/fen"sing/, n.
1. the art, practice, or sport in which an épée, foil, or saber is used for defense and attack.
2. a parrying of arguments; avoidance of direct answers: political fencing on important issues.
3. an enclosure or railing.
4. fences collectively.
5. material for fences.
[1425-75; late ME fensing safeguarding, maintenance. See FENCE, -ING1]

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Sport involving attack and defense with a light sword, specifically a foil, épée, or sabre.

There is evidence of swordplay from ancient times through the Middle Ages. In the 14th century swordplay became important in both war and the European gentleman's daily life, and by the 15th century guilds of fencing masters had formed. Strokes that were originally jealously guarded secrets of the individual guilds eventually became orthodox fencing moves. By the later 17th century various rules and conventions had been imposed. In modern competition
except for sabre matches
hits are made with the point only; in matches using foils and sabres, touches to only certain points of the opponents body are counted, whereas in épée no such restrictions apply. Each valid hit scores one or more points. Men's fencing was included in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, women's in the 1924 games. Electrical scoring was introduced in 1936 to eliminate the frequent inaccuracy of human judgment.

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▪ 2006

      Following the July 2005 announcement that the 2012 Olympic Games would be held in London, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) turned its attention to the composition of the Games. Contrary to ill-founded rumours of fencing's demise as an Olympic event, the sport's unbroken record of inclusion since 1896 remained intact. The decision to retain fencing as an Olympic sport was the direct result of the modernization program forced through by Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE) Pres. René Roch following advice from IOC Pres. Jacques Rogge and Rogge's predecessor, Juan Antonio Samaranch. The situation illustrated the imperative to continue the sport's modernization initiatives.

      Among the most successful initiatives were Internet broadcasting, which was due for further development, and the acceptance by fencers of the transparent mask. Other areas in which fencing scored were the sport's growing international popularity (with 118 affiliated national federations), the near parity of men and women fencers, environmentally friendly policies (such as the traceability of materials for equipment manufacture), the modest costs of staging fencing events, and various health-related initiatives.

      Throughout 2005 the new timings used to register hits at foil and sabre were hotly debated. After about a year of deliberation and controversy, the earlier FIE Congress decision on foil and sabre timings was reaffirmed. At the 2005 Congress the vexing question of which of the 12 disciplines to exclude from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in which only 10 sets of fencing medals would be available, was discussed, but a decision was postponed.

 At the 2005 senior world championships, held October 8–15 in Leipzig, Ger., France topped the medals table with 10 (4 gold), followed by Russia with 7 medals (2 gold) and Italy with 6 (2 gold). South Korea and the U.S. won gold in women's team foil and sabre, respectively. Valentina Vezzali of Italy captured her sixth world individual foil title in seven years.

Graham Morrison

▪ 2005

      Without doubt the most important development in fencing in 2004 was the introduction at the Athens Olympic Games of sabre without wires, coupled with new timings for registering hits. The new system, with scoring lights also located in the side of masks, transformed the spectacle. Parallel with this advance were the growth in popularity of women's sabre to the point where it rivaled women's foil internationally and the introduction of women's sabre as an Olympic discipline. The executive of the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE), the world governing body, hoped to push through changes to foil during the 2004–05 season that would mirror the sabre innovations.

      The 2004 Olympic Games saw a turning point in the world order. Although in overall rankings traditional powers Italy (with 7 of the 30 medals awarded), France (6), Russia (4), and Hungary (3) came out on top, China ranked fifth and the U.S. sixth. Women's world championships for team sabre and team foil were held separately at the Grand Prix event in New York City in June because the International Olympic Committee allowed just 10 events in Athens.

      In January the Jordanian federation appeared to obstruct the entry of Israeli fencers to Jordan's World Cup event. FIE rules forbade discrimination on any grounds, and following international pressure the Jordanians relented. A problem also arose at the Olympics when a leading Hungarian referee made six errors in a final between Italy and China and failed to apply penalties appropriately. He was banned from refereeing for two years.

      FIE Pres. René Roch of France was reelected to a third consecutive four-year term in December. His main contributions were forcing through the extensive modernization program and securing 200,000 Swiss francs (about $160,000) from the FIE's main sponsor, Tissot S.A., to support the world championships and Grand Prix events.

