Sword fighting dates back thousands of years before the Roman Empire. However, the history of fencing was first documented in the 12th century. A German manuscript created by an unknown author explains the skill in text and watercolor illustrations. The historical script is known in English as “One-thirty-three.” The medieval manual shows pairs of competitors engaged in various positions and using techniques to disarm, cut, parry, and thrust with their opponent. At that time, blows were allowed to the head and limbs.
Fencing or sword fighting was used for combat and not considered a sport until the 15th century. Italy and Germany were the first countries and France soon followed. The French transformed the typical sword into a smaller, thinner tool that became known as the foil. The foil featured a flattened tip. In competition, the tip was fitted with a button. In order to track the strikes made with a foil, the button was dipped into a vermilion solution that would leave a mark on the opponent. Competitors also began wearing a wire mesh mask for protection. The practice continues today.
Fencing was initially included in the Olympics during 1896 when the games took place in Athens, Greece. Women began competing in the Olympic event during the Paris games in 1924. Today, three types of weapons are used. They are known as the epee, the foil, and the saber. Women’s event initially was confined to using the foil. However, as the game gained in recognition, women competed with the epee and the saber.
In Olympic history, Italian Nedo Nadi became the one and only fencing competitor to win a medal in events featuring each of the three weapons. He won his first foil competition at the age of 18 in 1912. One year later, he was awarded five gold medals in Antwerp. Nadi won the gold medal in the individual’s foil and saber events. As part of a team, he won subsequent gold medals for the epee, foil and saber events.