There’s nothing like being brand new fencer. It’s intimidating, but mostly it exciting. It’s a time in a fencer’s career that they can never quite capture again, one that most fencers look back on fondly. You’re going to look back on it fondly too someday!
Starting off is not easy though. These tips are good for new fencers who haven’t yet tried their hand at the sport, but who are excited to dig in. These tips are also good for fencing parents and for fencers who don’t know what to expect!
1. Don’t worry about getting hurt
Accidents do happen from time to time, but the most common fencing injuries are the same as common injuries in other sports. Think strained muscles and twisted ankles. Scratches and pokes do happen, but these are almost always minor and easy to get used to. So many safety precautions are put into place that fencing turns actually into a very safe option. Fencing, despite being focused on a weapon, is one of the safest sports that you can participate in. Chess is a little safer, but soccer is definitely less safe! There is much more likelihood of getting injured on the softball field or at a golf course than on the fencing strip.
What’s going to keep you safe is to follow the rules of the club and to always be aware. You’ll hear your coaches repeat safety measures over and over again. Listen to them!
Beginner fencing bonus tip – Safety always comes first in fencing. Work from the very beginning to make sure that you know how to wear and use the fencing protective gear and that you’re listening very carefully to the coach about safety guidelines.
2. Work on your stamina
Many new fencers are surprised when they find out how exhausting fencing is! Right from the very start. Though it may not look like there is a lot happening, no one is running across a field, it takes a great deal of stamina to get through a few minutes of a fencing match. Doing simple cardio to support stamina, like running or a stationary bike, can make a huge difference with how much fun and productive fencing training is.
One of the things that wins matches in the long run is that one fencer is able to sustain that good fencing for the whole match while the other gets worn out halfway through and their technique begins to suffer. Stamina wins a whole lot of fencing bouts!
Beginner fencing bonus tip – Don’t put too much emphasis on cross training just yet. See that you really like fencing and want to make it your sport for real. Later on when you know you are committed to fencing and want to make progress, then you can add some additional conditioning. Two to three times a week of running or swimming for a half hour can make a huge difference though.
3. Get used to getting hit
This is a sport, not a duel. You are going to get hit hundreds and eventually thousands of times if you stick with the sport for long enough. You’re wearing protective gear that’s going to keep you from feeling the vast majority of the strikes that come your way. The earlier you get over the fear of being hit, the faster you’re going to start enjoying the sport.
Beginner fencing bonus tip – Always wear full fencing gear, including knickers and socks, so your whole body is covered. If you are a beginner boy, no matter the age, and even if your fellow “experienced” fencers don’t wear chest guards, wear one. Later on when getting hit became the norm for you and you will stop feeling them, you can take the chest guard off, but in the meantime the chest guard will help. Also, seriously consider wearing groin protection.
4. New positions will become comfortable quickly
The first time that you put your feet into the right position and hold your arm up in en guarde, it’s going to hurt. It’s probably going to hurt a lot. The muscles literally burn for a while! That’s because you’re using muscles that you’ve never used before! After you’ve practiced for a few weeks, those muscles are going to get used to these new positions. The pain and discomfort are going to go away really fast! It’s one of those things that you just have to tough out for a little while to see a great improvement.
Your fencing coach can guide you through stretches that will make the positions easier to get into and less uncomfortable. Be sure to ask your coach questions often and openly.
As much as it is tempting to give yourself some slack and stay on the straight legs, don’t give in to this temptation. Continue to maintain a proper fencing position despite being tired. It is better ask for a short break to shake your legs out than to try to make it easier by going half way in your fencing stance. Old habits die hard, so make it a habit to be correct all the time.
Beginner fencing bonus tip – Always to a cool down stretching after your class or private lesson. Talk to your coach what exercises you should routinely do and which ones are good for after a specially hard training. Also, when at home try soaking in a warm bath of epsom salts if it’s too much to handle the muscle soreness in the first few weeks.
5. You’ll be focusing on your feet
You probably think that fencing is all about the sword, but it’s not. Fencing is all about the footwork. Especially in the beginning, so much of your training is going to be about getting your footwork right. Moving up and down the strip effectively and controlling the distance in your bout is what allows a fencer to be the master of the strip! Yes, the sword is important, but the legs and feet are the real stars. When you start fencing, those will be a major focus of your training! Learning how to do proper footwork is a foundation of good fencing. You’ll be working on this a whole lot, and right from the very start.
Beginner fencing bonus tip – You don’t need fancy fencing shoes, regular tennis/volleyball/racquetball/squash shoes are perfect for fencing. Check out our fencing shoe guide if you want to learn more.
6. Start with the basics
It can be very tempting to go online and find all kinds of fencing tips, but when you’re a beginner fencer you’re going to get yourself into trouble if you do that. Start with the basics and stay with the basics for a long time. In fact, fencers really never need to stop focusing on the basics. Whether it’s posture or stances, footwork or focus, straight touch, simple parry – the basics of fencing stay the same. Some techniques will change over time, but fundamentally fencing is always the same!
