History of Fencing

The history of fencing tracks the evolution of civilization, back from the days of ancient Egypt and Rome, to the barbaric Dark Ages, to the fast and elegant Renaissance, up to the modern, increasingly popular fencing of today.

Fencing has been regarded as more than a sport; it is an art form, an ancient symbol of power and glory, and a deeply personal, individual form of expression.  Fencing and sword-fighting have been an intrinsic part of life, from duelling, warfare through to the books and films of popular culture such as the Three Musketeers, Zorro and the tales of King Arthur.

The sport of Fencing that we know today originated as the practice of swordsmanship in order to prepare men for duels and warfare. The earliest evidence of fencing as a sport comes from a carving in Egypt, dating back to about 1200 B.C., which shows a sport fencing bout with masks, protective weapon tips, and judges , and the ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, and Romans all had some form of fencing. 

The weapon we fence at NLSC is the sabre.  This was originally a very heavy, curved sword, but a lighter, more easily wielded weapon with only a slight bend was developed in Italy late in the 19th century for duelling and fencing. The modern fencing weapon is straight, like the foil and epee, but it still has one "cutting edge" which can be used to make hits on an opponent.

1901, photo of a French fencing master & boys-L.jpg

Fencing has always been an activity for all ages.  Children were traditionally taught to use a sword from a young age and this is a tradition that continues in modern fencing clubs today.  Historically, the fifteenth century brought the beginnings of modern fencing as we know it today. Spain had the first true fencers, and the first two fencing manuals were published there in 1471 and 1474.  The 16th century also brought a large increase in the popularity of dueling.  More noblemen during this period were killed in duels than in war.

1780 brought an extremely important development to fencing.  The French Fencing Master La Boessiere invented what we now recognise as the modern fencing mask, allowing much safer training and booting. This sparked a lot of development in non-fatal technique and strategy.


The first modern Olympic games in 1896 featured foil and sabre fencing for men only.  Epee was introduced in 1900. Single stick was featured in the 1904 games. Epee was electrified in the 1936 games, foil in 1956, and sabre in 1988. Early Olympic games featured events for Masters, and until recently fencing was the only Olympic sport that has included professionals.  Disruptions in prevailing styles have accompanied the introduction of electric judging, most recently transforming sabre fencing.  Women’s foil was first contested in the 1924 Olympic games, and Women’s epee was only contested for the first time in 1996, although it has been part of the World Championships since 1989. Women’s sabre held it's first World Championships in 1999 and was recognised as a full event for the first time in the Athens Olympics in 2004.