Sabre (fencing)

Sabre (fencing)

The sabre is one of the three weapons of modern sport fencing, and is alternatively spelled saber in American English. The sabre differs from the other modern fencing weapons, the épée and foil, in that it is possible to score with the edge of the blade; for this reason, sabreur movements and attacks are very fast. For the other two weapons, valid touches are only scored using the point of the blade. Like foil, sabre uses the convention of right-of-way to determine who acquires the touch.

The term "sabreur" refers to a fencer who fences with a sabre. "Sabreuse" is the female equivalent.

Sabre was the last weapon in fencing to make the transition over to using electrical equipment. This occurred in 1988, 31 years after Foil and 52 years after 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.

The target area originates from dueling sabre training.Fact|date=October 2007 To attack the opponent's leg would allow him to "slip" that leg back and attack one's exposed arm or head given that the higher line attack will outreach the low line (there is a classic example of the leg slip in Angelo's Hungarian and Highland Broadsword of 1790).cite web |url= |title=Hungarian & Highland Broad Sword |accessdate=2008-06-14 |work= |date= 18th century The target area is from the waist up excluding the hands. Right-of-way applies, much as it does to foil.

A common misconception concerning the origin of sabre's target area is that the legs are removed as targets due to sabre's origin as a cavalry weapon. Essentially, this line of reasoning goes, the legs of a horseman were not a valid target in war, since cutting the leg of a man riding a horse would not stop that man from continuing his charge. This myth has largely been refuted and several older texts demonstrate low sabre parries to protect the mount's flanks and the fencer's legs.Fact|date=October 2007

The weapon

The cross-section of the sabre blade is Y- or V-shaped, unlike the quadrangular shape of the foil, but not as stiff as the épée. Adult (Size 5) blades are 88 cm (35 inches) in length. At the end of the blade, the point is folded over itself to form a "button", although no actual button exists. The bell guard of the sword is curved around the handle, giving the fencer hand protection. 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. The handle of a sabre is standardly a French grip, as most other grips are incompatible with the bell guard. The entire weapon is generally 105 cm (41 inches) long, and 500 grams (1.1 lb) in weight. It is shorter than the foil or épée, and lighter than the épée, making it easier to move swiftly and incisively. Many equate the sabre's blade to a matchstick, in that they are easy to snap but relatively cheap to replace.

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. Early electric sabres were equipped with a capteur socket. The capteur was a device that was intended to detect a parry by use of an accelerometer. If a parry was detected, the electronics were supposed to invalidate any subsequent closing of the scoring circuit due to the flexible blade whipping around the parry. This device never worked as intended and was quickly discarded, and the whipover effect was greatly mitigated when the FIE mandated stiffer sabre blades in the S2000 specification. 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.

Target area

The target area for sabre consists of the torso above the waist, as well as the arms and head (excluding the hands). When fencing with electric equipment, a manchette, or sabre cuff, is used in conjunction with the lamé and electrically conductive mask to ensure that the entire target area forms a single circuit.

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.


Sabre uses two lights (red and green lights, known as primary or scoring lights) on the scoring device (generally referred to as the box). A red or green light shows a positive touch, red being a touch from the left fencer and green being a touch from the right fencer. A sabre action has three possible outcomes. Either one of the scoring lights turns on, both turn on, or the referee stops the action before either turns on.


A lockout is when only one of the scoring lights turns on. This occurs when one fencer gets a valid touch, thus triggering their light, and the other fencer does not make a valid touch within the lockout time. In a lockout situation, the fencer whose light is on scores the point unless the action was made after the "halt."

The lockout time for sabre was originally 300 to 350 milliseconds (varying by the reliability of the machine used). In 2005, however, the FIE voted 51-33 to decrease the lockout time. They then proceeded to vote 50-32 to decrease it to the specified time of approximately 120 milliseconds.

Changing the lockout timing effectively changed the rules of sabre. The efficacy of attacks into preparation was increased, and the riposte after a parry must now be much cleaner and quicker than in the past.

The rule change was greeted with a degree of controversy, as many fencers who relied on having the extra tempo to execute a parry-riposte find that their opponents are simply able to remise (A renewal of a failed attack, without coming back en garde) after being parried before the riposte can land. This further contributed to skew the balance in sabre towards offense - that is, it is easier to attack at sabre than it is to defend.

Right of way

When both lights turn on, it rests upon the referee to decide which fencer scores the point. The decision is based on the concept of Right of Way (RoW) which gives the point to the fencer who had priority, i.e. the attacking fencer. Priority is gained in many ways:

*Beginning to extend the arm before the opponent, which signifies an attack
*Causing the opponent to miss, either through a parry or retreating out of distance
*Establishing a point in line
*Beating the opponent's blade
*Deceiving the opponent's search

If neither fencer has priority in a double touch situation, the action is called simultaneous and no point is awarded.


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 violation, 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:
*Yellow Card: Offender's touch is annulled
*Red Card: Offender's touch annulled, point awarded to opponent
*Black Card: Offender is removed from the tournament


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, 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' ("f"lying "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:
*"Tierce", high outside
*"Quarte", high inside
*"Quinte", headand three secondary parries:
*"Prime", generally taken in a sweeping motion to cover the entire inside line - often used instead of quarte when moving from quinte
*"Seconde", either guarding the low outside line - often used instead of tierce when moving from a "point-in-line"
*"Sixte", Blade up and to the outside, wrist supinated. This parry can be Lateral or Circular.

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.

World Rankings

* 1. Aldo Montano (ITA)
* 2. Mihai Covaliu (ROU)
* 3. Nicolas Limbach (GER)
* 4. Stanislav Pozdniakov (RUS) - Reigning World Champion
* 5. Zsolt Nemcsik (HUN))
* 6. Jorge Pina (ESP)
* 7. Eun Seok Oh (KOR)
* 8. Luigi Tarantino (ITA)
* 9. Keeth Smart (USA)
* 10. Alexy Yakimenko (RUS)

* 1. Sada Jacobson (USA)
* 2. Rebecca Ward (USA)
* 3. Tan Xue (CHN)
* 4. Elena Netchaeva (RUS) - Reigning World Champion
* 5. Mariel Zagunis (USA)
* 6. Aleksandra Socha (POL)
* 7. Sopia Velikaia (RUS)
* 8. Leonore Perrus (FRA)
* 9. Keum Kim (KOR)
* 10.Giola Marzocca (ITA)

NOTE: These rankings are accurate as of JUNE 18, 2008fact|date=June 2008


* cite book
last = Amberger
first = J. Christoph
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 1998
title = The Secret History of the Sword: Adventures in Ancient Martial Arts
publisher = Unique Publications
location = Burbank, California
id = ISBN 1-892515-04-0

* Reference to teaching fencing footwork to children - fun games to play

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