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Shown is an epee fencer, with the valid target area (the entire body) in red. Fencing epee valid surfaces.svg
Shown is an épée fencer, with the valid target area (the entire body) in red.

The épée (English: /ˈɛp/ or /ˈp/ , French pronunciation:  [epe] ) is the largest and heaviest of the three weapons used in the sport of fencing. The modern épée derives from the 19th-century Épée de Combat, [1] a weapon which itself derives from the French small sword. [2]


As a thrusting weapon, the épée is similar to a foil (compared to a sabre, which is also designed for slashing) but has a stiffer blade, which is triangular in cross-section with a V-shaped groove called a fuller. It also has a larger bell guard and weighs more. The technique is somewhat different, as there are no rules regarding priority and right of way. In addition, the entire body is a valid target area.


Electric epee fencing: Diego Confalonieri (left) and Fabian Kauter in the final of the Trophee Monal Final Trophee Monal 2012 n08.jpg
Electric épée fencing: Diego Confalonieri (left) and Fabian Kauter in the final of the Trophée Monal

While modern sport fencing has three weapons—foil, épée, and sabre, each a separate event—épée is the only one in which the entire body is the valid target area (the others restricted to varying areas above the waist). Épée is the heaviest of the three modern fencing weapons. As with all fencing disciplines, fencing matches with the épée require a large amount of concentration, accuracy and speed. Since the entire body is a target, a successful épée fencer must be able to anticipate their opponent's moves and strike their opponent at the correct time.

In most higher-level competitions, a grounded metal piste is used to prevent floor hits from registering as touches. Unlike sabre and foil, in épée there are no right-of-way rules regarding attacks, other than the aforementioned rule regarding touches with only the point of the weapon. Touches are awarded solely on the basis of which fencer makes a touch first, according to the electronic scoring machines. Also, double-touches are allowed in épée, although the touches must occur within 40 milliseconds (1/25 of a second) of each other.

There is a special aspect to the épée that separates it from the other fencing weapons. This special aspect known to the majority of the épée community is the counterattack. Some specifications include the stop-thrust and the time thrust. These actions are a simple counterattack and a counterattack on the opposition, respectively. Said in plain words, it is a tactic employed in response to an attack. With the absence of right-of-way, following an attack and landing it correctly can be a highly efficient way to score a touch, thus the counterattack's ubiquity.


An electric epee with a pistol grip Epee complete.png
An electric épée with a pistol grip

A modern épée for use by adult fencers (size 5) has a blade that measures 90 cm from the guard to the tip. The total weight of the weapon ready for use is less than 770 g, [3] with most competition weapons being much lighter, weighing 300 to 450 g. Épées for use by children under 13 are shorter and lighter (size 2), making it easier for them to use.

The blade of an épée is triangular in section, whereas that of a foil is rectangular, and neither blade has a cutting edge. Wires may run down a groove in épée blades fitted for electric scoring, with a depressible button capping the point. In competitive fencing, the width of any of the three sides of an épée's blade is limited to 24 mm. [3]

The guard has numerous forms, but all are boiled down to a spherical shield, the section of which fits in a 10–13.5 cm cylinder. [4] This is frequently called a bell guard. As the hand is a valid target in competitive fencing, the guard is much larger and more protective than that of a foil, having a depth of 3–5.5 cm and a diameter of up to 13.5 cm. [3]

As with foils, the grip of an épée can be exchanged for another if it has a screw-on pommel. Grip options primarily include either the French grip and the pistol grip.

In competitions, a valid touch is scored if a fencer's weapon touches the opponent with enough force to depress the tip; by rule, this is a minimum force of 750 grams-force (7.4  N ). The tip is wired to a connector in the guard, then to an electronic scoring device or "box". The guard, blade, and handle of the épée are all grounded to the scoring box to prevent hits to the weapon from registering as touches.