Graham Morrison

▪ 2004

      With the previous year's problems regarding the fencing quotas for the 2004 Olympic Games behind it, the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE) in 2003 returned to its program of modernization and, in particular, the rules and refereeing problems associated with foil. The target at foil was restricted, and a white light was used to indicate off-target hits. In addition, the classical definition of an attack had little in common with current practice. The result was a messy spectacle that was difficult for the nonexpert to follow. Several solutions to the problem had been proposed, but the most promising strategy was to require longer contact time between the weapon point and the target to register a hit (thus removing the flick hit) and to dispense with the white light and ignore off-target hits. This would allow the use of wireless apparatus, render the metallic piste (the strip on which play takes place) redundant and thus reduce costs, and allow for continuous and comprehensible play with fewer interruptions.

      During 2003 the Western and Central European monopoly of individual junior and cadet world championship medals was breached as the U.S. took two gold medals and China captured three. The U.S. also topped the world rankings in women's sabre after the junior/cadet world championships, while Israel took third place in men's épée. In the senior world championships, held in Havana in October, Italy and Russia dominated the medals. France slipped to fifth place, and China rose to eighth.

      Doping had always been unusual in fencing, but in 2003 one French fencer was found to be exceeding the limits of 19-Norandrosterone (a banned substance) and after a series of FIE Commission meetings and appeals was duly penalized. Some matters on the periphery of the case continued at year's end.

Graham Morrison

▪ 2003

      The most important issue to confront world fencing during 2002 was that of the qualifying system for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Women's sabre had become established, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had accepted its inclusion for the first time for the Athens Olympics. This would result in 12 events (6 individual and 6 team), but the IOC confirmed that, whatever the format, only 200 fencers would be allowed to compete for 10 sets of medals. This impasse lasted most of the year, while officials of the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE), pressured by the leading international fencers and national governing bodies, struggled for an acceptable formula and lobbied for additional medals and an increase in athlete numbers. Finally, with no movement from the IOC, at a special congress at the senior world championships in Lisbon in August, the FIE decided to replace women's team foil with individual women's sabre and omit women's team sabre for the Athens Games.

      The senior world championships saw the traditionally strong nations under pressure, especially from China and South Korea, both of which won medals. China ended 7th in the overall championship rankings, with South Korea 8th and the U.S. 10th. The clear overall winner, however, was Russia, followed by France and Germany. Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Romania rounded out the top 10. At the junior/cadet world championships in Antalya, Turkey, in April, China and South Korea again won medals, along with the U.S., Great Britain, Canada, and Venezuela.

      In 2002 the world's oldest national fencing federation, the British Fencing Association, celebrated its centenary with a dinner and a special match against Hungary in London in September. The British federation was established two years earlier than the French federation, while the FIE was founded in 1913.

Graham Morrison

▪ 2002

      Proposed rule changes to foil were debated within the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE) during 2001. Since the foil target was restricted to the trunk, a white light traditionally had been used in the scoring apparatus to indicate an off-target nonvalid hit. As with an on-target hit, this resulted in a pause in play, leading to confusion for spectators and irritation for the media, especially television. The FIE sought to make the sport more media- and spectator-friendly, and the “white light” problem in foil had proved to be among the most difficult to resolve. Many experts believed that removing the white light and allowing play to continue after nonvalid hits would transform foil. Others thought this would destroy the essence of foil and that other measures, such as altering the blade flexibility and the pressure needed to register a hit, would prove equally effective. In December the FIE congress decided to establish a working committee to examine the “white light” issue, with a brief report to the General Assembly due in April 2002.

      The special commission formed in 2000 finally authorized transparent masks from three European manufacturers. The masks were passed as safe and technically satisfactory in all three weapons (foil, épée, and sabre) but were not made compulsory, and many fencers still would not accept them. The other continuing major concern, wireless scoring equipment, made further progress with the approval of apparatus for sabre developed by Ukrainian engineers and manufactured by the German company Allstar/Uhlmann.

      While the countries traditionally strong in fencing maintained their dominant positions through the year, others, especially China, South Korea, and the U.S., continued to challenge. The U.S. particularly showed strength in women's and men's junior sabre. The 2001 senior world championships were held on October 26–November 1 in Nimes, France, inside the covered Roman amphitheatre and amid tight security. France, Italy, Germany, and Russia took most of the glory, but encouragingly the U.S. and Sweden also won medals.

      In July Gian Carlo Brusati of Italy, one of the grand old men of fencing, died at age 91. Brusati won épée team gold at the 1936 Olympic Games and was FIE president in 1981–84.

