Foil (fencing)
A foil is a type of weapon
A weapon, arm, or armament is a tool or instrument used with the aim of causing damage or harm to living beings or artificial structures or systems...

 used in fencing. It is the most common weapon in terms of usage in competition, and is usually the choice for elementary classes for fencing in general.


There are two varieties of foil in use today: the nonelectric foil, known as "steam" or "dry," and the electrically scored foil. The components common to both varieties are the pommel, grip, guard, thumb pad, and blade.

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. The Fédération Internationale d'Escrime
Fédération Internationale d'Escrime
Fédération Internationale d'Escrime is the international governing body of Olympic fencing. It was founded on November 29, 1913 in Paris, France. Today, its head office is in Lausanne, Switzerland...

 and most national organisations require electric scoring apparatus at sanctioned tournaments, though some leagues hold 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 or yellow for hits not on the valid target area (depending on the design of the lights on the scoring machine), or either red or green representing hits on the valid target area (red for one fencer, green for the other).

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 at the fencer's 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.

Foil blades are made of tempered
Tempering is a heat treatment technique for metals, alloys and glass. In steels, tempering is done to "toughen" the metal by transforming brittle martensite or bainite into a combination of ferrite and cementite or sometimes Tempered martensite...

 and annealed
Annealing (metallurgy)
Annealing, in metallurgy and materials science, is a heat treatment wherein a material is altered, causing changes in its properties such as strength and hardness. It is a process that produces conditions by heating to above the recrystallization temperature, maintaining a suitable temperature, and...

, low-carbon steel and are designed to bend upon striking an opponent in order to prevent both injuries and breakage of the blade. For international competition maraging steel
Maraging steel
Maraging steels are steels which are known for possessing superior strength and toughness without losing malleability, although they cannot hold a good cutting edge. Aging refers to the extended heat-treatment process...

 is required. The foil blade is no more than 90 cm in length with a blunted (or foiled) tip. The maximum length of the assembled weapon is 110 cm; the maximum weight is 500g, but most competition swords are much lighter, closer to 100g.

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
The longsword is a type of European sword designed for two-handed use, current during the late medieval and Renaissance periods, approximately 1350 to 1550 .Longswords have long cruciform hilts with grips over 10 to 15 cm length The longsword (of which stems the variation called the bastard...

 foils are also known to have been used, but they were very different in terms of weight and use.
The foil was invented in France as a training weapon in the middle of the 18th century in order to practice fast and elegant thrust fencing. Fencers blunted the point by wrapping a foil around the blade or fastening a knob on the point ("blossom", French fleuret). In addition to practising, some fencers took away the protection and used the sharp foil for duels. German students took up that practice in academic fencing
Academic fencing
Academic fencing or Mensur is the traditional kind of fencing practiced by some student corporations in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and to a minor extent in Kosovo, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Flanders.- Technique :Modern academic fencing, the "mensur," is neither a duel nor a sport...

 and developed the Pariser ("Parisian") thrusting small sword for the Stoßmensur ("thrusting mensur").

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.

Modern foil

In modern sport fencing, the foil is used as a thrusting (or point) weapon only. Any contact with the side of the blade (a slap or slash) does not result in a score. Modern foils average 35 inches or 89 cm 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
A kilogram-force , or kilopond , is a gravitational metric unit of force. It is equal to the magnitude of the force exerted by one kilogram of mass in a gravitational field...


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
Parry (fencing)
A parry is a fencing bladework manoeuvre intended to deflect or block an incoming attack.-Execution:To execute a parry, fencers strike the opponent's foible, or the area near the tip of the blade, with their forte, or the part of the blade near the handle of the sword...

) 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
Fencing practice and techniques
Fencing practice and techniques of modern competitive fencing are governed by the FIE, though they developed from conventions developed in 18th- and 19th-century Europe to govern fencing as a martial art and a gentlemanly pursuit...


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. However, this change does not yet apply to US domestic tournaments, as the US Fencing Association has yet to adopt this rule change.

Recently, the FIE changed the timing in the scoring box to minimize the flick
Flick (fencing)
The flick is a technique used in modern fencing. It is used in foil and to a lesser extent, épée.The 1980s saw the widespread use of "flicks" — hits delivered with a whipping motion which bends the blade around the more traditional parries, and makes it possible to touch otherwise inaccessible...

. The foil uses a normally closed electrical circuit, and any break in the circuit (broken wire, loose barrel, grip, or other parts, and especially depressing the tip) opens the circuit and the scoring box illuminates the appropriate light.

Prior to this timing change, a break of 2ms in the circuit would fire the light, which is one reason the flick hit worked so frequently if properly executed–even a relatively flat hit on the back would move the tip around inside the barrel enough for that momentary break in the circuit and fire the light.

However, the timing has now been reset so that the tip must be depressed for at least 15 milliseconds before the lights will be triggered. This is a seemingly tiny change, but it has resulted in a significant drop in the number of flicks that are successful, especially those to the back.


Points are awarded to a foilist for hitting their opponent's valid target area with priority in a manner which depresses the point of their foil. Any depression of the point of the foil in electric fencing (called a "hit" or a "touch") will halt play; however, a point can only be awarded for a hit that arrives on the valid target area (in electric fencing, this is the lame and the conductive portion of the bib of the mask). Hits that are made elsewhere are called "off-target" hits. If an off-target hit is made with priority, the play is halted, the fencers are put back on guard by the referee, and play resumes. Bouts are typically scored to either five or fifteen touches, depending on the format of the competition.

