst. The second best athlete from the pools will fence the second worst and so forth and so on. This insures (theoretically) that the two best fencers in the room will square off for the final bout. These bouts in the table are usually matches to 15 and are single elimination. The average fencer will have between 6 and 10 matches in a tournament. The winner may have up around 17 matches depending on the number of total competitors. Fencers do not fence off for third. Third place is always tied.
7. What is a national ranking or USFA rating?
National ranking is determined by one's performance at USFA North American Cup Events. There are 3 events per season, per age category. A fencer's rank will be calculated by the average of his performance in those three events. One can also increase one's ranking by placing in the top 32 of any World Cup competition.
A USFA rating is a letter A-E with A being the highest. A rating is earned through placement at local USFA competitions. So for example, to earn the rating "E", one must place 1st in a competition with at least 8 USFA members or place in the top 3 of a competition with at least 15 USFA members. To earn an "A", one must place first in a competition with at least 15 USFA members, BUT those members must include 2 A's, 2 B's, 2 C's, 2 D's and 2 E's. Additionally, one can earn an "A" by placing in the top 8 of a Division 1 North American Cup Elite Competition.
Glossary of Fencing Terms
foil the training weapon, the smallest of the three fencing swords
epee the heaviest of the three weapons, decendent of the rapier
sabre the slashing weapon, decendent of the cavalry sabre
piste or "strip", the field of play for fencing
off-target a part of the body that does not count for points if hit
touche' or "touch" meaning a hit
bout a match or fight to 5 or 15
bodycord the wire that connects the weapon to the scoring machine
yellow card a first offense of the rules; a warning
red card the second breech of the rules; point for one's opponent
guard lines where fencers begin the bout and stand "on guard"
lame' the metal vest that foil and sabre fencers wear to define target area