Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Month: September 2023

How Fencing Helps Adolescents Even Out

How Fencing Helps Adolescents Even Out

Adolescence is a challenging time for lots of reasons. It marks the transition from being a kid to being an adult, but those intervening years are anything but easy on pre-teens and teenagers. Fencing can really help young people navigate this often unbalanced time.

Parents are, quite justifiably, always on the lookout for ways to support their tweens and teens. We want what’s best for them so that they can grow into the amazing adults that we know they will be! Finding outlets like fencing can be transformative for young people in all the best ways.  

Let’s talk about adolescence

First off, let’s define what it is to be an adolescent. This time stretches from age 10 to age 21 or so, which is coincidentally the same time that most fencers are getting into the sport and growing through it. Fencing generally starts off around the age of eight or ten, and fencers are fencing through high school and college. Of course, adult fencing is very much a thing as well, but the bulk of fencers start when they are adolescents. 

We don’t often think of the early twenties as being part of childhood, but any parent who’s had a kid in college will tell you that young people are still very much developing until their early twenties. Though boys and girls both stop growing heightwise by the time they’re 18, the young brain isn’t done developing until the age of 25. 

The gulf between age 10, when puberty starts to get rolling, and age 25, when a person is a fully grown adult, it’s massive. This time is rocked by kids making decisions about their future life. They’re learning about who they are, what they’re interested in, and what the boundaries are for them. 

Mental expansion

The mental aspect of fencing is a huge part of what we do on the strip. There is constantly something to adjust thanks to the way that fencing works. 

Every opponent is different in fencing. Even an opponent who you have gone against in the past has grown and changed in their skill since you previously bouted against them. Fencers must always calculate what they are doing in a match, changing and learning as they go. It’s a fantastic mental workout, and it’s one that adolescent minds can really grab onto and benefit from. This active engagement of all parts of the mind is one of the reasons why preteens and teenagers get so into fencing!

On the other side, fencing fosters mental focus as well. Teenagers especially are just learning how to focus. The practice they get doing this in fencing creates a transferable skill that helps them in academics and their social life. 

A big boost for mental health in teenagers that fencing provides is the ability to deal with stressful situations. There is an urgency to combat sports, and to fencing in particular. Though we know that we’re safe when we’re fencing, we are still faced with a weapon. The quick nature of the matches also pushes the stress response. Oftentimes there are situations when there is a little time to score this decisive point. Fencers repeat the experience over and over again, practicing their ability to think clearly and move swiftly and accurately when they are under pressure. 

Physical transformation

Kids grow by leaps and bounds from around the age of ten. One day, a kid is shorter than their parents, then the next year they’ll be towering over them! It’s truly a shocking occurrence that is natural but also extreme. 

All of the physical transformations that a young person goes through during their preteen and teenage years can be disorienting. As much as we parents are looking at them and noticing these huge changes, we have to remember that the kids are living in them. Even though we all went through this same thing, it’s been quite a while ago and we don’t always remember it so pointedly. 

Fencing helps young people stay grounded in their bodies. We see this all of the time in our fencing club, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the way that a young person’s fencing is affected by a major growth spurt. Coaches get to walk them through how to accommodate these changes in their fencing. Distance, speed, and tactics in fencing all need to be modified as a young fencer’s body changes. 

In fencing, we focus a whole lot on form and movement control. Because fencers are constantly calibrating their technique, they are constantly grounding their physical understanding. This helps adolescent fencers to feel good in their body and to feel in control during a time when that is challenging. 

There is also the physical fitness component of fencing. This is a rigorously physical sport, even as it’s a mentally engaging one. We know that physical activity is a great way to even out brain chemistry. The rush of cardio, of which there’s plenty in fencing, floods the brain with blood and calms it all down. This is so, so important for young people during adolescence. They need that physical activity to reduce their stress levels and to even out their mood. 

Social skills and support

Every teenager worries at some point whether they are “normal” or not. Everything is changing so rapidly for them, both physically and emotionally, that they don’t know which way is up. These huge changes make it hard for them to believe that what they’re experiencing could possibly be the same thing that everyone else has experienced. 

