Nothing is perfect. As much as we love fencing, there are downsides and disadvantages to everything in life. Sure, we’d like to believe that fencing is the most worthwhile and amazing sport among all other sports, but we all know that it’s not perfect.
Now, we know what you’re thinking. This is not a real question on a fencing blog! It can’t be, can it?
Actually, this is a valid question. Nothing in life only has advantages, and something that is an advantage to one person does not necessarily mean that it will be an advantage to another person. Everyone’s situation is different. Their goals, their aspirations, their means, and their surroundings. In order to understand whether fencing is good for yourself or for your child, it is good to have a general idea of what the pros and cons of fencing are. Generally speaking of course.
Note that what follows might be surprising for you to read if you are already a fencer. No sugarcoating from us! Take a deep breath, and keep reading with bravery.
The disadvantages of fencing
Yes, we’re going to just get in here. Let’s talk about the bad bits of fencing.
1. Most people can’t even try fencing
There simply are not good fencing instructors in most parts of the United States. Not in most parts of the world either. The chances are, unless you are in a very large metropolitan area, you’re not going to find a fencing club anywhere close to you.
Honestly, of all of the disadvantages of fencing, this is the biggest. By far. It’s simply inaccessible to the vast majority of people. Sports like soccer or gymnastics are found in every small town everywhere. Fencing is not.
It hurts a bit to think about this. How many talented fencers will we never know exist because they were born or raised or live in some small town in the middle of nowhere? The greatest Olympic champion fencer of all time could be frustratingly playing in a marching band in some tiny little place, far away from any fencing club, wishing they could fence.
2. Good fencing is even harder to find
In places that do have some kind of fencing class, many times it’s taught by someone who isn’t an experienced coach. There are community programs in some places, or individual former competitors who settle in a town that doesn’t have fencing. They start classes and get some people, but they often fizzle. It’s a testament to the passion for our sport, but it’s another point of frustration too.
If you live near a great fencing club and have to move away for work or school or family, well that could be the end of your fencing or a beginning of a very long commute to the nearest fencing club. It’s a frustrating con of fencing.
The pandemic will most likely leave an unpleasant mark on the state of fencing in many smaller places. It’s difficult to sustain the business when it’s not working as usual. Speaking of this – now is a better time than ever to help your local club.
3. Fencing is expensive.
We hear this one all the time. Fencing is so expensive! Now, we’ve broken the cost down before and we know that, on balance it’s not necessarily a whole lot more expensive than many other sports in the long run. However, the initial cost of fencing is pretty high compared to other sports. Now, most clubs do offer loaner gear for new fencers and there are ways around it, but the expense is a well-known problem for fencing. With the current and future issues of the coronavirus, most people will now need to purchase their own fencing gear. Loaner gear is not likely to be viable for a long time.
Pretty much everything in fencing is a specialized piece of equipment. It’s not the kind of stuff that you can just go pick up at Walmart for the most part. Gear has to be ordered and it can all cost a lot more because of that. There are also membership dues for clubs, and tournaments have fees and travel involved. Competitive fencing is unreachable for many people because of the prohibitive cost.
This is especially true in regards to travel. Since fencing is such a niche sport, at least here in the United States, fencers reach the level of high exposure quite fast. Soon, local competitions aren’t enough. While competition fees are not overly expensive compared to other sports, the element of travel and all of the associated expenses from flight to hotel to transportation add up quickly and significantly.
4. It’s not like the movies
Many of us come to fencing because we see the incredible sword fights in films and want to try it out! That’s a good thing and a great reason to try fencing.
However, that mystique about the sport can be burst when you are parrying and riposting on the strip. Yes, there is lots of adrenaline in sport fencing and yes, it is really cool to watch. However it is not the same with quips and slices as what you’ll see in The Princess Bride! This can be a point of major frustration for some young fencers just getting started. If we’re honest, we see it in adults a little too.
For those who get into it, the thrill of making that touch on an opponent is nothing compared to any other feeling. This is real! It’s as good as any movie.
5. It’s an unknown sport
Fencers are alone. Your friends won’t know what you’re doing, there is no Sunday night fencing match on ESPN, and the whole world only thinks about fencing every four years at the Olympics. In the last four years since the Olympics, there were only two pieces of news that were widely covered about fencing – Ibti’s Barbie and Race’s kneeling.
