Foil (fencing)

Foil (fencing)

A foil is a type of weapon 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 dry, or nonelectric foil, 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 real tip with a blunted end that is capped with a plastic or rubber knob.

The electric foil also 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.

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, which is designed to break so that the incidence of potentially dangerous spikes and burrs is reduced. 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.

Modern Foil

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. 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).

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 an attack. After this, the defender can gain priority by making the attack fail (e.g. by making a parry) then initiating a counter attack or riposte. The initial attacker regains priority if the defender's riposte fails. The priority continues to exchange between the fencers until a hit is scored.

As with any fencing weapon, protective equipment must be worn when fencing with foils; this includes a jacket, glove, mask, and knickers (known as breeches in the UK). 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.

Recently, the FIE changed the timing in the scoring box to minimize the flick. 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, ANY break 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.


The score is kept in foil fencing by counting the number of hits which land on the opponent's valid target area and have priority. These hits are called touches. Any hit with the tip of the weapon will halt play; however, only hits which arrive on the valid target area can potentially be scored. Bouts are typically either scored up 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 with the tip of the weapon. These collective rules are commonly referred to as "right of way." In general, rules of priority require that when attacked, a fencer must either avoid or defend against the attack in order to be awarded a touch. A simplified explanation of priority is that the attacking fencer's hit counts unless the attack misses or is parried. Counter-attacks only score if the attacker misses. If the attack is parried, the defender has the right to riposte. Should the attacker continue anyway, the remise is counted as a counter-attack. An attacker's off-target hit, although it does not score, still takes priority over a counter-attacker's valid hit. Slower, simple attacks have priority over counter-attacks which may actually land first. As a result, cavalier attempts to hit are not rewarded.

In order to initiate an attack a fencer must be making a threatening motion towards the target area of the opponent. The arm must be extended or extending towards the opponent prior to starting the lunge or flèche. 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 during with the fencer hits the attacker.
* the fencers 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 the opponent leaves 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.

tyle of Play

Foil fencing is often seen as a compromise between Épée and Sabre, because it includes equal elements of both.

Like Sabre, Foil is governed by the rules of Right-of-Way. Because of this, much of foil fencing is consisted of fencers battling for right-of-way. When one fencer makes an attack, the opposing foil fencer will usually attempt to parry the attack and, if this is successful, riposte. 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.

Foil fencing is significantly slower than Sabre however, because scoring touches with the tip of the blade is more difficult. In this way it is like épée. 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 is a common tactic in both weapons.

World Rankings

* 1. Andrea CASSARA (ITA)
* 2. Erwan LE PECHOUX (FRA)
* 3. Peter JOPPICH (GER)- Reigning World Champion
* 4. Benjamin KLEIBRINK (GER) - Reigning Olympic Champion
* 5. Andrea BALDINI (ITA)
* 6. ZHU Jun (CHN)
* 7. OTA Yuki (JPN)
* 8. Salvatore SANZO (ITA)
* 9. CHOI Byung Chul (KOR)
* 10. LEI Sheng (CHN)

* 1. Valentina VEZZALI (ITA) - Reigning World Champion and Olympic Champion
* 2. NAM Hyun Hee (KOR)
* 3. Giovanna TRILLINI (ITA)
* 4. Carolin GOLUBYTSKYI (GER)
* 5. Margherite GRANBASSI (ITA)
* 6. Adeline WUILLEME (FRA)
* 7. Corrine MAITREJEAN (FRA)
* 8. SUGAWARA Chieko (JPN)
* 9. Emily CROSS (USA)
* 10. Eugyenia LAMONOVA (RUS)

NOTE: These rankings are accurate as of August 20, 2008


1 FIE Rules and recent updates in English can be found at:

2 Related Wikepedia Website on "flicking" in foil fencing:

3 FIE Rule "The foil is a thrusting weapon only" is a frequently violated rule in Foil Fencing and Refereeing:

Please read the FIE Foil rules as taken from the public domain British translation in Ref 1 above:




t.46. 1. The foil is a thrusting weapon only."


t.34. 1. By accepting a position as referee or judge, the person so designated pledges his honour to respect the Rules and to cause them to be respected, and to carry out his duties with the strictest impartiality and absolute concentration."

These two rules quoted above make it blatantly obvious that only thrusts are acceptable as foil attacks or ripostes AND that a Referee gives a pledge of honour to respect and uphold this rule. Ref 2 discusses how this rule has been violated and how the FIE has changed foil electric box timings to remove opportunities for these rules to continue to be violated.

4 Fencing Discussion Forum in Yugoslav and at the bottom in English language with more on Ref 3 topic:

5 Reference to training suggestions for the new foil rules: 300+-25ms riposte blocking time:

6 Reference to teaching children fencing footwork - games to play

ee also

* Sabre (fencing)
* Épée
* Colichemarde
* Fencing
* List of American foil fencers
* Rapier

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