Young people need to be around people who are their own age, of course, because this lets them know that they aren’t alone in this. Fencing is great for building those peer relationships, where adolescents can connect with other youth and find out that they aren’t alone. Going to competitions especially builds the kinds of close relationships that give them space to talk about these things. 

On the other side, young people need to be around adults who are not their parents so that they can see examples of what it’s like on the other side. Mentorship in fencing comes from fencing coaches and the staff at the fencing club. Adolescents find other adults who they can talk to. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about deep issues either. It can be as simple as talking through a growth spurt with a coach that makes a young person feel like their experience is normal. 

Mentorship from older fencers is another aspect of this. Young fencers get to build those same bonds with kids who are older than they are. Again, this goes a long way to giving them social support during a turbulent time for any young person. We have fencers who go off to college and then come back to visit the club. They get to share their successes and the things they have overcome as they transitioned from living at home to being away at college. It’s really helpful for our younger fencers to see that and engage with the older fencer’s knowledge.  

This broad spectrum of age that fencers get to interact with in a fencing club is unique, even among sports. It’s a truly wonderful support system as they navigate growing up. It’s also unlike what they find at school, where they’re surrounded by either kids their own age or adults, because in their fencing club all fencers share the same passion and interests and that’s a huge thing. 

Boundary pushing and fencing

Teenagers are well known for pushing boundaries. This can be tough on parents, but it’s also a necessary part of learning to be an adult. They have to poke their way through to find out exactly what kinds of behaviors are the right fit for them. 

Fencing offers a natural outlet for pushing boundaries for young people. The very nature of fencing, as a combat sport with weapons, gives kids a sense of independence. There is something powerful about holding a sword against an opponent. It helps adolescents feel like they have agency and strength. 

There is also something powerful about the way that a parent trusts that young person to hold this weapon.  When a parent takes a child to learn fencing, they are saying to them, “I trust you to be safe with a weapon that could hurt another person.” That’s a bit deal! Not only are they allowed to do this, but they are trusted to use that weapon against an opponent in a responsible way. 

Giving kids responsibility like this fulfills the same need that they are seeking to fill when they act out in rebellion. Teenagers are often looking for an increase in responsibility when they push the boundaries that their parents set up for them. They feel like they’re ready for more, and they are called to fulfill that sense of independence. 

Fencers who compete can build on this same feeling. The individual nature of the sport gives a sense of freedom and excitement. Going up against an opponent during a fencing competition can feel like it has high stakes, setting off that very exciting rush that young people want to have. 

This is not to say that teenage fencers don’t push boundaries with their parents. Not at all. The point here is that fencing itself can meet that need for a rush of responsibility. 

A screen antidote

Every adolescent today is seemingly glued to their screens. Particularly in the wake of the pandemic, teenagers and preteens use their screens as a way to learn and to socialize. While those things are certainly important, parents are always looking for ways to pull back screen time.

We know that excessive screentime in teenagers is linked to higher rates of depression. This is something we hear about in parenting all the time, and we all want to help our kids stay healthy mentally. Figuring out ways to get those teenagers off of their phones and into the real world is a priority for lots of parents, and for good reason. 

Fencing is a fantastic antidote to screen time. It’s physically and mentally engaging, but it’s also exciting for teenagers. When they’re in the club, whether it’s for class, open fencing, or private lessons, their phones are far away and they’re getting a social and physical workout. It’s a great thing for them! 

Fencing competitions are fantastic for this as well, though there is a lot of downtime at these events. During that downtime, young people can watch other fencers during in-person matches, instead of watching matches online. It’s different to see things in person than it is on YouTube!

Exposure to the wider world

The end goal of parenting is to support our tweens and teens through these years so that they will become successful, independent adults. That’s what all of this is about. Though they start of relying on us for everything, by the time they finish with adolescents, they should be relying on us for very little. 

Fencing is by its nature an international sport that brings people together. Fencers are exposed to a whole variety of people, and it is really wonderful for them to see how others live so that they can grow. 

The desire for independence while still relying on adults for guidance is the center of this time in a child’s life. Fencing is a great way to help them learn to regulate their emotions, to navigate the physical changes they are experiencing, and to find a positive social circle that includes both peers and people of different ages.