Graham Morrison

▪ 2001

      The Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, dominated fencing during 2000. The presentation of the sport in Sydney proved to be the best yet at world level, especially the preliminary rounds. Forty-three nations were represented, and although the traditionally strong Europeans and Russians took the lion's share of medals, South Korea and China were not far behind. The U.S. and Japan were unlucky not to do better, and Australia also showed good form. The South Koreans took their first-ever Olympic gold medal in fencing with a win in the men's individual foil. In the individual events no fencer who won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Ga., successfully defended a title, and many competitors who were expected to reach the medals round were eliminated early. This was a function of the relatively small number of entries allowed at each weapon and the lack of a seeding round. The Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE), the world governing body, intended to keep Olympic selection procedures under review.

      The new transparent mask, although authorized for use in Sydney, was not compulsory owing to problems with the product from some manufacturers, and most fencers continued to use the mesh mask. Although tests demonstrated that the clear section of the new mask was safe, weaknesses were identified at the joins in some masks. The FIE formed a special commission to coordinate the testing and introduction of clear masks. A problem also was encountered with the new wireless scoring equipment. Although used successfully at sabre in both the Olympic test event and the women's world sabre championships in Budapest, occasional interference problems were experienced when the equipment was used with other weapons, especially épée.

      Four new federations—Senegal, Malta, Algeria, and Burkina Faso—were admitted to the FIE in 2000, which took the total to 104. A new school for coaches opened in Dakar, Senegal, joining the existing one in Johannesburg, S.Af., from which the first promising results were emerging.

Graham Morrison

▪ 2000

      The long-awaited transparent mask came into use in top-level competition in 1999. Developers had improved ventilation to prevent steaming up and perfected the safety and scratch resistance of the perspex visor. Athletes also needed reassurance of the mask's ability to withstand a hit. The mask was first used in the Supermasters competition (in which the world cup holder fights the world champion in each weapon for prize money) in April. Wireless scoring equipment, which dispensed with trailing wires connecting fencers to the scoring box, was also used successfully in both the sabre and the épée contests in the Supermasters competition.

      The Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE), the international governing body, reexamined its Olympic qualification procedure against the continuing restrictions on numbers and the domination of the sport at the senior level by a few nations. Under a new formula, eligible competitors would include the world's top 24 in each weapon, the top 8 from each continent at each weapon, and the top 8 not included in the other criteria. The FIE expressed the hope that women's sabre, included at the world senior championships for the first time in 1999 and scheduled to be a demonstration event at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, would be admitted for the 2004 Games in Athens.

      Although France, Italy, Germany, Russia, and, to a lesser degree, Cuba had dominated the sport for several years, the 1999 junior/cadet championships in Hungary showed the emergence of the U.S. as a serious contender, with four bronze medals won by three fencers. South Korea also broke through with one gold medal. Most of the second-ranking nations, however, still experienced difficulty in the transition from junior to senior medals.

      At the world senior championships, held in Seoul, S.Kor., in November, only Sergey Golubitsky of Ukraine (men's foil) and Laura Flessel-Colovic of France (women's épée) repeated their 1998 victories, while Elena Jemaeva of Azerbaijan captured the first women's individual sabre title. Iris Zimmerman of the U.S. won a bronze medal at foil. Given the importance of Olympic status for small sports, the American showing, together with China's three medals in Seoul, was arguably the most significant development in fencing during the past 10 years.

Graham Morrison

▪ 1999

      The 1997-98 season saw fencing's world senior championships moved from July to October as part of the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime's (FIE's) attempt to attract wider television interest. This inconvenienced some participants, especially those for whom the dates clashed with the academic calendar, but on balance it was considered a good move by FIE President René Roch, who had long recognized the difficulty faced by smaller sports competing for media attention with association football (soccer) and other major spectator sports. It was particularly significant in 1998 because of the domination of world media by the soccer World Cup in France.

      When the championships took place in October in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switz., 74 nations were represented. Twelve countries won at least one medal, with perennial favourites France and Italy each taking a total of six. Only Sergey Golubitsky of Ukraine, who captured his second consecutive individual foil, and the Italian women, who took the team foil, were repeat winners from 1997. Sabine Bau of Germany was victorious in the women's foil after a seven-year string of winners from Italy or Romania.

      Technical changes were recommended at foil to make refereeing easier and more objective. Over recent years at world level, foil theory and practice had diverged to the point where referees were forced to judge the validity of an attack based on their perception of a fencer's intentions rather than on traditional movements. In addition the development of certain movements had, in the opinion of many, produced an inelegant spectacle. The FIE hoped that changes to timing in the electrical circuits, particularly the time the point remains on the target, would address these problems. The other significant technical change involved the sabre blade, which would be made less flexible to keep the point from flicking over an otherwise good defensive action by an opponent.


