I used to learn Olympic Fencing. In this sport the Piste was very narrow compared with it's length. (2 metres by 10 metres). Because the swords are over half a metre long this eliminates any possibility of circling or using footwork in any non-linear manner.

Why is this? is it because the sport often uses wires to connect the swords to the scoring machine? OR did the piste shape predate this?

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    Haven't found an answer yet, but there are references to the books being open-air on gravel paths before WW2, and this 1930 gym footage shows copious sidestepping. Aug 10, 2020 at 14:37
  • This might be a better fit on Sports.SE.
    – JohnP
    Aug 10, 2020 at 15:05
  • @JohnP If kendo and Boxing questions are fair game I don't see why not fencing.
    – Huw Evans
    Aug 10, 2020 at 15:14
  • @HuwEvans - You misunderstand me. It fits here, sure, I was just musing that there might be a larger proportion of fencers on sports.se. However, looking at the tags, they have 5 questions we have 10. So might be more likely to be answered here, but if it gets no love, a migration might help get an answer. More musing than anything. :)
    – JohnP
    Aug 10, 2020 at 15:20
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2 Answers 2


It basically dates back to later 19th century fencing practices at French military academies. They would drill many soldiers at once, which required a limited space. Initially, they trained outside, and to combat the uneven surface created by repeated bouts, they began using a planche, literally a board, approximately 5 meters by 0.5 meters.

Fencing instructor and young student on an early planche

This was later superseded by joined boards, but kept approximately the same dimensions:

1896 photograph of fencers on a planche made of joined boards

When they began moving the fencing into indoor salles, they kept the planche arrangement.

Moulins Isalle D'Armes

As to why the piste expanded past the size of the planche to its current dimensions, as best I can tell, it happened around 1922 as a result of it being lengthened to allow more spectators, and widened to account for it be raised for easier viewing by the crowds and to make the bout more dynamic.


There's plenty of space on a fencing piste to use side-steps effectively. There's even space to pass the opponent and attack them from behind. Neither of these are much appreciated (the former will tend to discombobulate your opponent, the latter is against the rules).

I also don't believe "side-step" counts as a change of initiative for foil or sabre.

But, you do not have the same options for footwork, as you do fencing in the round, due to the width restriction.

Source: I have side-stepped epee attacks, and I have (by accident) managed to advance to right beside an opponent on a raised piste.

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