Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The objective of fencing is to strike your opponent while avoiding being hit yourself. The fastest sword strikes in a flash of a blade.

Tokyo 2020 competition animation "One Minute, One Sport"

We will show you the rules and highlights of fencing in one minute. Whether you are familiar with fencing or want to know more about it, "One Minute, One Sport" explains the sport and how it works. Watch the video below.

One Minute, One Sport | Fencing

"One Minute, One Sport" will show you the rules and highlights of Fencing in one minute


Two competitors, each holding a weapon in one hand, face each other to strike their opponent on a valid target area of the body. There are three different events: foil, épée, and sabre. Weapons, target area and priority rules differ among those events. A conductive floor panel known as a ‘piste’ constitutes the fencing competition surface.

Fencing has been featured in every modern Olympic Games since 1896, known as the Games of the I Olympiad, starting with the individual men's foil and sabre. Women's individual foil was added at the Paris 1924 Games, women's individual épée was added at the Atlanta 1996 Games and women's individual sabre was added at the Athens 2004 Games. In the Tokyo 2020 Games, all 12 events (foil/épée/sabre, women/men, individual/team) will be held officially.


  • Individual Foil (Men/Women)
  • Individual Epée (Men/Women)
  • Individual Sabre (Men/Women)
  • Team Foil (Men/Women)
  • Team Epée (Men/Women)
  • Team Sabre (Men/Women)

Individual events in foil and épée are contested over three periods of three minutes (or until time runs out), with the winner being either the first to reach 15 points or whomever has the most points after the three rounds are complete. In the case of a tie, the match goes to sudden-death overtime. In sabre, two periods are held with a break taking place when the first fencer reaches eight points.

Team tournaments involve three members (and one reserve member) competing in a round-robin format with each athlete on each team fencing one another one at a time. This means a total of nine sets of three-minute rounds are held (each to a maximum of five points), with one team declared the winner after scoring a total of 45 points or having the highest score after nine rounds finish.

Essence of the Sport

Tactical exchange, fast-changing battles and splendid swordplay

Fencing's appeal lies in the tactical exchange of two athletes with precise movements and fast-changing duels. The athletes' splendid swordplay at close distances are a thrilling highlight of any match. Dynamic bouts of focused fencers in the darkened atmosphere fill the venue with intense action and athleticism.

One of the main differences among foil, épée, and sabre is the target area. The valid target area for foil is the torso including the back, for épée it is the entire body, and sabre includes torso as well as the head and arms. Electrical scoring machines are used. When target areas are hit, green and/or red lamps are lit, referring to the fencer on the right or left side of the piste. In foil, if a hit lands ‘off-target’ (not on the valid torso area), a white light indicates the invalid touch.

For foil and sabre, there is a rule known as ‘priority of the hit'. One of the ways to make a hit with priority is to straighten the arm, threaten the valid target with point of the blade, and initiate the action of the lunge or attack. If the other fencer dodges or parries in defence, they gain ‘the validity or the priority of the hit’ and will often launch an immediate counterattack or riposte.

While foil and sabre feature the rule of priority, épée does not have this rule and instead attracts spectators with elegant simplicity. A point is awarded at any time when a point of the blade hits the opponent. If both fencers hit at the same time, they are both awarded points. Since the entire body is a valid target, matches show a variety of actions as fencers target unexpected parts of their opponent's body, all the way down to their toes.

In addition, while hits are made by thrusting the blades in foil and épée, hits made with the ‘cutting’ edge (although the blades are not technically sharp), the flat or the back of the blade are counted as valid in sabre. The attractiveness of sabre is enhanced with dynamic cutting actions, while the appeal of foil and épée are represented by precisely targeted movements.

There are tall athletes who win from a long distance as well as athletes who use speed and timing as their strong technique. There are fencers who win with traditional fencing style while there are fencers who produce an innovative fencing style.

Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games

Tradition and innovation

With deep historical roots as an original Olympic event, fencing in the 21st century is modern and universal. Embracing historical traditions of swordplay, European (most-often French) terminology, and honour among players, fencers from around the world compete in a dazzling and futuristic display of technology, modern presentation and staging.

World fencing is truly global. Fencing originated and developed in Europe but in today's fencing, Europe, Asia/Oceania, the Americas and Africa are fiercely competitive. With 157 country federations as members of the International Fencing Federation, spectators are thrilled to see winners and champions coming from virtually any corner of the planet. This universality has become even more prominent with the Olympic Games taking place in countries such as China (Beijing 2008) and Brazil (Rio 2016), and with recent world championships where athletes from all over the world have won medals and written new chapters in the history of the sport.

The presentation of fencing is a technological delight, featuring futuristic lighting, wireless scoring systems, instant video replay and the ability to enjoy watching the sport online from literally anywhere. Fencing venues are some of the most high-tech sports arenas of all Olympic events, giving fans and players a unique experience where the past and the future meet in the quest for Olympic gold.

Tokyo 2020 will showcase fencing through tradition, innovation and diversity, as 12 new teams and individuals will make Olympic history. They carry their weapons forward into the 21st century, leading the sports world with a ‘cutting-edge’ legacy of history and a spectacular future.