▪ 1998

      During the 1997 world championships in July in Cape Town, René Roch, president of the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE—the international governing body of fencing) announced changes designed to simplify the sport and make it more interesting for television viewers and nonexperts while retaining the essence of the game. The most important changes involved the establishment of World Cup circuit team events, the introduction of the transparent mask, and the use of wireless scoring. Additionally, women's sabre became an official event.

      The transparent mask had been undergoing development for several years in various countries. An acceptable design emerged from the U.S. manufacturer Zivkovic Modern Fencing Equipment, Inc., and it was authorized for use on the World Cup circuit as of Jan. 1, 1998. A decision on wireless scoring was expected late in 1997. Wireless scoring employed a device that eliminated the need for trailing wires and should result in fewer equipment failures.

      The World Cup team circuit was considered necessary for fencing to become more popular throughout the world. The proposed circuit would include all the best teams in the world but would also ensure representation from all continents.

      In the world championships France was the most successful, gaining victories in the individual men's épée, team sabre, and team men's foil and earning four bronze medals for a total of seven. Italy and Cuba followed with two championships apiece; Italy triumphed in the individual and team women's foil, and Cuba finished first in the women's individual épée and men's team épée.


▪ 1997

      The election for president of the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE, the governing body of fencing) held centre stage during the 1995-96 season. Voting took place at the FIE congress prior to the opening of the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Ga. Incumbent president René Roch of France held on by one vote over Jeno Kamuti of Hungary and thus could expect the support of the FIE for the next phase of his development proposals. These included increasing participation and media coverage in areas of the world where the sport is less developed.

      In the Olympics the format was new. The seeding round, in the past time-consuming and uninteresting for spectators, was abolished, and direct elimination began in the first round. Also noteworthy at the Olympics were the successful debut of women's épée and the new relay format for team events. Russia was most successful in the competition, winning individual gold medals in men's épée and sabre and team golds in sabre and men's foil. No country had more than one winner in the World Cup competition. The Olympics took the place of the world championships.


▪ 1996

      Dominating international fencing during the 1994-95 season was the global limit of 220 fencing places for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Ga. Operating under this constraint, the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE—the international governing body) was forced to devise a convoluted qualification process that gave a fair representation for each of fencing's world zones while at the same time maintaining high athletic standards. Most of the qualifications for the Olympics took place at the world championships in The Hague in July 1995 during the team competitions. Emerging from the championships was a strong team from China that seemed certain to challenge past European domination. Only Italy and Russia qualified directly in all disciplines.

      At the start of the season, international rule changes, designed to make the sport more attractive to spectators and television viewers, were introduced. In the opinion of many, the most effective of these was the return to traditional foot and leg movements at sabre, which thus outlawed running and flèching. This forced fencers to pay greater attention to defense and substantially reduced the number of simultaneous hits, which had plagued the weapon in the past. Sabre was still the fastest of the three weapons (the other two being foil and épée) but with the new rule should be easier for the nonexpert to follow.

      Other changes important to athletes included an increase in the size of sponsorship names allowed on clothing and the introduction of coloured clothing, although the latter was not generally adopted. Additionally, the strength of protective clothing was increased, and development of the transparent mask continued. The FIE hoped that this mask would replace the traditional metal gauze-fronted head protection in order to render fencers identifiable. (GRAHAM MORRISON)

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 organized sport involving the use of the swordépée, foil, or sabre—for attack and defense according to set movements and rules. Although the use of swords dates to prehistoric times and swordplay to ancient civilizations, the organized sport of fencing began only at the end of the 19th century. For information on the art of Japanese sword fighting, see kendo.

Early history
      The earliest depiction of swordplay is a relief in the temple of Medīnat Habu (Madīnat Habu), near Luxor in Egypt, built by Ramses III about 1190 BC. This relief must depict a practice bout or match, as the sword points are covered and the swordsmen are parrying with shields strapped to their left arms and are wearing masks (tied to their wigs), large bibs, and padding over their ears. Swordsmanship, as a pastime and in single combat and war, was also practiced widely by the ancient Persians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans, as well as by the Germanic tribes.

      The Romans (ancient Rome) brought sword combat to a highly systematic art that was taught to both their legions and gladiators. Gladiators (gladiator) were trained in schools (ludi) by professional instructors (doctores). Beginners practiced with a wooden sword called a rudis. More advanced training took place with weapons that were somewhat heavier than those used in actual combat.

