What Is A Sabre In Fencing?

Fencing is split into three disciplines depending on the weapons being used, these are the epee which is the most tactical and defensive, foil which is slightly faster but still requires much patience, and then sabre which could be considered the Formula 1 edition of fencing, relying on aggressive and incredibly quick moments of sticking and slashing. 

What Is A Sabre In Fencing

Here is everything you need to know about sabres in fencing, and why they are so important.

What Is A Sabre In Fencing?

As the shortest and lightest weapon of the three, the sabre is also the fastest combining a thin and compact design with a deadly accurate blade and has become an incredibly popular form of playing the sport by many fencing enthusiasts.

Watching top level sabre fencers in a bout, such as two time gold medalist Mariel Zagunis in the Olympics, is an impressive spectacle when seeing just how fast and precise they are able to strike their opponents with each point often being over in a matter of seconds, and this is all down to the weapon itself known for being incredibly lightweight and owing much of it’s design to traditional cavalry weapons. 

While all three weapons are made from the same materials and are based on the same set of rules, they each also have their own style and subset of rules to accommodate their differences.

Experienced fencers will often have their own preference depending on the style and set of rules they would like to adopt, and while the sabre is the newest and latest weapon to modernize, it has received immense popularity for just how fast and dynamic it makes fencing and how utterly enjoyable it is to watch. 



The sabre’s history can be traced back as far as the Elizabethan backsword often used by heavy cavalry and was a praised weapon within military swordsmanship. 

It wasn’t until the late 19th century that sabres began to be formally introduced into fencing, with Italian fencing masters molding the ancient cavalry swords into lightweight sporting sabres that they would spread to other fencing countries. 

Because it was known as a combat weapon, the target area for a sabre originally was the entire body until after World War 1 when the FIE adopted its modern target area, only allowing for it to strike above the waist. 

Despite seeming so old, the sabre is the most ‘modern’ and newest weapon out of the three because for years it struggled to become electrified and linked to the scoring system.

While the other blades had been using electrification since the 1930s, it was not until 1986 that the sabre first became electrified and was perfected by the 2004 Olympics where it featured. 

Despite having to catch up, the sabre discipline has become one of the most popular and enjoyable to watch and take part in, with it commonly being said that the only thing in sport faster than a sabre blade is a bullet.

Weight And Material

All three blades are largely similar in their core design, all are made from low carbon steel that bends on impact with opponents and the general structure of the handle and blade are largely similar.

There are some slight differences in design and style that separate the sabre from its brothers however, specifically with just how light the sabre is. 

Sabres in fencing must weigh less than 500g with a total length of 105cm and a blade at 88cm long, this makes the weapon the quickest out of the three and perfect for thrusts and cutting.

The minimum thickness of the blade is also 1.2mm with a width of 4mm making it extremely thin and nimble. 

Additionally, there are some smaller differences in design to the other weapons such as knuckle guards and a half rounded guard to protect fingers and hands from being struck.

There are also some apparel requirements that sabre fencers must wear for the electrified system to work properly, this includes electrical conductive jackets, masks and gloves with each sabre being wired through the hand guard socket.

This makes it so when a covered area of the opponent’s body is struck by the conductive material, this is picked up by a current illuminating a light that records the score on a score box. 

Additionally, while masks must be worn for all weapons, sabre masks require a metal threaded bib in order to distinguish between valid and non valid strikes. 

How To Use A Sabre

So with such a light weapon capable of letting out lightning fast strikes, how do experienced fencers actually use the sabre, and is it much different from the two other disciplines? 

The most important thing to know is the target area. Sabres are allowed to strike the entire torso above the waist, including the arms but not the hands, with everything under the waist being off limits. 

Some say the reasoning for this actually goes back to the sabres chivalric roots where striking an enemy’s horse was seen as ungentlemanly.

Unlike the other two weapons, the sabre can also score not only from using the point of the blade, but also from its body making it ideal for quick techniques like flick attacks. 

This makes the sabre a ‘cut and thrust’ weapon, adept at long accurate lunges and quick slashes, this is very different to the more defensive styles that can be commonly adopted by the epee and foil weapons.

There is however a similarity the sabre shares with the foil and that is that both are governed by the right of way rules, meaning if two fencers hit simultaneously and there is no clear winner of the point, the fencer who initiated the attack or who initiated blade contact first gains the point. 

There are many more smaller elements to the right of way rule but it is crucial to always keep it in mind when watching or using a sabre since it works to bring as much fairness as possible to the speed centered combat while also keeping it engaging and dynamic. 


So, there you have it! Sabres are a traditional weapon used by fencers that comes with their own techniques and rules, making sabres a fascinating weapon to use in fencing.

Christopher Anderson
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