The referee checks Kristina Kuusk's weapon in the Challenge International de Saint-Maur Italy v Estonia Challenge international de Saint-Maur 2013 t142226.jpg
The referee checks Kristina Kuusk's weapon in the Challenge International de Saint-Maur

In the groove formed by the V-shaped blade, there are two thin wires leading from the far end of the blade to a connector in the guard. These wires are held in place with a strong glue. The amount of glue is kept to a minimum as in the unlikely (but possible) case that a fencer manages a touch in that glue, the touch would be registered on the electrical equipment, as the glue is not conductive (the blade is grounded). In the event of tip to tip hits, a point should not be awarded. A "body cord" with a three-pronged plug at each end is placed underneath the fencer's clothing and attached to the connector in the guard, then to a wire leading to the scoring box. The scoring box signals with lights (one for each fencer) and a tone each time the tip is depressed.

The tip of an electric épée, or the button, comprises several parts: the mushroom-shaped, movable pointe d'arrêt at the end; its housing or "barrel" which is threaded onto the blade; a contact spring; and a return spring. The tips are generally held in place by two small grub screws, which thread into the sides of the tip through elongated openings on either side of the barrel. The screws hold the tip within the barrel but are allowed to travel freely in the openings. While this is the most common system, screwless variations do exist. The return spring must allow the tip to support a force of 750 gf (7.4 N) without registering a touch. Finally, an épée tip must allow a shim of 1.5 mm to be inserted between the pointe d'arrêt and the barrel, and when a 0.5 mm shim is inserted and the tip depressed, it should not register a touch. [5] The contact spring is threaded in or out of the tip to adjust for this distance. These specifications are tested at the start of each bout during competitions. During competitions, fencers are required to have a minimum of two weapons and two body wires in case of failure or breakage.

Bouts with the different fencing weapons have a different tempo; like the foil, the tempo for an épée bout is rather slow with sudden bursts of speed.


Dueling sword

A Swordfight, etching by Jacques Callot (1617) Jacques Callot (1592-1635), Graveur.- Le duel a l'epee.png
A Swordfight, etching by Jacques Callot (1617)

The French word épée ultimately derives from Latin spatha . The term épée was introduced into English in the 1880s for the sportive fencing weapon.

Like the foil (fleuret), the épée evolved from light civilian weapons such as the smallsword, which, since the late 17th century, had been the most commonly used dueling sword, replacing the rapier.

The dueling sword developed in the 19th century when, under pressure from the authorities, duels were more frequently fought until "first blood" (as indicated by the French to English translation) only, instead of to the death[ citation needed ]. Under this provision, it became sufficient to inflict a minor nick on the wrist or other exposed area on the opponent in order to win the duel. This resulted in emphasis on light touches to the arm and hand, while downplaying hits to the torso (chest, back, groin). Rapiers with full cup-guards had been made since the mid 17th century, but were not widespread before the 19th century.


Today, épée fencing somewhat resembles 19th century dueling. An épée fencer must hit the target with the tip of the weapon. A difference between épée and foil versus sabre is that a corps-à-corps or "body-to-body" contact between fencers is not necessarily an offense, unless it is done with "brutality or violence".

In the pre-electric era, épéeists used a point d'arrêt ("stopping point"), a three-pronged point with small protruding spikes, which would snag on the opponent's clothing or mask, helping the referee to see the hits. The spikes caused épée fencing to be a notoriously painful affair, and épéeists could be easily recognized by the tears in their jacket sleeves. A later evolution of the sport used a point that was dipped in a dye, which showed the location of touches on a white uniform; the dye was soluble in weak acid (e.g., acetic acid) to remove old marks. [6] Today, competition is done with electric weapons, where a circuit is closed when the touch is made. Non-electric weapons are now typically used only for practice, generally fitted with plastic buttons.

