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Shown is an épée fencer, with the valid target area (the entire body) in red.
Shown is an épée fencer, with the valid target area (the entire body) in red.

The modern épée ( English: /ˈɛpeɪ/ or /ˈeɪpeɪ/, French pronunciation: [epe]) derives from the 19th-century Épée de Combat (itself a derivative of the French small sword), and is the largest and heaviest of the three weapons used in sport fencing. Épée is French for "sword".

As a thrusting weapon the épée is similar to a foil (compared to a sabre), but has a stiffer blade which is triangular in cross-section with a V-shaped groove called a fuller, has a larger bell guard, and is heavier. The technique however, is somewhat different, as there are no rules regarding priority and right of way. In addition, the entire body is a valid target area.

Background


While modern sport fencing has three weapons (foil, épée, and sabre), each a separate event, épée is the only one in which the entire body is the valid target area. Épée is the heaviest of the three modern fencing weapons. Fencing matches with the épée require a large amount of concentration, accuracy and speed. Since the entire body is a target, a successful épée fencer must be able to anticipate their opponent's moves and strike their opponent at the correct time.

In most higher-level competitions a grounded metal piste is used to prevent floor hits from registering as touches. Unlike sabre and foil, in épée there are no right-of-way rules regarding attacks, other than the aforementioned rule regarding touches with only the point of the weapon. Touches are awarded solely on the basis of which fencer makes a touch first, according to the electronic scoring machines. Also, double-touches are allowed in épée, although the touches must occur within 40 milliseconds (1/25 of a second) of each other.

Description


A modern épée for use by adult fencers (size 5) has a blade which measures 90 cm from the bell guard to the tip; the maximum allowable mass is 770g, but most competition weapons are much lighter, weighing 300g - 450g.

The épée has a three-sided blade, in contrast to the foil which is rectangular in cross section.

In the groove formed by the V-shaped blade, there are two thin wires leading from the far end of the blade to a connector in the bellguard.

The tip of an épée comprises several parts including: the mushroom-shaped movable tip; its housing or "barrel", which is threaded to the blade; a contact spring; and a return spring.

Each fencing weapon has a different tempo, and like foil, the tempo for épée is rather slow with sudden bursts of speed.

History


The French word épée ultimately derives from Latin spatha . The term épée was introduced into English in the 1880s for the sportive fencing weapon.

Like the foil (fleuret), the épée evolved from light civilian weapons such as the smallsword, which since the late 17th century had been the most commonly used dueling sword, replacing the rapier.

The dueling sword developed in the 19th century when, under pressure from the authorities, duels were more frequently fought until "first blood" (as indicated by the French to English translation) only, instead of to the death. Under this provision, it became sufficient to inflict a minor nick on the wrist or other exposed area on the opponent in order to win the duel. This resulted in emphasis on light touches to the arm and hand, while downplaying hits to the torso. (Chest, back, groin) Rapiers with full cup-guards had been made since the mid 17th century, but were not widespread before the 19th century.

Today, épée fencing somewhat resembles 19th century dueling.

In the pre-electric era, épéeists used a point d'arrêt ("stopping point"), a three-pronged point with small protruding spikes, which would snag on the opponent's clothing or mask, helping the referee to see the hits.

Modern épée fencing had a paradigm shift from classical fencing in the 1970s and 1980s.

This new paradigm resulted in Johan Harmenberg closing the fencing distance, using absence of blade with destructive parries in order to not allow opponents to use their strongest moves, and pushing them into attacking high which was a prerequisite for Johan using his own strongest move. Johan used this approach to win eight individual and/or team epee gold medals at Olympic, World Fencing Championships, and Fencing World Cup competitions. As a result, many if not most of the top fencers have used the new paradigm or at least adjusted to fence those who do.

See also


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