There is necessarily a lot of repetition in learning a sport. You are teaching your body and your mind to do something very new. Often the body and mind aren’t so crazy about whatever you’re teaching them. Basic movements and techniques have to be reinforced again and again to maintain them.
Beginner fencing bonus tip – Keeping it simple is what the best fencers in the world do!
7. Don’t practice at home in the beginning
Yes, we want you to put in as much practice as you can. No, practicing fencing at home is not good for beginners. Whatever you do over and over again is going to be what your body naturally does. When you’re at home, you don’t have a coach to watch and ensure that you’re doing your practice correctly. So if you do that lunge a hundred times on Saturday and then come back to fencing practice on Monday, you’re probably going to find out that you weren’t quite doing it right! Now you’ll have to relearn it, and that is much more difficult than learning it right the first time. Over time you’ll know fencing well enough to be able to practice at home, but that won’t happen for a while.
Beginner fencing bonus tip – If you want to improve your fencing in the off-hours, work on cross training to improve your stamina. Running, biking, or swimming are all great options. And do not do it on your own – consult with your coach regarding what is right for you.
8. Bring a water bottle
Fencing gear is hot, and fencing is a sport with a whole lot of movement. In order to train effectively, you’re going to need to stay hydrated. Bring a water bottle to practice from the very start and get into the habit of drinking regularly during practice. That goes for drinking before and after practice too. When you are training in fencing, you’ll have to take your body’s needs seriously. A lot of people forget about how important it is to drink! This simple thing will go a long way towards keeping your body healthy and your fencing training going well.
Beginner fencing bonus tip – If you struggle with hydration, get a really cool water bottle (try a fencing sticker!). This will help you to remember to drink. And make sure you never bring home your water bottle with any water in it.
9. Fancy equipment won’t make you suddenly better
Fencing can be a sport that gets very expensive. Though, in truth, every sport can be expensive if you buy the top of the line equipment. Yes, the biggest fencers in the world use very high quality, very expensive fencing gear. The gear is not what makes them champions though. Spending a lot of money on weapons or protective gear when you are new to the sport won’t suddenly make you better. What will make you better is practice, patience, and more practice.
The pricey equipment is really cool, and the top fencing equipment companies are making high quality equipment that can be well worth the price. However, more basic equipment is also generally very well made and also worth its price!
Beginner fencing bonus tip – Talk to your fellow fencers or your coach what is the right mid-range gear. Don’t go for the cheapest “beginner fencing kit”, because in most cases these are the lowest quality gear. While it might save you some money in the short term, usually you will end up replacing everything 6 months later. Instead, go for something that is more durable and reliable. Also, if you have friends that outgrew their gear, this might be a good temporary solution as well.
10. Be prepared to lose
Part of the process of fencing is losing. It’s not a bad thing though! You will lose often, during practice and then if you decide to compete. Every single fencing bout has a loser! It has a winner too, but someone is going to be on both sides. You’re going to be on the lower point side often, and that’s ok! You’re going to learn that losing is not as bad as you think. After a while of training, fencers learn that it doesn’t bother them so much. Once you embrace that losing is just as much a part of the process as putting on the mask, it’ll roll right off of your shoulders.
Beginner fencing bonus tip – Losing a fencing match is the best place to learn. Every loss is a golden opportunity to improve, much more so that winning a fencing match! Don’t report to your parents or all of your friends after every training how many bouts you won today in the practice. This does not matter and it takes away the learning part of the fencing. Not to mention your teammates might think that you are a bit annoying.
11. Show up. Practice. Listen.
There is no secret to success in fencing. All you have to do is to show up, practice, and listen. No magic. If you want to be a successful fencer, right from the very start you have to learn that this is a learning venture. Just coming to practice, every time, is the first step. The next step is to be invested in that practice and to do the work. The third is to listen to the coaches and mentors that you have, learning from your mistakes and improving your thinking and technique along the way.
There are lots of other components to learning and growing in fencing, but all of those are built from the foundation of being at practice, putting in the work, and listening to your coach. These are things that every single successful fencer, in fact every single successful athlete, all have in common.
Beginner fencer bonus tip – Every practice is not going to be perfect. Sometimes we all phone it in, even the best athletes. Just getting to practice is a positive thing! It keeps your momentum going.
12. Have fun with fencing!
Don’t take it too seriously! Definitely train and definitely give it your best, but above all this sport should be enjoyable. No one is going to keep doing something that they don’t enjoy. Yes, there are tough times in training when you have to push through, but most of all the training should be a lot of fun. This sport is a cool sport. It’s an exciting sport. Whatever the reasons that you have come to fencing in the first place, the cool factor and the exciting factor are likely a big part of that. Take joy in the sport!
Beginner fencer bonus tip – Get to know your fellow fencers and your coach. The fun of fencing is most fun when it’s shared!
It’s ok to feel overwhelmed with fencing early on! There is so much to learn and there are so many little things to keep track of. Hopefully these twelve tips will help to make the transition from non-fencer to fencer a bit easier!