What is fencing?
The fight, consisting of two fencers in a combative situation, each trying to score a set number of hits in order to win, takes place on a specially marked out strip called a piste, which is about 2m wide and 14m long. The bout is controlled by a referee, who awards the hits as they occur, and applies the rules. With the foil and épée hits are made with the point, whereas with the sabre, hits are scored by cutting as well as hitting with the point. Whether a hit scores depends on the target. Each of the three weapons has a different target area.
Sabre is the modern version of a cavalry sword; it has a light, flat blade and is the fastest of the fencing swords. It is a point weapon as well as a cutting weapon; therefore, the edge of the blade can make a valid hit as well as the point. The target area for a sabre is everything above the hips including the head and arms. Because the arms are valid targets for a cut, the bell guard of the sabre is curved downward in front to protect the fingers. Sabre technique emphasises speed, feints, and strong offence.
Épée is the modern version of the duelling sword; the blade has a triangular cross section and is stiffer and heavier than a foil, with a larger bell guard. Touches are scored with the point, anywhere on the opponent's body. Épée technique emphasises timing, point control, and a good counter-attack.
Foil is the modern version of a rapier; it has a thin, flexible blade with a square cross-section and a small bell guard. It is a point weapon, which means that only the point of the blade can score a valid touch. The target area for a foil is the torso of the opponent, including the groin and back but not the head or arms. Foil technique emphasises strong defence and the killing attack to the body.
To Start Fencing…
So you want to fence? The way to start is to come along to one of the club's sessions in King Edward VI School on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. A phone call or email to one of the coaches would be helpful. Shakespeare's Swords runs a younger group (8-13) on Wednesdays after school.
All you need is you, with a T-shirt, sweater, jogging bottoms and sports shoes (indoor trainers) with non-marking soles. For obvious reasons, you will not be allowed to use shoes that mark the floor! You can borrow the rest of the kit you need, your sword, mask and jacket, from the club. You should bring a cold still drink - water is ideal - and maybe a chewy bar to nibble at the end of a challenging, fun session.
For those who want to fence later in the evening, there are a number of other venues in the area, and we will be happy to tell you all about those. Come and see us, call or email.
Beginners can usually borrow enough equipment from the club to start fencing safely. After a few weeks you may want to start buying your own equipment and we have a well-stocked specialist fencing shop, called Gladiators, to help you.
Although requirements for each weapon vary slightly for competition; the basic protective equipment required for training is the same for all weapons. (Remember when purchasing equipment that plastrons, jackets and gloves are often specifically for right or left handers.)
If you intend to take part in fencing competitions it is advisable to check on the required safety standards for equipment before you buy. For example: In cadet competitions plastrons, jackets and the bibs on masks must comply with CEN1 regulations i.e. they must each be able to withstand 350N of force. This information is usually displayed on the garment, so when buying second-hand items check the labels.
The Imperial College Union Fencing Club website has an excellent guide to buying kit, well worth a read if you are unsure.
Fencing is one of the safest sports, yet gives a wonderful, stimulating workout of body and mind. Provided you follow the instructions of the coaches you should have no problems starting fencing, whatever your state of fitness now. Try it and get fit, try it and sharpen your mind to the cut and thrust of the debate with bare steel!
Whether you are just thinking about starting fencing or are already hooked on the sport, you might like to read an amusing article which appeared in the Evening Standard, about taking up the sport of fencing - "Swordplay that cuts through fat".