Modern sport fencing can be done with any of the three different types of weapons – the foil, the epee, and the saber. Each has different refereeing conventions and different body target areas. Target areas for different weapons may be viewed by clicking the link on the image on the left.
The weapon consists of a flexible steel blade with a safety tip or button, a bell guard with soft lining, a handle and a nut.
A fencing weapon with a rectangular cross-section blade up to 90 centimeters long, with a bell guard from 9.5 to 12 centimeters in diameter. An assembled foil is up to 110 centimeters long and weighs up to 500 grams.
The foil is a thrusting sport weapon. Unlike other weapon types, the foil has the smallest body target area – the torso and neck. The rules of foil fencing include the principle of priority or right-of-way – the right to attack. A foil fencer needs to have right-of-way in order to make a valid hit. For example, the foil fencer has the right-of-way when attacking. The opponent must first defend against an attack before receiving priority to give a valid response – a riposte. When two attacks arrive simultaneously, the hits are not counted.
The epee is also a thrusting sport weapon, which means that hits with the edge are not counted. The epee is heavier and has a triangular cross-section blade. The overall length of the epee does not exceed 110 centimeters. It weighs up to 770 grams with the bell guard measuring 13.5 centimeters in diameter.
Epee fencers have the largest target area: almost the entire body from head to toe – the torso, arms, legs, and head. The rules of right of way do not apply to epee fencing, i.e., two hits made simultaneously are counted.
The saber has a triangular cross-section blade up to 88 centimeters long. The overall saber length is up to 105 centimeters. It weighs no more than 500 grams.
In a saber fencing bout points may be scored either with thrusts or cuts. The body target area includes the head, arms, and torso above the waistline. Much like in foil fencing, the conventions of right of way apply to awarding points in saber fencing.
Modern fencing bouts take place with the use of electronic equipment that senses hits made on target.
The equipment signals when an athlete has made a hit by lighting lamps of different colors. When an athlete makes a hit, the equipment lights a lamp on his side. In foil and saber fencing only hits made on the target area count. Lamps of different color (red or green) register valid hits, and the white lamp registers non-valid hits. When a color lamp and the white lamp light up simultaneously, this means that a non-valid hit was made first, in which case the valid hit does not count. In epee bouts only color lamps light up. Since all hits are valid, every hit made during an epee bout is counted. When lamps light up on both sides simultaneously, both athletes are awarded points.