For those new to fencing, it can often be challenging to follow the lightning speed of the fencers’ actions. To become more comfortable in watching a fencing bout, it often helps focus on the actions of just one fencer. The fencer being attacked defends himself by use of a parry, a blocking-motion used to deflect the opponent’s blade, after which they may attempt to score with a riposte (literally “answer” in French). In fact, you may notice a particular cadence to the bout as the fencers rhythmically alternate roles as attacker and defender.
Fencers seek to maintain a safe distance from each other – that is, out of range of the other’s attack. Then, one may try to close this distance to gain the advantage for an attack. At times, a fencer will make a false attack – a feint – to probe the types of reactions and possible defenses by the opponent. Much of the fencing bout consists of this preparation, during which a fencer simultaneously determine their opponent’s true intentions while feeding them false information of their own. The complexity of this deadly “conversation” between the two opponents represents one of the more subtle beauties of the sport.
Of course, eventually one or both fencers will land a valid hit. When this occurs, the referee stops the bout and – in foil and saber – determines who was the attacker, if their opponent successfully defended themselves, and which fencer should be awarded a touch, if any.