Whichever of the three fencing disciplines you decide to train in, the most crucial component that any fencer must know well is the unique subset of rules linked with using each weapon.
The major universal fencing rules apply to all three, for example the card system for illegal actions and the electronic scoring system.
There are, however, deeper subsets of rules for your chosen weapon that must be followed to make sure you play a game full of fairness and good sportsmanship.
For sabre especially, these rules are important because of how fast the bouts play out, with points often being earned in a matter of seconds and making it very hard for a referee to accurately recognize the movements being made.
By following these rules, sabre fencers can make life easier not just for the referee, but also for themselves by avoiding card penalization and instead becoming a well versed combatant in the art of sabre fencing.
Target Area: Where You Can Strike
The biggest rule to remember regarding sabre fencing is the target area. Unlike the sabre’s brothers which allow striking all over the body or just the chest, in sabre a fencer can strike anywhere above the waist including the arms and head, but not the hands.
Because the sabre was originally a combat weapon it was legal within sabre fencing to actually strike anywhere in the body, that was until after World War 1 when the FIE changed its target area to only above the waist.
This has encouraged the sabre to be used as a cut and thrust type weapon, using the light weight of the blade to your advantage through extremely quick lunges and strikes to the opponents body.
A point is scored on the scoring system with either a successful strike known as a ‘straight attack’ or from a defensive counter or parry followed by a strike if you are the one getting attacked with these being known as a ‘Parry-riposte’.
Because of how quick sabre fencing often is, while blocking is an option it can be extremely difficult with a fencer usually having to rely on their instincts.
This means parrying is seen far more often and is usually the more effective strategy when on the defence.
If you’re on the attack, feint attacks can be a great way to fool your opponent while not actually committing to a potentially dangerous lunge or strike.
Using All Of The Blade
Another key difference to keep in mind when across from your opponent is to make use of your sabre’s cutting edge, the sides of the blade.
This is not the case in the other two disciplines, however in sabre a touch with the side will still be a legal touch.
The point of the blade will still score a point, however this rule makes the bouts far more flexible and dynamic with fencers often moving their blade in unique ways to find that last touch on their opponent.
Back in 1898 the sabre treatise stated sabres were to be no less than 500 grams when used in fencing, however it quickly became realized that this was still far too heavy for a ‘lightweight’ blade to move swiftly.
Today this has been reversed, The International Fencing federation rule book states that a sabre can weigh no less than 500g to be eligible for competitions with almost all fencing sabres abiding to this.
There is no lower limit however so most sabres produced are quite a bit lighter than this with some weighing as little as 297g, and the ‘heavier’ ones rarely going above 400g.
To really get a feel for how light this can be and the best way to control the blades movements, a great idea is to use a sabre lighter than 500g to nail down fast striking and movement techniques first, or for more experienced fencers use a blade slightly heavier than 500g to then feel even faster when using the standard competition sabres.
Right Of Way
Right of Way is one of the more difficult concepts to understand in fencing, however it makes up such a large part of the sport that knowing it is key to understanding the nature of fencing, and especially in sabre where it is most prominent.
Essentially the basics of the rule go like this, the first person to initiate an attack gains ‘priority’. This priority stays with the attacker until they make a mistake, this can involve missing, stopping or if they are successfully defended by the opponent.
If the attack is successfully defended, then priority switches to that fencer who then engages their own attack, and this tug of war flows back and forth before someone gets hit.
While the foil discipline also has ROW there are some key differences, firstly in sabre you have to land an attack the moment your front foot lands on the strip otherwise if you miss you lose your ROW.
Secondly, if both attackers touch at the same time with extended arms but it is unclear who initiated an attack, the point goes to the fencer who extended their arm first.
ROW not only makes it far easier to give a point when fencers have struck at the exact same time, it also encourages a fierce back and forth of control over the playing area that makes the already lightning fast sport even more dynamic and enjoyable to watch and participate in.
Sabre fencing still has the card system so regular penalties will still apply, for example walking on or off the strip without permission can occur a yellow card, while serious offenses like using a non weapon or deliberately touching a non-opponent can occur a more serious black card.
In sabre specifically, crossing your legs when moving forward is seen as an illegal move and encourages fencers to be lighter with their movement and to not just rush in waving a blade around.
Sabre fencing is extremely enjoyable, but without following the proper rules, it can quickly become messy and even dangerous, so make sure to prove your discipline in combat by striking accurately, and fairly!