      From the time of the fall of Rome through the Middle Ages, the practice of sword fighting continued unabated, although sword training became less uniform and began instead to reflect the ideas of the individual masters-at-arms. At this time, schools of sword fighting also developed a somewhat unsavoury quality, attracting members from the criminal element of society who wanted to learn the skilled use of weapons. Many communities found that the only way to deal with this problem was to outlaw fencing schools within their boundaries. For example, in London in 1286 King Edward I passed an edict that decried “the most unheard of villainies” perpetrated by swordsmen and threatened swift justice for teaching sword-related skills. Despite such laws, fencing schools flourished.

Emergence of swordsmanship and weapons
      Among the nobility of Europe during the Middle Ages, the adept handling of a sword was hindered by the use of armour, which was virtually the only means of protection. Swords were heavy and used primarily to broach the protective armour. With the introduction of gunpowder in the 14th century, however, armour fell into disuse (musket balls easily pierced the armour, rendering it ineffective in battle). The sword was still the only weapon that could be worn on the body for self-defense, but the demise of armour required that the wearer learn to manipulate a sword skillfully—a matter that grew to be of paramount importance both in times of war and in a gentleman's daily life.

      By the 15th century, guilds of fencing masters were formed throughout Europe, the most notable of which was the Marxbrüder (the Association of St. Marcus of Löwenberg), which was granted letters patent by the Emperor Frederick III in 1480. Early fencing methods as taught by the guilds were somewhat rough-and-tumble and included wrestling moves. The guilds jealously guarded their secret moves so that they could make use of the unexpected to defeat an enemy. Fencing was first supported in England by Henry VIII, who, sometime before 1540, granted letters patent to several fencing masters that allowed them to teach there. The early English style of fighting with a cutting sword and a buckler (a small shield worn on the free arm) ultimately gave way to the continental European rapier combat.

      The Italians (Italy) discovered the effectiveness of the dexterous use of the point rather than the edge of the sword. By the end of the 16th century, their lighter weapon, the rapier, and a simple, nimble, and controlled fencing style, emphasizing skill and speed rather than force, spread throughout Europe. Most of the wrestling tricks were abandoned, the lunge was developed and adopted, and fencing became established as an art.

      The long rapier was beautifully balanced, excellent in attack, and superb for keeping an opponent at a distance, but it was too heavy for all the movements of combat. Defense when fighting with a rapier was effected by parrying with the left hand, which was protected by a gauntlet or cloak or equipped with a dagger. Opponents' thrusts were often avoided by ducking or sidestepping.

      In the latter half of the 17th century, the sword and swordsmanship changed dramatically with a change in gentlemen's dress. In France the court of Louis XIV set the fashion of silk stockings, breeches, and brocaded coats, which replaced that of the doublet and hose, top boots, and cloaks. As the long, trailing rapier was unsuited to the new form of dress, fashion decreed the wearing of a light, short court sword. The French style set in throughout Europe as the Italian style had done earlier.

      Although at first derided, the court sword was soon recognized as an ideal light weapon which allowed for a multitude of offensive and defensive movements that would have been impossible with heavier weapons. Its light weight permitted the sword to be used by itself, without the use of daggers, cloaks, or the free hand. Hits on the opponent were made with the point of the sword only, defense was effected by the wielding of the blade (fending off the opponent's blade with one's own sword), and what is now recognized as modern fencing came into being. At this time the French style fully displaced the Italian as the most practiced form of sword combat.

      The French school of sword fighting was an academic form, with much emphasis on strategy and form. Conventions and rules were adopted to teach this form of swordplay. Additionally, the foil, or practice sword, was used to create a safe training environment. To further enhance safety, a mask was designed in the 18th century by the French fencing master La Boëssière and the celebrated duelist the Chevalier de St. Georges.

      While fencing with the foil was becoming increasingly stylized, dueling (duel) with swords still continued. The complexities of foil fencing as practiced under the ideal conditions of the schools, or salles, with reverence for the set rules and conventions, produced a game that became an art of absorbing interest. But this orthodox, controlled swordplay was of little account on a cold gray morning on greensward or gravel path when one faced a determined opponent with a sharp and heavier weapon who disregarded all conventions. Ironically, however, by the mid-18th century, when fencing had reached its peak in technique and theory, dueling with the sword had virtually disappeared because of the growing accuracy of firearms. From this time on, fencing took on the nature of a sport, and in form the swordplay of this time differed little from the modern sport of fencing.

