Sabre (fencing)

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Olena Voronina scores a hit off Yekaterina Dyachenko (L) in the women's team sabre final of the 2013 World Fencing Championships Final 2013 Fencing WCH SFS-EQ t204424.jpg
Olena Voronina scores a hit off Yekaterina Dyachenko (L) in the women's team sabre final of the 2013 World Fencing Championships

The sabre (US English: saber, both pronounced /ˈsbər/ ) is one of the three disciplines of modern fencing. [1] The sabre weapon is for thrusting and cutting with both the cutting edge and the back of the blade [2] (unlike other modern fencing weapons, the épée and foil, where the methods of making a hit are scored using the point of the blade [2] ).


The informal term sabreur refers to a male fencer who follows the discipline; sabreuse is the female equivalent.

The Sabre Weapon

1. "Tip" 2. Steel Blade 3. Bell Guard 4. Electrical Socket (Electrical Sabre only) 5. Handle / Grip 6. Insulating Pommel Fencingsabre.png
1. "Tip” 2. Steel Blade 3. Bell Guard 4. Electrical Socket (Electrical Sabre only) 5. Handle / Grip 6. Insulating Pommel
Specifications of the Sabre Apparatus
NameDescriptionFIE Regulated
Guard17 × 14 × 15 cmMaximum section, Protects the fencer's hand.Yes
Blade88 cmThe blade attached into the handle, steel.Yes
Total Length105 cmTotal maximum the dimension of the sabre.Yes
Total Weight500 gTotal maximum weight ready for use.Yes

"The blade, which must be of steel , is approximately rectangular in section. The maximum length of the blade is 88 cm. The minimum width of the blade, which must be at the button, is 4 mm; its thickness, also immediately below the button, must be at least 1.2 mm." [3]

The cross-sectional profile of the sabre blade is commonly a V-shaped base which transitions to a flat rectangular shaped end with most blade variants, however this is dependent on the how it is manufactured. This allows the blade to be flexible towards the end. According to regulation, manufacturers must acknowledge that the blade must be fixed horizontally at a point 70 cm (27.5591 in) from the tip of the blade. [4]

Standardised Adult (size 5) blades are 88 cm (34.6457 in) in length. (excluding other components). At the end of the blade, the point is folded over itself to form a "button" which, when viewed end on, must have a square or rectangular section of 4 mm - 6 mm no larger or smaller. The button must not be any more than 3 mm from the end of the 88 cm blade section. [4]

The guard is full in shape, made in one piece and is externally smooth, the curvature of the guard is continuous without any aesthetic perforations or rims. The interior of the guard is fully insulated by either paint or a pad. The guard is designed to provide the hand adequate protection to ensure that injury does not occur which may hinder the performance of the fencer. Guards are dimensionally measured 15 cm by 14 cm in section where the blade is parallel with the axis of the gauge. [5]

On electrical sabres, a socket for the body wire is found underneath the bell guard. A fastener known as a pommel is attached to the end of the sword to keep the bell guard and handle on, it electrically separates the handle and the guard.

The conventional handle of the sabre is shaped so that it may be held so that the hand may slide down to gain further extension of the weapon relative to the fencer. Other grips which form various shapes are incompatible and impractical with sabre as they limit the movement of the hand, and are likely to be ergonomically incompatible with the guard.

The entire weapon is generally 105 cm (41 inches) long; the maximum weight is 500g, but most competition swords are closer to 400g. It is shorter than the foil or épée, and lighter than the épée, hence physically easier to move swiftly and decisively. However the integrity of the sabre blade is not as strong as other weapons as it is more likely to break due to the design. [6]

Electrical Sabre

Like other weapons used in fencing, the modern sabre uses an electrical connection to register touches. The sabreur wears a lamé, a conductive jacket, to complete the circuit and register a touch to a valid target.

Sabre was the last weapon in fencing to make the transition over to using electrical equipment. This occurred in 1988, 32 years after foil and 52 years after the épée. In 2004, immediately following the Athens Summer Olympics, the timing for recording a touch was shortened from its previous setting, dramatically altering the sport and method in which a touch is scored.

