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What are the rules of fencing? Scoring, How to play, Points, History at the Olympics

Bhavani Devi became the first Indian to qualify for the Olympics. All you need to know about rules and regulation and history of fencing.

Bhavani Devi

Bhavani Devi(source-the quint)


Yuvraj Kandathil

Updated: 2021-07-21T16:27:29+05:30

Fencing, a combat sport, with bullet fast intensity and people with swords, makes everything exciting about it. Inclusive of three different disciplines, the sport traces centuries back and has a holding culture at the Olympics.

Bhavani Devi, who won the ninth Senior National Fencing title, only recently, is all set to take part at the Olympics bearing great expectations from fellow Indians. 'From using mere bamboo sticks off Chennai streets, to top athletic sportsmanship at the Tokyo Olympics', a wonderful debut story for Bhavani and India, is yet to be told at the Olympics.

Fencing Arena

Dimensions of court

The area of play, 'Piste' is staged on a strip. 14m long and 2m wide in dimensions. Dividing into two halves lays a three strip line at the middle of the court. Two meters apart lays two 'en-garde' lines.

Both fencers start by standing on the 'en-garde' lines. Referee issues instructions and clock starts. The intention of the sport is to hit the other player with the sword , whilst not letting get hit yourself.

Away from the 'en-garde' line lies a 2m warning which marks the final warning for end of piste or run off space, which a player is not supposed to pass.

As modern fencing is tagged with electronic response technology, the lights turn on if you strike the assorted area, letting the referee and the spectators know who hit who first. Sustaining any vital contact shall leave the opponent with a point. Every point scored puts the clock to a stop and the play is restarted from the designated areas.

Scoring: Individual vs Team Fencing

An elimination match contests 3 periods of 3 minutes each. In a match, either a player has to be the first one to score 15 points, or stand higher in tally until the end of all 3 rounds to win a match.

Whereas in a team competition, a totality of 9 periods comprising 3 minutes each, becomes decider. Each team is let to have 3 mates, and each individual faces all three of the oppositions players. Similarly like individual game contests, an aggregate of all points scored by players in the team is accounted to deciding winners.

Provisional to the usual scoring system, it is very essential to understand the concept of 'Right of Way', which is very decisive in awarding points, as it often occurs that both players launch and hit the target areas simultaneously.

Right of way

If both fencers hit at the same time, the person who is in the attacking position first, or who controls the initiative, or the one that intends with more aggression, is the player that is rewarded with the point. The attacking position is where an arm is extended and the tip of the blade is pointing at your opponent. To understand further plays, it is essential to learn these three terms mentioned below.

  • Fall short: Where the intention is to make your opponent miss and then attack.
  • Parry & Riposte: Where you deflect so that the opponent doesn't have the right of way, and then 'riposte', which basically means countering with an attack.
  • Beat: Where you knock your opponents blade off without warning and then attack.
Fencing - Types of Weapons

Disciplines (types of fencing)

Basically, styles of play determined by the type of swords, are how disciplines in fencing can be understood. Comprising three different swords are the 'Foil', 'Sabre' and 'Épée'. Each sword has a different target area that the player can attack at. The attacking area differs from sole head to full body.

  • Foil: most technical yet most common, is also the smallest and lightest of the three weapons. The areas that the sword can tackle is anywhere on the torso or back. Attacking is only allowed with the tip of your sword. Hitting with the side of the blade doesn't count here. 'Parrying and Riposte', to hit small target areas is key in this format as 'Right of way" rules apply here.
  • Sabre: shorter than a Foil with a different hand, the Sabre claims being the fastest amongst the three. Anywhere above the waist is now the designated target area. As being the only discipline where you are allowed to 'Cut & Slash' for a point, it is advantageous for one to pounce and attack first rather than taking a defensive stance.
  • Épée: on the contrary with the other two styles, this one is rather the slowest form, as it is the heaviest and the biggest sword used in play. As it differs, the area of attack is provisioned all over the body, and usage of only the tip of the blade is allowed. Limited to the right of way rules, under the circumstance that both the players hit at the same time, points are awarded to both of them. As the exposure in committing to a point is high in this format, players usually take a more defensive stand and wait for the right opportunity.
Fencing - Target Areas


Well, penalties are basically wrongdoings, as it is in any competitive sport. Here, the rules apply that the player cannot leave the 'piste', nor can he turn his back on the opponent, nor can he use the non playing hand. Three cards of Yellow, Red and Black colours, handled by the referee denotes the penalties in a match.

  • Yellow card: The player is given a warning.
  • Red card: The opponent has been awarded a point.
  • Black card: Signifies that the player has been disqualified from the contest.

Non combativity

This is a gist where the players don't show eagerness or effort to attack and remains in defensive positions. At this point the referee interferes and suspends the period for a restart to another.

Players at times tend to resort to this style in team formats of play, when if the opponent is down under points and is forced to attack more, thus calibrating mistakes.

Spread out all the way from ancient Egypt to a more ventured European duel, history has got fencing swords corroded from weaponries used in cutting and slashing whilst hunting.

May Tokyo Olympics serve as an opportune moment for the debut of Bhavani Devi at fencing and every Indian athlete at 2021.

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