Modern épée fencing underwent a paradigm shift from classical fencing in the 1970s and 1980s. The shift was pioneered by Eric Sollee, fencing coach at MIT, and his student, Johan Harmenberg, who subsequently won the World Fencing Championships and the Olympic gold medal. This new paradigm is based on the three Sollee Conjectures:

  1. Is it possible for the fencer with the lower technical ability to decide the technical level of a bout?
  2. Can the fencer with the shorter fencing distance control the distance in a bout?
  3. Is it possible to force your opponent into your own area of greatest strength? [7]

This new paradigm resulted in Johan Harmenberg closing the fencing distance, using absence of blade with destructive parries in order to not allow opponents to use their strongest moves, and pushing them into attacking high which was a prerequisite for Johan using his own strongest move. Harmenberg used this approach to win eight individual and/or team épée gold medals at Olympic, World Fencing Championships, and Fencing World Cup competitions. As a result, many if not most of the top fencers have used the new paradigm or at least adjusted to fence those who do. [8] [9]

See also

Related Research Articles

Fencing Type of armed combat sport

Fencing is a group of three related combat sports. The three disciplines in modern fencing are the foil, the épée, and the sabre ; winning points are made through the weapon's contact with an opponent. A fourth discipline, singlestick, appeared in the 1904 Olympics but was dropped after that, and is not a part of modern fencing. Fencing was one of the first sports to be played in the Olympics. Based on the traditional skills of swordsmanship, the modern sport arose at the end of the 19th century, with the Italian school having modified the historical European martial art of classical fencing, and the French school later refining the Italian system. There are three forms of modern fencing, each of which uses a different kind of weapon and has different rules; thus the sport itself is divided into three competitive scenes: foil, épée, and sabre. Most competitive fencers choose to specialize in one weapon only.

Parry (fencing)

A parry is a fencing bladework maneuver intended to deflect or block an incoming attack.

Academic fencing Sword fight between two male members of different fraternities with sharp weapons

Academic fencing or Mensur is the traditional kind of fencing practiced by some student corporations in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Latvia, Estonia, and, to a minor extent, in Belgium, Lithuania, and Poland. However, in Switzerland it is nowadays frowned upon to carry out this tradition, for it is considered unnecessary violence. It is a traditional, strictly regulated épée/rapier fight between two male members of different fraternities with sharp weapons. The German technical term Mensur in the 16th century referred to the specified distance between each of the fencers.

Foil (fencing)

A foil is one of the three weapons used in the sport of fencing, all of which are metal. It is flexible, rectangular in cross section, and weighs under a pound. As with the épée, points are only scored by contact with the tip, which, in electrically scored tournaments, is capped with a spring-loaded button to signal a touch. A foil fencer's uniform features the lamé. The foil is the most commonly used weapon in competition.

Lamé (fencing)

In fencing, a lamé is an electrically conductive jacket worn by foil and sabre fencers in order to define the scoring area. Foil lamés, although traditionally a metallic grey, are becoming more and more popular in an array of colors. In foil, the lamé extends on the torso from the shoulders to the groin area, including the back. In sabre, the lamé covers both arms, the torso from the shoulders to the waist, and the back. Lamés used in higher-level competitions usually have the last name and country of their owner printed in blue across the back. In addition, sabre fencers wear masks that allow them to register head touches, and manchettes, which are conductive glove covers, on their weapon hand. Lamés are wired by use of a body cord to a scoring machine, which allows the other person's weapon to register touches when their tips contact the lamé. Lamés are most commonly made of a polyester jacket, overlain with a thin, interwoven metal, usually steel or copper, which gives them a metallic grayish look.

Classical fencing is the style of fencing as it existed during the 19th and early 20th century. According to the 19th-century fencing master Louis Rondelle,

A classical fencer is supposed to be one who observes a fine position, whose attacks are fully developed, whose hits are marvelously accurate, his parries firm and his ripostes executed with precision. One must not forget that this regularity is not possible unless the adversary is a party to it. It is a conventional bout, which consists of parries, attacks, and returns, all rhyming together.

Sabre (fencing)

The sabre is one of the three disciplines of modern fencing. The sabre weapon is for thrusting and cutting with both the cutting edge and the back of the blade.

Outline of fencing Overview of and topical guide to fencing

Fencing – 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. Also known as modern fencing to distinguish it from historical fencing.

