The nitty gritty

A collegiate fencing match is split into three divisions, with three fencers assigned to each division. Each of these three divisions corresponds with a different weapon, and each contestant in a given division fences against every opponent in that division to make for a total of up to 27 bouts.

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Each match is fought to five touches or three minutes, whichever comes first. If the fencer steps off the strip that designates the playing field, the other player wins a point.

If the bout is tied, fencers go into a one-minute sudden-death overtime — the first person to score wins. The referee tosses a coin to determine which fencer will have “priority.” If no one scores in the overtime, the person who won the priority coin toss automatically wins the bout.

Choose your weapon wisely

Sabre: modeled after historical cavalry weapons. With a sabre, the fencer targets the area from the waist up. A fencer can score by either slashing or stabbing his opponent — i.e., both the side and the tip of the blade can be used to score. Right-of-way rule applies in sabre fencing, which means that only the fencer who is on the attack can score. This designation is determined by the referee.

Foil: a practice weapon. Fencers can only score with the point of the sword. The target area is the torso, and the right-of-way rule applies.

Epee: The target area is the entire body, and whoever first hits the opponent with the tip of the sword is awarded the point. There is no right-of-way rule. If the two fencers hit one another at the same time, they both receive a point.

It’s electric!

A cord is run through the fencer’s jacket, into the weapon, down into a floor cord and then out to a box. When a fencer scores a point, a light on the box turns on.

How passe: wearing white after Labor Day

The fencing uniform is entirely white and consists of capri-length knickers, knee-high socks, underarm protectors, a thick jacket, a face mask and a bib to protect the neck, and gloves. Women also wear breast plates and men wear cups. The material for the uniform is thick enough to protect the fencer from bruises.

For foil and sabre, the fencer wears a special metal jacket made of a different conductive material so that the referee can determine when someone scores. The sabre jacket is full length and the foil jacket is a vest. A colored light goes off when a fencer hits inside the target area, and the light turns white when the fencer hits outside the target area.


“We yell a lot in fencing — it’s definitely an obnoxious sport,” Rebecca Moss ’10 said. Everyone on the team does a different “victory dance” when he scores a point, and the most prevalent cheer from the sidelines is “Opa!” which means “joy” in Greek.

Moss admits that she might have the most annoying cheer when she scores a point. “I clench my left fist, crouch down and scream ‘Yes, yes, yes!’” she said.

Talking smack

Fencers act aggressively toward one another and will often mock their opponents after scoring a point, but athletes can be carded for unsportsmanlike contact. At the end of a bout, fencers are required to salute their opponents and shake hands.

Begging for a point

When a point is debatable, fencers will turn around and scream at the ref to convince him they are the rightful winners.

Swordsman stereotypes

Epee: attracts more patient people because the entire body is a target. The Yale team jokes that athletes attracted to this type are “slow,” because there are not as many rules.

Foil: attracts elite, intellectual fencers who can memorize the many rules of this type of fighting.

Sabre: aggressive and impatient athletes. These fencers are normally intense and eccentric.


The team holds tryouts every year and allows two walk-ons to join. The walk-ons do not initially start in matches, but they usually work their way up to play.

The Prince(ss) coach

Rumor has it that after the filming of “The Princess Bride,” a member of the cast became so enthralled with fencing that he hired Yale coach Henry Harutunian to give him some post-film lessons.

The stars

Lidia Gocheva ’10 and John Gurrieri ’10 are the top Eli foilers, while Mike Pearce ’09 and Moss — who finished third at the 2006 Junior Olympics in foil — are the top epee fencers.

Off to Happy Valley

Both the men and the women have their first matches this weekend at the Penn State Open.