Fencing Terms and Weapons

Here are links to a basic description of most of the terms beginners and novices will be experiencing for the first time in their lessons. An introduction to what is fencing?

Fencing, a definition:

Fencing: the art, science or sport of swordplay;

  • from the Middle English: “Defence” or “Defense”, i.e. fencing is the art of defending oneself; a familiar theme for all martial arts(we Europeans have martial arts too, you know).
  • Incidentally the same root as fence, as in garden fence, source of so many hilarious jokes to non-fencers, in that it means a protective barrier.

Our modern sport of fencing is derived from the French school of the 18th century, as championed by such luminaries as Domenico Angelo. As a result of which there are an awful lot of anachronistic, Old-French terminologies knocking-about (which you may be atavistic enough to enjoy). But please do not be put-off, as it is possible to fence successfully with out a good pronounciation, and eventually they do make sense, as much any other set of nouns peculiar to any other sport, e.g.: service, off-side, scrum, goal, set, tee, etc..

Each of the three weapons we use has its own distinct rules and characteristics:

1. The Foil

2. The Épée

3. The Sabre

This is the index to a glossary of fencing terms:


AFA: the Amateur Fencing Association;

  • now called the British Fencing Association.
  • The governing body of the sport in the UK.
  • Not to be confused with the BAF, the British Academy of Fencing, the body responsible
    for the masters, provosts and coaches who teach us, or
  • FIE: Federation Internationale d’Escrime, the International Fencing Federation.


  • the three fingers that help balance your weapon in your sword hand.

Appel: the “call”

  • a deliberately noticeable, if not resounding beat of a foot during a bout;
  • used, for example, to give your opponent a false impression that you are about to move.

Attack: the fencing definition;

  • an attack is initiated by straightening your sword arm whilst continuously threatening your opponent’s target area;
  • in foil and sabre the priority is initially determined by the first player to attack.


BAF: British Academy of Fencing;

  • the body governing the masters, provosts and coaches of our sport.

Balestra: the “catapult”;

  • an attack method using an appel followed with a jump;
  • can be used to draw your opponent forward with a false sense of security as you
    rapidly close in on them, a nice move.


  • a preparationfor an attack by striking your opponents blade;
  • the commonest preparation, the first you learn, and always useful.

BFA: British Fencing Association;

  • the body governing the sport in the UK.


  • a preparation by taking of your opponent’s blade diagonally from
    high to low or vice versa;
  • nice way to stop untidy fencers from accidentally hitting you as they
    randomly wave their weapons around.

Bodywire: part of the electric scoring apparatus;

  • it runs from the hilt of your weapon, up your sleeve, through your
    jacket and connects to the next wire, the spool wire, behind you.


  • one single fight in a match.

Breaking Ground: retreating;

  • either running away or being very clever, follow at your peril.

(to) Break time:

  • change the rhythm of an action by delaying.
  • visit the drinks machine.


Cadence: the rhythm of a fight;

  • in fiction Cyrano De Bergerac famously used to control the cadence of his duels by reciting his poetry, changing the rhythm to his advantage.
  • it is possible to do something similar if your opponent starts passively following your lead.
  • see break-time.

Compound attack:

  • an offensive action involving one or more feints.

Compound preparations:

  • a succession of preparations executed in one, uninterupted action.
  • nice way to convince a less experienced opponent that you are really clever and are going to win.


  • replying to an attack made on you, by an offensive action into it.


  • another name for a circular parry.
  • a parry made in a circular movement of the blade tip.


  • a riposte made after the successful parry of the intial riposte of an attack.
  • successive counter-ripopstes are numbered as: riposte, 1st counter-riposte, 2nd counter-riposte, &c..
  • therefore the original attacking party always has the odd-numbered counter-ripostes assigned to him.
  • it is worth following this later in your fencing career, when it is your turn to preside a match!


  • an action of any sort by an attacker on his opponent’s attempt to do a stop hit.

Covered position:

  • when the way to a direct attack is closed


  • a preparation made by taking yhour opponent’s blade from high to low line (or vice versa) on the same side.


  • when one foot passes the other during movement.
  • just as in ordinary walking, but we fence in a line: with
    the front foot and rear foot rarely changing place

Cut: only in sabre;

  • score a hit with the edge of the blade.

Cut over: also called coupe;

  • a simple attack made by passing your blade over the top of your opponent’s.


Dérobement: “escaping” the blade;

  • the evasion of your opponent’s attempts to take your blade

Detachment: opposite of engagement;

  • when the two blades are not touching


  • another name for the lunge.


  • a simple attack made by passing your attacking blade under your opponent’s.

Double hit:

  • when by a fault two hits (one each) land, simultaneously, on each fencer.
  • valid in epee rules, awarding a point each.

E – F

Engagement: opposite of Detachment;

  • when the two blades are in contact


  • a preparation made by taking of the opponent’s blade in a circular motion,
    finishing in the same line as the original engagement.


  • the second of the three modern sport weapons.
  • a point weapon with no rules of priority.

