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An épée is a type of fencing sword, and the term is also used to describe a specific discipline in sport fencing. It should come as no surprise to learn that épée fencers use épée swords, along with a variety of techniques which have been customized to the use of the épée. Fencing with the épée is very popular around the world, and if you are interested in seeing épée fencers in action, it is highly probably that there will be a demonstration or competition in your area in the near future, assuming you live near a major metropolitan area.
The épée is a descendant of the rapier, the sword of choice during the Renaissance. The blade of this sword is fluted, with a tapered point and a very large guard shaped like a bowl to protect the hand. These blades are also the heaviest of the blades used in sport fencing, and it is possible to do serious damage with an épée if you are not properly trained in its use, although the blades are flexible to encourage bending when they come into contact with a body.
In sport fencing, only hits registered with the tip of the épée are considered valid. On the competition circuit, most fencers use electrified blades which cause a light to go off when they complete a circuit by coming into contact with an opponent. Since the question of who hit first is crucial in fencing, these lights ensure that judges spot the first hit, and they ensure that hits are acknowledged, even a fencer does not feel a hit.
In épée, the whole body is considered a valid target. This school of fencing is probably most closely related to the traditional role of the sword in dueling and defense, as foil and saber fencing both have specific target areas. Anything goes in épée fencing and there is not specific right of way, so an épée match can get fast and furious, with both fencers attempting to score a hit and symbolic “first blood.”
Before learning épée, most fencers start with foil fencing, using a more lightweight sword and more complex rules. After mastering the etiquette of the sport and the handling of a sword, fencers can choose to advance to épée or to study saber, another branch of sport fencing. There is nothing wrong with sticking with foil, however; many fine fencers around the world are masters of the art of foil fencing, and their matches are beautiful to watch. If you are interested in learning épée, be prepared to start with foil training, and consider seeking out an instructor or school which offers épée, as not all do.