The history of fencing and how the modern art of fencing evolved is a bit like trying to follow a family tree. Fencing has evolved amongst many different European cultures according to the period and technology and materials available at the time. These developments were then spread and forced into continual evolution by wars, cultural migrations (invade and settle) and metalergical/scientific developments. As such a wide variety of designs and modes of employment were gradually narrowed down by their practical effectiveness against other styles of swords and swordsmanship. 

Fencing as it is practiced today is based on the peak of sword development for actual sword fighting, the late renaissance period. The three weapons used in modern fencing reflect the 3 styles of sword that were used in individual dueling: The foil (small sword/court sword), the Sabre (military weapon used in battle as well as duels) and the Epee (used to replace the court sword in duels of honour when duels to the death were outlawed).

 

  

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Foil reflects the life and death struggle of two nobels engaged in a duel of honour. Defence is as important as offence, if you are attacked or threatened, you must defend yourself before trying to hit your opponent in return. Hits are to the vital regions of the body (stomach and chest) and only one fencer will be awarded a point based on the order of attack, defence and counter attack, otherwise known as the 'priority'. 

Sabre was a weapon used in battle. The ability to cut and thrust and the stronger but heavier blade make it a superior choice over the eligant court sword for the maelstrom of war. For many military officers and a lot of central European countries it was also the weapon of choice for duels of honour. Disabling an opponent was just as important as delivering a mortal wound, so hits anywhere above the waste are counted as valid in modern sabre. Once again, however, personal safety is of the utmost importance and sabre shares the same priority rules as foil.

Epees are the most modern fencing weapon, developed as they were to replace the foil in duels of honour when dueling to the death was outlawed. With a perceived need to satisfy honour with blood the nobility conceived a blade that was heavier than the foil and had more difficulty penetrating the body. While not completely safe the epee generally caused superficial flesh wounds, drawing blood without killing. As mortal wounds were no longer the intention the whole body became valid target, while hitting each other at the same time became acceptable.

At this point duelists began scoring - as if wounding your opponent was not enough. Duels were often to a pre decided number of hits or 'bloods'. A famous epee duel, and one of the last officially recorded in the early 20th century, was between renouned Italian Maestro Aldo Nadi and a journalist who disputed his reputation. While the first blood went to the journalist it was the only touch he made in the duel. After bandaging his 10 wounds he sat down with Maestro Nadi and shared a bottle of wine. They became good friends from that moment on.