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Fencing is the martial art, sport or act of fighting with bladed weapons. Weapons typically used in fencing include swords, daggers and knife, although other weapons and armor are used in some practices of fencing. Practitioners of fencing are known as a fencers.

The term "fence" arose from a shortening of the Middle English word "defens", and was first used to refer to swordsmanship in William Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor, in which Rugby says, "Alas sir, I cannot fence."

Fencing is generally used to refer to the Western martial tradition, as opposed to kenjutsu and kendo in Japanese martial tradition, although occasionally fencing can be used to refer to all bladed weapon fighting regardless of historical origin.

History of fencing

Fencing as a modern sport

Fencing as a modern sport is only loosely related to the historical practice of fencing as a martial art, as rules including the limiting of fencers to linear movement and the awarding of points for touches to extremities like the foot move the sport away from practical use. Fencing competitions are found at the high school, university, and Olympic levels.

Olympic fencing

Fencing as a sport has been featured at every modern Olympic Games, one of four sports to have been so included. Olympic fencing rules are set by the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE).

Other competitive fencing

There are other variations of sport fencing, although none as popular as Olympic fencing and similar competition formats. One type of sport fencing distinct from Olympic fencing is the format regulated by the American Fencing League (AFL), which forgoes electronic scoring and uses different right-of-way rules than those used by FIE.

One-hit épée is one of the five events in modern pentathalon.

Academic fencing

Academic fencing, or mensur, is a German student activity practiced by members of student fraternities in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Combat involves using a sharpened weapon called a schläger to cut the opponent. There is no winner or loser, and the goal is to develop or demonstrate personal character. Flinching is prohibited and cuts on the face are seen as a sign of courage.

Fencing as a Western martial art

Some fencers train as it as a martial art, with the goal being to learn and hone the skills that would be used in a duel or on a medieval battlefield. Fencing as a Western martial art is not nearly as popular or widely practiced as sport fencing.

Olympic fencing


There are three weapons used in Olympic fencing, each with their own variations of rules.

  • An electric foil, with pistol grip, as it is used in modern day fencing.
    The foil is a sword intended for thrusting. Foil fencing requires that a hit to be on the torso with the tip of the weapon in order to score. Foil fencing uses right of way, or priority, rules.
  • The épée was intended for thrusting. Épée fencing allows scoring hits anywhere on the opponent with the tip of the weapon. There are no priority rules.
  • The sabre was intended for thrusting and cutting. Sabre fencing allows for scoring hits anywhere above the waist except the hands and the back of the head using any part of the blade. The sabre has right of way rules.

Protective equipment

Modern fencing has equipment to protect the fencer from being cut or stabbed or otherwise injured.

  • Mask
  • Jacket
  • Plastron
  • Glove
  • Breeches
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Chest protector: (only for women)


  • General rules
  • Priority rules
  • Scoring
  • Fouls