Fencing Sword History
A history of the swords commonly used in fencing, as well as the weapons they derived from.
The sport of fencing has existed since ancient Egypt. Many cultures developed their own forms of sword fighting throughout the centuries. These are the weapons used mainly in England, Italy, France and Spain.
The first weapon is the RAPIER. It was a 16th century sword with an edged, thick blade used primarily as a thrusting weapon. Sometimes rapiers had ornate hilts, used to catch an opponent's blade while the off hand used another weapon to finish the fight. It had been used in military battle, but it became more popular for civilians to use for self-defense.
During the 18th century, the rapier had been redesigned to a smaller, lighter and shorter weapon. The SMALL or COURT SWORD is the forerunner of the modern foil. It was exclusively a thrusting weapon. Disputes would often be settled with these weapons, whose primary target would be the vital organs. Jail time would follow.
Not wanting to spend time in prison, but still looking for a way to settle their differences, 19th century men would fashion a DUELLING SWORD. An unedged small sword, generally with a larger bell guard to protect the weapon hand better. The duels would be fought to first blood, as opposed to death.
At the same time, DUELLING SABRES took form, later evolving into NAVEL and CAVALRY SWORDS. Equestrian units used these weapons.
Our modern fencing swords developed from these swords and practices. The FOIL is usually the first weapon a fencer trains on. It has a light, square blade that is flexible. The bell guard is small. The target, like the small sword, is the trunk of the body. Where the vital organs are. This includes the sides, shoulders and back.
The EPEE has a thick, triangular blade. Its prominent feature is the large bell guard. Touches are scored on any part of the body, from head to toe. There are no right of way rules to judge who had the attack. Simultaneous touches are valid, as simultaneous thrusts would damage both opponents in a real battle. The epee is the cousin to the dueling sword.
The third weapon used in modern fencing is the SABRE. It has a light, flat blade. Touches are scored with either the tip or the edge of the blade. Speed is necessary, as is timing. Like foil, but more akin to epee. The popular feature of the saber is the wrap around knuckle guard. The target area for saber is the entire upper half of the body, as the predecessor weapons primary use was on horseback.
The weapons are still changing. Newer, stronger, better ways to make them are always adding excitement to the game. Some role-playing gamers use the different elements of the weapons to fashion safer swords of their own out of other materials, to add to the realism of the game.
Swords come in all shapes and sizes. By understanding their past, it is better for future training, or collecting, if that is your "forte".
Ed. note: "forte" is the strongest part of the weapon, near the hilt.