Foil – The Court Sword
(Credit for information goes to Fencing.net’s “A Parent’s Guide to Fencing)
The foil used by fencers today is the modern version of the original practice weapon used by nobility to train for duels. It all evolved as fencing for exercise – based on speed and skill – (as opposed to the ability to cut someone in combat), began to emerge. As this practice became more popular, a longer, lighter weapon was developed. The weapon’s extended length forced opponents to fight at a distance with quick but controlled lunges, attacking the enemy with the point of the sword, replacing rudimentary hacking techniques.
Under Louis XIV in France, a change in fashion led to a new kind of sword, a shorter sword. (Apparently the long sword clashed with the brocaded jackets, breeches and silk stockings.) The court sword, as it was known, turned out to be an excellent weapon for fencing because it was both lighter and stronger, so it could be used for defense as well as offense. As a result, the modern one-handed fencing technique developed, with the left hand and arm used primarily for balance.
To score points with the foil, the fencer must land the tip of the blade on a valid target: along the torso from shoulders to groin in the front and to the waist in the back. The arms, neck, head and legs are considered off-target. Off-target hits will temporarily halt the fencing action, but does not result any points being awarded.
The concept of on-target and off-target evolved from the theory of 18th-century fencing masters, who taught their pupils to only attack the vital areas of the body (i.e. the torso). While the head is also a vital area of the body, attacks to the face were considered rude and therefore discouraged. You have to remember, fencing prides itself on being a chivalrous sport.
Because the foil was a training sword, it was important for the rules of foil to reflect the logic of combat. For newcomers to foil fencing, one of the most challenging concepts to grasp is the rule of right-of-way. Basically, the right-of-way rule states that the fencer who started to attack first will receive the point if they hit a valid target, and that their opponent is obligated to defend themselves. (In other words, you don’t get points by committing suicide and running onto your opponent’s blade once they have established the start of their attack.)
However, if a fencer hesitates for too long while advancing on their opponent, they give up right-of-way to their opponent. A touch scored against an opponent who hesitated too long is called an attack in preparation or a stop-hit, depending on the circumstances. Although some foil fencers still employ the classical technique of parries and thrusts, the flexible nature of the foil blade permits the modern foil fencer to attack an opponent from seemingly impossible angles.
Although some foil fencers still employ the classical technique of parries and thrusts, the flexible nature of the foil blade permits the modern foil fencer to attack an opponent from seemingly impossible angles. Competitors can execute “marching attacks” where they move down the fencing strip towards their opponent, looking to flick the point of their blade at back or flank of their opponent. Because parrying (blocking) these attacks can be very difficult, the modern game of foil has evolved into a complicated and exciting game of multiple feints, ducking and sudden, explosive attacks, making it a lot of fun to watch.