12 Ways You Can Improve Your Fencing Skills Right Now

12 Ways You Can Improve Your Fencing Skills Right Now

There are no quick fixes in life, and mastering fencing takes a lifetime. However, there are absolutely things that you can do right now to improve your fencing, and they aren’t all that difficult nor do they all take that long. 

Here are a dozen quick ways that you can help you change your routine right away and let you look at your fencing a bit differently, and by that, they can help improve your fencing skills starting right now. 

1. Try the opposite day

Shake up your bouting! If you continue to do the same things over and over again, you will get the same results. To do this, go into a bout and just do the opposite. If you usually attack first, hang back and let your opponent come in for you. If you have the urge to counterattack, step back and use parry instead. Do the opposite of your instincts, and you will absolutely feel your brain melt a little, in a good way. Of course, you will likely go back to mostly the way you were, but you will definitely learn something immediately. 

2. Add another private lesson

Even if you are already taking private lessons, adding another lesson time each week will boost your skills quickly and with great guidance. Because fencing lessons are so short – just twenty minutes – hopefully you can add another one in without altering your schedule drastically.

3. Transform into a sponge

The idea of a growth mindset is a buzzy one in sports circles, but that’s because it’s incredibly helpful. All you have to do is to shift your focus to truly being a student of fencing, like a sponge that is soaking up every little thing that you possibly can.

This is really helpful if you have been fencing for a really long time. We can get stuck in a rut so easily after training for a while, and that just isn’t going to help you get better. The sponge mentality can be an instant game changer, leading you to see improvements that you didn’t even know you needed to make. 

4. Stop going through the motions

After a while in fencing, or doing anything, everyone starts to just go through the motions. It stalls out progress, but the good news is that it’ll give you a boost when you check back in. During a bout, even a simple one against a clubmate that you have bouted a hundred times before, turn your focus onto what exactly is happening and take each hit as a way that you can get better. 

5. Add conditioning

This is a physical sport, and your physical fitness is a big driver. There is so much focus on cross-training because it is important for stamina and agility. Cardio in particular will help your body to support your fencing goals. With regular cardio workouts, you can train in fencing for longer before you get tired, and that will make you better able to improve. 

It does not matter what kind of cardio you do. It can be running, swimming, biking, the treadmill, the elliptical, anything. You want to get your heart rate up. Think thirty minutes, three times a week to start with. After just a couple of weeks, you will already see some improvement in your ability to train and thus your ability to be a better fencer. As always, talk to your coach for guidance as they know your personal needs and condition.

6. Practice the hundred

Choose some fencing movement that you can improve on and practice it with your teammate. It might be a lunge or a flick, whatever you need to work on. Make sure you are doing it exactly right, and that is so important, it MUST BE PERFECT. Then do it perfectly a hundred times. That is not an exaggeration. It might take a while, and you might have to stop and take a break halfway through, but this exercise will improve your form instantly. Don’t phone it in when you’re repeating it either, make sure you are focused and checked in with each movement.

Once you do a movement perfectly a hundred times, it’s ingrained in your body. Repetition is the key to automatic movement, and it doesn’t take long for that to happen. 

7. Do a half time session

Similar to the hundred, you can improve your fencing by slowing to half time. Whatever your drills are that you are working on, slow them down and dig out the details of your movements. That very slow speed lets you see things that you have missed and as such fix them. 

This is a lightning fast sport. So often, fencers just go for it and keep trying to move faster, and that is really a great goal in the competition. However, your form has to come first. If you move quickly but sloppily, you’ve got a lot of room for improvement. Slow it down, get it right, then speed it back up and watch how much better you are!

8. Ask your coach what you can improve right now

Just come right out and ask your coach “Coach, what can I do today that will improve my fencing right now.” Your fencing coach will most definitely have ideas for you that no blog could ever be able to tell you. 

9. Shift to a tactical mindset

You can outsmart your opponent. Period. Don’t question this. Realize that most of your opponents are fencing on autopilot a lot of times, and all you have to do is be more in the moment and responsive than they are. That simple shift will change the game for your fencing in one swift stroke. You don’t have to be the fastest or most technical fencer ever to use your wit to beat your opponent. Think of fencing as a chess game. All the time.

