Swords, Clothing And Other Fencing Equipment

Fencing has been both an Olympic sport and a way of survival for centuries. Check out how this sport is safe and fun for everyone!

Fencing joined the Olympic Games as a sport in 1896, but the concept of battling with swords has been around for much longer than that. In fact, fencing has been traced back to Egypt and the time of the Pharoahs, if you can believe it. And while the clothing and rules may have changed, the basic types of swords have remained constant for decades. The foil, epee and sabre are the three basic tools every good fencer knows how to handle, and with protective clothing to help prevent injury a good battle can be fought without danger to either side. Let's take a look at what these different swords are and what you need to take into your own battle for this Olympic sport!

Of course there are many, many more types of weapons than the three listed here, such as the rapier and the dagger. They are still taught to students in various schools, but aren't accepted for Olympic usage and therefore are less known or used. But for the classical fan or the professional actor, knowing how to use as many weapons as possible is a must!

The foil is usually the first weapon all fencers begin their training with, a very light weapon that lends itself to being used by children and young adults without tiring themselves out too quickly. This sword has a blunted blade and a flexible blade that bends easily when you strike an opponent, making it ideal for registering and scoring points in a fencing match. The idea here is not to slash at your opponent, but strike certain areas with the tip of the blade and score without being hit back, of course. The lightness of the blade allows higher speed and the flexability of the metal creates an almost invisible blur as the opponents try to strike each other without being hit.

The next popular fencing weapon is the epee. You might recognize this particular sword right off the bat as being the one from the movies, and you'd be right. This particular weapon is a direct descendant of the swords that used to be worn to settle duels in the 18th century when two gentlemen would stride to the agreed field and face off with deadly weapons over a matter of honor. Much heavier than the foil, the epee's blade is not as flexible as the foil and in fact hardly bends at all. It is still designed to score when you hit with the point of the blade, but is more aimed at older fencers who can handle the weight.

The last fencing sword is the sabre; a modification of the Italian duelling sabre which itself is descended from the calvary sabre. Unlike the other two, this sword has a curved blade and has an actual cutting edge on one side of the blade. This goes back to the calvary sword, where it was used as a weapon to slash at infantry trying to pull the rider off the horse. There is technically no tip for you to poke at your opponent with; just the actual cutting area of the blade - and that goes from the edge of the blade down to the handguard! This is not seen as often in competition outside of the Olympics due to the intense training needed to maintain a high degree of safety, as you can guess.

Now that you have your weapons, let's work on keeping you safe in a fencing competition. All protective clothing consists of cotton, nylon or Kevlar (a special synthetic fiber that is both light and able to withstand high amounts of impact!). First, there is a plastron, or half-jacket that you will put on. This covers your sword arm and upper arm, increasing your protection because this is the area most likely to be hit by the opponent. Next is a pair of knickers, or short pants that will end just below your knees. This will be made out of a lighter weave, to allow you easy movement. Then another jacket, or croissard, goes on atop that one. This is a long-sleeved garment that will remind you possibly of a straitjacket, especially with the strap that will duck down between your legs and needs to be buckled at the back. But this will protect all-important areas of your torso from an accidental slip of the blade. Next will be a pair of socks that will rise up to where your breeches stop, usually just below the knees. Of course, all of these clothing items are in white, as is the custom for the sport.

The last two items will complete your attire for a fencing duel. A single glove will be put on your sword hand, completing the protection of your exposed hand and arm. The other hand does not usually receive a glove, because in fencing the hand that is not holding the weapon is stretched out behind you in order to help balance your body during the competition. It provides a counterweight to when you lunge forward and attempt to tap your opponent and therefore doesn't need any protection.

The last, and most important item, is the mask. A fine mesh covers the face area, leading back up into a dome that covers the entire head area with a bib running around your neck to overlap with the jacket. This allows as much protection as possible for the vulnerable neck area, since even a light hit there can have possible deadly consequences.

Fencing can be a fun and exciting sport for anyone interested in swordplay and the weapons of yesterday. But don't forget that while many duels resulted in nothing more than a small scratch and honor restored and face saved, many more of them resulted in death and disfigurement for one or both of the participants. All of the safety equipment used in today's fencing competitions help to make it an enjoyable sport without the danger. Why not consider this centuries-old sport as a great way to visit the past with all the safety features of the future at hand?

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