Although it is considered a rare sport among youth, fencing is growing in popularity as it
provides students with unique opportunities for college scholarships and world championship
titles. Fencing originated in the form of swordplay among Babylonian and ancient civilizations.
In these societies, swordplay was a leisure or combat activity. It evolved to include three
different types of fencing, named by the type of sword used: epee, foil, and saber. While fencing
is less common now than it was in the ancient world, today there are 42 collegiate teams in the
United States. For many years, women were only allowed to compete in foil, but recently the
United States Fencing Association offered competitions for women in epee and sabre as well.
The most popular type of sword is the foil, a point-thrusting weapon used to hit the
opponent with the tip of the blade within the torso of the body. The torso includes the front and
back area from the shoulders to the groin. If a fencer hits the opponent’s arms, legs, neck, and
head, they will not score points.
“It really is the balancing act between the two weapons,” said US Olympic Fencer Greg
Massialas. “Foil is sort of in the middle, where you have to be ready off the line to do something,
especially at the higher level.” Foil is usually the first discipline kids learn when they begin
fencing. It is the lightest sword and more flexible than epee. It also combines the offense of saber
with the defense of epee.
Like the foil, the epee is a point-thrusting weapon, but it is heavier and stiffer. The target
area for epee is the whole body, so there are no hits for epee that are considered off target.
“Epee is like aggressive defense,” said Massialas. “Sometimes you’re provoking your
opponent to attack you.
The saber is similar in length and weight to foil, but includes a different target area and
different regions of the blade. Valid points can only be scored from the bend of the hips to the
top of the head. Also, saber fencers can score using both the side of the weapon and the tip.
Saber remains popular with youth fencers.
“At the club I started at, all of the ‘cool’ kids fenced saber, so I asked if I could try one
day,” said US Olympic Fencer Daryl Homer. Seniors Alexis Anglade and Raymond Zhao both
fence saber, for it is a popular weapon for advanced fencers.
“Saber fencing is like Formula 1 racing,” said Homer. “It’s aggressive, fast and requires
split-second decision making.” An electronic scoring system is used to accommodate for the fast
pace. Sensors in the target area of the uniform and in the valid regions of the sword register hits
on the electronic system. If two fencers hit at the same time, there is a right-of-way concept that
determines who receives the point.
“If you have the right-of-way and hit at the same time, you get the point,” said Zhao. “It’s
sort of like tag.” The referee assigns the right-of-way to the fencer who was on offense at the
time of the attack.
In addition to its fast pace, many fencers enjoy the sport because it is different than
conventional sports like soccer, basketball, or tennis. “I started fencing in fifth grade because my
friend recommended it to me,” said Zhao. “It was fun because I thought it was more of a fair
sport for people of different body types, so you don’t have to be the most athletic type to be good
“I started fencing after my mother was angry because I sucked at every other sport,” said
Anglade, “It was right around the Olympics and she saw an advertisement for my club, since
they sent someone to the Olympics. I did a camp there, and it stuck.”
The club where Anglade and Zhao fence is Nellya Fencing Club, the only professional
club in Georgia. Since the number of fencers in Georgia is limited, the sport provides the athletes
with a unique opportunity to meet fencers across the country.
“A lot of my friends are California or New York based fencers,” said Zhao. “I have a
good connection with a lot of fencers at good colleges.”
“My best friend is from Arizona and goes to Notre Dame right now,” said Anglade. “I’ve
fenced with the same people for years, so I can get really close with a lot of people.”
In addition to providing strong friendships across the country, fencing forces athletes to
develop a strong work ethic through their long practices at home or travels across the globe.
“Practices run from 5 pm to 9 pm, or from 6 pm to 9 pm on Monday and Wednesday,”
said Zhao. Both Anglade and Zhao attend four practices a week, on top of extra sessions and
schoolwork. Then, they travel.
“I usually travel once or twice a month. Last year I missed almost 30 days of school,”
Anglade just returned from the Youth Olympics in Argentina, and will travel again in
“The Youth Olympics has shown me that if I ever went to the Olympics I know what it’s
like and how much work I need to put in to get there,” said Anglade. “Fencing has taught me
what I need to do and forced me to do it. It’s an individual sport, so you have to rely on
Back in April, Anglade went to the World Fencing Championships in Verona, Italy. She
placed third in the world.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Anglade. “It was my first real experience of being
on a team that wasn’t just my club team, so it prepared me for college.”
“Fencing taught me discipline, but it also showed me that it’s very easy to crack under
pressure,” said Zhao. It’s taught me to be patient with my results and work really hard. I learned
you have to have the strongest determination to achieve your goals.”