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The practice weapon for the small-sword, evolved in the late
seventeenth century, when cutting became an obsolete action, and accordingly, a
flat blade was no longer required for training. The word is derived from the
French refouler, to turn back, and had long been in use in England to describe
any rebated weapon, including lances and the like. Foils in this country were
simply blunted weapons.
The original French foil was known as the fleuret, from a fancied
resemblance between its leather button and flower bud. The foil of that period
was appreciably shorter than its modern counterpart. Liancour, the famous
French master, advocated the use of several different types of foil in the
salle, including a heavy, guardless weapon for the pupil which was also shorter
than that of the master, whose own weapon, for the purpose of avoiding
excessive fatigue, was lighter than usual. Within the last decade or so, one
prominent London fencing master was known to make his pupils take their lessons
with a monstrosity of his own devising, two blades somehow fitted into a single
hilt, which occasioned the muscles of the sword-arm the most exquisite agony,
the idea probably being that if they could manipulate a weapon of this weight,
they could manipulate anything.
Various patterns of guards have found favor at different times.
"Figure-of-eight" guards and narrow, slightly convex, rectangular guards have
found favour and given place in turn to the contemporary saucer-shaped guard, a
smaller edition of the epee cup guard.
The foil has been the dominant factor in the development of modern
fencing. Even sabre fencing, though involving the cut, and so introducing an
entirely different factor, is limited by the conventions governing the right to
attack, riposte, counter-attack, and so forth, identical to those at foil. The
sabre target is also limited. This is, of course, not so at epee, but the fact
remains that the terminology and basic concept of sword-play are akin to the
foil, although naturally, the tactics and application of the basic system must
be greatly modified at this weapon. For long the epee was regarded as the
duelling weapon as such, while the sabre before 1939, was regarded as a
specialty of the Hungarians and not practiced very widely in England outside
the Services. Thirty or forty years ago, the fencing masters were still
reluctant to give sabre or epee lessons except to those about to participate in
matches or competitions, of which there were then vastly fewer. For them, the
foil reigned supreme - precise, formal and elegant.
-taken from A-Z of Fencing by E.D. Morton
METHODS OF MAKING A TOUCH
Only the point of the foil may be used to score a touch. The valid target
excludes the limbs and the head. It is confined to the trunk, the upper limit
being the collar up to 6 cm above the prominences of the collarbones; the side
limits are the seams of the sleaves; the lower limit follows a horizontal line
across the back joining the tops of the hipbones, thence following in straight
lines to the junction of the lines of the groin.
The duelling sword evolved during the nineteenth century when the
small-sword had ceased to be worn. It is the same length as the foil and sabre, but the blade is much stouter than that of the foil, is triangular in
section and the forte is fluted, i.e. grooved, to allow the blood to drain
away. As the target includes the whole body, the guard is constructed in the
characteristic cup shape to protect the hand and wrist. As the arm forms an
advanced target, the fencing measure is much longer than that at foil -
approximating in fact to the sabre measure - and the vulnerability of the
sword-arm tends to restrict the positions and parries to the outside lines.
Nevertheless, the basic epee technique is very similar to that of foil,
only modified by the tactical considerations dictated by the longer fencing
measure, the unrestricted target and the absence of conventions, i.e. right of
Originally, the idea was to reproduce as closely as possible the
conditions of an actual duel and consequently the first fencer to receive a hit
was adjudged the loser. Subsequently, the number of hits was increased, first
to the best of five in 1932, finally to the best of nine in 1955, similarly to
the other weapons and accordingly somewhat reducing the realism. In pursuance
of verisimilitude, moreover, the majority of epee competitions took place in
the open air; not until 1937 was the British Championship held indoors at Salle
The epee was the first weapon to be electrified, with a spring-head in
place of the point d'arret (triple barged flat head) previously used to cover
the sharp point left exposed when duelling.
The rules for epee, like those of foil and sabre, were more or less
definitively framed in Paris in 1914, by codifying the several existing sets of
-taken from the A - Z of Fencing by E.D. Morton
Methods of making a touch
The epee is a thrusting weapon only. The valid target includes the entire
The first mention of the sabre in print is in Marcelli's manual (1686).
Originally the heavy, curved, weapon with which the Household Calvary is still
equipped, it became known to western Europe during the eighteenth century as a
result of contact with the Hungarian light horsemen (Hussars) who had
themselves adopted the weapon from the Turks, among whom the blade was
considerably more curved, forming, in fact, the weapon common to the eastern
peoples which among us is generally called the scimitar.
In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the cavalry of all
nations practised sabre fencing and fighting.
In the eighteenth century the small-sword was regarded as essentially
the gentlemen's weapon and from association with it, the foil enjoyed much the
same prestige; the sabre was considered to be a rather crude affair for the
military. The Napoleanic Wars aroused a passing enthusiasm for edged weapons,
but this quickly faded again. George Roland poured scorn on the sabre and most
traditionally minded foilists affected to regard it with disdain. Only at the
nineteenth century's end did such great Italian Masters as Radaelli and Magrini
confer respectability on their chosen weapon, since when it has gained steadily
The present day weapon is extremely light and hits may be scored not
only with the fore-edge, but with the top third of the back edge and the point
as well. The contemporary blade is perfectly straight, but within the writer's
memory, many still possessed a vestigial curve which, according to the rules,
might not deviate more than 4 cm from the straight line. The curved,
triangular guard, reminiscent of the old basket-hilt, must now be absolutely
smooth; formerly, it was often perforated, grooved, patterned or embossed.
The technique of the cut has traditionally been the subject of
controversy and has undergone sundry vicissitudes over the years. The military
men delivered the cut with a forearm slash from the elbow, or even the
shoulder. The great Keresztessy of Budapest, however, preferred the use of the
wrist. That was in the 1820s, but when Barbasetti arrived from Italy at the
century's end to take charge of the Austrian Army, he insisted on a return to
the forearm method, a retrograde step, but consistent with the contemporary
principles of his own country. It was left to Santelli, another Italian
expatriate, to introduce in Hungary the classical wrist-finger technique
regarded as characteristic of that nation and now almost universally copied.
Modern sabre fencing has rules and conventions similar to those of foil; they
were framed in Paris in 1914 by a committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Bela
Nagy, president of the Hungarian Fencing Federation, and since then have only
been modified in detail.
-talken for the A-Z of Fencing by E.D. Morton
Methods of making a Touch
The sabre can score by thrusting with the point and cutting with the
edge and the back edge. The valid target is above a horizontal line drawn
between the top of the folds formed by the thighs and the trunk of the fencer
when in the "on guard" position. An off target touch does not count and does
not stop the action.