Modern fencing is a sport in which opponents battle each other with swords. There are three primary forms of fencing, each centered on the type of weapon being used. These weapons are the foil, the epee and the saber. Often referred to as "physical chess," fencing requires knowledge, skill, confidence and daring for an athlete to compete well when using any of these weapons.
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Foils began as safer and lighter practice weapons used by duellers to hone their skills. The term "foil" is derived from the French word "refouler," meaning "to turn back." The foil blade is usually very flexible, around 35 inches in length and square in cross section. This sword is lighter in weight than both the epee and the saber from hilt to tip. Foil fencing is scored on a thrusting strike to only the front or back torso. For this reason, the guard of the foil can be somewhat smaller than the epee, where any touch counts while fencing. The use of the foil as a tool for training and practice, as well as competition, has helped to shape the sport of fencing as a whole.
The epee is as long as a foil, but has a much heavier blade with a triangular cross-section and fluting along the sides of the blade. The shape, weight and fluting originated with the rapier, an ancient dueling sword on which the epee was based. The design of the rapier was primarily intended to inflict a thrusting wound with a blade that would allow blood to flow more freely. The epee is also a thrusting weapon and points are scored by striking anywhere on the body. The guard, therefore, is cup-shaped to protect the hand and wrist from being a potential target. Fencing with the epee most closely simulates the conditions of an actual duel.
Unlike the foil and epee, which are exclusively thrusting weapons, the saber is used to both slash and thrust. The history of the saber recounts its use as a military weapon, particularly among cavalry. In fact, the target area of modern saber fencing, which includes all of the upper torso excluding the hands, was strongly influenced by the common use of the saber when fighting on horseback. The saber of today is a light, flat blade with a front striking edge and a flat spine. The guard of the saber is relatively large and cup-shaped with a curved guard that wraps around the hand to the pommel at the end of the handle. Points are scored by striking an opponent with the front of the blade, as well as the forward third of the back edge or point of the blade.