FENCING AS A SPORT
FENCING AS A SPORT
As a sixteen-year old boy I had joined the RAF, and fencing became the good news out of a lot of bad. I joined the fencing club because it was an exciting, new thing to do. There was cross-country running and swimming too from a huge selection, so I was as happy as a much smaller child
I knew nothing about fencing, even the simple things like there being three swords (four, if you include the bayonet). Fencing occurs on a Piste and used to be judged by two people, judges, to a fencer and the match was run by a President. Now everything is governed by electricity and a President, even on the difficult thing to ‘electronicise’, the sabre.
I had to play at everything, and tampered with the Italian foil as well as the traditional French. Then came the pistol grips and electrical scoreboarding that changed everything. But, being left-handed was my secret. I was one of the only left-handed players and found myself at the competition end of the fencing game very quickly. Fencing against other Junior schools around the Army and Air Force. In the early days, I fought against Jim Fox, the Army’s champion and a future Gold Medial winner in the Mexico Olympics. He gave me a lesson, but with a humility and grace that I’ll never forget.
Fencing was one of the first sports to be played in the Olympics. Based on the traditional skills of swordsmanship, the modern sport arose at the end of the 19th century, with the Italian school having modified the historical European martial art of classical fencing, and the French school having later refined the Italian system.
Fencing traces its roots to the development of swordsmanship for duels and self defense. The ancestor of modern fencing originated in Spain, where several books on fencing were written. Treatise on Arms was written by Diego de Valera between 1458 and 1471 and is one of the oldest surviving manuals on western fencing shortly before dueling came under official ban by the Catholic Monarchs. In conquest, the Spanish forces carried fencing around the world, particularly southern Italy, one of the major areas of strife between both nations. Fencing was mentioned in the play The Merry Wives of Windsor written sometime prior to 1602.
The mechanics of modern fencing originated in the 18th century in an Italian school of fencing of the Renaissance, and under their influence, were improved by the French school of fencing. The Spanish school of fencing stagnated and was replaced by the Italian and French schools.
The shift towards fencing as a sport rather than as military training happened from the mid-18th century, and was led by Domenico Angelo, who established a fencing academy, Angelo's School of Arms, in Carlisle House, Soho, London in 1763. There, he taught the aristocracy the fashionable art of swordsmanship. His school was run by three generations of his family and dominated the art of European fencing for almost a century.
The foil is a light thrusting weapon with a maximum weight of 500 grams. The foil may target the torso; neck and groin, but not the arms or legs. Touches are scored only with the tip; hits with the side of the blade do not register on the electronic scoring apparatus. Touches that land outside of the target area stop the action, but are not scored. Only a single touch can be award to either fencer at the end of a phrase. If both fencers land touches within a close enough interval of milliseconds to register two lights on the machine, the referee uses the rules of "right of way" to determine which fencer is awarded the touch, or if an off-target hit has priority over a valid hit, in which case not touch is awarded.
The épée is a thrusting weapon like the foil, but heavier, with a maximum total weight of 775 grams. In épée, the entire body is valid target. The hand guard on the épée is a large circle that extends towards the pommel, effectively covering the hand, which is a valid target in épée. Like foil, all hits must be with the tip and not the sides of the blade. As the entire body is legal target, there is no concept of an off-target touch, except if the fencer accidentally strikes the floor, setting off the light and tone on the scoring apparatus.
The sabre is a light cutting and thrusting weapon that targets the entire body above the waist, except the weapon hand. Saber is the newest weapon to be used. Like the foil, the maximum legal weight of a sabre is 500 grams. The hand guard on the sabre extends from pommel to the point at which the blade connects to the hilt. This guard is generally turned outwards during sport to protect the sword arm from touches. Hits with the entire blade or point are valid. As in foil, touches that land outside of the target area are not scored. However, unlike foil, these off-target touches do not stop the action, and the fencing continues. In the case of both fencers landing a scoring touch, the referee determines which fencer receives the point for the action.