Is Fencing a Sport?

2 fencers competing

While many people know Fencing as a style of martial art, not many know it as a form of sport. But is fencing a sport?

Fencing is an individual combat sport that involves the use of a sword (épée, foil, or sabre) for defense and attack according to set rules and movements.

While it might be hard to believe that a game that involves the use of swords is a sport, the reality is that it truly is a sport.

Although fencing wasn’t traditionally made for sporting purposes, it has since evolved into the beautiful game of sport we see today.

In fact, today, it is much more considered a sport than a martial art.

Now, let’s try to understand why fencing is considered a sport. But first, let’s briefly explore the history of this beautiful sport.

Brief History of Fencing Sport

You must know that fencing is traditionally a western martial art that has evolved into a sport.

Interestingly, the evolution of fencing sport can be traced easily.

Fencing was historically brutal and lethal, and often involved 2 opponents dueling to the death.

To train swordsmen for combat in a non-lethal manner, fencing and swordsmanship included a sport aspect from the beginning, even before medieval tournaments.

Since the mid-18th century, fencing has transitioned from just a military training activity into a sport.

This evolution was led by Domenico Angelo, who defined the fundamental rules of footwork and posture that still govern contemporary fencing sport.

His attacking and parrying methods were however different from current practices.

Camille Prévost, a French fencing master, set down basic conventions during the 1880s, and the number of fencing associations around the world began to increase during this period.

These associations included;

  • The Amateur Fencers League of America  founded in 1891,
  • The Amateur Fencing Association of Great Britain in 1902, and
  • The Fédération Nationale des Sociétés d’Escrime et Salles d’Armes de France in 1906.

In 1880, the first regularized fencing competition was held at the inaugural Grand Military Tournament and Assault at Arms, held at the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington.

Soldiers and Army officers participated in the Tournament.

Each bout was fought for five hits and the foils were black-pointed to aid the judges.

In 1896, the Amateur Gymnastic & Fencing Association drafted official fencing regulations.

Also, fencing was made a part of the Summer Olympic Games in 1896.

Saber events have been held in every Summer Olympics; épée events have been held except for 1896, and foil events have been held except for 1908 due to unknown reasons.

Beginning with epee in 1933, the Laurent-Pagan electrical scoring apparatus replaced side judges, with an audible tone and a green or red light showing when a touch landed.

Foil and sabre were automated in 1956 and 1988 respectively.

The scoring box reduced bias in judging and allowed more accurate scoring of faster actions, lighter touches, and more touches to the flank and back.

Three innovations in the 17th and 18th centuries made fencing popular as a sport:

  • The “foil”, a weapon with a flattened tip
  • The wire-mesh mask, and
  • A set of rules governing the target area

These developments ensured the safety of participants.

Why Is Fencing a Sport?

Fencing is a sport because it is a recognized and organized combat sport that is included in the Olympic Games.

In trying to decide if fencing is a sport, it is important to avoid overthinking this.

My 2 main reasons for affirming fencing as a sport is based on 2 criteria;

  • It is a combat sport
  • It is an Olympic sport

It Is a Combat Sport

A combat sport is a recognized style of sport that includes fencing.

Also known as fighting sports, combat sports involve one-on-one combat in a competitive environment.

Combat sports are usually won by scoring more points than the opponent, submitting the opponent with a hold, disabling the opponent (knockout), or attacking the opponent with a specific technique. 

It Is an Olympic Sport

Aside from being recognized as a combat sport, fencing is also listed as an Olympic sport.

Fencing was introduced to the Olympic program at the 1896 Games in Athens and has remained on it ever since.

Women’s fencing entered the Paris Games in 1924.

Today, both men and women compete in individual and team events.

 Olympic fencing comes in three forms:

  • Foil – this is a light thrusting weapon whose valid target is limited to the torso. Double touches are prohibited.
  • Epee – the epee is a heavy thrusting weapon that can be used to hit the entire body. Double touches are allowed.
  • Sabre – The sword is a light-cutting and thrusting weapon that is allowed to strike almost anything above the waist (except the back of the head and the hands). Double touches are prohibited.

I believe that any sport that has been specifically categorized as a form of sport and listed as an Olympic sport is indeed a sport.

Every participating sport in the Olympics is a sport, right?

What Kind of a Sport Is Fencing?

Fencing is an individual combat sport with participants fencing one-on-one with special bladed weapons. Each fencer tries to score an opponent by touching them with the weapon and trying to avoid being touched by the opponent’s weapon.

For clarity, combat sport (combative sport) is a competitive contact sport where two combatants fight each other using certain rules of contact, intending to simulate parts of real hand-to-hand combat.

This means that Boxing, kickboxing, mixed martial arts, wrestling, and fencing are examples of combat sports.

Is Fencing a Sport or Martial Art?

Fencing is both a sport and martial art. It is traditionally a western martial art that has evolved into a combat sport.

Even though fencing is now popularly done for sporting purposes, just like taekwondo, judo, and karate, there was once a time when fencing was one of the most violent and dangerous martial arts in the world.

Fencing duals were to death until about the 18th or 19th centuries.

So, while fencing is a recognized sport, it can quickly become a brutal tool of destruction if the sporting rules are relaxed.

See: Is Fencing a Martial Art?

Is Fencing a Sport or a Game?

Although sports and games are very similar, fencing can either be a sport or a game.

In explaining the difference between games and sports, Britannica explained thus;

A game is a physical or mental activity or contest with rules that people engage in for pleasure. A sport is a contest or game where people compete against each other according to a set of rules.

So, while all games are not sports, all sports are games, and that makes fencing both a sport and a game.

Related: Is martial arts a sport?

Related: Is Taekwondo a sport?

Related: Is wrestling a sport?

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