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How to Score in Fencing

By Heather Potter

The most genteel of combat sports, fencing is the modern version of ancient swordplay, a tradition that dates back to the dynasty of Ramses III. Modern fencing consists of three swords, the foil, epee and sabre. Although the three swords have different strike zones, the rules of scoring are the same for all. The technologies of electronic scoring and video playback have taken most of the guesswork out of the sport, but a referee still watches over the bouts for penalties and conduct.


Fencers receive one point per strike, which has to occur in the piste, or fencing boundary. Each weapon has a specific strike zone on the body. To score a point, the fencer must strike his opponent on the strike zone. For foil and epee, the fencer has to hit the opponent with the tip of the sword. The strike zone for foil is the torso, while in epee, a strike anywhere on the body is valid. The sabre's strike zone consists of the torso and the head. The sabre is the only weapon that does not require a strike with the sword's point, although the fencer has to use the edge of the sword, or the top third of the back edge.


Preliminary bouts last until a fencer scores five points, or the three-minute time limit ends. Elimination bouts last for nine minutes, divided into three periods of three minutes, or until a fencer scores 15 points. In team competition, each bout lasts three minutes.


Intentional body contact is not allowed in foil or epee, but sabre fencers can touch their opponent as long as it is not done in an excessively aggressive way. Any strike made while a fencer is outside the lines of the piste is invalid.

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