Unlike the other two weapons, there is very little difference between an electric sabre and a steam or dry (non-electric) one. The blade itself is the same in steam and electric sabres, as there is no need for a blade wire or pressure-sensitive tip in an electric sabre. An electric sabre has a socket, which is generally a 2-prong or bayonet foil socket with the two contacts shorted together. The electric sabre also has insulation on the pommel and on the inside of the guard to prevent an electrical connection between the sabre and the lamé. This is undesirable because it effectively extends the lamé onto the sabre, causing any blade contact to be registered as a valid touch.

Early electric sabres were equipped with a capteur socket. The capteur was a small mechanical accelerometer that was intended to distinguish between a good cut and a mere touch of the blade against the target. In November of 2019 the FIE announced their intention to re-introduce the capteur to sabre using modern accelerometer technology. [7]

Target area

Valid target area for hits to be scored indicated in red. Fencing saber valid surfaces.svg
Valid target area for hits to be scored indicated in red.

The general target area for the discipline contains the entire torso above the waist, the head, and the arms up to the wrist of which a valid hit may be scored. The legs, hand and feet are excluded from the target area.

A single circuit for the entire target area used in scoring systems is formed by multiple conductive equipment:

Because touches can be scored using the edge of the blade, there is no need for a pressure-sensitive head to be present on the end of the blade (thus having the button). When fencing "electric" (as opposed to "steam" or "dry") a current runs through the sabre blade. When the blade comes into contact with the lamé, the electrical mask, or the manchette, the current flows through the body cord and interacts with the scoring equipment.


Veniamin Reshetnikov (Left) and Nikolay Kovalev (Right) hit each other simultaneously: both lights on the masks are on. Final of the 2013 World Fencing Championships. Final 2013 Fencing WCH SMS-IN t202316.jpg
Veniamin Reshetnikov (Left) and Nikolay Kovalev (Right) hit each other simultaneously: both lights on the masks are on. Final of the 2013 World Fencing Championships.

Central Judging Apparatus

Also known as the 'Scoring apparatus' or Box.

As for all electrical apparatus used in modern fencing, the referee's final judgement be aided by the apparatus taking into account of possible failure. [8] Most sabre hits are registered by light signals (red and green distinguishable for each fencer) placed on top of the sabre apparatus and accompanied by audible signal(s) [9] consisting of either of a short ring, or of a continuous note limited to two seconds.

In some circumstances a white signal is indicated when a fencer has hit off-target.

Lockout Period

The 'Lockout Period', an informal term to describe the minimum amount of time between registered touches respective of the target area. [10] This period is set into the electrical apparatus to aid judgement.

Recent regulation adjustments to the 'functioning times of the scoring apparatuses' following from the 2016 Olympic games modified the registering times from 120ms (± 10 ms) to 170 ms (± 10 ms) . Scoring apparatuses with the new modification are marked with a 2 × 4cm, magenta identification label. Bearing in black text : 'FIE 2016'. [11]

Table for the new lockout period for sabre: [11]
Characteristics to be modifiedFormerNew
Time for double hit120 ms ± 10170 ms ± 10
  • If both hits occur simultaneously and the time difference is higher than the lockout period, one signal is displayed by the judging apparatus. The referee is likely to award the point to the first hit.
  • If both hits occur simultaneously within the lockout period, both signals are displayed - in such occurrence final judgement of the score is determined by the 'right of way'.

Changing the lockout timing effectively changed the way with which the sabre was fenced, making it faster with greater emphasis on footwork. Although the essential nature of the game would remain the same, the strategies for attack and defense would need to be rethought.

The timing change was initially greeted with a degree of controversy, as many fencers were accustomed to having the longer timings. This made the techniques then employed vulnerable to fast stop-cuts (a hit made by the defender that lands whilst the attacker is still beginning an attack, also known as a skyhook) or remisés (a second attack made by the original attacker after the first has technically finished). It was commonly regarded that the shorter timings would only encourage poor technique and an "attack only" mentality, negating much of the art of the sport.

