A fencing primer
By Robb Luehr
Fencing is one of the oldest sports in the world. It was contested during the ancient Olympic Games in Greece and is one of just four sports to be included in every modern Olympics since they began in 1896.
Here is some basic information about fencing competition, and some interesting facts about fencing: PLAYING FIELD: The “piste (French),” where a fencing bout is contested, is a 2-meter by 14-meter strip. It duplicates combat in a confined area, such as a hallway.
WEAPONS: There are three weapons used in fencing: The foil, a flexible, rectangular blade about three feet long; epee, which is shorter (27 inches), heavier and stiffer than the foil; and the saber, the modern version of the cavalry sword. In sports, only a marksman’s bullet is faster than the tip of a fencing weapon.
SCORING: In foil and epee, points are scored with the tip of the sword. In saber, points are scored with the blade or the point. The valid target area in foil is the torso from the shoulders to the groin in the front and to the waist in the back, considered vital areas of the body by 18th-century dueling masters. The valid target area in epee is the entire body, head to toe, much like in a real duel. The valid target area in saber is the entire body above the waist excluding the hands, meant to simulate combat between cavalry riders on horses.
GOOD TIMING: There originally was no time limit on a fencing bout, until a title bout in New York during the 1930s went for seven hours. Bouts were then limited to 30 minutes, but have been changed to three minutes for a five-touch bout and nine minutes for a 15-touch bout.
THEY’RE NO. 1: In April 2003, Keeth Smart (saber) of Brooklyn, N.Y., became the first American fencer to be ranked No. 1 in the world. Shortly thereafter, Sada Jacobson (saber) of Atlanta became the first American woman to be No. 1.
LOCAL HISTORY: UW-Parkside had a fencing team from 1968 through 1984 and Loran Hein of Kenosha was the team’s only head coach. Eight Parkside fencers competed in international competition, including three in the world championships. Parkside also hosted the NCAA Fencing Tournament in 1983 and again in 2001 after the Sports and Recreation Complex was built. The head fencing coach at the Caliburn Fencing Club in Milwaukee, Tony Gillham, was the head coach for 18 years at the University of Wisconsin. The team’s final season was 1991.
FAMOUS FENCERS: Well-known people who are also avid fencers include Jerry O’Connell (saber), who stars on the NBC TV show “Crossing Jordan;” Prince Albert of Monaco (saber); General George Patton, who competed in the 1912 Olympics; Bruce Dickinson (foil), the lead singer of the British heavy metal band Iron Maiden; and singer Neil Diamond (saber).
Complete information on fencing, including terminology, detailed descriptions of competition and complete rules, is available on-line at www.usfencing.org. For a list of fencing clubs in Wisconsin and results from tournaments in the state, visit www.wifencing.org