It’s definitely a cool conversation starter, but you’ll have to educate people about it and you won’t have much common ground to talk about it with your friends. Pretty soon the conversation will step on to that football or basketball game. Don’t get me wrong, there is a wow factor to the exotic nature of fencing, but that same exoticness means that no one gets it unless they’re in it.
6. The learning curve is steep
There is a steep learning curve in order to learn how to fence, in part because it is so unusual. There is almost nothing that comes close to fencing in other disciplines. SImply learning how to put the fencing gear on properly can take a few days. To learn how to decipher right of way in foil and saber, that’s incredibly difficult and takes a lot of learning.
The great thing about fencing is that we all “know” how to do it. Tell somebody you are a fencer and they immediately imitate a fencing thrust. In fact, when you give somebody a sword for the first time, they know what to do and can poke right away. From that first step to doing real fencing will take a lot of time. Though there is instant gratification with that first poke or parry, mastering it requires a whole lot of time and repetition. Sometimes neither parents or kids have enough patience to get through the long process that leads to real progress.
The terminology in and of itself is a whole lot to master. The words are often not of English origin, so sometimes fencers can’t pronounce them at all at first.
Again, this is something that some people may see as simply a pro, but for others that is a lot to process and so can be a big challenge.
7. Fencing is an individual sport
This is one of those things that could either be a pro or a con, depending on who you are and what you want out of the sport. There is something to be said of having to stand on your own two feet, the independence that comes with an individual sport. There is also something to be said for the camaraderie of a team sport. There is a team event in fencing, however in the United States there are very few team events and team competitions. Other parts of the world, especially in Europe, are lucky to have more team competitions.
Again, some people will see this as just a pro of fencing and not a con of fencing at all. It just depends on what your perspective is.
8. You know everyone
This comes back to the niche nature of the sport. Fencers are a great bunch of people. We are enthusiastic, passionate people about this sport, but the community is pretty fantastic.
If you stick around in fencing for long enough, you’ll get to know everyone it seems. That is not an exaggeration, especially in the age of digital communication that we have now. The community is so small that news travels fast. Both good news and bad news.
This means that there is not much of a place to go. It’s not like some sports that have professional teams, in fencing we are pretty much all amateurs.
9. It’s time intensive
There is a ton of time that has to be put into fencing in order for you to grow and improve. Results require intense time in order to train at the club and to cross train at home to improve agility and muscle performance. Private lessons, camps, additional classes, these are all very time intensive training opportunities for fencers. They’re not just opportunities, they are must do if you’re going to progress.
That doesn’t even include the time commitment for going to competitions. If you are traveling to local competitions, that will be an entire day for travel and competing. When those competitions start to go out of town, they are far more of a time commitment. It only gets more intense the further you go in fencing.
10. Fencing is physically demanding
While we often talk about fencing as being physical chess, it can very much be more physical and less chess.
The thing about a fencing match is that it only lasts for a few short minutes to complete. You spend all of this time training and bouting, and then the actual match only lasts for a short time. And then there are more and more such matches in the day as you progress in your competition day from one win to another. These repetitive bursts of energy in so many bouts require a lot of stamina and physicality.
If you are an adult who is thinking about fencing, it’s a great sport because you can adjust it to your level physically. Though we know from experience and research that it is a very safe sport in terms of injury rates compared to other sports, it is still very much a sport of movement and muscle. That can become exhausting just as it is exhilarating.
11. Fencing is one-sided
As with some other sports, like tennis or golf, you have a dominant side in fencing. You are either a left-handed fencer or you are a right-handed fencer.
The imbalance is something that fencers have to work on, because if it’s left uncontrolled then this will not be a good thing. It could lead to more injuries and overall disbalance. Coaches spend a lot of time working conditioning and different exercises and drills to balance development.
12. Fencing in the U.S. is amateur
In some other countries, fencing has a pro track. Not in the United States. You can do this sport your whole life, you’ll not be able make a career out of it, or at least it will be very (very!) hard. The competitive career for fencers finishes out with college for the most part. Of course, becoming a professional sports player in any sport is a long shot, but in American fencing it isn’t even a possibility.
These are the dozen things that came right to the top of our head in terms of pros and cons of fencing. Ok, just cons.
It’s alright though. Despite going through all of these downsides of fencing, it’s hard for me not to see the positives of the sport. There’s the genuineness and personal development, the community and the passion. Many of these negatives could be taken as positives!
Sometimes we have to look at the bad parts in order to appreciate the good! And also, if you’re talking to someone about potentially coming into the sport, well then you want to know!