Category Archives: Questions

Frequently Asked Questions – the FAQ’s, of course

Weapons: Epée

The Epée, like the foil, is a point-only weapon. Unlike foil and sabre, the entire body is target in Epée, and there are no right-of-way rules. Whoever hits first scores; if both fencers hit at the same time, both score.

The Epée is the heavier than the foil or sabre, weighing up to 770 grams (1.7 lbs).

The blade is the same length as the foil, but has a V-shaped cross-section. The hand-guard is circular, but larger and deeper than the foil guard, in order to more fully protect the hand.

Target area: for Epée, descended from the duelling weapon where ‘anything goes’ – whole body (shown in red)

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Weapons: Sabre

The sabre can score by hitting with the edge as well as the point. Target area for sabre is the body above the hips, including the arms and head. The blade of the sabre can be up to 88 cm long, and is usually lighter than a foil blade. The handguard is much larger than a foil’s, and curves back over the knuckles to end of the handle. As with foil, right-of-way rules determine who scores if both fencers are hit. Off target hits in sabre are ignored and do not stop the action.

Target area: for Sabre, as a former cavalry weapon – everything above the waist (shown in red)

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Weapons: Foil

The oldest of the three competitive weapons is the foil. The foil is a thrusting weapon, up to 500 grams (1.1 lbs). It has a circular, curved hand-guard. The target area for foil fencing is the torso except for the back below the hipbones; only hits which arrive on the target area score. Hits which arrive off-target stop the action but don’t score a touch.

A set of rules referred to as ‘right-of-way’ determine which fencer scores if both are hit. The basic principle of right of way is that when attacked, you need ensure that you are not hit before attempting to hit your opponent back. If neither fencer has right-of-way and both are hit, then no touch is scored.

Target area: for Foil, as a former training weapon – the trunk of the body only (shown in red)

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Questions: What are the Modern Fencing Weapons?

There are three weapons in modern fencing, each with different rules and target areas:

•  Foil is the foremost training weapon
•  Sabre is a former cavalry weapon
•  Epée is descended from the a duelling weapon

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Questions: What qualities make a good fencer?

There are many.

On the athletic side, speed and endurance must rank foremost. Other traits that can be exploited are strength (for explosive speed, not heavy-handedness), precision, and flexibility. Quick reaction time is extremely important.

On the intellectual side, a good mind for strategy and tactics is essential. The ability to quickly size up your opponent and adapt your style accordingly is essential.

Psychologically, a fencer must be able to maintain focus, concentration, and emotional level-headedness under intense conditions of combat. Stress management, visualization, and relaxation techniques are all helpful to putting in winning performances.

As far as body type goes, it is always possible to adapt your style to take advantage of your natural traits. Even so, height seems to be useful in epeé, but not necessarily in sabre. Small or thin people are harder to hit in foil. A long reach helps in epeé, and mobility is useful in sabre.

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Questions: What age IS Junior?

In centuries past, children started, learning combat skills from the time they could walk, but in the context of a modern sport, there is such a thing as too young.

The children’s class we run is a mixed age, mixed ability group. There is a recommendation from the FIE (fencing governing body) that age 8 is a suitable age to join in group classes, both for safety’s sake and for beginning productive lessons. That’s the minimum age we’ve tended to start kids at Sway and in other classes we have run in the area.

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Questions: How much does it cost?

At beginners level, using club equipment, next to nothing!

We run inexpensive beginners courses to get you started, providing all equipment.

If you find fencing is for you and you can seriously see yourself carrying on, then think about buying some starter kit. Most people start with a mask (to fit your own head!) and a jacket. We don’t force people to buy kit, but you’re at the ‘mercy’ of the club kit and whatever size and shape we have on the day.

One of the novices bought a full set after 3 weeks, another started a piece at a time after 3 months.

You can acquire kit one item at a time – masks start around £60, jackets around £65.

Most of the suppliers do a complete starter set.

Like any sport, the top kit prices are sky’s-the-limit. You don’t need it for club fencing.

Grades of fencing equipment:

Beginner’s fencing setup: from £135-100
Includes: cotton jacket, glove, steam foil, mask

FIE Competition setup: from £250-1000
Includes: FIE 800N jacket, breeches, plastron, FIE 1600N mask, at least 2 electric weapons, body cord, socks, glove, shoes, lame (foil & sabre only), sensor (sabre only).

Note: while FIE-certified equipment is recommended both in terms of safety and quality, clothing costs can be as much as halved by purchasing regular cotton or synthetic knits. Do not expect such equipment to be accepted at national or international levels of competition, however. Always wear a plastron when using non-competition-weight fencing jackets.

Club costs vary, we have an annual fee plus term fees for attendance (see Fees). Many clubs will provide or rent equipment to beginners.

Looking to Purchase your own fencing equipment? See our Equipment Guide (pdf document)

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Questions: Left-handed, good or bad?

It should be noted that left handers usually enjoy a slight advantage, especially against inexperienced fencers. This may account for the fact that lefties make up 15% of novice fencers, but half of FIE world champions.

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Questions: How long does it take to become good?

There is a saying that it takes two lifetimes to master fencing. By the time anyone has come close to “mastering” the sport, they are long past their athletic prime. Some may feel that this is a drawback to the sport, but most fencers see it as a great strength: fencing never becomes dull or routine; there are always new skills to master, and new grounds to conquer.

A dedicated novice who practices twice per week will be ready to try low-level competition in 3-6 months. Competition at this point should be viewed as a learning aid, not as a dedicated effort to win.

Serious attempts at competing will be possible after 2-3 years, when the basic skills have been sufficiently mastered that the mind is free to consider strategy.

A moderate level of skill can take 3-5 years of regular practice and competition.

Penetration of the elite ranks (eg. world cup, A classification) demands three to five days per week of practice and competition, and usually at least 10-15 years of experience.

Progress can be faster or slower, depending on the fencer’s aptitude, dedication, and quality of instruction. Rapid progress normally requires at least three practices per week, and regular competition against superior fencers.

The average world champion is in his late 20s to early 30s and began fencing as a child.

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Questions: What is the best weapon for a beginner to start with?

Foil is the most common starter weapon. It is an excellent weapon to begin with if you have no preferences or want to learn generalized principles of sword fighting. Transitions to the other weapons from foil are relatively straight forward. Foil is an abstracted form of fencing that emphasizes proper defense, and cleanly executed killing attacks. Historically it was a training weapon for the small sword, so it is well suited for the purposes of learning. However, it is far from a simple weapon, and many experienced fencers return to foil after trying the others.

Sabre can sometimes be an effective starter weapon, for a few reasons. Like foil, it has rules of right-of-way to emphasize proper defense, and its de-emphasis of point attacks can be a relief to a beginner who doesn’t yet have much point control. Also, in some areas it may still be possible to compete in dry sabre competitions, meaning that it can be the cheapest of all weapons to compete in (although electric sabre is definitely the most expensive weapon). However, sabre differs from foil and epee in a few key respects that can reduce its effectiveness as a starter weapon if the fencer plans to try the others in the future. Among these differences are the aforementioned de-emphasis of point attacks, and a different sense of timing and distance.

Epee is sometimes used as a starter weapon for two reasons. First, the rules are simple and easy to grasp, and second, the equipment costs are lower, since no lamé is required. However, the apparent simplicity of the sport can obscure its subtleties to the beginner, and make progress difficult later on. Furthermore, the lack of right-of-way in epeé can make transitions to the other two weapons difficult, if put off for too long.

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