• Introduction
  • The object of the game
  • Scoring in fencing
  • Starting the bout
  • Gameplay
  • Referees
  • Game time and intervals
  • The fencing piste
  • Rules and regulations of fencing equipment
  • Weapons
  • Protective clothing
  • Other rules of fencing
  • Sources


  • Point: The fencer that thrusts the tip of their weapon into the opponent’s target area scores a point. 
  • Bout: Played until the first fencer reaches 15pts.

Target area

  • Foil: Torso.
  • Épée: Whole body.
  • Sabre: Whole upper body. Sabre is the only weapon that may also be used for cutting. 

The bout

  • Each phrase (a point) starts from the en garde line with a salute.
  • Fencing continues until either player touches the opponent’s target area. 
  • If the referee stops the bout without awarding points, fencers continue from where they were. 
  • In foil, off-target touches stop the phrase (one point).
  • In épée, there are no off-target touches.
  • In sabre, off-target touches do not stop the phrase. 

Game time & intervals

  • A bout has a maximum time of 9mins.
  • Each bout is divided into three 3min periods, or when the first fencer scores 5pts in one period.
  • Each period is divided by a 60s break.


Although swordsmanship has been trained for thousands of years as military training, the sport of fencing is believed to have originated in 15th century Europe. In fact, three countries, Italy, Spain, and Germany, all lay claim to its origins.

The modern-day rules of fencing were introduced in the 17th and 18th century due to three separate innovations; The foil (fencing weapon), a protective mesh mask, and rules for the target area. These helped increase the safety and popularity of fencers around Europe. This eventually led to the founding of Fédération Internationale d’Escrime (FIE) in 1913, which still remains the sport’s main governing body. 

Nowadays, fencing still has a loyal following of fans around the world. Its biggest events include the World Championships and the European Championships. Fencing has also been a part of the Summer Olympic Games since 1896. Women’s Olympic events followed in 1924 in Paris. The Paralympic equivalent, wheelchair fencing, was introduced in the Rome Olympics in 1960. 

The object of the game

The object of fencing is relatively simple – both fencers attempt to touch one another with the tip of their sword whilst trying not to get hit in the process. The target areas vary between fencing styles and weapon choices, but the overall rules remain very similar. 

Scoring in fencing

In fencing, points are scored by touching your opponent with the tip of your weapon. The stab must also hit a specific target area, such as the arms or the torso. Competitive-level tournaments also use an electronic scoring system that signals whenever a point is scored.

Each bout lasts until the first fencer scores 15 touches or when the time runs out.

Starting the bout

Bouts begin with both unmasked fencers saluting each other and the officials. This is done by raising the blade to their chin and dropping it. After saluting, both fencers put down their masks and go to the starting mark, also known as the en garde line. Each phrase (point) follows the same commands:

  1. ”En garde” – On guard.
  2. ”Êtes-vous prêts” – Are you ready? 
  3. ”Allez” – Fence!
  4. ”Halte!” – Halt!

A halt may be called due to a touch, rule infringement, or unsafe situation. After interrupting the bout, the referee may explain the reason for the stoppage and give points accordingly. Once a point is rewarded, the bout continues with a salute from the en garde line. This goes on until one fencer reaches 15 points. 


Modern fencing consists of three different forms, all of which have slightly different rules and weapons. Thus, the sport is divided into three competitive scenes; foil, épée, and sabre.

The foil is a light thrusting weapon that only targets the torso. In foil, only tip touches may score points and hitting with the side of the blade does not register on the electronic apparatus. Additionally, off-target touches stop the play, but are not scored. At the end of a phrase (one point), only one fencer may score points. If both fencers hit each other within a few milliseconds, the referee may use a ”right of way” rule to determine whether an off-target hit has priority over a valid one or not. If the right of way cannot be determined by the referee, no points will be rewarded. 

The épée is also a thrusting weapon that only scores points with the tip. However, in épée, the whole body is a target, which means it does not have off-target touches or ”right of way” rules. The only exception to this is if the score is tied at the last point and a double touch occurs. In this case, the last point will be replayed. 

The sabre is a thrusting and cutting weapon that targets everything above the waist, except the hands. Thus, you may also score points with the front edge of the blade, not just the tip. Although off-target touches do not score points in sabre, the fencing continues until either fencer scores a valid point. If both fencers score at the same time, the referee may use the right of way rules like in foil.


The rules of fencing are overseen by a referee, whose main responsibilities include starting each bout, halting a play, keeping count of the score, and making sure the bout follows the official rules of the Fédération Internationale d’Escrime (FIE). The referee may also assign two or four line judges for assistance.