10. Watch a video of yourself fencing

If you have never watched a video of yourself fencing, why haven’t you? There is almost nothing that will improve your fencing faster than looking at what you’re doing from the outside perspective. You cannot see everything when you are living it, and seeing yourself on camera is a powerful shift for any fencer. 

Did you know that you hold your arm this way, or that your body is too forward facing? Why aren’t your lunges longer or your parries more accurate? Even if you’ve analyzed videos of your bouts before, by all means, do it again! The more you watch yourself, the more places you will see that you can grow. And if you have some difficulty to decipher your bouts, your coach will gladly help you.

11. Identify your biggest weakness

You probably already know what your biggest weakness is in fencing. You probably thought of it just when you read #11 Heading. If something didn’t immediately jump to mind, then take a minute and think about it. If something did immediately jump to mind, then dig deeper and make sure that you’re focused in on the right thing. You can always ask your coach if you’re unsure. 

Once you have identified your biggest weakness, focus on that for a while and you’ll see a major jump in your skill quickly. That’s because you have the furthest to grow in this particular area, so it’s a bit of an easy thing to do. Growth is growth!

12. Train more

We will leave you with this last big of golden wisdom about how to improve your fencing – just fence more. If you really want to improve your fencing quickly, there is no way around practice. Practice. Practice. If you want to improve at twice the rate you are improving now, there is no magic except to train twice as much. That could look like anything from attending more open fencing events to adding in competitions to attending more classes, private lessons or practicing at home. If you put in the extra time, you will be rewarded with improvements in your skill. It is as simple and as difficult as that.

Though there are no real quick fixes in fencing, these dozen tips will definitely help you to get better as fast as is possible. It’s all about training both smarter and harder. 

Why Kids Should Try Lots of Activities (Including Fencing!)

Why Kids Should Try Lots of Activities (Including Fencing!)

One thing that parents are always looking for is new things for their kids to participate in. We want our kids to have the opportunity to learn new things, even as we want them to find that perfect activity and focus on it so they can excel. 

Keeping their bodies and minds busy through youth sports, clubs, the arts, and more helps kids to grow up strong and it fosters an expanded worldview. 

1. More activities is a good thing

There is no other time quite like childhood, with its wide-open nature and the time and support to explore lots of things. It’s a wonderful period, and parents naturally want to help their kids make the most of the magic. 

Kids should absolutely dive into lots of different things. Here are five reasons why!

2. Well rounded kids will be well-rounded adults

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” If kids only do one thing, they can get blinders on and become unbalanced. This is especially important around middle school when kids naturally start to feel off-kilter and as though they don’t belong. Any kind of hiccup in the child’s social circle can be devastating. 

When kids participate in lots of things, they have lots of chances to build their self-esteem and feel good about themselves. In addition, lots of physical activities will feed on each other, building muscles and giving kids a different way of thinking about things. That motion in the swimming pool helps to strengthen back muscles that work for gymnastics too. The agile thinking of fencing helps to hone focus for chess club too. 

All of this helps kids become more well-rounded, and that will translate into adulthood, where they’ll be used to balancing lots of different activities. For now, they’re keeping up with school and activities. As adults, they’ll be keeping up with work, family, and hobbies and activities of their own.

3. Social enrichment

Increasing the social footprint of kids with lots of activities is fantastic for building their peer and adult relationships. This is so, so important for developing healthy kids and preserving mental health. 

When a child is participating in lots of different activities, they are making friends and forging mentor relationships through shared interests. Those don’t just last for the amount of time that they’re doing these specific things, but rather carry with them outside of the narrow focus of one thing. 

Particularly in the wake of the pandemic, social enrichment is important. Kids lost a significant amount of social time through lockdown, and participating in lots of youth activities can help make up for that lost time. While we don’t want to overwhelm kids, we do want to give them lots of opportunities to make friends and form social ties with adult mentors like coaches.

4. Overcoming challenges

With every new sport that a kid participates in, they have to learn a new set of skills from bodily movement to thinking patterns to social interactions. In addition, there are specific challenges involved in every kind of sport that are different for each child. For example, a shorter child might have to learn to come at soccer very differently than a child who has a height advantage in that sport. 

