The fencing piste

A fencing bout takes place on a strip, or piste, which is between 1.5 and 2 meters wide and 14 meters long. Two meters either side of the mid-point, there are two en-garde lines, where the fencers stand at the beginning of the bout. There are also two warning lines two metres from either end of the piste, to let a retreating fencer know that he is nearly out of space. Any fencer who retreats off the end of the piste automatically loses a point.

Electronic scoring equipment

Electronic scoring is used in all major national and international and most local, competitions.

The central unit of the scoring system is commonly known as “the box”. In the simplest version both fencers’ weapons are connected to the box via long retractable cables. The box normally carries a set of lights to signal when a hit has been made. When this happens a coloured light will come on. If a red light comes on the person on the left has made a hit, if a green one comes on then the person on the right has made a hit. If both lights come on then both have made a hit. There is a slight variation with foil, if a hit is made that is not on the valid target area then a white light will be shown.

Note that for foil and sabre if two coloured lights are lit then the referee has to decide who had the priority, and therefore scored the point.

The bout

The referee stands at the side of the piste and brings the fencers to the ready position by calling “En garde”. The fencers come on guard with the front foot behind the en-garde line The referee then calls “Ready?” and then “Fence!”, and the bout will start. To stop the bout the referee calls “Halt!”.

When there is a hit the referee will decide if the hit was valid and, for foil and sabre, who had the priority. If a point is awarded, then the competitors return to their en-garde lines; if not, they remain approximately where they were when the bout was interrupted. The referee will then restart the bout as before. This procedure is repeated until either one of the fencers has reached the required number of points (generally, 1, 5, 10 or 15, depending on the format of the bout) or until the time allowed for the bout runs out.

How do I follow the action?

For those new to fencing, it is difficult to follow the lightning speed of the fencers’ actions. To become more comfortable in watching a fencing bout, focus on one fencer. The fencer being attacked defends himself by use of a parry, a motion used to deflect the opponent’s blade, after which the defender can make a riposte, an answering attack. Thus, the two adversaries keep changing between offence and defence. Whenever a hit is made, the referee will stop the bout, describe the actions, and decide whether or not to award a hit.