The Weapon

Modern foils average 35 inches or 89cm in length, and have standardized, tapered, quadrangular blades which are designed to present a blunt (and therefore non-lethal) tip should they snap. To score a touch, one must touch an opponent with the tip of the foil with a force of over 4.90 newtons (500 grams-force).

The nonelectric foil has a blunted end, typically produced by folding over the tip of the blade, that is capped with a plastic or rubber knob. Nonelectric foils are primarily used for practice, although some organizations still fence competitively using dry foils. In the United States, the American Fencing League is an organization that holds only visually judged, non-electric tournaments.

The electric foil contains a socket underneath the guard that connects to the scoring apparatus via the body cord and a wire that runs down a channel cut into the top of the blade. The tip of the electric foil terminates in a button assembly that generally consists of a barrel, plunger, spring, and retaining screws. The circuit is a "normally closed" one, meaning that at rest there is always a complete power circuit. Depressing the tip breaks this circuit, and the scoring apparatus illuminates an appropriate light: white for hits not on the valid target area, or either red or green representing hits on the valid target area.

The pommel, a type of threaded fastener used to fasten blade, guard, plug, and grip assemblies together, is specific to the type of grip that is used. There are two types of grips used for foils: straight grips with long, external pommels, comprising the French, Italian, and Spanish varieties, and orthopedic, or pistol grips, which are designed to fix the hand in a specific position and have pommels that fit into a countersink in the back of the grip. Electric foil plugs are fixed so

that the body cord plugs into the weapon along the inside of the wrist. There are two varieties in use today: the two-prong variety which has unequal diameter prongs and is held in place by a retaining clip, and the single-prong Bayonette which twist-locks into place. Foil guards are limited to a diameter of 9.5 to 12 cm in international competition.

Photos courtesy of Leon Paul

As with any fencing weapon, protective equipment must be worn when fencing with foils; this includes a jacket, glove, mask, and breeches (known as "knickers" in the US). In electric fencing, the tip of the foil must be depressed while in contact with the opponent's lamé (wire-mesh jacket which covers valid target area) to score a touch. As of 2009, in order to offset an issue whereby the bib of the fencing mask would cover an unfairly large area of the jacket on smaller fencers, the target area has been extended to the lower part of the bib, eliminating bib coverage.


Foil Fencing

In modern sport fencing, the foil is used as a thrusting weapon only. Any contact with the side of the blade (a slap) does not result in a score. To score a touch, one must touch an opponent with the tip of the foil with a force of over 4.90 newtons (500 grams-force).

Foil is governed by right of way rules. As such, points are not necessarily awarded to the first fencer to hit, but to the fencer who hits with priority. Priority is established when one fencer starts a correctly executed attack. An attack which has failed (i.e. has missed or been parried) is no longer an attack. Priority does not automatically pass to the defending fencer, and at the moment an attack is over, neither fencer has priority. Instead, priority is gained by a fencer making an offensive action, as is always the case. If the attack was parried, the defender has the right to make a riposte, but it must be initiated without indecision or delay. Alternatively, he may initiate his own attack if the initial attack missed. The fencer making the original attack may also make a new offensive action, a renewal of the initial attack. This process is further described below and in fencing practice and techniques.

Olympic Foil Fencing, Beijing 2008 - M.V. Vezzali v L.Zhang

Foil blades are made of tempered and annealed, low-carbon steel and are designed to bend upon striking an opponent in order to both prevent injuries and breakage of the blade. For international competition maraging steel is required. The foil blade is no more than 90 cm in length with a blunted (or foiled) tip. The overall weight of the full assembled weapon is at most 500 g, and the maximum length of the assembled weapon is 110 cm.

The blade itself is subdivided into 3 regions: the foible, or weak, at the last third of the blade near the tip, the medium, and the forte, or strong, is the third of the blade near the guard. Inside of the grip is the tang which is threaded at the end to allow the pommel to fasten the foil assembly together. Where an Italian grip is used a ricosso extends from under the guard, inside of the grip's quillons, into the tang.


The modern foil is descended from the training weapon for the small-sword, the common sidearm of 18th century gentleman. Rapier and even longsword foils are also known to have been used, but they were very different in terms of weight and use.

The target area for modern foil is said to come from a time when fencing was practiced with limited safety equipment. Another factor in the target area is that foil rules are derived from a period when dueling to the death was the norm. Hence, the favored target area is the torso, where the vital organs are.

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