      For those few who continued to follow the sword as a method of resolving conflict, the épée de combat was created in the second half of the 19th century. The practice version of this weapon was a regulation, though blunted, dueling sword, and it was used without limitation of target or other conventions. Except for the use of protective clothing, épée fencing closely approximated the conditions of a duel.

      The last of the modern fencing weapons appeared in the late 18th century, when the Hungarians introduced a curved sabre (adapted from the Eastern scimitar) for the use of their cavalry. The sabre was soon adopted by other European armies. The heavy military sabre (and its counterpart, the naval cutlass) was used in fencing schools until the end of the 19th century, when the Italians introduced a light sabre that was soon accepted universally as a sport weapon.

Organized sport
      Fencing became an increasingly organized competitive sport late in the 19th century. Basic conventions were first collected and set down in the 1880s by the French fencing master Camille Prevost. Officially recognized fencing associations also began to appear: the Amateur Fencers League of America was founded in 1891, the Amateur Fencing Association in Great Britain in 1902, and the Fédération des Salles des Armes et Sociétés d'Escrime in France in 1906.

      Meanwhile, fencing for men had been part of the Olympic Games with their revival in 1896. In 1900 the épée joined the foil and sabre as individual events in the Olympic program. Team competition in the foil was introduced in the 1904 Games, followed by the sabre and épée in 1908. By the early 20th century, numerous disputes had arisen over various fencing rules. For instance, at the 1912 Olympic Games, France withdrew its entire team over a dispute regarding the target area for foil, and the Italians refused to fence in the épée events because of a rejected request to increase the allowed length of the épée blade. As a result, in 1913 the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime was founded and thereafter was the governing body of international fencing for amateurs, both in the Olympic Games and in world championships. Events for women fencers have been added to the Olympic contest over the years: individual foil for women was first included in the 1924 Olympic Games, and a team event for women was introduced in the 1960 Games. Women's team and individual épée made their Olympic debut in the 1996 Games.

      From the end of the 19th century until after World War II, épée and foil competitions were dominated by the French and Italians; thereafter, as fencing became more popular worldwide, the Soviet and Hungarian fencers became dominant. Especially in sabre, the Hungarians dominated for much of the 20th century.

      In 1936 the electrical (electricity) épée was adopted for competition, eliminating the sometimes inaccurate determinations by fencing officials; the arrival and judgment of hits is completely registered by the electrical apparatus. In 1955 electrical scoring was introduced for foil competitions, making its Olympic debut at the 1956 Games, but judges are still required to interpret the priority of the arrival of hits. Electrical scoring for the sabre became part of the Olympic program at the 1992 Games. The electrical system used in fencing works on the same principle as the door bell. Fencers wear clothing made of lamé interlaced with copper threads; the lamé is sensitive to the electrical weapon. In épée the entire suit is sensitive, as the entire body is the target in that fencing variant; in foil, only the vest worn by the fencer is sensitive; in sabre the vest and mask are sensitive. Cords are connected to the fencer's clothing, to the weapon, and to the scoring box. (The cords connected to the fencer coil into a reel that is spring-loaded to take up any slack in the cords and prevent the fencer from tripping.) When a weapon touches the fencer with a small amount of pressure, a circuit is created and the scoring box reflects a hit. In Olympic fencing, the first fencer to record 15 points wins the bout. Bouts can also be of a predetermined duration, in which case the fencer with the highest score wins.

 A fencer requires a jacket, a mask, a glove, trousers or knickers, white stockings, flat-soled shoes, and a weapon with which to bout.

Weapons of modern fencing
 Foils, épées, and sabres have blunted tips. At foil, hits must be made with the point of the weapon and are valid only when they land on the prescribed target area (the trunk of the body). At épée, hits are made with the point and, as the rules are based on the conditions of a duel, are valid wherever they arrive on the body of an opponent. Hits by the sabre are made with the point, with the cutting edge, or with the upper third (the area nearest the point of the sword) of the back edge, on the opponent's body from the waist up.

Fencing area
  The piste, or fencing mat, made of linoleum, cork, rubber, or composition, is a strip at least 1.5 metres (4.9 feet) wide and 14 metres (46 feet) long, with an extension, or runback, of 1.5 metres at either end. The piste has a centre line, on-guard lines, warning lines, and rear-limit lines. A match starts with the fencers in the on-guard position so far apart as to require a lunge to reach the opposing fencer.

