Sabre Vs. Fencing – What Is The Difference?

Fencing is one of the most popular combat sports in the world, but there are a lot of things that people unfamiliar with the sport might not understand.

For example, many people don’t know the differences between the various styles of fencing. 

This includes two of the most common forms – foil and Sabre. But we’re here to change that, and take you through all the differences between these types of fencing!

Sabre Vs. Fencing - What Is The Difference

In this guide we’ll show you everything there is to know about the differences between foil and Sabre, covering the major differences to some of the more minor changes that are easy to forget.

We’ll cover everything from the swords themselves to the rules of each form so you can understand just how varied and interesting fencing really is. So let’s get started!

What Is Fencing? A Brief Rundown

Before we can take a look at the differences between the forms of fencing, we first need to cover what fencing actually is.

Fencing is a combat sport based around the use of swords. The main weapons used are long metal blades, which come in different types based on the type of fencing you are doing.

These are held by both fencers and their opponents at all times during the bout. It is an individual sport where each person tries to score points against their opponent.

Points are scored by making contact between the sword and certain spots on the body, which are different based on each form of fencing.

Fencing has been around for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the early 19th century that the modern version of the sport was developed.

It was during this time that the first modern fencing competitions were held, and they would go on to become hugely popular across Europe.

Today, fencing remains one of the most popular competitive sports in the world, with over 2 million participants competing in events every year. 

Foil Vs Sabre – What Are The Differences?

Foil Vs Sabre - What Are The Differences

There are several differences between the forms of fencing, from the blade itself to the way that points are scored. In this section, we’ll break down what sets foil and Sabre apart from each other. 

The Blade

One of the biggest differences between foil and Sabre are the types of fencing blades used. While both forms use similar-looking swords, they have very different characteristics when it comes to their design and use.

The foil is a long, thin blade with a point on the tip. There isn’t much of an edge on a foil, and this is reflected in how it is used.

Fencers using a foil will aim for a poking action, with the tip of the foil being used to score points against the opponent. A foil has a square cross-section on the blade, which narrows along the blade to meet at a single point.

Meanwhile, a Sabre is much more of a slashing weapon. Its blade is slightly shorter than that of a foil, and there is a gentle curve from the handle to the tip of the blade.

Its cross-section is shaped like a Y, which gives the blade more stability during slashing and stabbing motions. The edge is also sharper than a foil, although this edge is typically blunt during training and non-competitive sparring.

The handles are also different between the two types of swords. While the Sabre has more of a traditional handle, formed out of a straight piece with a handguard to protect the fingers, a foil’s handle is rather unusually-shaped.

It has a specific design due to how a foil is held and is shaped more like a pistol handle to accommodate the technique of holding and using the sword.

Scoring And Target Area

The sword itself isn’t the only difference between foil and Sabre fencing. The actual way fencers use their swords is different as well.

In foil fencing, points are scored when the tip of the sword makes contact with the target area. The target area for foil is limited to the torso, and hits to the head, arms, or below the belt are invalid. 

When the fencer hits the opponent in the target area, play is stopped and they are awarded a point.

If the two fencers hit each other at the same time, the point is awarded based on the ‘Right of Way’ rule; this essentially means that the person who initiated the attack is awarded the point unless their opponent countered.

Sabre has a simpler rule set when it comes to scoring points, and a larger target area to aim for. The target area is anywhere above the waist; this includes the torso, arms, and mask.

Fencers have to hit their opponent with either the tip or side of their sword. Because of the increased target area and more opportunities to score points, it is more likely for both fencers to make contact at the same time.

As a result, the Right of Way rule applies here as well.

Fencing Etiquette

One final thing to note about fencing etiquette is that you should never touch your opponent while fencing. This goes double if you’re using a Sabre.

In foil, you can touch your opponent without penalty, but Sabre fencing requires a lot more finesse. You could accidentally injure your opponent by touching them, so be careful!

What About Épée?

You might be wondering where épée fits into this. Épée is another common form of fencing, although it isn’t as common as foil or Sabre. In terms of the blade design, épée is most similar to foil. 

It is a long, thin blade (although it is thicker and heavier than a foil), and is used with the same poking/stabbing action of a foil.

However, the handle is more similar to a Sabre’s, and the rules for fencing with a épée are far less restrictive than either of the other two forms.

The target area for épée is anywhere on the body, head to toe and front to back. Points are scored whenever the tip of the blade makes contact with the opponent’s target area.

To accommodate for this, the Right of Way rules don’t apply here – instead, points are awarded to both fencers.

Final Thoughts

While foil and Sabre are the two common forms of fencing, they have a lot of differences that set them apart from each other.

With that said, however, both types of fencing are incredibly fun and are great options for anybody interested in getting into combat sports.

Fencing is as much of an art as it is a sport, and foil and Sabre offer fencers different ways to express themselves through their swordsmanship. There isn’t a particular style that is better, and it really comes down to your personal preference. 

So now you know a bit more about the differences between foil and Sabre, all that’s left for you to do is give them a try for yourself!

Christopher Anderson