Guide to Essential Competition Equipment



So you (or your student) have learned how to fence and you are ready to test yourself against others - on the strip!

Do you have what you need? Do you have what is required? What about the equipment you already have?

Let's go over all of these important points (no pun intended!) together. First, it REALLY helps to review how fencing systems and gear works together. This will explain how and why we need the equipment we use.

So, a general primer on electric fencing concepts...


Simply put, modern competitive fencing uses an electric scoring system to track whether or not fencers have properly hit each other - with the correct amount of force and in the right place. There are three weapon forms/styles - Foil, Epee, and Sabre - each has a different target and method to score a touch...



The foil's target area is the TORSO of the body. For the Epee, it's the ENTIRE BODY.

Therefore, a touch in Foil or Epee is scored ONLY when an action (usually an attack) happens so the tip presses against the opponent with a certain amount of force.  When this tip is pressed down, it makes a contact inside the cylindrical barrel, completing or opening a circuit and allowing the scoring system to register the touch with a light and a sound.  Both the Foil and Epee are THRUSTING ONLY weapons. 

.  against an opponent How much force? If you look at a competition Foil or Epee tip, you will note that it is spring-loaded and requires a minimal amount of force to press it in. The actual amount of force required to fully depress the tip is theoretically supposed to equal the amount of force required to break the skin as if you were wielding a lethal, sharp weapon

For Foil, the amount of force is calibrated at 500 grams of pressure. For Epee, it's 750 grams. It's important to know this since what we do descends directly from the days of dueling but also because it's in the rules that your electric weapons must be calibrated to register a touch NO SOFTER than 500 or 750 grams of pressure.

So, during fencing competitions, as the fencers come on the strip and prepare to face off against each other, the referee will test their weapons. There are TWO TESTS they perform: a weight test and a shim test. The weight test makes sure the spring-loaded tip pushes back with at least the required amount of force mentioned above or else that weapon WILL NOT be allowed to be used in the bout. The other test is the shim test - this makes sure the space between the tip and the barrel opening is a certain amount as specified in the rules before it activates the scoring machine. If the weapon fails the shim test, it WILL NOT be allowed for competition either.


The modern sabre's target area is everything from the WAIST UP.

A touch in sabre may be scored by performing a CUTTING/SLASHING or thrusting action. The modern sabre descends from the days of actual sword-fighting combat while on horseback. A mounted sabre-wielder would have slashed or cut at an enemy while riding by them. Sometimes a thrust was employed but more often slashing/cutting was the main function of the weapon. Since this is the main use of the modern weapon, a spring-loaded tip is not used. Instead, the whole blade (from the tip to the guard) is 'live' and able to score a touch simply by making contact with an opponent in the right place of their body. Thus, the more realistic use of this weapon is with a cutting action. Sabre is different - it is a SLASHING AND THRUSTING weapon. 



To competitively fence Foil you will need some extra equipment beyond your basic practice gear. There are three components required for the competition: the bodycord, the electric/competitive weapon, and the scoring lamé/vest. The bodycord is what connects the sword to the scoring system. The competitive Foil has a spring-loaded tip, a single-wired rectangular-blade, and a two-hole socket inside the guard that matches one end of the foil bodycord. The lamé (pronounced lah-MAY) is a conductive vest worn over the fencer's jacket to define the target area: the torso (no head, no arms, and no legs). Usually this vest is made from metallic thread so that a low-current electric signal will properly conduct to the bodycord that is alligator-clipped onto it, thus completing a physical connection from the fencer to the scoring system.

Thus, the three pieces necessary for modern, electric Foil fencing are:

a) the competitive weapon

b) the foil bodycord

c) the scoring/conductive lamé


Epee is simpler its approach to scoring a touch. Since the entire body is target area, there is no need for a separate garment to define where you can and can't score a point. From the top of the head to the toes, a touch may be scored. So for Epee, there are only two components: the epee bodycord and the electric/competitive weapon. The competitive Epee has a spring-loaded tip, a dual-wired V-shaped blade, and a 3-hole socket inside the guard that matches either end of the epee bodycord.

So for Epee, there are two pieces necessary for modern fencing:

a) the competitive weapon

b) the epee bodycord


Sabre, like foil, has a defined target area: everything from the waist up. This means everything: the body, arms, and the head. For practical purposes, the hands are not included. In addition to the sabre bodycord, a sabre lamé and the competitive sabre itself are two more pieces of gear: a conductive glove or oversleeve and a fully conductive mask. Sabre is therefore the most expensive of the three weapons for which to purchase a full electric set. Foil and sabre can, however, share the same bodycord.