Fencing conventions
 The conventions are rules designed to teach fencers to fence as if their blades were sharp. The rules are not arbitrary but are based on logical and intelligent behaviour. They instill in a fencer a specific response to an opponent's move, as opposed to an instinctive reaction. Above all, the conventions establish right-of-way, or who has the right to hit whom at any given moment in an exchange of blade actions. The rules guide the fencer, helping create an advantage in distance and timing over the opponent and allowing the fencer to follow the most important precept of sword fighting—to hit an opponent and not be hit. Offensively, right-of-way is established by extending the sword arm straight and menacing the opponent with the weapon point. The other fencer thus becomes the defender and must parry (block) the attack before attempting any offensive action. Once the defender produces a parry that deflects the attack, the defender claims right-of-way and becomes the new attacker by riposting (counterattacking). The initial attacker then becomes the defender, and must parry the riposte. Right-of-way thus alternates back and forth as one fencer creates an advantage over the other.

Wheelchair fencing
      One of fencing's most recent developments is that of wheelchair fencing. German-born English neurosurgeon Sir Ludwig Guttman introduced wheelchair fencing at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, England. Fencing was one of many sports therapies introduced by Guttman for WWII veterans who had suffered spinal cord injuries. In 1948 Guttman inaugurated Olympic-type competitions for disabled athletes at the Stoke Mandeville Games, and wheelchair fencing became a regular fencing event in Europe soon after. The first international wheelchair fencing tournament took place in the 1950s. Wheelchair fencing has been a part of the Paralympic Games since 1960. This unique form of fencing was introduced into the United States in the 1960s but was not actively developed until the early 1990s.

      The fencing takes place in special frames designed to keep the wheelchairs stable. Wheelchair fencers go for five touches, as in standard fencing, but they cannot advance or retreat. Wheelchair technique includes ducking, making half turns, and leaning forward and backward to achieve or avoid touches; however, all touches must be generated without the athlete rising from the chair seat. While many beginning wheelchair fencers rely on muscle and aggressive methods of fencing, more advanced competitors develop technique and timing as their strong points. All three fencing weapons are included in the wheelchair game.

Fencing in the movies
      Sword fighting in the movies (motion picture) has been a primary source of the modern public's awareness of fencing. In 1920 Douglas Fairbanks's (Fairbanks, Douglas) silent film The Mark of Zorro gave the world a fresh image of the heroic swordsman. From this moment on, fencing was associated with swashbuckling adventure. Before Zorro, movie fencing consisted of some fairly primitive blade whacking. Fairbanks was the first to ask a fencing master to advise on a production, creating the first movie swordplay that actually resembled fencing. Fairbanks's best fencing films include The Three Musketeers (1921), Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925), The Black Pirate (1926), and The Iron Mask (1929). Other silent-film actors who fenced in their films with varying degrees of success include Ramon Novarro, Rudolph Valentino (Valentino, Rudolph), and John Barrymore (Barrymore, John). The leading fencing masters working in films of this period were Henry Uttenhove and Fred Cavens.

      The next wave of movies to feature fencing came in 1935, spurred on by Errol Flynn (Flynn, Errol)'s Captain Blood. In Captain Blood the fencing was more intricate and expertly staged than in earlier, silent films. Some of the most popular swashbuckling films of this era—and the actors who starred in them—include Ronald Colman (Colman, Ronald) in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937); Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Sea Hawk (1940), and The Adventures of Don Juan (1949); Tyrone Power (Power, Tyrone) in a remake of The Mark of Zorro (1940), and The Black Swan (1942); and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., in The Corsican Brothers (1941). The most successful fencing masters working in Hollywood at this time were Fred Cavens, Ralph Faulkner, and Jean Heremans.

      There were few large-scale films featuring fencing in the 1950s and '60s, as Hollywood shifted its primary focus to realism and psychological drama. The few popular sword-fighting films of this time were Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), featuring José Ferrer (Ferrer, José); Scaramouche (1952) and a remake of The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), both of which starred Stewart Granger; and At Sword's Point (1952) with Cornel Wilde. Cavens, Faulkner, and Heremans were still the major fencing masters in film at the time.

