This is the glove Jaime Marti was wearing when injured. via Tim Morehouse

Since 2000 the number of hand and arm injuries in sabre have increased dramatically.  These injuries are occurring without broken blades as the unbroken blade pierces the fencers hand or arm to cause the injury.

What is causing these injuries?  With the advent of electric sabre, the FIE wanted to reduce the effect of whipover hits in sabre where the tip of the sabre blade could whip around the bellguard and score a hit to the fencers wrist.  The decision was made in 2000 to make all sabre blades stiffer so that the whipovers would become less frequent.

Another change that was made had to do with the timing of the scoring lights.  The timing for double hits was reduced to 250ms in an effort to reduce the number of actions in which both valid scoring lights would be triggered.  The impact of this change was to increase the number of remise actions.  Fencers found that they could execute a failed attack, and rather than move back on defense, could execute a remise (or second attack) very quickly and prevent their opponent’s riposte from scoring by locking out the box.

The combination of stiffer blade, increased number of remise actions, and the extended target of the wrist/arm have led to more injuries to the hand/arm area of sabre fencers.

This is not the first time the safety of fencing gloves has been brought into question.  In 2010 Tim Morehouse posted an article to his blog after a similar training injury occurred.

In a recent FIE letter, published on March 7th, the FIE noted that multiple injuries have occurred as non broken blades have either pierced the glove or entered through the hole which allows the body wire to pass.

Following the recommendations of the equipment and medical committees, the FIE announced the following preventive measures would be put into place immediately:

1. At all FIE competitions, the gloves will be checked during the initial control of the equipment, as well as in the call room, in order to ensure that they are in very good condition (i.e. without any tears or significant reduction of its thickness); a control mark must be put on all checked gloves.

2. Athletes will have to cover the hole through which the body wire passes, using a strong adhesive band. This taping will be checked by the referee before the beginning of the match.

The FIE realizes that these measures are temporary solutions.  To find a long term solution, the FIE has organized a working group to

This group is to be led by M. Giorgio Scarso, and composed of 2 members of the Medical Commission, 2 members from the SEMI commission, 2 manufacturers and 1 athlete.

This Group will study the possible other measures to propose including:
– objective studies made jointly with an institute;
– glove manufacturing standards and modifications;
– guard modifications.

The FIE expects the report from this working group by the end of June 2011.

In the meantime, what can you do to make your sabre fencers safer?

1. Check your gloves for any cuts or holes, especially between the fingers.
2. Minimize the size of the hole in the glove for the body cord.  In models with a velcro cuff, make that as tight as possible and for other models use the FIE’s current method and tape up the hole while fencing.

Punctured glove
This is one type of glove-related injury that can happen. This specific glove was punctured by an intact epee.

These glove injuries are not limited to sabre fencers.  There are a few documented instances of an injury in epee where the unbroken epee point pierces the fencing glove and impales the fencer between the fingers.  (pic to right via damianp on the forums)

The injuries of this type that have been documented are from fencers fencing epee with a french grip and “posting”, or pommeling the epee to achieve longer reach.



  • Tim Morehouse08, March 23, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

    The changes are good, but none of the glove injuries I’ve seen were through the hole where the body cord passes or because a glove was “old” and had holes although I’m sure those have happened.

    Another reason for the injuries, is the increase in point attacks in saber because of the shorter timing. Fencers looking to finish faster against the counter attacks are sending their points first and blades straight against the counter attacks. The guard in saber is meant to block slashing/cutting blades versus points coming directly so a lot of times the point goes into the hand of the defending fencer and simply busts right through the glove.

    These injuries happen mostly on simultaneous type actions in the middle where both fencers are lunging and hands are exposed and coming at each. Like a head on collision and the exponential force that creates.

  • Sam Signorelli, March 23, 2011 @ 4:23 pm

    Chamfering the tip will also help. That little fold-over can create a somewhat sharp edge that can cut through the glove. I’ll have to look at a slight redesign of my gloves.

    And I applaud the idea of manufacturing standards….right now, you could sew a sock to a golf glove and it’s be legal….not GOOD, but legal.

  • PKT, May 29, 2011 @ 1:53 am

    Methinks the FIE Commission should compare the 3 weapons. How come we never hear about the same injuried in foil?
    The culprit is the 250 ms timing whether the FIE want to admit it or not.
    In the pevious change, the timing was perfect, i.e. one could still do a parry/riposte and score as per the Conventions of Sabre RoW. With the 250 ms timing, the RoW is thrown out the window like the proverbial baby in the bathwater, and sabre as many people observed is becoming more and more like epee… If we want to fence epee, we would.

  • damianip, July 9, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

    Hey Craig, 

    How about a photo credit: my picture, my glove, my blood…

    That injury happened with an epee, BYW.


  • Rudy Volkmann, November 3, 2011 @ 6:31 am

    Good article, but I believe that sabre lock-out timing is .275 seconds.  I was there in Denver when Delia Loomis’s sabre went through her opponent’s glove and into her forearm.  The girl had a wet glove, and was attacking while holding her sabre with the inside of her hand exposed (rather like coming forward in parry Tierce).  Delia executed a fast point stop-hit and caught the glove instead of the over-glove.  A more flexible blade probably would have prevented this, but so would have attacking with the hand in the proper position to make a cut instead of a whip.

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