By Stan Griffin

Fencing has been an Olympic sport since the very first Modern Games in 1896 (held in Athens, Greece). Itís one of only four contested at every Olympics since then. Of all sports, it is considered " ... one of the most creative and most intellectually stimulating, pure athletic pursuit ..." Fencing is a contest where age is expected to improve a playerís performance.

Two people face off and try to touch the other with their weapons. The idea is to touch the other person before he touches you. Itís a very fast game that goes forward and backward; you canít fence in circles.

The "playing field" is a long, narrow mat (piste) which is 46 feet long and 6 feet 7 inches wide. It is marked with a series of lines. Two are "rear limit" lines marking stopping points; the athletes are forbidden to retreat across them. Action is so fast it was once difficult for an official to see the successful touches. An electronic scoring system is now used. Colored lights flash: red and green when a valid "touch" is made; white when the blow lands outside the target area.

Uniforms include masks with a metal grill to prevent head and facial injuries. A white jacket (the traditional color) has no buckles or straps because they could snag on a sword. Under the jacket is a sturdy vest called a "plastron" to protect the fencerís chest. On the hand which grips the sword is a padded glove.

Opponents stand sideways to present a smaller target. Swords have blunted tips (rubber buttons), but they can still cause serious injuries. In 1982 a reigning Olympic champion died after a sword went through his mask.

Fencing has three "disciplines" each with a different blade.

(1) The FOIL has a flexible rectangular blade. Hits from its POINT ONLY must be made on the trunk (torso) between the collar bone and the hip. It weighs 14 ounces and is 35 inches long.

(2) The EPEE has a rigid triangular blade, and touches with its POINT ONLY on any part of the body (even head and arms) count as hits. It is heavier (1 3/4 pounds) than both the foil and the saber; but its length matches the foilís. The hand guard is larger that the foilís.

(3) The SABER has a flexible triangular (V-shape) blade with a cutting edge. Scoring can be accomplished by both slashing and thrusting. Both sides of the blade may be used to make touches anywhere on the body above the waist (even head and arms). Its weight and length are the same as the foil. A curved hand guard protects the fencerís knuckles.

A sample of fencing vocabulary:

LUNGE: an attack in which the sword is thrust forward

PARRY: defensive stroke to deflect the attackerís sword

RIPOSTE: an attack that follows a defensive move

TOUCHEí: shouted when one athlete scores a hit

"EN-GARDE": called by the umpire to begin a match; competitors raise their weapons and salute each other by raising the hand guards of their swords to their chins and swiftly snapping them down.

"ALLEZ": umpireís signal for action to begin






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