      The third and most recent incarnation of swashbuckling films arrived in the mid-1970s, beginning with director Richard Lester (Lester, Richard)'s The Three Musketeers (1973). At this juncture movie fencing began to reflect directors' desire for historical accuracy, and the action took on a more realistic look. Films highlighting fencing in this period include Lester's sequel to his Three Musketeers, entitled The Four Musketeers (1974); Ridley Scott (Scott, Ridley)'s The Duellists (1977); Highlander (1985), featuring Sean Connery (Connery, Sir Sean); the comedy The Princess Bride (1987); The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–03); and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (2003–07), starring Johnny Depp (Depp, Johnny). Also of note were the films in the Star Wars trilogy (1977, 1980, and 1983), which featured a kendo-type of fencing with sabres that had blades of light.

      It should be noted, however, that movie fencing remains a poor representation of actual fencing technique. Sword fighting for the movies requires broad, flashy, and easily followed actions to produce a dramatic effect. The art and sport of fencing, on the other hand, requires precise and economical actions to be successful.

Nick Forrest Evangelista

Men's world fencing championships
       World fencing championships-men World fencing championships-men Winners of the men's world fencing championships are provided in the table.

Women's world fencing championships
       World fencing championships-women World fencing championships-women Winners of the women's world fencing championships are provided in the table.

Additional Reading
Texts on the history and development of sword fighting and fencing include William Gaugler, The History of Fencing (1998); J. Christoph Amberger, The Secret History of the Sword (1998); Nick Evangelista, The Encyclopedia of the Sword (1995); Egerton Castle, Schools and Masters of Fence (1885, reprinted 1969), a 19th-century study of the evolution of fencing; Alfred Hutton, The Sword and the Centuries (1901, reprinted 1995), a classic text that covers 500 years of the history of swords and dueling; and Richard F. Burton, The Book of the Sword (1884, reprinted 1987), which studies the development of the sword from ancient times to the Roman era. For sources on modern fencing technique, see Nick Evangelista, The Art and Science of Fencing (1996); William Gaugler, The Science of Fencing (1997); Michel Alaux, Modern Fencing (1975); and Albert Manley, Complete Fencing (1979). Two works which focus on the Italian school of fencing include Luigi Barbasetti, The Art of Foil (1932, reprinted 1998); and Aldo Nadi, On Fencing (1943, reprinted 1994). Carl A. Thimm, A Complete Bibliography of Fencing and Duelling (1896, reprinted 1998), is a review of fencing literature through the ages.

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • fencing — (n.) mid 15c., defending, act of protecting; 1580s in the sword fighting sense; noun from prp. of FENCE (Cf. fence) (v.). In spite of the re enactment in 1285 of the Assize of Arms of 1181, fencing was regarded as unlawful in England. The keeping …   Etymology dictionary

  • Fencing — Fen cing, n. 1. The art or practice of attack and defense with the sword, esp. with the smallsword. See {Fence}, v. i., 2. [1913 Webster] 2. Disputing or debating in a manner resembling the art of fencers. Shak. [1913 Webster] 3. The materials… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • fencing — ► NOUN 1) the sport of fighting with blunted swords in order to score points. 2) a series of fences. 3) material for making fences …   English terms dictionary

  • fencing — [fen′siŋ] n. [< FENCE, v.] 1. the art or sport of fighting with a foil, saber, or epee 2. a) material for making fences b) a system of fences …   English World dictionary

  • Fencing — This article is about the sport, which is distinguished from stage fencing, academic fencing (mensur), historical fencing, SCA fencing, and swordsmanship. For the boundary structure, see Fence. For other uses, see Fencing (disambiguation).… …   Wikipedia

  • fencing — [[t]fe̱nsɪŋ[/t]] 1) N UNCOUNT Fencing is a sport in which two competitors fight each other using very thin swords. The ends of the swords are covered and the competitors wear protective clothes, so that they do not hurt each other. 2) N UNCOUNT… …   English dictionary

  • fencing — /ˈfɛnsɪŋ/ (say fensing) noun 1. the act, practice, or art of using a sword, foil, etc., for defence and attack. 2. a parrying of arguments; an evading of direct answers. 3. an enclosure or railing. 4. fences collectively. 5. material for fences.… …  

  • Fencing — Escrime Pour les articles homonymes, voir Escrime (homonymie). Escrime Fédération internationale …   Wikipédia en Français

  • fencing — noun Fencing is used before these nouns: ↑master Fencing is used after these nouns: ↑perimeter, ↑wire …   Collocations dictionary

  • fencing — fenc·ing || fensɪŋ n. art of sword fighting; fences; material for constructing fences; use of witty remarks to avoid answering direct questions fens n. railing; hedge; sport of fencing; ability to argue; one who sells stolen goods; vertical… …   English contemporary dictionary

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