The Foil

the foil

The first of the three swords: "The Foil". It's overal length is upto 110cm, the blade being of a maximum of 90cm.

The blade is divided into 2 sections:

the foil

  1. the Forte: this is the widest and strongest part of the blade (it has a square section) this is the part of the blade used for parrying; and
  2. the Foible the wobbly thin bit (rectangular section) which takes the stress of the hit.

The rest of the weapon is composed of the following:

  • At the business end of the blade is the Button, this stops you running through your opponent (it is, after all, a friendly sport not a gladitorial match). On the electric foil this is the tip which is a switch that requires a force of 500 grammes, or more, to close it: this being considered the penetration force of the original, pointed weapon;
  • the Guard, a descriptively accurate name for the circular piece of metal that covers your sword hand when in action. The rules allow it a minimum diameter of 9.5cm, and a maximum one of 12cm;
  • the Hilt, the handle of the weapon. It is ergonomically shaped to fit your hand, so like the jacket comes in left and right hand versions. (There are different forms of hilt or Grip see variations, the illustrated example is the classic French Grip used to develope blade control and in tution);
  • the Pommel, this is actually a weight to help balance the weapon in your hand; and
  • the funny looking loop is made of leather and called a Martingale, you place your fingers through it, so that if you loosen your grip you do not drop your foil. This is a safety precaution, not just for you, but for others in the area!

Foil Grip Variations

All right hand forms.

french foil gripFrench grip is the classic hilt, and the best for learning finger control.

gardaire foil gripGardaire grip is nowadays an unusual “positive grip” version of the french grip. Combines good grip with balance. This example has an electric socket.

orthopeadic foil gripOrthopeadic grip is a more developed ergonomic form of handle.

pistol foil gripPistol grip is presently the ultimate form of this trend in ergonomic forms. The competitor's favourite. This is also an electric version.

zicovic foil gripZicovic grip is a grip for the 21st century. Still new to the game, also known as "elephant's ear".

italian foil gripItalian grip. Put in as a curio. No longer legal in competetive fencing, but once a very popular type. It needed a wrist band to bind the hilt to one's arm.

Some Foil Rules

The target area for the foil is shown here in grey: it consists of the torso and "v" of the groin. ("ouch!").

a foilistThe foil is a point weapon, hits are valid when the tip/button is pushed onto the designated target area with what is determined sufficient force (500 grammes and greater) to cause penetration:- if it was a real sharp weapon. Sideways hits are invalid. Hits only score a point if the fencer making the hit has the Priority. As in tennis one can only score on a service. Priority is given initially to the first person to initiate an attack, but it passes to the opponent after a parry. It is also forfeited by breaking the fencing time.

Foil Equipment

foil maskFoil Mask: For electric foil the mask should have an insulative layer over the steel mesh, to prevent mask off-targets hits registering as valid. Foil masks are often, therefore, coloured black.

laméLamé: This is the conductive, metalised , target garment necessary for the operation of the electric scoring apparatus. It is wired to the score box (or light-box) by the groundwire and the foil by the body wire, seebelow.

body wireBody Wire: This connects the weapon, and the lamé to the ground wire.

fencer with equipmentHere we see James in all his electric foil kit. Note the metal lamé jacket and insulated mask.

History of the foil

3 foilsHilts, top to bottom: a 1960's Italian foil,a 1790 English small sword, and a modern French foil.

Developed in the mid-seventeenth century, the Foil is the first, or eldest, of the three sport weapons. At that period, the smallsword was the fashionable dress sword in most european countries, remaining in vogue until the mid-nineteenth century. Learning to use it was, on occaisions, essential for survival, and using it with syle essential for courtly manners.

In 1670 mon. Philibert de la Touche (a very appropriate name for a fencer!) first mentions the use of foils, at the court of Louis XIV in his "Les Vrays Principes de l'Espée Seule". (They were notable for their elaborate crown-shaped guards).

Traditionally it is considered that they were introduced as a safe alternative for learning swordplay. However, practice smallswords and rapiers were being made for that purpose. Some modern opinions suggest that it is more likely that foil was developed purely as a game, right from the start, to entertain as well as show swordplay skills.

A fuller chronology of fencing history is to be seen on our fencing history page.

Foil guards of 1891 as H.G. Willink illustrates H.A.Colmore Dunn's "Fencing; the All-England Series". showing supination and pronation

In 1934 Cav. Léon Bertrand publishes his “The Fencer’s Companion” Below he illustrates the position of quarte for foil. period fencing masks

Below a French grip of the same. period french foil grip