The three different styles of modern fencing, foil, epee, and saber, each have their own rules for scoring.
There are some overall similarities – bouts in all three weapons are fenced up to 15 hits.
The bout is 3 rounds, each 3 minutes long and if 15 hits are not reached by either person before the end of the final round, the person with the higher score wins.
If the score is tied when time runs out, they fence an extra minute and if nobody scores, decide a winner with a coin flip. This is very rare!
Normally bouts reach 15, and do not go to time, with epee being the only weapons where this sometimes happens.
Saber bouts are so fast that they don’t even turn on the time.
Instead they take a one minute break when the first fencer in the bout reaches 8 points.
The Target Area
To begin with, the area which you are supposed to hit in order to get a point is different for all three weapons.
This area (highlighted below in red for each style) is called the “Target Area”:
The way the hit is registered for foil and epee is with a little button at the top of the weapon:
This button has to be pushed down with 500 grams of force in foil to register a hit, and 750 grams of force in epee to register a hit.
When this happens, it turns on a light on the scoring machine like in the Epee match below:
Here the fencer on the right ducks under the attack from the left and at the same time hits with her own counterattack.
This turns on the green light on the scoring machine.
The light on the left (which would be red) doesn’t turn on as you can see the left fencer missed completely.
For saber there is no button, as you’re allowed to hit with the entire blade not just the tip.
This also means there is no minimum force needed, so long as your blade makes contact in saber fencing the light will turn on (example below).
How Points Are Awarded?
The three different weapons have different rules for who gets points.
Epee is the simplest, while foil and saber are slightly more complicated – the referee plays a bigger role in these weapons.
Epee is fenced with double hits, something that isn’t present in the other two weapons.
This means that if both opponents hit each other within the same 1/25th of a second (40 milliseconds) then they will both get a point.
If one hits the other and the other isn’t able to hit them in 1/25th of a second, then the scoring machine will not register their hit and will not turn the light on for them.
Below you can see a simultaneous hit where both fencers hit each other on the wrist:
The fact that both fencers get a point means that this is good for the fencer in the lead.
Fencing bouts are fenced to 15, so if the person in the lead can make sure they get a simultaneous hit every time, they will eventually win.
This is why you can see the fencer on the right is happy he got a point, then sad because his opponent also hit which means he’s still losing by the same amount.
In foil the lockout time is quite long, approximately 300 milliseconds. This means there are quite often double hits.
Unlike epee however, in foil there is a concept called “right of way”. This means that there are certain things you can do in the match to gain right of way.
If both fencers hit, only the person who has right of way will get the point.
If there is only one valid hit (one light on the scoring machine), it still works the same as epee and the person who got the single hit gets a point.
The right of way is given in foil in many ways, the most common of which is by attacking.
The referee will decide who began attacking first, or which fencer’s action was “more” an attack, and award the point to that person.
In the example below there are two lights, and the point goes to the fencer on the right.
They are pushing forward and clearly the aggressor, while the fencer on the left is going backwards and tries to block at the end.
The fencer on the right is the attacker and has right of way in this case:
The second most common way to gain right of way is to block your opponents’ attack with your blade.
This is called a “Parry”. Below is an example of a standard parry, followed by a quick riposte to hit the other fencer:
As you can see the fencer on the right is attacking and has right of way at the start.
But once the fencer on the left parried the attack, he gained right of way and used it to score.
The job of the referee in foil (and in saber) is to award the points to one or the other fencer when there is a double hit using these right of way rules.
In saber the lockout time is more of a middle ground between epee and foil. It is currently 170 milliseconds before the scoring machine locks out in saber fencing.
Since you are allowed to hit with the entire blade when fencing saber, and as the target area is bigger in saber than in foil, it’s much easier to hit in saber.
The result of this is that it’s a much faster game, definitely the most explosive out of the three fencing styles.
You’ll notice this saber hit above is much more fast-paced than the points from earlier.
The rules for saber are basically the same as the rules for foil when it comes to both fencers getting a light on the scoring machine.
The point is awarded based on who has right of way the same as foil (who is attacking more?).
Attacking and parry riposte hits are the most common ways of getting right of way in saber, just like in foil.
There are a few stylistic differences in how it’s played though, as the lockout time, the blade, and the target area are all slightly different.
Below you can see the saber fencers trying to parry back and forth just like in the foil example from earlier.
The difference is, since it’s saber, the action is much faster:
Scoring in fencing is broadly similar – the aim of the game is to hit the other person and get the light on the scoring machine to turn on.
If possible, you would also like to stop your opponent’s light on the scoring machine from turning on too.
Once you get down into each weapon, there are a few specifics which leads to a different tactical and physical game in each style.
This is quite nice in a way, as it lets you choose the one that suits you best.
The slow, methodical, more chess-like fencing they do in epee vs the all speed all excitement style of saber – or something in between with foil fencing.
For more information on the different ways of getting right of way in foil for beginners, check out this introductory guide.