What Is The Sword Called In Fencing?

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If you’ve ever been curious about the fascinating history of the sword used in fencing, here’s your complete guide to the amazing history of the épée. 

The épée is the blunted sword developed in the early 19th century for the sport in which contenders behave as if in a real sword match without the dangers of a sharp sword. 

The épée has come a long way in a short time and it took a great deal of death for it to be this way.

What is the sword called in Fencing? The épée is the standard term for the modern sword used but the shape and construct of the tool has changed many times throughout history. Adapting to its deadly beginnings and gradually being less fatal, the épée is not to be underestimated in its death count.

The sword was patterned to contest a real duel. 

Since we live in a society that swoons over sporting events, we created an entire sport for the sword play. 

This quick history will be a fast read in the intriguing history of the épée so you can walk away a more cultured and intelligent version of yourself, perhaps now even as a fencer!

What Is the Sword Called in Fencing? The History of the Épée:

The earliest history of the épée was found in a temple of Egypt which was built by Ramses III. 

The date is rooted in around 1180 B.C. which proves the grand history of this sport has surely come a long way.

At this time in history, the sword was quite different but will still be covered and blunt. 

The artwork depicting their sporting in early Egypt shows men with shields in their arms and masks over their heads. 

For almost all of history, men have taken part in duels and fighting for sport.

Fencing, although called other named by each different society, was widely practiced by other societies such as the Ancient Persians, Babylonians, Romans, Greeks, and even the Germanic and Danish cultures.

The appeal to this is because war was so prominent in their culture and society that every able-bodied male needed to be able to fight. I leave out the women as they were not standardly in the army or direct line of defense during this age. 

Women were the child bearers and kept from war if possible.

Men however, needed to be trained from a very young age on how to use weapons and fight an opponent. 

Creating the sport of fencing, or the name they had for the same thing in their culture and time, was a brilliant way for the men to practice with each other and fight in a real duel without the deathly consequences.

Being able to hone their battle skills without harming each other was a huge part of their culture in recreation and for defense.

The issue here is, it was not without consequence for a long part of history. 

There are many cases ranging up to the 19th century in which men and women were being accidently killed in fencing duels which were only intended to be training or for amusement.

Funny that it took sword blacksmiths so long to create an épée that wouldn’t go around killing brothers on your own side, but it took them a while to get to the bottom of this. The theory was correct, their execution took some work.

The Different Types of Fencing Swords:

The épée is the modern form of the fencing swords which has been developed to be safer. But each sword serves a different purpose.

The three swords are 

The épée is the only sword which can touch the entire body. 

The other two swords have specific rules that they can only hit above the waist. Épée is the heaviest of them all so requires a higher amount of concentration.

Not only is the épée the heaviest and targets the most body locations within the sport, the fencer has to make their moves correct or it would be fatal in a real duel. Before the addition of masks in many societies, it was absolutely fatal.

In higher level competitions, touches are a way of signaling to the opponent that they’ve got you. 

The sport has tamed substantially since the ancient days where men would die in practice rounds.

The sabre and foil swords require less rules and are usually considered the more simple ways of fencing with easier weapons.

If you’re a beginner or just entering the sport, you may want to begin with a sabre or foil before upgrading to the heavier and more dangerous épée.

Do you need some help figuring out how to choose the right epee for you? Check out this complete guide. 

The Development of the Mask:

It took the greater part of history for people to realize that a mask (Amazon link) was necessary in fencing. 

Although the Egyptians seemed to have this part figured out, many other cultures did not.

Many men would have to get a sword to the face before anyone would smarten up and do anything to rectify this easily preventable issue.

The foil was introduced in the mid-17th century in France where the sport of Fencing was very popular. 

The French believe it to have originated there but they also take credit for good wine and cheese. The history of fencing and its origination lies much further back than France was even in existence.

By the time the entire mask was appearing in popular culture for fencers, it was the end of the 18th century.

Example Of A Fencing Mask

LEONARK Fencing Epee Mask CE 350N Certified National Grade Masque

Standard fencing epee mask

Check it on Amazon

The mask (Amazon link) was an adaptation that completely altered the entire sport. 

Dueling had been around for centuries, but some fencing masters wanted to keep the game traditional without the masks. They felt their coordination and sight was hindered by the mask so the dynamic form would not be as precise.

Others felt that they would prefer to not lose an eye to a sharp needle. 

So needless to say - the mask was greatly appreciated.

After many more men would die, become blind or greatly injured by the sport, fencers began to rebel against their traditionalist teacher’s preferences. Although the teachers wanted the fencing to resemble as real of a duel as possible, to which they argued one would never have a mask, this mentality was not sustainable in the rapidly growing sport.

Sporting with the Modern Épée:

The sword itself has changed drastically from thousands of years ago. 

The épée has become more and more blunted and less sharp as time has gone on. 

This took countless deaths and injuries before the development of the foil/lighter swords, and the mask which greatly aided the death toll in the sport.

The 18th century was the first time Fencing was seen in the Olympics which took place in Berlin 1936. The activity has made it all the way to the Olympics for both men and women with many changes along the way.

By the 18th to 19th century, fencing had gained more traction in the states and popularity worldwide.

It now resembles common 19th century dueling at it’s finest.

Before electric play backs and high definition zoom ins, the fencers had to snag their opponents clothes quite hard to make it obvious for the referees. This body contact made the épée breed of fencing a more painful affair, as said by most fencers.

Épéeists would be noticed by the tears in their clothes for this reason and later the adjustment was made to dip the end in a dye so that would appear on the clothes instead of actually having to tear through each other’s uniforms.

The 2020 Olympics will feature 200 spots for fencers in 12 different events. Many fencers are competing now to secure their spot in this honorary competition.

Final Thoughts:

The épée sword has come a long way from being a brutal force in practice duels to now being an Olympic sport respected around the world! 

From ancient beginnings all the way to our future plans for it in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Today the weapons are actually electric commonly and can keep track of the touches themselves! Quite a development from dangerous swords that kills their owners in practice fights!

I wonder what ancient Romans, Egyptians, and Danes would think of an electric sword that is dulled and won’t stab their eyes out, plus getting to wear a mask!

Perhaps all of those would feel like cheating to them to not duel as proper warriors. But I can honestly say, and I think many would agree with me - I would never face an épée without a mask. Maybe two masks!

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