Ask the Expert
Dartmouth’s fencing club won first place in the 2018 national intercollegiate competition and finished in the top 10 this year. The club dates to the 1920s, when it was founded by coach and fencing master Gerald Cetrulo ’28. “Four years of fencing have helped me grow strong mentally. When you’re on the strip, it’s just you and the other person. Some people have described it as a game of chess, but you’re fencing,” says Wu. DAM asked her how a first-time spectator should watch a fencing meet.
Know the variants.
There are three disciplines: epée, foil, and sabre. In foil, the target area is restricted to the torso covered by the lamé (an electronic vest that records touches, or hits). In sabre, the target area includes the arms. Meanwhile, in epée, fencers do not use a lamé because the entire body is a valid target area. Epée’s rules give no “right of way” to the attacker, making it slower and more defensive. Sparring in sabre is faster because fencers can score by slashing with the entire sword instead of touching only with its point.
Understand the basics.
There are three fundamental fencing moves: attacks, parries, and disengages. An attack comes from extending one’s arm forward. A parry is the reaction to an attack by deflecting away the blade. A disengage happens when a fencer goes around the parrying blade for a touch.
Look for the touch.
Bouts in fencing usually go until five points with a three-minute limit. If time runs out, then the person with most points wins. In sabre, however, there is no timer. The objective is to score five touches in team competition or 15 touches in direct elimination matches.
Watch for over confidence or weakness.
A fencer may have great technique, but if his mental game is weak, he can fall apart on the strip, the long, narrow rectangular playing area. A sudden loss of form or over-aggressiveness may signal poor concentration.
Follow the footsteps.
Keep an eye on the distance between fencers. To time an attack, a fencer must have a precise sense of the distance between himself and his opponent.
Watch the ref.
When simultaneous hits occur in foil and sabre, the referee decides who wins a point by determining which had the attack or “right of way.” (Only epée gives points to both fencers for simultaneous touches.) Because the fencing mask doesn’t cover the back of the head, a ref will issue a penalty card if a fencer turns her back to her opponent. Aggressively engaging core-to-core (pushing the other fencer) may also result in a penalty.