All you need to know about fencing in India: History, national championships and top fencers

Fencing has been featured in every modern Olympic Games since 1896
By Samrat Chakraborty

Bhavani Devi created history when she became the first Indian fencer ever to seal an Olympic berth on Sunday.

Hungary lost in the quarter-finals of the team event and Korea progressed to the semifinals in the Fencing Sabre World Cup currently underway in Budapest, which ensured her spot in Tokyo through the Adjusted Olympic Rankings (AOR) method.

As Bhavani Devi rejoices in a historic achievement along with India's sporting aficionados, let's take a detailed look into a sport that is far from being mainstream in the country.

Fencing in India

Fencing in India started quite late in comparison. It was only in 1974 that the Fencing Association of India was established and it took another 23 years for it to be recognised by the Indian government in 1997.

There are 30 state associations and two services association affiliated with the Fencing Association of India. The headquarters is in Patiala, India.

The association holds national championships in Sub Junior (1999), Cadet (2004), Junior (1992) and Senior (1986) categories, for both men and women.

With not much popularity for the sport, the FAI has formulated a four-year strategic plan (2017-2021). The five basic tenets of which are:

a) Education - To bring in more internationally acclaimed coaches and produce more domestic coaches to improve the standards of fencing.

b) Participation - To increase the popularity of the sport to increase participation both for competition and recreation.

c) Competition - To make national competitions compact and commercially viable and simultaneously increase participation at the international level.

d) Elite training and performance - Identify top fencers and fencers with potential and facilitate high-performance training and a good support system to attain international success.

And in such a scenario, Bhavani Devi's achievement must come as a watershed moment for the Fencing Association of India.

Unsurprisingly, Bhavani Devi is India's top-ranked fencer. She is ranked 42nd in the world in women's Sabre right now.

Apart from sealing an Olympic berth, she has previously won a gold medal in the sabre event at the Turnoi Satellite Fencing Championship held at Reykjavik in Iceland to become the first Indian to win a gold medal in international fencing.

She had previously won a silver medal in the same competition.

Kabita Devi, another prominent fencer, is ranked 100th in women's senior epee with 14.75 points.

In February 2016, India did well in the Asian Junior Cadet Fencing Championship in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Karan Singh won the bronze medal in the Junior Boys Sabre event while SN Siva Mahesh, 14, won silver in the Cadet Boys Epee event.

Gisho Nidhi from Tamil Nadu is the highest-ranked Indian fencer in men's Sabre (143).

As far as upcoming talents are concerned, Chingakham Jetlee Singh is a name to watch out for, with the 19-year-old already ranked 48th in the world in men's junior epee.

India are ranked 37, 39, 53 in team event in foil, sabre and epee respectively.

CA Bhavani Devi

What is fencing?

Fencing in common terms means sword fighting. Two fighters compete on an elevated piste, which is also known as a strip or playing area. The strip is 14m long and 1.5m in breadth.

Types of fencing

There are three kinds of weapons that are used in fencing: epee, foil and sabre.

The Epee

Epee is a weapon that is 110 cm long, with the blade measuring 90 cm. The weight of it should not exceed 770g.

The target area is the entire body, head to toe, including clothing and equipment. Any hit which is hurled is counted. Hits are counted according to an electrical recording apparatus.

Double hits are counted in epee, but the two hits must take place within 40ms of each other.

The Foil

The measurements are the same as that of epee but the weight of a foil must be less than 500g.

It is a thrusting weapon and hits will be counted only if it is made within the torso of the opponent. Invalid hits stop the bout and are not counted.

'Right of way' is followed in foil. It means the fencer who initiates an attack has the 'right of way'. In riposte, the opposing fencer can parry the attack to avoid the blade.

The Sabre

The sabre is 105cm in length and the blade is 88cm long. The total weight must be less than 500g.

The basic difference with foil is that a hit can be made even with the cutting edge and not only with the point. The target area consists of everything above the waist, including the head and both arms.

It is also governed by the rules of right of way. Interestingly, Bhavani Devi competes in the sabre event.

Sabre Fencing

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