Fencing might be the coolest sport you aren’t paying attention to at the Olympics. Even knowing nothing about the sport, spectators can expect quick action resulting in high-scoring matches. But understanding the differences between the three different weapons — the saber, foil and epee — makes the sport even more interesting.


Meant to symbolize how knights might attacked on a horse way back when, saber matches usually move along quicker than the other categories. That’s because with sabers, which are shorter than the other two weapons, fencers are looking to “slash” their opponents, which means points can be scored with both the tip and side of the weapon. Saber fencers also have the biggest targets. They can score points anywhere above the hips, including the arms and head.


Foil matches are meant to symbolize lethal attacks, which makes this event one of the most technical. Unlike the saber, points can only be scored by getting the tip of the weapon in the target zone, which is limited to the torso, or the location of a person’s vital organs. Foil fencers also often have to be more aggressive to get a scoring advantage. The only way to score points on defense is to first parry the attack then take the point on a riposte. Or, in plain English, block the attack and immediately hit back with a quick jab or thrust.


Care for a duel? The epee, which is longer and heavier than the saber and foil, might be the most straightforward of the three weapons. Fencers are allowed to hit each other anywhere, including the feet, hands and face (which is covered by a mask, of course, so it’s safe). Unlike the foil, it doesn’t matter who attacks first, and in fact, if fencers attack at the same time, both can score simultaneously.