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What is a Fencing Foil?

By C. Ausbrooks
Updated May 17, 2024
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A fencing foil is a rapier-like weapon that lacks the sharpened edge, and is typically used for competitions and fencing classes. Foils are about 110 centimeters (43 inches) in length, and weigh about one kilogram (2 lbs). There are two types of foils used today, the dry foil and the electric foil. Both types have a pommel, guard, grip, blade, and thumb pad. The pommel is the knob on the hilt of the foil.

The dry fencing foil is a conventional sword that usually has a plastic or rubber knob attached to the end to prevent injury. In international competitions, the blade is required to be made out of maraging steel, a steel alloy fabricated for hardness and strength, and designed to break to prevent harm. In local competitions around the world, low-carbon steel is used that allows the blade to bend, but not break.

An electric fencing foil has wires that run throughout the blade. The tip is a button that activates when it scores a hit on the opponent. If a hit is scored on a region that doesn’t qualify for a point, the light at the handle glows white. For all hits that score points, either green or red is illuminated.

There are two basic types of grips for the modern fencing foil. The first is the straight grip. This grip is a conventional sword grip, with quillons under the pommel. Quillons are bars of metal that form a hand guard and prevent the hand from slipping onto the blade of the foil. The second type is the pistol grip, designed to be more ergonomic. For electric foils, the wires run from the grip of the fencing foil to the wrist, where it connects with the body cord.

Modern foils are designed after small-sword practice weapons. Long sword and rapier foils are available as well, but they function differently in terms of balance and weight. The target area for the modern sport of fencing is derived from a time when dueling to the death was commonplace. To score a point, a thrust must successfully land with 500 grams (4.9 newtons) of force to the torso, where the vital organs would be.

In the sport of fencing, the score doesn’t necessarily go to the fencer who scores the first hit, but the fencer who scores the first hit and has priority. Priority is deemed by a system of parries and ripostes. Deflecting the blade of an attacking opponent will give priority to the deflector, who may then attack. If that attack is then deflected, the priority is given back to the initial attacker. This exchange continues until a hit is scored.

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