Game time and intervals

In addition to having a maximum score of 15 points, fencing bouts are also timed. The maximum elapsed time is nine minutes, which also divided into three periods. However, a period may also end before the three-minute time limit if a fencer reaches 5 points during that period. There is also a 60s break between each period.

If the time runs out before a fencer has reached 15 points, the fencer with the most points wins the game. However, if the score is tied after nine minutes of fencing, the referee will determine the priority fencer. If neither fencer scores a point during a one-minute ”sudden death”, the fencer with the priority wins.

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There are three forms of fencing; Foil, Épée & Sabre.

The fencing piste

The fencing piste, also known as the strip, is 14m (46ft) long and 1.5-2m (4.9-6.6ft) wide. The piste also has two en garde lines located 2m (6.6ft) on each side of the center line. Both ends have a line at the rear limit of the strip, 7m (23ft) from the center line. The rear limit lines are followed by a 1.5-2m (4.9-6.6ft) runoff that must be clearly distinguished with a different color of strip. 

The piste is usually made from aluminum or other conductive metal. Sometimes these also have a rubber back to reduce weight. 

Rules and regulations of fencing equipment

Fencing is a sport that requires several pieces of equipment. This includes the electric point system, protective clothing as well as three different weapons styles. 


Fencing weapons can be divided into three different types; foil, épée, and sabre. Each of which has their own rules and fencing styles. All weapons are made from steel.

Foil is a thrusting weapon that weighs a maximum of 500g (17.6oz), making it the lightest weapon in fencing. The maximum length of a foil is 110cm (43.3in). This weapon has a rectangular cross-section, making it more flexible than the épée. The foil is also the most common weapon used in fencing.

Épée is the largest and heaviest of all fencing weapons with a maximum weight of 750g (26.5oz). Like the foil, épée also has a maximum length of 110cm (43.3in). However, the blade is stiffer than foil and has a triangular cross-section, called the fuller. Épée also has a larger bell guard that shields the hands from being hit. 

Sabre is a thrusting and cutting weapon with a maximum weight of 500g (17.6oz) and a maximum length of 105cm (41.3in). It has a V-shaped cross-section and a handguard that extends from the hilt to the blade. 

Foil and épée style weapons also have different pistol grips depending on the fencer’s preference. The most common styles are the Belgian grip, Hungarian grip, Russian grip, and the Visconti grip.

Protective clothing

The protective clothing used in fencing is made from durable cotton, Kevlar, or Dyneema. According to the official FIE rules, tournament-level clothing must withstand a puncture force of 800 newtons whereas the mask must resist twice as much. A full set consists of several protective clothing items:

  • Mask: The mask has a metal mesh in front of the face and a bib that protects the neck. The masks must also withstand at least 25kg (55lb) on the mesh and 1600 newtons on the bib. Some modern masks also use a see-through visor instead of a full mesh.  
  • Jacket: The jacket is a fitted long-sleeve that protects the upper body. It also has a croissard that goes between the legs and a small gorget that prevents the opponent’s blade from slipping under the mask. 
  • Chest protector: A chest protector is more common among female fencers. It is made from hard plastic and it offers additional protection from strong stabs.
  • Gloves: A glove is used on the weapon hand. It also has a gauntlet that prevents the opponent’s blade from slipping under the sleeve. 
  • Sleeves: Fencing sleeves may be used on the arms for extra protection.
  • Lamé: Used in foil and sabre as a conductive material. This tells the electronic system whether a touch is on target. In épée this is not needed because the whole body is the target area. 
  • Socks: Fencing socks are often long enough to cover the knee.
  • Shoes: Fencing shoes have a flat sole and specially made rubber reinforcements for improved durability. Most models also have a good amount of cushioning for added comfort. 
  • Plastron: An underarm protector worn under the jacket. 
  • Breeches: Also known as knickers, breeches are short trousers that end below the knee. They must overlap with the jacket for at least 10cm. 

Other rules of fencing

Fencing is a sport that relies on good sportsmanship. After all, it is tied to the noble and honorable behavior of the past. Thus, all participants follow a set of unwritten rules. For example, fencers should always maintain their composure in victory or in defeat. Excess celebrating or acts of frustration are frowned upon by the community. 

The same sportsmanship can also be seen at the beginning of every point when fencers must salute each other. If a fencer refuses to salute the other one, they are given a penalty. Yellow cards are considered warnings whereas red cards awards a point to the opponent. Penalty rules also help maintain sportsmanlike conduct throughout the fencing bout.

Did you learn anything new about the rules of fencing? Let us know in the comments. 

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