|Swordfighting as sport has existed since ancient Egypt, and
has been practiced in many forms in various cultures since
then. Although jousting and tournament combat was a popular
sport in the European middle ages, modern FIE fencing owes
more to unarmoured dueling forms that evolved from 16th century
rapier combat. Rapiers evolved from cut-and-thrust military
swords, but were most popular amongst civilians who used it
for self-defence and dueling. Rapiers were edged, but the primary
means of attack was the thrust. Rapier fencing spread from
Spain and Italy to northwest Europe, in spite of the objections
of masters such as George Silver who preferred traditional
cutting weapons such the English broad sword.
The Spanish school, under masters such as Narvaez and Thibault,
became a complicated and mystical affair whose geometrical
theories required much practice to master. Italian masters
like Agrippa and Capo Ferro developed a more pragmatic school
in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, introducing innovations
such as linear fencing and the lunge.
By the 18th century, the rapier had evolved to a simpler,
shorter, and lighter design that was popularized in France
as the small sword. Although the small sword often had an
edge, it was only to discourage the opponent from grabbing
the blade, and the weapon was used exclusively for thrusting.
The light weight made a more complex and defensive style
possible, and the French masters developed a school based
on defence with the sword, subtlety of movement, and complex
attacks. When buttoned with a leather safety tip that resembled
a flower bud, the small sword was known as le fleuret, and
was identical in use to the modern foil (still known as le
fleuret in French). Indeed, the French small sword school
forms the basis of most of modern fencing theory.
By the mid-19th century, dueling was in decline as a means
of settling disputes, partially because victory could lead
to a jail term for assault or manslaughter. Emphasis shifted
to defeating the opponent without necessarily killing him,
and less fatal dueling forms evolved using the dueling sword,
or epee de terrain, an unedged variant of the small sword.
Later duels often ended with crippling thrusts to the arm
or leg, and fewer legal difficulties for the participants.
This is the basis of modern epee fencing.
Cutting swords had been used in bloodsports such as backsword
prizefights at least as far back as the 17th century. Broadswords,
sabres, and cutlasses were used extensively in military circles,
especially by cavalry and naval personell, and saw some dueling
application in these circles as well. Training was performed
with wooden weapons, and stick fighting remained popular
until Italian masters formalized sabre fencing into a non-fatal
sporting/training form with metal weapons in the late 19th
century. Early sport sabres were significantly heavier than
the modern sport sabre and necessitated a strong style with
the use of moulinets and other bold movements. As with thrusting
swords, the sabre evolved to lighter, less fatal dueling
forms such as the Italian sciabola di terro and the German
schlager. Hungarian masters developed a new school of sabre
fencing that emphasized finger control over arm strength,
and they dominated sabre fencing for most of the 20th century.
Dueling faded away after the First World War. A couple of
noteworthy duels were fought over disputes that arose during
Olympic games in the 1920s, and there have been rare reports
of sword duels since then. In October 1997, the Mayor of
Calabria, Italy, publicly challenged certain Mafiosos to
a duel. German fraternity dueling (mensur) still occurs with
The first modern Olympic games 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.
Foil fencing experienced similar upheavals for a decade or
two following the introduction of electric judging, which
was further complicated by the new, aggressive, athletic
style coming out of eastern Europe at the time.
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 made its first appearance in the
1998 World Championships as a demonstration sport.
Quoted from the Official Fencing FAQ