False attack:

  • an attack, not intended to hit, but to cause a reaction.

Feint: a species of False attack;

  • an attack made without intended completetion in order to make your opponent think otherwise.
  • the difference between this and the above is that: a feint looks very much like it will be a hit, but a false attack merely has to satisfy the criteria for making an attack: e.g., stepping forward with a straight arm.

Fencing: our noble art;

  • the art, science or sport of swordplay;
  • from the Middle English: “Defence” or “Defense”, i.e. fencing is the art of defending oneself.
  • the European martial art.

Fencing measure:

  • the distance at which you can just reach your opponent with a lunge.
  • incidentally, the two entranceways (government and opposition) to the House of Commons are placed one fencing measure apart,
    so the 18th century’s Tories and Whigs could not scrap on the way in!

Fencing time:

  • a name for the time taken to execute one movement.
  • 8.00p.m., Thursdays, at Saxon!!

FIE: Fédération International d’Escrime;

  • International Fencing Federation.

Flèche: “arrow”;

  • a method of delivering an attack, whereby the attacker launches themselves of the front foot, with what amounts to the first stride of a run. However, the hit must occur before the second foot touches the ground.

Foible: “weak”;

  • the weakest part of the blade, nearest the tip.


  • the first of the three, modern sport weapons.
  • a point only weapon, with rules of priority.

Forte: “strong”;

  • the strongest part of the blade, nearest the guard.

French grip:

  • a straight sword handle.
  • the oldest form and best for learning blade control.

G – N

Hit: a valid or palpable hit;

  • when the target is struck with the point, with sufficent force to be considered a penetration force for that weapon.
  • in foil and sabre this is a force of 500 gms or more;
  • in epee, 750 gms or more.
  • in sabre a cut is a scoring hit also.
  • do not worry, spring settings in the scoring apparatus determine these measures for you!

Line of Fence:

  • an imaginary line that passes through the heels pf both fencers during a fight.


  • a basic method of delivering an attack.

Making ground:

  • advancing.


  • loop attached to the hilt to secure the weapon in your hand.
  • this is not for you, but others: a sword spinning off through a sports hall will be very dangerous.


Offensive actions:

  • any action made with the intention of hitting your opponent.
  • e.g.: attack, riposte, stop hit, or a renewal of attack.

On guard: “en guarde” in some literatures,

  • the ready position before play.
  • in the old days, the various fencing positions were called guards.


  • resisting your opponent’s blade in engagemnet.

Opposition parry:

  • holding and resisting your opponent’s blade whilst parrying.

Orthopaedic grip:

  • a shaped grip designed to give better leverage than the straight french grip.
  • this is not designed for “punching” the hits, which is very dangerous.



  • a deflection of an attacking blade by your own.

The Piste: “track”, as in skiing;

  • the name of the fencing equivalent of a pitch.


  • the counter weight at the end of the sword hilt, or grip.


  • a movement that does not itself cause a hit, but is intended to induce a reaction.
  • generally used as a prelude to an attack.

President: or the Referee;

  • arbiter of the bout.


  • a preparation of engagement with a sharp push.

Priority: “Priority of the line”;

  • this exists when a fencer has straightened their arm and is threatening the opponent’s target area.
  • priority is lost if the blade is parried or beat out of line.
  • only applicable to foil and sabre.

Prise de Fer: “capture of iron (blade)”;

  • taking of your opponent’s blade, e.g. by:
  • engagement, bind, croise, & envelopment

Progressive attack:

  • an attack of more than one movement, executed in one period of fencing time.


  • sword held by hand with the palm downwards, thumb at 9 o’clock.



  • renewal of the attack by blade or arm movement.

Referee: “el presidente”;

  • another name for the “President”.
  • arbiter of the bout.


  • a renewal of attack in the same line as the previous one.


  • a renewal of attack passing through the on guard position.

Riposte: the “retort”;

  • offensive action after an effective parry.



  • the third of the three modern sport weapons.
  • an edge and point weapon with rules of priority.

Second intention:

  • premeditated action made to an induced response.
  • boy, are we fencers crafty.

Semi-cicular parry:

  • a parry that describes a semi-circle.

Simple attack:

  • an attack of only one blade movement.

Simultaneous action:

  • when the two fencers simultaneously execute an action.
  • at foil and sabre no points are awarded.
  • at epee a double score is valid, but a match cannot end with a draw.

Stance: the fencing stance;

  • position of the feet when on guard.

Stop hit:

  • a counter-attack played into a counter-attack!


  • sword held with the palm upwards, thumb at 2-3 o’clock.


Three-quarter supinated:

  • usual sword hand position.
  • palm upwards, thumb at 1-2 o’clock

Taking of the blade:

  • prise de fer.
  • taking of your opponent’s blade, e.g. by: engagement, bind, croise, & envelopment


  • deceiving an opponent’s parry.

There are positive and negative health aspects to consider, as fencing is a physically demanding sport: Is fencing good for you?

Read about the health aspects.