The strip in fencing, otherwise known as the piste, is the thin playing area where combatants perform their bout.
Fencing strip’s date back as early as 19th century France where they were used in military academies to signify a duel was taking place when many soldiers were fencing at once, and to keep in line with the strategic nature of the growing sport.
Back then however, anything and everything was used to make a strip with not much attention to length or material, the very first ‘mats’’ were literally wooden boards known as a ‘planche’, they were uneven, unreliable and all came in different sizes.
As the sport developed and became more refined so did the strips, going from rocky wooden boards to the flat, conductive and electronic mats that now play a huge part in the modern sport, being able to conduct any accidental touches to the floor and recognizing when and where a combatant has been struck with incredible accuracy.
The most important part of the strip however is its length since this dictates the size of the combat area and what strategies a fencer can use given the amount of free space at their disposal.
For any fencing enthusiast, it is essential to familiarize themselves with the standard lengths used in events and competitions, but also of the benefits of using other sized strips outside of formal events that can help train both trainee and even professional fencers to perform at their best when it comes to the real challenge.
How Long Is A Fencing Strip?
The standard length that most competitions and experienced fencers state that a strip or piste should be is at least 14 meters long and between 1.5 and 2 meters in width, with the width often hovering between these two sizes.
The end 2 meters of each side of a strip are harshly marked to warn a fencer that they are close to being knocked off, after which there is a 2-meter runoff in case they do.
Any experienced fencer will know these measurements off by heart given just how commonly used they are in modern fencing, however it was not always this way.
The first ‘planches’ used in France as fencing mats were often only about 5 meters in length and 0.5 in width making them extremely tight with barely any maneuverability.
Eventually fencers began joining boards together around the 1920s as a way to make the sport more strategic and intense by lasting longer, but also to attract spectators who could watch a bout go on far longer.
Eventually, longer mats started becoming normalized and the measurements more refined to create the enticing playing arenas we see today.
Why Are Fencing Strips So Long?
After centuries of experimenting, why exactly did the 14 by 1.5 dimensions become seen as the most efficient and perfect choice for fencing?
A primary reason is actually to keep the game as exciting and dynamic as possible, both for the spectators and fencers.
If a fencer places one foot over the side of the strip, they are punished with their opponent obtaining the ground, or the meter, of the space where the step off occurred.
This can make for some great bouts where either the punished fencer is forced to play on their back foot, or the opponent themselves is actually forced to retreat to gain some distance for their strikes.
This creates a tug of war style dynamic within fencing that the size of the mat is perfect for, allowing these sorts of instances to happen given how long the standard mats now are.
The fairly thin width of standard strips also discourages fencers from having too much free space to circle their opponents or fight in a non-linear fashion which would be against the ethos of fencing.
At the same time, the mats are not too thin because this would take fencers’ minds off their actual bladework as they would need to focus far more on footwork and just staying on the strip.
While these measurements are enforced in the majority of competitions and events, there are some exceptions for other sized strips that can have their benefits.
Firstly, it is always useful to keep in mind that the standard sizes of strips for tournaments and events can change.
While it is rare, different seasons have been known to slightly alter mat sizes and primarily the width which is often either 1.5 meters or 2 meters.
Outside of formal events, some local events that are not played in order to qualify for high level events can sometimes be seen with slightly shorter strips at 12 meters long and even 1 meters wide to create a faster, more fierce bout.
There are some benefits to using different sized strips in training too, young fencers can use wider and longer strips to familiarize themselves with the basics while more efficient fencers can use thinner than average strips to really train their movement in balance when it comes to the real thing.
It can also be a great idea for training to acquire a strip 1.7 meters in width to easily adjust to either the 1.5 or 2 meter standard.
Are All Material Strips The Same Size?
Yes, generally speaking while fencing strips come in a variety of materials, this is more to do with their function rather than size.
Rubber and textile strips for example are light and therefore very mobile, while aluminum have more longevity and are very robust.
This is much the same with metallic mats that are quite heavy, but if well maintained can see a tremendous lack of holes and ensures the material stays conductive and does not weaken over time to the point of being ineffective.
In keeping with the fair nature of fencing however, all materials still remain the same size and are all conductive in regular bouts.
So, there you have it! Turns out, fencing strips are pretty long, and for good reason. Hopefully, this article will have taught you everything you need to know about the length of fencing strips.
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