For Sabre then, there are five pieces of equipment necessary for modern fencing:

a) the competitive weapon

b) the sabre bodycord

c) the scoring/conductive sabre jacket

d) a conductive glove or oversleeve

e) a conductive mask designed for modern sabre


In Modern Fencing, the scoring system relies upon a consistent, electrical signal that is either sent through the system or stopped from completing a circuit. Fencers do not supply the scoring boxes or reels or floor cords however. They only need to supply their own fencing gear. And this gear MUST PASS THE TESTS AND WORK to allow the fencer to compete. 



In foil fencing, there are two basic tests: a weight test and a shim test. These tests make sure the weapon is properly set up and has not been 'modified' to make scoring a touch too easy or suspicious. The tip must open the electric circuit ONLY when depressed at 500 grams or more pressure. Anything less and it fails the weight test. The tip must also ensure that it travels the required distance before making the contact inside the barrel (the shim test). If the tip fires the circuit at less than the required distance, it will be disallowed from competition - until fixed.

The other testing for foil has to do with the lamé garment. This garment must be conductive on all target area surfaces. Any dead spots and it is unusable for official competition. At big competitions, the lamé gets tested and then stamped to verify that it has passed and can be used. If it fails, it must be replaced since there's no easy way to repair/fix a lamé with dead spots.


Epee basically has the same two tests as Foil. However the weight test is calibrated at 750 grams of pressure. The shim test also uses a different measurement from the Foil's but is basically the same idea. If the Epee tip fires the circuit at less than the shim's width, then the weapon will be disallowed.


Sabre really doesn't have a test like Foil or Epee although once both fencers are fully connected, no lights should be registering on the scoring system. Both fencers will tap the other's mask simultaneously to test continuity across the scoring circuit - both colored lights SHOULD light up then. If these things happen, both fencers are ready to compete. If a white light goes off, something is wrong - usually with the bodycord.

The other testing for sabre has to do with the lamé jacket and the mask. The jacket must be conductive on all target area surfaces. Any dead spots and it is unusable for official competition. At big competitions, the lamé gets tested and then stamped to verify that it has passed and can be used. If it fails, it must be replaced since there's no easy way to repair/fix a lamé with dead spots. The mask also must be tested for proper strength and for conductivity. Any resistance or weakness and it is disallowed.


In addition to having the basic equipment you need for your weapon style, there are a couple extra considerations. 


The rules state that all competitors at USFA (United States Fencing Assocation) events MUST wear a plastron (an underarm protector). This is a small, almost half-jacket that goes over the weapon-arm side of the fencer to add an additional layer of protection. Since this is the side of the body that always faces the opponent (and thus THEIR weapon), the plastron does not need to be worn on both arms. Having said that, there ARE double-armed plastrons but for most fencers those are not desired (remember it gets hot enough wearing all the required layers as it is). Any basic plastron meets safety regulations and will do the job - but competitive fencers MUST have it - because it WILL be checked at most competitions.


The entry requirements for most competitions also state that fencers should have spare weapons and bodycords on hand. The purpose for this stipulation is to save time. At fencing competitions, Murphy's Law is very much alive and well. Bodycords that were working yesterday stop working today. Weapons that just passed tests suddenly fail on the strip. Stuff happens. The powers that be in fencing have long since recognized this and thus at most major competitions it is MANDATED to have at LEAST one spare weapon and bodycord. More is ALWAYS wise for the reasons already mentioned. Just one weapon and bodycord will only result in frustration and that's the LAST thing you want when you are "in the groove" for your fencing bouts. Trust me, equipment failure or lack of preparedness can be a MAJOR speedbump at a fencing competition. So try to come prepared.


For the last several years, I have spent many thousands of dollars at Absolute Fencing Gear. They have access to every level of fencing gear: from economy to world-cup level quality. If their website initially confuses you with all the options, 

please email me and I can help advise or order it for you.

For new competitive fencers, I recommend you get the two-weapon starter set. It should come with two electric competitive weapons with bodycords (2) and a Lame (if Foil) or Jacket (if sabre) and Mask (if sabre). 

If you do not already have a plastron, go ahead and get one now.

Good luck to you in your fencing endeavors!!

© 2015 • Questions?