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  • Most sports in the olympics are really pretty easy to watch.

  • You cross a finish line, hit a target, jump the farthest, score a point.

  • But fencing is different.

  • It's so incredibly fast and precise, that even after watching several matches, for the

  • average viewer, it's hard to understand exactly how a point was scored.

  • This is footage from 3 different bouts at the 2015 world championships.

  • On the surface, they look pretty similar.

  • But what you're looking at is in fact 3 very different events.

  • There's the foil, epee, and sabre.

  • They each have their own weapon and set of rules and their roots can be traced back centuries.

  • My only cultural reference for fencing comes from the 1998 remake of the Parent Trap, so

  • I decided to travel 2 blocks from our NYC office to a veritable fencing oasis in the

  • middle of Time Square, the Manhattan Fencing center.

  • It's produced 3 Olympians just this year.

  • That's me, struggling.

  • That's my very patient coach for the day, Brando Messinese.

  • Perfect.

  • Very good job.

  • Retreat.

  • Retreat.

  • Parry.

  • Reposte.

  • But it all happens in a half a second Yeah it happens pretty fast.

  • So, where did fencing come from?

  • An early form of fencing for sport can be traced back to ancient Egypt but fencing,

  • as we know it today, derives from the European duel.

  • The design of swords evolved from a defense and hunting strategy of cutting and slashing

  • to thrusting because it was far more deadly and effective.

  • The foil is the lightest of the 3 fencing weapons and it appeared around the 17th century

  • Europe as a practice weapon for the smallsword, a fashionable weapon often used in a duel

  • to settle disputes.

  • Fencing schools were established in Italy, Spain, and France elevating the practice to

  • a form of exercise and art

  • Foil fencing rules are the most limiting.

  • You can only hit the torso and back and only with the tip of the foil blade.

  • This is where the term touche or (touch) comes from.

  • In the 19th century a sturdier weapon called the epee was introduced.

  • I would say for a first time viewer of fencing, the easiest one to watch is epee.

  • That's because it's the slowest of the three events because fencers are more hesitant

  • to initiate an attack exposing their whole bodies to their opponent.

  • Fencers are more hesitant to initiate an attack, exposing their whole body to their opponent.

  • It is also the only of the three weapons where theright of wayrule is not enforced.

  • What's “right of way?”

  • Well, in a classic duel the only way to win if you're attacked first is to parry or

  • deflect your opponent's weapon AND THEN riposte or attack your opponent.

  • With the epee, simultaneous hits can occur and both fencers will receive a point.

  • And now, the fastest event.

  • The sabre.

  • Sabre is the second fastest sport in the Olympic games after rifle shooting.

  • That means the blade is moving almost as fast as a bullet

  • Instead of just thrusting, the sabre fencers can score on any part of the upper body with

  • slashes and thrusts and because the right of way is enforced, sabre fencers are more

  • incentivized to attack first.

  • You'll immediately recognize the difference between an epee and sabre bout because of

  • the shape of the hand guard and speed of play.

  • Fencing holds a special place in Olympic history because it's one of only 5 sports to be

  • featured since the first modern games in 1896.

  • It was a hugely popular sport, drawing crowds in theaters like big boxing fights would today.

  • This of course is where the salute comes from.

  • Until the 30s, fencing bouts like boxing would take place in theaters.

  • This of course is where the salute comes from.

  • In the mid 20th century electricity replaced red chalk to make judging easier.

  • And between 1900s and the early 2000s many fencing maneuvers further distanced the sport

  • from it's dueling roots.

  • Nothing did that more than theflick.”

  • People were used to flick their blades on the backs of their opponents.

  • But they changed the timings of the machines and that wouldn't work anymore.

  • Because a flick was so quick, it's less likely to register as a hit.

  • Despite that, foil fencers still attempt this maneuver.

  • The international fencing federation and the IOC have done a lot to try and draw outsiders

  • to the sport.

  • At London 2012 the lighting systems alone looked like a techno dance floor and the masks

  • closely resembled daft punk head gear.

  • But the essence of the sport, a fight between two people remains.

  • If you can just train your eyes to watch split second bouts, it's really exhilarating

  • to watch.

Most sports in the olympics are really pretty easy to watch.

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B2 US Vox fencing foil weapon opponent duel

Fencing, explained

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    Evangeline posted on 2018/05/28
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