Sabre – The Need for Speed

(Credit for information goes to’s “A Parent’s Guide to Fencing)

The sabre is the modern version of the slashing cavalry sword and was introduced into Europe in the late 18th century as an adaptation of the Turkish scimitar, used by the Hungarian cavalry. It was quite popular (it was very effective) and was adopted by several European armies. In fact, in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the cavalry of all nations practiced sabre fencing and fighting.

Initially heavy and curved, the present day weapon is extremely light and straight. To simulate a cavalry rider on a horse, the target area is the entire body above the waist, excluding the hands. In addition, sabre employs rules of right-of-way, which are very similar to foil, but with some subtle differences. Like foil, the fencer who starts to attack first is given priority should his opponent counter-attack. However, sabre referees are much less forgiving of hesitation by an attacker. It is common to see a sabre fencer execute a stop cut against their opponent’s forearm during such a moment of hesitation, winning right-of-way and the point.

Another major distinction of the sabre is that sabre fencers can score with the edge of their blade as well as their point.

The sabre fencer’s uniform features an electrically wired metallic lamé, which fully covers their valid target area. Because the head is valid target area, the fencer’s mask is also electrically wired. One significant departure from foil is that off-target hits do not register on the scoring machine, and therefore do not halt the fencing action. Sabre fencing is also the first of the three weapons to feature a wireless scoring system.

Sabre Target Area

Valid target in sabre
© FrancoisCartegnie

If epee is the weapon of patient, defensive strategy, then sabre is its polar opposite. In sabre, the rules of right-of-way strongly favor the fencer who attacks first, and a mere graze by the blade against the lamé registers a touch with the scoring machine. As a result, sabre is a fast, aggressive game; with fencers rushing their opponent from the moment their referee gives the instruction to fence. As fending off the attack of a skilled opponent is nearly impossible, sabre fencers very rarely purposely take the defensive. However, when forced to do so, they often go all-out using spectacular tactical combinations in which victory or defeat is determined by the slightest of margins.