I had some questions..
I used to fence back in the Mid '80's and became State Champion.........I can try and help answer some questions.
I believe though that the way I was taught maybe somewhat obsolete to what they do in today's tournaments.
What are legal striking points?
It depends on the weapon:
Foil - Only the body Torso. Legs, arms, head are not valid. The fencer normally wears a "vest" that would register electronically. The fencer can only score with the point of his foil
Sabre - Valid targets are from the waist up ie head and arms are included. Sort of symbolises "horseback" targets. The sabre can cut, stab and use the top third of the back of the blade.
Epee - Anything goes. Head, body, arms, toe nails etc. You can only score with the point of your foil.
Do the sabre blows hurt?
Also, what do you mean by: "I believe though that the way I was taught maybe somewhat obsolete to what they do in today's tournaments."
Sabre blows hurt - since cuts are allowed, some fencers really go hard, and since the blade is flexible; it whips you in the back of the head...ouch.
Obsolete in that when I fenced the parries were done nice and close to the body. This was because attacks were done fairly staight on eg thrusts, and lunging.
I believe that these days, the "coupe" is use more regularly for attack............a "coupe" is where you bring the point of the foil back and then "whip" it towards you opponent.......the momentum with bend the tip forward (like casting a fishing rod)...to defend against this, you have to reach out with your hand more.
TTT for more info.