Remises and stop-cuts would not normally score a point as a hit by the attacker would take priority. However the hit made with priority may arrive too late under the shorter timings to register, and so the stop-cuts and remises would indeed score.

As a result of the narrower timings, the efficacy of attacks into preparation was increased, meaning that it was now more critical that the preparing fencer must already have begun an attack by the time the two fencers were in hitting distance of each other.

The techniques of how to parry and riposte have been extended. The solid parries, used extensively before the change of timings, would be supplemented by an additional step back by the defender to avoid the attacker remising (continuing to push their blade after their attack has technically done) or else the defence to be performed as a beat-attack, an extending arm that deflects the oncoming attack halfway through the extension before hitting the original attacker's target area.

With hindsight, the shorter timings seem to have encouraged a tightening and refinement of the original techniques with smaller, neater moves so that, on the whole, sabre fencing became faster and more precise than it had ever been before.

Right of way

Veniamin Reshetnikov (L) and Nikolay Kovalev (R) both claim the hit; the referee must decide who scores the point. Final of the 2013 World Fencing Championships. Final 2013 Fencing WCH SMS-IN t202857.jpg
Veniamin Reshetnikov (L) and Nikolay Kovalev (R) both claim the hit; the referee must decide who scores the point. Final of the 2013 World Fencing Championships.

When both signals indicate, it rests upon the referee to decide which fencer scores the point. [12] The decision is based on the concept of Right of Way which gives the point to the fencer who had priority, i.e. the attacking fencer. As with foil, the other right of way weapon, priority is gained in many ways, which can be broken down into active, passive, and defensive categories:

If neither fencer has 'right of way' in a double touch situation (typically, if both initiate the attack simultaneously in so far as the director can determine), the action is called a "simultaneous attack" and no point is awarded unless an attack is initiated first and is not parried or missed.

Right of way rules were initially established to encourage fencers to use parries and other techniques in order to hit without being hit, as they would logically desire to do if they were using sharp swords. Subsequently, the rules of right of way have been altered simply to keep the strategy and technique of sabre interesting and (relatively) easy to understand.


A referee shows a yellow card for a forbidden fleche in the 2014 Orleans Grand Prix Refereeing 2014 Orleans Sabre Grand Prix t121425.jpg
A referee shows a yellow card for a forbidden flèche in the 2014 Orléans Grand Prix

The referee may halt the action for reasons such as a safety hazard, fencer injury, or violation of the rules. When the referee says "halt", no further action may score a point. For cases of rules violations, the referee may choose to either warn the offender or show him or her a penalty card. A warning has no scoring implication. Cards, on the other hand, have further penalties:


Kim Ji-yeon (R) attacks Mariel Zagunis (L) with a lunge in the 2014 Orleans World Cup Kim v Zagunis 2014 Orleans Sabre Grand Prix t213626.jpg
Kim Ji-yeon (R) attacks Mariel Zagunis (L) with a lunge in the 2014 Orléans World Cup

At sabre, it is generally easier to attack than to defend (for example, the timing favours remises) and high-level international sabre fencing is often very fast and very simple, although when required, top sabreurs do display an extended repertoire of tactical devices. In response to the relatively high speed of sabre fencing (sabre is the fastest sport in the world combat wise), the rules for sabre were changed to prohibit the forward cross-over (where the back foot passes the front foot) - it is now a cardable offence. Thus, the flèche attack is no longer permissible, so sabre fencers have instead begun to use a "flunge" (flying lunge). This attack begins like a flèche, but the fencer pushes off from the ground and moves quickly forward, attempting to land a hit before their feet cross over. Similarly, "running attacks" — consisting of a failed flèche followed by continuous remises — have also been eliminated.

