images of Fencing

Olympic Sports


The objective of fencing is to strike your opponent while avoiding being hit yourself. The fastest sword wins in a flash of a blade.


Two competitors, each holding a sword in one hand, face each other across the centre line of a long, narrow playing area known as a ‘piste’. Their aim is to strike their opponent on a valid target area of the body.

Practised as a formal sport since the 17th century but dating back much earlier, men's fencing has featured in every modern Olympic Games since 1896. Women's events were added at the Paris 1924 Games.

Athletes compete using one of three weapons, each with its own characteristics and rules:

  • Foil: a light thrusting sword with a flexible, rectangular blade. Foil fencers score with the tip of the sword by touching their opponent's torso.
  • Epée: a dueling sword similar to a foil but slightly heavier and with a tapered shape. The entire body is the target area for the tip of the epée blade.
  • Sabre: originally a military sword used for thrusting and cutting. Points can be scored with both the tip and the blade, and the entire body above the waist is the target area.

Six competitions will be held at Tokyo 2020, each with separate men's and women's competitions:

  • Individual Foil
  • Individual Epée
  • Individual Sabre
  • Team Foil
  • Team Epée
  • Team Sabre

Individual matches are contested over three three-minute rounds, with the winner being either the first to 15 points or whoever has the most points after the three rounds.

Team matches involve three members competing in a round-robin format. Bouts last for three minutes or until a competitor scores five points. A total of nine bouts are held, with the team scoring 45 points or having the highest score after nine bouts declared the winner.

Fencers must salute their opponent and the referee at the beginning and end of each bout. Failure to do so can result in the loss of a point.

International Federation: International Fencing Federation(Open in a new window)


Precision thrusts and subtle swordplay

Fencing players

Fencing's appeal lies in the interplay of lightning-quick movements and fast-changing tactics. With the lights dimmed and the focus on the piste, the athletes' explosive attacks and defensive manoeuvres are distilled into tiny moments where an error or hesitation can decide the outcome. Speedy reflexes can compensate for a lack of reach, with openings created in just two or three rapid retaliatory thrusts.

Foil fencers use the flexibility of their sword to make attacks that wrap around the opponent to their back. For the foil and sabre, ‘right of way’ is given to the fencer who first extends their arm and points their sword tip towards their opponent. If the other fencer dodges or parries in defence, they gain right of way and will often launch an immediate counterattack.

There is no right of way in epée matches and a point is awarded any time a sword tip hits the opponent. If both fencers hit at the same time, they are both awarded points. Since the whole body is a valid target, matches play out in a variety of ways as fencers target unexpected parts of their opponent's body right down to their toes.

An electronic scoring machine is used to award points. Each sword is wired to a buzzer that sounds to indicate contact on a valid target area, and to a coloured light on top of the mask of the successful fencer. These make it easier for spectators to follow and understand the bout.


En garde for action

Fencing players

Fencing originated and developed in Europe and many terms used in the sport are French, such as en garde (ready) and allez (begin). Decades of tradition and practice have accumulated in Italy and France in particular, with the former holding a slight lead in terms of number of Olympic gold medals won as well as total medal count. These two countries are followed by other European powerhouses such as Hungary and Russia, and by the USA.

However, Europe's dominance is gradually waning with Asian athletes becoming a force. China and South Korea have focused on epée and sabre, with Park Sang-young of South Korea causing an upset to win gold in the Rio 2016 men's individual epée. Also, China's women took the team sabre silver medal at the Beijing 2008 Games as well as gold for the team epée event at London 2012.

The Tokyo 2020 Games will continue to showcase the imposing, traditionally-trained fencers of Europe along with their well-honed, rapidly-maturing Asian rivals.



If a match ends in a tie, how is it decided?


A:With a further one-minute bout in which the fencer scoring the first touch wins, preceded by a coin toss to give one fencer ‘priority’. If the one minute elapses without further score, the fencer with ‘priority’ is declared the winner.

As of 1 Dec. 2018

Competition Venues

  • Makuhari Messe Hall B

Olympic Sports

Paralympic Sports