There are 3 weapons - Foil, Sabre and Epee - and each has different rules, explained below. All of the weapons require thick suits and a glove to be worn that protect the fencer from the blade. In addition, fencers wear a mask with a thick 'bib' to protect the neck and face. The masks are extremely strong and will repel even the strongest, most direct hit. They are also held tightly to the head with a strap around the back to make sure that they won't fall off in the heat of battle.
Visit the video page for a brief explanation from Ben Peggs.
Foil matches are meant to symbolise lethal attacks, which makes this event one of the most technical. Unlike sabre, points can only be scored by getting the tip of the weapon in the target zone, which is limited to the torso, or the location of a person’s vital organs. Foil fencers also often have to be more aggressive to get a scoring advantage.
Fencers wear an electrified metal jacket called a lame (pronounced 'larmay') that is plugged into the scoring system, as is the weapon, to register hits. The lame covers the target area, and a button on the tip of the weapon is depressed on contact to complete the circuit and register the hit.
The only way to score points on defence is to first parry the attack then take the point on a riposte. Or, in plain English, block the attack and immediately hit back with a quick jab or thrust. This is the rule of 'priority'.
Meant to symbolise how knights might attack on a horse way back when, sabre matches usually move along quicker than the other categories. That’s because with sabres, which are shorter than the other two weapons, fencers are looking to “slash” their opponents, which means points can be scored with both the tip and side of the weapon. Sabre fencers also have a bigger target. They can score points anywhere above the hips, including the arms and head..
Like Foil, right of way, or 'priority' rules apply, and sabre fencers also wear an electrified lame covering the target area. Unlike foil, the whole of the blade is electrified, so any touch on the lame will register as a hit.
Fencers are allowed to float mid-air while fencing in any of the weapons, as seen in the photo below, using helium balloons stuffed up the back of their jackets.
Care for a duel? The epee, which is longer and heavier than the sabre and foil, is the easiest to understand of the three weapons. Fencers are allowed to hit each other anywhere, including the feet, hands and face (which is covered by a mask, of course, so it’s safe). There is no priority in Epee. Unlike Foil and Sabre, it doesn’t matter who attacks first, and in fact, if fencers attack at the same time, both can score simultaneously.
There is no need for a lame in Epee. Instead a small sleeve covers the tip of the blade (the weapon is plugged in). When the tip makes contact, the circuit is completed and the hit is registered.