The Art of Fencing
Enjoyed and practiced since the middle ages, fencing is one of the oldest combative disciplines out there. A thrilling sport, it ranks high in both elegance and technical challenge. We spoke with fencing champions and the Qatar Fencing Federation head coach, HichemKarchoud, and he told us about the details of the sport.
A Look Back
The concept of fencing has been around for thousands of years, borne of the simple human instinct to protect himself and his family against wild animals or invaders. Thankfully most of us no longer need to use swords and knives for self-defense. In the Middle Ages fencing, or jousting, was entertainment, a show of how strong one’s weapon could be, and could be a bloody affair. Today, fencing is a sport of showmanship, speed and skill, and requires neither player to be injured.
Fencing was introduced as an Olympic sport in 1896, when it made its first big appearance onto the world stage. Olympic fencing started with only two of the three types of replica swords –the Foil and Saber. In 1900, at the Olympic games in Paris, the Épée sword replica was introduced and many more joined the sport.
The International Fencing Federation was created in 1913 and developed the techniques and point systems we know today. In 1924, fencing opened its world to women, allowing them to fence using the Foil sword. Then, in 1933, electronic scoring systems were introduced in Épée, and have since been used in all world championships.
Qatar’s Fencing Federation was created in 2000. The following year it joined the International Fencing Federation and started participating in championships world-wide. In January 2004, Qatar’s team took part in the World Cup for Épée men’s single. Then in May 2004, the team attended the Gulf Championship and Youth Arab Championship for Épée and Foil. Due to Qatar’s huge success in those championships, Qatar’s was named champion in Single and Team Épée in 2005.
Fencing is a full body combat sport. Those who take up the sport need to be quick on their feet and have plenty of energy to spare. We spoke with some of the champions at Qatar Fencing Federation and here’s what they had to say about the sport.
Ali Turki Al Wajhan Owaida, 16 – Foil Style
I started fencing in early 2010. The sport was new and I had never come across it before. It was a challenge at the start, but in time it became like an addiction. It was something that I couldn’t let go of. It took me a long time to comprehend and understand fencing, and a lot more time to master it. I have not mastered everything, I still feel like there are many more techniques to learn. You need to develop your fencing techniques every day, and being a part of the Qatar Fencing Federation has helped me understand the sport much better. Practicing with other players allows me to learn new techniques and styles. Sometimes this actually works to my advantage, I benefit more from watching different movements and techniques. The style of fencing is very important, because when I come across someone who is fencing in the same style, I know how they will perform. But when I play with someone whose techniques I have never came across, the most important thing for me is to understand the way they are performing and then begin to combat. I practice the Foil style. It is very challenging, there are a lot of rules and complicated scoring systems.
Ali Mahanna Alsulaiti, 15 – Épée Style
When I started fencing with coach Mohammed I didn’t even know what the sport was about. I just noticed the coach and how good he was with the sword. This made me want to start practicing. Holding the sword, I feel powerful, and I am rarely scared. If I get scared then I might miss a couple of points, in a championship or match, it would feel like a waste. If you’re scared or nervous in a championship, you can’t get the points back. Recently I went to a championship in Bahrain and was part of a six swordsman group. I was nervous at the start. This made me lose 2 out of 6 matches. I then got over it and won the rest and thought to myself, “This is just a game, I don’t need to win, the important thing is to learn and improve.” My total score in the championship was 102. In another championship in Jordan, I took first place in singles and in teams. Then I won silver in the team youth match. When I practice fencing I feel good about myself, I feel confident and not afraid because the people I train with are my friends and I learn from them as they learn from me. However, in championship matches, you meet people you don’t know and their styles are different so it is a bit nerve-wracking at the start.
Khalifa Khalid Alyazeedi – Saber Style
I feel really good when I hold a sword. It feels empowering and victorious. You can’t feel nervous or scared, you must think positively to get the points that you need and reach your goal. I got into fencing with coach Hichem, who took me under his wing when I was in school. To this day I am his student. I have been part of the Qatar fencing team since 2008. I was part of the Arab Youth championship in Jordan, and I got the gold in Saber style youth match, and silver in Saber young adults’ match. Fencing is not a sport for everyone. It requires a lot of hard work and dedication and love for the sport. The person who would excel in it would be a person who loves it. I can’t go on for two days without practicing, I love it so much.
There are three swords used in fencing:
Weighing 500 grams and measuring up to 110 cm, the Foil is rectangular and has a .hand shield measuring a circumference of 12 cm.
It is the heaviest fencing sword weighing 750 grams, and measuring up to 110 cm. Épée has a triangular shape and a shield of 13.5 cm circumference.
It is known as the Arabic sword, and is very light weighing no-more than 500 grams and measuring up to 105 cm. It extends in a triangular shape and the hand shield is spherical and connected to the end bolt.
Points of Contact
Each style of fencing has its own rules. To get a point, players must make contact with their opponent. Depending on the style of fencing, different areas are allowed:
- Foil: stomach, lower part of stomach, underarms and back, the sides of the head mask.
- Épée: All parts of the body are fair points if the tip of the sword touches them, this also includes the mask.
- Saber: The upper body from the belt line only, including the mask.
How to hold the sword is a technique all in itself. The correct and most common way is like holding a pen, with the index and thumb for a controlled grip. The hand should be as close as possible to the shield.
All different techniques start off with some simple rules. The starting position “Engarde” and the attack motion “La Fente” are the only two rules you need to know as a beginner. Then comes the fun part, the different ways to score! Singles matches last 3 minutes with an additional minute if there is a tie. Team matches are done in three parts, each lasting 3 minutes, with a minute of rest in between.
The number of total points to be scored in team plays is 5. A total of 15 points must be scored to end the match completely. The players perform on a “fencing arena”, this is a rectangular metal flooring measuring 14 meters by 2 meters. Each player has 4 brackets in their side of the arena.
- The starting position line
- The middle line (where the monitoring device and referee are)
- The danger zone
- The extended area (if the player moves too far out of their zone)
The referee must stand opposite the monitoring device and two or four on-looking judges make sure that all contact points are recorded fairly. Each player has the right to ask for more judges in the match.
The Health Benefits
But it isn’t all about show—fencing also promotes serious health benefits. Some of the most important ones are:
- Strength, Endurance, Heart Health: Fencing is all about fast movement. It’s a high intensity, interval workout. Nimble footwork, lightning movements and split-second reactions all combine into a sport that makes the heart pump faster, and works every muscle in the body. This aerobic and strengthening work-out can protect you from heart disease, and reduce your risk of chronic illnesses like diabetes.
- Better Flexibility: Fencing requires a wide range of motions to attack and counter-attack. You’re also encouraged to stretch your muscles before and after matches.
- Improved Mental Alertness: Often referred to as “Physical Chess”, fencing needs a perfect blend of strategic thinking and improvisation, all while remaining cool and calm. Matches aren’t only judged on contacts. Observers also take into account the players’ fighting style and aggressive or passive personality.
- Balance and Coordination: All of the offensive and defensive moves in fencing require good balance and coordination skills. Because of the diversity and range of movements, fencing strengthens your core and sharpens your cognitive abilities.
- Stress Reduction: Being both a physical and mental sport, fencing is a highly effective stress reliever. Your mind is focused on the match, and your body is getting the relaxing benefits of all those feel-good endorphins.
Why not try a class today? Find out how you can incorporate elegance into your work out.