There are rules which govern the priority of a hit when both fencers hit each other in the same phrase (within 300 milliseconds for modern electric fencing). These collective rules are commonly referred to as "right of way" or rules of priority. In general, rules of priority require that when attacked, a fencer must either avoid or defend against the attack (by delecting the opponent's action with their blade - a "parry") in order to be awarded a touch. A simplified explanation of priority is that actions with priority either succeed, by ending in a hit, or fail, when they do not end in a hit because the action missed or was parried (deflected by the defender's blade). If fencer A's action with priority fails, priority is given to fencer B's action if they have already begun (or finished) an offensive action, otherwise fencer B has an opportunity to begin an action with priority. The first offensive action is called the attack, and the attack is the first action in any phrase with priority. If fencer A makes the attack and fencer B also makes an offensive action, fencer B's action is called a counter-attack. If both fencers hit with these actions, fencer A's hit has priority, because the attack has priority over the counter-attack. If fencer B parries A's attack, B has an opportunity to make an offensive action with priority, called the ripose. If fencer A, after being parried by B, who begins a riposte, begins another offensive action (called a remise/reprise or redouble depending on the arm movement and the footwork), and both hit, then B's hit has priority, because a riposte has priority over a remise/reprise/redouble. The question of which fencer hits first is not relevant to determining which hitting action has priority.

In order to initiate an attack a fencer must threaten the target area of their opponent with the point of the foil while their arm is extending. When performing a compound attack the fencer must not withdraw the arm by bending the elbow. These stipulations mean that, in the event of both fencers hitting with the tip, the hit made by a fencer that initiates an attack will have priority if:
  • the opponent attempts a stop-hit into a simple attack.
  • the opponent attempts a stop-hit into a compound attack but isn't in time.
  • the opponent attempts to avoid the touch but fails to do so.
  • the opponent parries the attack but pauses before the riposte.
  • while having the point in-line, the opponent's blade is deflected and returned to the in-line position without first parrying the attacker's blade.

The hit made by a fencer that is attacked will have priority over the hit of the attacker if:
  • the fencer already has the blade in the point-in-line position.
  • the attacker attempts to deflect the blade and fails to find it while the fencer hits the attacker.
  • the fencer beats the blade while the attacker is executing a compound attack and the attacker continues the attack anyway.
  • the attacker makes a pause or withdraws the arm during a compound attack during which the fencer hits the attacker.
  • the attacker is executing a compound attack and the fencer executes a stop-hit which is in time.
  • the fencer parries the attack and makes an immediate riposte.

Because of the rapidity with which actions in foil fencing are executed it is common for both fencers to believe their touch has priority. An important job of the referee is to have an omniscient perspective (being on the side of and at a distance from the action), describe the phrase after each halt in play, and determine the priority of the touch. When hits are judged electronically, only the electronic apparatus will determine if a hit has occurred and if it was on the valid target area. If judged non-electrically, a jury of four judges (two for each fencer) will determine the validity of the touch with the referee also acting as tie-breaking judge (or overruling a judge if one of the two abstains).

Touches are also awarded to a fencer if their opponent retreats beyond the end of the strip with both feet. Should a fencer incur a red-card penalty, the opponent will be awarded a touch. A red-card penalty made after an opponent scores a valid touch will result in two touches being awarded to the opponent.

Style of play

Like Sabre, Foil is governed by the rules of right-of-way. Because of this, much of foil fencing consists of fencers battling for right-of-way. When one fencer makes an attack, the opposing foil fencer will usually attempt to parry
Parry (fencing)
A parry is a fencing bladework manoeuvre intended to deflect or block an incoming attack.-Execution:To execute a parry, fencers strike the opponent's foible, or the area near the tip of the blade, with their forte, or the part of the blade near the handle of the sword...

 the attack and, if this is successful, riposte
In fencing, the riposte is an offensive action with the intent of hitting one's opponent, made by the fencer who has just parried an attack....

. To avoid being parried, the attacker may use several tactics, such as disengages or coupés, which are different ways to avoid the opponent's blade. Also, some attacks may begin with an absence of blade, that is to say, the attacker moves forward with his blade out of the range where the defender could parry it. The ending objective of such an attack is to place the blade in too short a time for him/her to react. Because of the precise order and timing of movements needed to fence foil, a single misstep often results in a touch for the opponent.

Each weapon has a different tempo, and like épée, the tempo for foil is rather slow with sudden bursts of speed. Sabre is fast throughout the entire touch.

Fencers must not only be striving for the touch, but be keenly aware of their own openings. Also, like épée fencers, foil fencers may "cross-over" with their feet. Therefore, the flèche
Flèche (fencing)
The flèche is an aggressive offensive fencing technique used with foil and épée.-Background:In a flèche, a fencer transfers his weight onto his front foot and starts to extend the arm. The rear leg initiates the attack, but the ball of the leading foot provides the explosive impulse that is needed...

 is a common tactic in both weapons.

See also

  • Sabre (fencing)
    Sabre (fencing)
    The sabre is one of the three weapons of modern sport fencing, and is alternatively spelled saber in American English. The sabre differs from the other modern fencing weapons, the épée and foil, in that it is possible to score with the edge of the blade; for this reason, sabreur movements and...

  • Épée
  • Colichemarde
    Colichemarde is a type of small sword blade that was popular from the late 17th century to the middle 18th century.-Overview:The small sword is considered to be a descendant of the "transition rapier", which itself evolved from the rapier due to the demand for a lighter sword better suited to...

  • Fencing
    Fencing, which is also known as modern fencing to distinguish it from historical fencing, is a family of combat sports using bladed weapons.Fencing is one of four sports which have been featured at every one of the modern Olympic Games...

  • List of American foil fencers
  • Rapier
    A rapier is a slender, sharply pointed sword, ideally used for thrusting attacks, used mainly in Early Modern Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.-Description:...

External links

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