By Carolyn Reiner, Contributing Writer, Foilist
What do you get when you mix the art of swordsmanship with St. Mary’s students? A jolly good time! Fencing is an Olympic contact sport specializing in three different weapon categories: foil, épée, and sabre. Each weapon has different restrictions for where on the body points can be scored. In foil, the torso is the only target area that can be scored on. In épée, the entire body is valid target area. In sabre, the areas to score on include everything above the waist, excluding the hands and the back of the head. Each weapon category also has a different sword. Foil swords are light and springy, with a small bell guard (a circular metal piece in front of the handle that protects the hand). Épée swords are heavy and stiff, with a large bell that completely covers the hand. Sabre swords are light with a small bell that extends down the hand in a wide strip to cover the knuckles.
Fencing is an electric sport. Special equipment is necessary to conduct an electric current from the tip of a fencer’s sword, to the opponent’s metal coated jacket (or lamé), and finally to a scoring box that uses a light system to declare which player received the point. In turn, a judge (the director) decides, depending on the weapon style, what action occurred, and which player, if any, receives a point, based on a system of “right of way.”
The foil and épée swords each have a button on the tip of the sword, connected to a copper wire that conducts electricity when pressed. The only way to score a point, or “touch,” is by depressing this button in the proper target area of the opponent. In sabre, the entire sword conducts electricity, meaning that all surfaces of the blade can be used to score a point. When a fencer gets a valid “touch” in the designated target area, he or she scores a point and the match is paused while the fencers reset their positions.
Each “bout” goes to five points. During competitions, bouts go through a “round-robin” system, where everyone in each weapon fences everyone else in that same weapon category. After the round-robins, each player is “seeded” based on how well they performed in the previous rounds. These “direct elimination” rounds go to fifteen points and continue until there is one person remaining.
While the St. Mary’s Fencing Club is a club sport, we still compete with other Maryland colleges at Dual Meets. Dual Meets are held twice a year against colleges such as College Park, George Mason University, and the U.S. Naval Academy. Our team that competes for St. Mary’s at these events is chosen through our own system of round-robins. The top four of five people in each weapon are sent to compete. St. Mary’s also hosts “home” competitions, usually consisting of the entire St. Mary’s team and invitees from other colleges.
The St. Mary’s team practices on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. each week. Email John Hawkins, the club president, if you’re interested in joining. We’d love to have you.