Rapier Combat is a style of historical fencing practiced in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). The primary focus is to study, replicate and compete with styles of rapier sword-fighting found in Europe during the Renaissance period, using blunted steel swords and a variety of off-hand defensive items. Participants wear period clothing while competing, along with or incorporating protective equipment for safety. In the April 2020 update of the rules, the sport was renamed 'Fencing Combat'.

Flick (fencing)

The flick is a technique used in modern fencing. It is used in foil and to a lesser extent, épée.

In fencing, a body cord serves as the connection between a fencer and a reel of wire that is part of a system for electrically detecting that the weapon has touched the opponent. There are two types: one for epee, and one for foil and sabre.

In fencing, the grip is the part of the weapon which is gripped by the fencer's hand.

Flèche (fencing)

The flèche is an aggressive offensive fencing technique used with foil and épée.

The Amateur Fencers League of America (AFLA) was founded on April 22, 1891, in New York City by a group of fencers seeking independence from the Amateur Athletic Union. As early as 1940, the AFLA was recognized by the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE) and the United States Olympic Committee as the national governing body for fencing in the United States.

Priority or right of way is the decision criterion used in foil and sabre fencing to determine which fencer receives the touch, or point, when both fencers land a hit within the same short time-frame. After this window, if one fencer had already landed a hit, the electrical scoring apparatus would "lock-out," or fail to record, an opponent's subsequent hit, and thus the one fencer to land a hit is awarded the touch. In épée fencing, if both fencers land valid hits at the same time, they each receive a point. Because of this foil and sabre are considered conventional weapons.

Fencing practice and techniques of modern competitive fencing are governed by the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE), though they developed from conventions developed in 18th- and 19th-century Europe to govern fencing as a martial art and a gentlemanly pursuit. The modern weapons for sport fencing are the foil, épée, and sabre.

The oldest surviving manual on western swordsmanship dates to around 1300, although historical references date fencing schools back to the 12th century.

Fencing tactics

Tactics are very important to playing well in modern fencing and although technique is important in the sport, using an array of tactics will help fencers make the most of that technique.

This is a glossary of terms used in fencing.

Eric Sollee was an American fencer and fencing coach. He fenced at Harvard earning NCAA All-America honors. He coached at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, and the Carroll Center for the blind, among others. As a coach he is notable for helping to quickly develop competitive fencers and for a paradigm shift in how to fence against classical fencers. Sollee trained a number of top competitors including Olympians.


  1. Evangelista, Nick. The Encyclopedia of the Sword. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. p 208
  2. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Épée-de-Combat"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 9 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 667–669. This contains a detailed contempraneous description of the history and form of the sport.
  3. 1 2 3 Book 3: Material Rules (PDF). Rules for Competitions. FIE International Fencing Federation. Dec 2018. pp. 15–21.
  4. Les formes en sont assez nombreuses, mais toutes se ramenent a un segment de sphere dont la section couvrirait une surface arrondie de 10 a 14 centimetres de diametre; la profondeur est generalement de 3 a 5 centimetres.
    Claude dea Marche, 1989. Original source unknown, but accessible thus: https://www.benjaminarms.com/research/fencing-sword-specifications/french-epee-specifications/
  5. Garret, Maxwell R.; Kaidanov, Emmanuil G.; Pezza, Gil A. (1994). Foil, Saber, and Épée Fencing: Skills, Safety, Operations, and Responsibilities. Penn State University Press. p. 178. ISBN   0271010193 . Retrieved 2012-11-26.
  6. Richard Cohen, By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions, 2002, Random House, ISBN   978-0-375-50417-4; re-issued from Modern Library Paperbacks
  7. Épée 2.5: The New Paradigm Revised and Augmented, SKA SwordPlay Books, October 2014, ISBN   978-0985444181
  8. Epee 2.0: The New Fencing Paradigm, by Johan Harmenberg, SKA SwordPlay Books, October 2007, ISBN   978-0978902216
  9. Epee 2.5: The New Paradigm Revised and Augmented, SKA SwordPlay Books, October 2014, ISBN   978-0985444181