Sabre defense comprises the three primary parries:

and three secondary parries:

Tiberiu Dolniceanu (R) attacks Veniamin Reshetnikov (L) with a flunge during the 2013 World Championships Reshetnikov v Dolniceanu 2013 Fencing WCH SMS-IN t192032.jpg
Tiberiu Dolniceanu (R) attacks Veniamin Reshetnikov (L) with a flunge during the 2013 World Championships

Another parry, lesser-known, but which works against opponents of the same handedness, is referred to as "the Hungarian". This parry is most useful when both fencers charge off the line towards each other. To perform the Hungarian, a fencer throws a "prime" parry when the opponent is within striking distance and sweeps upward into a "quinte" position, covering (in the process) nearly all target area, and performs the riposte as with a normal "quinte" parry. The Hungarian technique often works best if a step or angle is taken in the opposite direction of the "prime" parry. This technique will not work with two fencers of opposite handedness.

It follows from the nature of sabre parries (they block an incoming attack rather than deflecting it as in foil and épée) that they are static and must be taken as late as possible to avoid being duped by a feint attack, committing to a parry in the wrong line and being unable to change parry (which often involves completely altering the orientation of the blade while moving and rotating the wrist and forearm) to defend against the real attack quickly enough.

Circles, such as Circle 3, 4, and 5, defend against stabs to the body, which an ordinary parry would not block. This is extremely useful, as it is highly versatile, covering much of the target area.

Each fencing weapon has a different tempo, and the tempo for épée and foil is rather slow with sudden bursts of speed. Sabre is fast throughout the entire touch. However, many coaches are urging pupils to slow down the pace by taking smaller steps instead of larger ones.

Related Research Articles

Fencing 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.

Foil (fencing) fencing weapon

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, a jacket, a glove, so called knickers, long socks, shoes, an 'under-arm protector,' or more accurately, a 'Plastron', a mask. For women, young children and all who choose, a chest protector, and the foil. It is the most commonly used weapon in competition. There are four sizes for the weapon starting with 30 inches and leading up to 35; 0, 2, 3, 5.

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.

Épée a number of different bladed weapons

The épée is the largest and heaviest of the three weapons used in sport fencing. The modern épée derives from the 19th-century Épée de Combat, a weapon which itself derives from the French small sword.

The remise is a renewal of an attack in fencing. It is performed when one fencer's attack has failed, either because their opponent has parried or they missed. If the attacker immediately continues their attack in the same line, they have executed a remise. The name also is applied to repetitions of other actions which did not initially succeed. The remise is at the bottom of actions in taking priority.

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.

Riposte Counter-attack

In fencing, a riposte is an offensive action with the intent of hitting one's opponent, made by the fencer who has just parried an attack. In military usage, a riposte is the strategic device of hitting a vulnerable point of the enemy, thereby forcing him to abandon his own attack.

Nedo Nadi Italian fencer

Nedo Nadi was one of the best Italian fencers of all time. He is the only fencer to win a gold medal in each of the three weapons at a single Olympic Games and won the most fencing gold medals ever at a single Games—five. Until Mark Spitz won seven swimming championships at the 1972 Summer Olympics, this was also the record number of gold medals won at a single Games by any competitor. Nadi won six Olympic gold medals in total.

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.

Attack (fencing) offensive movement in fencing

In fencing, an attack is "the initial offensive action made by extending the arm and continuously threatening the opponent's target". In order for an attack to be awarded successfully, the fencer must accelerate their hand and feet towards the target. If the fencer does not accelerate the hand or foot, this is a preparation.

Flick (fencing) fencing technique

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) fencing technique

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.

Fencing tactics movement or approach used in competitive fencing

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.


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  2. 1 2 t.90 , t.76
  3. m.23.1
  4. 1 2 m.23.5 (a)
  5. m.24
  6. Figure 13. Sabre dimension (contd.)
  8. t.80, t.99
  9. m.51.3
  10. "Fencing Rules for the Novice Parent: Strategy differences for foil, epee, and sabre". Academy of Fencing Master's Blog. July 7, 2014.
  11. 1 2
  12. 1 2 Surrey County Fencing Union, Sabre Refereeing Hints, Refereeing (accessed 16 November 2015)