The News of The Blake School Since 1916

The Spectrum

The News of The Blake School Since 1916

The Spectrum

The News of The Blake School Since 1916

The Spectrum


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Patchy rain nearby

En Garde: Get the 411 on Fencing

It could be said that fencing is one of the most mysterious of the athletics offered at Blake. When asked about it, I’m sure that many people would first think of a picket fence before the sport. However, such a unique sport just can’t go unnoticed.  In fact, according to Wikipedia, fencing used to be an extremely popular sport prior to World War I. Instead of using pistols to duel, Europeans commonly fenced to settle the dispute. The playing field of fencing is called a “strip,” 14 meters long and 1.5 to 2 meters long. Points are earned via a “touch;” touches are added up by ones over the period of the “bout,” the fencing equivalent of a full game. When a touch occurs, a referee says “Halt,” which prompts the fencers to stop all action. Bouts are typically made up of 5 touches in preliminary pool play, a round robin. After pool play, Direct Eliminations start, which are 15-touch single-elimination bouts.

As fencing evolved, three weapons came to be used most frequently: foil, sabre, and epee. These three weapons are the three divisions of modern-day fencing.

Epee can be considered the simplest of the three weapons; a point is acquired by hitting the opponent anywhere on the body first. In addition to this, a “double touch” occurs when the two fencers both acquire touches within 40 milliseconds of each other, calculated by a machine. However, the attack must be a thrust in order to trigger the mechanism of the blade; simply slashing with the side of the blade is useless. The places where you can hit your opponent are called “target area;” the target area of epee is the entire body.

Foil is typically the most common weapon of fencing. Similar to the epee, touches are given when a touch is made by thrusting. However, the target area of foil is restricted to the torso. Also, touches are awarded to the fencer who hits first with priority. A fencer has priority if he/she is a threat to the opponent’s target area. This practice of establishing priority is called “right-of-way,” and because of it, double touches are impossible, unlike in epee.

Sabre is the odd one out; touches are scored by slashing the opponent with the side of the weapon. Target area in sabre is considered to be anything above the torso, including the head, arms, and hands. Right-of-way also affects sabre in the same way as it affects foil.

A common misconception of fencing is that fencers could get seriously injured during a bout. After all, the weapons are just different types of swords, right? Not quite. The tips of epees and foils are about 5-8 millimeters wide, far too broad to pierce anything. However, bruises may occur if a particularly powerful thrust is made. Likewise, sabers have a completely blunt edge as to avoid injury. Death is extremely rare in modern fencing; only 7 cases have been confirmed since 1937.

Many people unfamiliar to fencing also suggest that fencing is not a very athletic sport. Anyone who has ever fenced a bout can attest to the leg strength required to hold the “en garde” stance, and weapons are much heavier than they look to continually hold at a horizontal angle.

In the end, fencing is an incredibly interesting sport to not only watch, but also participate in. It takes just as much mental effort as physical effort, which is a reason why Head Coach Harold Buck calls it “physical chess.” “You have to constantly analyze your opponent’s actions.” If you’re at all interested in fencing, just ask a fencer. They’ll be glad to introduce you to this challenging, exciting sport. As Captain Catherine Hua says, “The best thing about fencing is that you get to meet a lot of people who have the same interests, and even better, you get to smack them.”


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