Italy is often referred to as "the birthplace of fencing," and while this is not strictly true, Italian fencing styles were highly influential during the Medieval era (see L'Arte dell'Armizare) dominated Europe during the Renaissance and heavily influenced all European fencing in the centuries afterwards. We employ the traditional fencing pedagogy of Italy's celebrated 19th century Scuola Magistrale (Master's School) - the national school for fencing masters. The Academy's head instructor traces his training lineage directly to the Scuola Magistrale.
The foil is a light, flexible training weapon used for both for initial training in fencing, and as a fencing game in itself. Foils can have various lengths, but youth, teen, & adult foils typically have a 36 inch blade with a rectangular cross-section, a bell guard, and a handle. It is often referred to as a "convential weapon," because the target is limited to the torso only, and rules of priority apply to the game. The English word "foil" originally was used for any form of blunted training sword. Its use dates back to the 16th century, and was used by Shakespeare in the famous dueling scene from Hamlet (1599).
"Spada" simply means sword in Italian, and in the 19th century referred to the sword used in duels. (Throughout the seven hundred years of Italian swordsmanship for which we have surviving documents, "spada" was the word used to describe the common fighting sword of the day, whether that was a two-handed medieval longsword or a single-handed 19th century dueling sword.) The word "épée" is the common term used in English today, and is simply the French word for "sword." The épée has a similar form to the foil, but with a heavier blade of triangular cross-section and hollow-ground on all three sides, and a larger bell guard to protect the hand and arm. The épée has a whole-body target, and is not governed by the rules of priority as are foil and sabre. Those rules, however, are adapted from the "best practices" of the 19th century fencers who actually fought duels with sharp weapons. The intelligent fencer today uses those rules and practices as the tactical basis for his or her assaults.
The sabre adds cutting to the thrusting ability of the foil and épée. Like the foil, the sabre is a conventional weapon played with rules of priority and limitation of target. In the case of sabre, the target is limited to the body above the waist, including the arms and head. The sport sabre target has at times in the early 20th century included the legs. It is a myth that the target of the sport sabre is caused by 19th century cavalrymen not wanting to injure their opponent's horses; in fact, the cavalry techniques of the day were quite adept at wounding or killing the opponent's mount.
Northwest Fencing Academy prefers a heavier style of sabre blade and guard, which is closer in form to the 19th century dueling sabre.