Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Fencing Rules for the Novice Parent: Rule differences for foil, epee, and sabre

Fencing weapons - foil, epee, sabre

Fencing weapons – foil, epee, sabre

We know the rules of fencing can be confusing when you’re only talking about one weapon, then you add in three different sets of rules for three different weapons! Well, first, many rules are exactly the same for all weapons as covered in our last blog. Second, most fencers start with one particular weapon and may never add another … so as a parent, you really only need a thorough understanding of the rules for one weapon. However, it’s good to understand each of the weapons at a high level, so let’s talk through them and we’re also going to provide a handy chart!

This post is the second in a series of blogs on the rules of fencing for the novice parent. The first post introduced the basic rules and the main parts of a bout. This post covers the basics of how the rules differ for each weapon and will be followed by a post on the strategic differences.

So, the first thing to realize is that a different weapon means different rules. A different weapon also means differences in strategy and how the bout progresses, but that topic will be covered in our next post. The weapons themselves are of course also different. So, for each weapon, we’ll talk about what the actual weapon looks like and then how the rules differ—because often the two are related.

First, a foil is a light, thrusting sword with a small, circular hand guard and a flexible, rectangular blade. Foils were historically used to train for fights to defend one’s honor! In foil, fencers can only score with the tip of the sword, so you will see a lot of thrusting! Also, fencers can only score by touching the opponent’s torso (including back, neck, and groin), which is called the “target area.” When the foil’s tip touches the target area, the lights on the scoring machine will turn red or green, with each color representing one fencer. When the touch is off-target, a white light indicates the touch. It’s helpful to understand these rules so that you can follow the action and understand the lights as you see them!

Alright, let’s move onto the epee. The epee evolved as a dueling sword and was designed to mimic a duel as closely as possible. Actually, epee was first fought such that the first hit won! Hit quick, hit fast, and you win the bout. The epee is similar to a foil, but it’s a bit heavier and the blade is shaped a bit different. It’s stiffer, heavier, and has a tapered shape that gets thinner at the end. The main rules difference between epee and foil is that the target area for epee is the entire body. You will still see thrusting because points can still only be scored with the tip of the sword, but the action can often be more fast-paced as fencers have a larger area to aim for! The strategy revolves around hitting first and hitting fast since there is such a large target area. When you’re watching epee, notice that only the colored lights are used because there is no off-target touch—the whole body is fair game!

Last one! The sabre was developed as a military sword and was first used by cavalries. It is a light weapon that is for both thrusting and cutting (excuse the dangerous-sounding word, but “cutting” in fencing just means to attempt to contact your opponent with the blade of the weapon!). So, as you may have guessed already, in sabre, points can be scored with both the tip and the blade of the weapon. With multiple ways to score since you can hit with different parts of the weapon, sabre bouts are often really fast and exciting! Plus, the target area is the entire body above the waist, so there is more chance to score than in foil. When you’re watching sabre, you’ll notice the colored lights are used the same as we’ve talked about before, but an off-target touch will simply not result in a light.

Okay, one more thing. We mentioned in our last post a brief description of “right-of-way”. Foil and sabre use the concept to determine who scores in the event of simultaneous touches; epee simply awards a point to both fencers. As we covered in our last post, right-of-way has to do with which fencer made the last clear action. This concept impacts the strategy of the fencers, so we’ll talk more about that in our next post on strategies for the different weapons.

We hope this post helped begin to clear up the differences among foil, epee, and sabre as far as weapon appearance and rules. Our next post will go further into the differences and highlight how these distinctions affect the strategy and tactics during a bout.

Now here’s your handy chart! Now you can impress other parents with your knowledge of the weapon types at your child’s next competition. Fencing is all you guys talk about at tournaments, right?




Target Area


Foil A light, thrusting sword with a small, circular hand guard and a flexible, rectangular blade Scored only with the tip Torso (including back), neck, groin Yes
Epee A thrusting sword similar in length to a foil but heavier, with a larger guard and a much stiffer blade that has a tapered shape Scored only with the tip Entire body No
Sabre A light cutting and thrusting weapon Scored with tip or blade Entire body above waist Yes



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Fencing Rules for the Novice Parent: Strategy differences for foil, epee, and sabre


  1. Ben Marlin

    What’s the basic cost to start this sport?

    • Igor Chirashnya

      Hi Ben,
      There are many ways to start fencing. The initial cost would almost always be relatively inexpensive, and many community centers offer fencing classes. The cost depends on location – classes at Manhattan’s clubs obviously would be more expensive than in most other places. Also, the price would depend on classes/hours per week. The group hourly rate I believe should be similar to other sports in your area. I would recommend calling the fencing clubs around your location and inquiring their prices. Most likely you would be surprised that it is more affordable than you probably thought.

  2. Anonymous

    Why don’t epee fencers use Right-of-Way when they fence?

    • Igor Chirashnya

      Epee fencing mimics the real world duel, so if you hit your opponent you hurt him, which means you scored in the modern sport of fencing. If both duelist touched each other they both bleed, regardless of who had a right of way. Thus epee fencing does not have right of way – it is a real thing.

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