The marvel of the interweb has brought Olympic caliber fencing into the homes of millions of Americans!! But, of course, they’re completely oblivious to this fact. Sadly, the most exciting sport that isn’t handball doesn’t get the press coverage of swimming, or even beach volleyball. The reason for this dearth of coverage is clear, American’s just don’t win that many fencing bouts. The Russians, the French, and even the more palatable Italians and Poles dominate this sport.
Well we here at the Porter Bureau want to do our part to help the world (read: America) better understand this exciting sport–a sport, I might add, that actually predates synchronized diving as an Olympic event. So, to further your enjoyment of fencing, here are some tips to help you understand what is going on and why that Chinese judge is speaking in French instead of the true lingua franca: English.
1. There are three weapons, or categories, in Olympic fencing: saber, epee, and foil. In foil, you must hit with the tip of the blade and the target area is the torso. In saber, the target area is also the torso, but you can score a point by hitting with any part of the blade. And in epee, you must hit your opponent with the tip of your blade, but the target area is the entire body. It is important to remember that in none of these events can you score a point by removing your mask and beating your opponent with it–another reason why this sport may not be of interest to Americans.
2. If you can, watch saber. Saber fencers eschew the namby-pamby finessed blade work of foil and simply whack each other over the head with their weapons.
3. After most hits in foil and saber, both fencers will, usually, perform the Tiger Woods fist flex and yell “A’la!!” No fencer, ever, since the beginning of non-lethal sword fighting, has conceded a point. Now, my more literate readers will point out that Laertes famously says in his bout with Hamlet, “a touch, a touch. I do confess.” However, aside from being a fictional event, Laertes’s fained magnanimity was a clue to Hamlet that all was not as it seemed. Why else would he switch blades with Laertes if he didn’t suspect him of foul-play? There is nothing so out-of-joint as a fencer who doesn’t at least pretend to have scored the point.
4. This point is related to number 3. In foil and saber, more often than not both fencers will land an attack on his or her opponent at the same time. In order to determine who is to be awarded the point, judges follow a complicated set of rules to determine “right-of-way.” Instead of going through these tedious rules, I have developed my own scoring system. After every touch in which both lights go off (with electronic equipment, a touch is indicated by a light going off–well, turning on, but you get the point), the fencer who rips off his/her mask the fastest in the thrill of victory gets the point. Style points can also be awarded for fencers who deliver particularly spectacular victory emotations and yet did not in fact score the point–a common occurrence that can also be used in a fencing drinking game.
5. Finally, one last piece of advice for your Olympic fencing viewing pleasure: As in all things, never cheer for the French.