The Rules of Fencing

Fencing is a sport that has a strong following in the US and is a constant in the Olympics. The rules of fencing vary according to disciplines, but the general way that each competition is run is the same.

The area where fencers compete is called the piste. The piste is 14 meters long and 1.5 meters wide. Fencers must stay within the piste at all times; if a fencer puts his feet behind the back of the piste, his competitor gets a point.

Each match is called a bout. Bouts last three minutes or until one competitor has scored 15 points, whichever comes first. If the time limit runs out before either fencer has scored 15 points, the fencer with the most points wins. If at nine minutes the score is tied, a minute of sudden-death is added. Before the minute of sudden-death begins, lots are drawn to decide who will be the winner if nobody scores.

In team fencing bouts, three fencers face off against three opponents. Competitors must score five points to win.
A fencer scores points by touching his competitor with his sword. There are areas of the body which are acceptable targets, and these vary depending on the fencing competition. Each fencer's body is wired so that a light flashes when the fencer is hit in a point-scoring area.

At the beginning of each bout, fencers hold the guard of their sword to their chin, saluting their competitor, the referee and the audience. Then they stand at their en garde line, one foot in front of the other, pointing their sword at their competitor and keeping their other hand behind them. The fencers return to their en garde lines after each point-scoring hit.

Penalty points can be awarded to a fencer if his competitor commits a number of transgressions, including turning his back on his opponent, hitting the piste with his sword and leaving the piste.  Fencers also may not switch hands or use their free hand to protect themselves from being hit. If a fencer receives a yellow card and commits another infraction of the rules, a penalty can also be awarded to his opponent. If a fencer is thrown out of the bout, a black card is shown.

Fencing has safety rules, too. In the event of injury, a fencer is allowed ten minutes to recover. After ten minutes the injured fencer must either return to the competition or forfeit the bout. When the bout resumes, it must be at the same place it paused, unless a one-meter penalty has been given.

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