One of the biggest benefits of sports in general is the way that it forces adaptation and growth in both the mental and physical arena. Every single sport has winners and losers, and every child who participates will be on both sides of that divide at one time or another. How to respond when there are huge challenges to overcome is just as important as winning. In fact, losing is a better teacher than winning is

Whatever the game they’re playing, kids who take the plunge and lean into youth sports learn how to overcome significant challenges along the way. 

5. Self-determination

Independence is the final goal for all parents for their kids. We want them to learn skills, become strong, and then become independent and step away from us. Learning to make their own decisions and to make those decisions thoughtfully has everything to do with kids’ ability to transition out from home and into adult life. 

Allowing kids to participate in lots of different youth activities and then encouraging them to make decisions about what they want to do, how much they can handle, and how to balance their time and energy builds essential skills for the future. Young people can make decisions that work for them, even in elementary and middle school. That kind of autonomy builds self esteem for kids and shows them that the adults in their lives trust them. 

One thing about this is how it can be challenging for parents to let go of their control. Though we might put a lot of money, time, and effort into a sport, it might not be what a kid wants to do forever. Learning to let go and allow kids to make their own decisions is tough sometimes, but it’s also freeing and important. 

Why youth sports like fencing are important

Participating in youth sports, all kinds of youth sports, teaches kids a huge range of skills. What’s really wonderful about this is that so many of these benefits go across all kinds of sports, including fencing but also everything from gymnastics to skateboarding to football.

  • Adaptability to environments – The fencing strip, the soccer field, the skating rink, the basketball court. By trying lots of different sports, kids learn to be comfortable in many different environments. 
  • Managing risk – Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It’s difficult for kids to learn how to step out of the comfort of their parents or their school and challenge themselves. It’s scary! Participating in youth sports, especially trying a variety of youth sports, helps kids to see that trying new things isn’t so scary after all. So often, the biggest monsters are the ones we imagine. 
  • Movement mastery – As we get older, we discover how essential it is to have control over our bodies. Though kids tend to have a wonderful ability to move and learn new movements, that becomes more of a challenge when they get older. Youth sports offer an important foundation for lifelong health.
  • Strategic thinking – All kinds of sports involve some amount of strategic thinking. In team based sports, this is done in tandem with teammates. In individual sports, strategic thinking is all about one person versus their opponent. Which angles and movements are most likely to end in success, the effect of speed and timing, the way that movement affects the outcome – these are all part of the stash of strategies that kids learn during sports. Even better, that kind of strategic think transfers out of sports and into school and life. 

While you’re encouraging your child to try out lots of different sports, do keep in mind that it’s totally ok to insist that they stick with something, at least for some set period of time. You might say that they need to fence for six months regularly or keep on with an entire season of volleyball. This way, you as a parent aren’t wasting money and also the kids aren’t learning to quit as soon as something isn’t perfect. 

It can be dizzying to have kids going in lots of different directions, but it’s also important for their development. You never know what your child will be successful at unless they have the opportunity to try it! 

How Hard Should Parents and Coaches Push Young Fencers?

How Hard Should Parents and Coaches Push Young Fencers?

As parents, we want our kids to be successful. It’s our job to make sure that kids have all the tools they need to reach their full potential and to be as fulfilled as they can be. That goes for fencing, but it also goes for school and other activities. 

There’s a fine line between pushing a child hard enough that they can reach that potential and pushing them past it. It’s not always easy to tell the difference, but parents can improve their odds by understanding how kids develop and what positive pushing looks like. 

Pushing too hard on kids in youth sports can cause not only physical damage, but it can also cause mental struggles. These can become long-term issues, leading to the exact opposite outcome of what the parents want. Not only that, but it can be damaging to the relationship between parents and children. 

Parents need to be encouraging, not overbearing. The same goes for coaches, who need to offer support and structure without charging past the limits of kids’ ability.  

A strong internal drive

To succeed in life, kids need to develop a strong sense of purpose and an internal drive that will carry them through difficult times. Practicing is hard, especially when you’re tired or mentally worn down by a loss. 

No one is born resilient. Kids learn to be resilient because someone has been there to teach them how to be that. There’s a saying in parenting that is really apropos here – kids learn to self soothe because they were soothed by someone else countless times before. This is our job as fencing parents. We need to be the ones there to build them up a thousand times so that one day they will be so strong that they don’t need us to build them up. 

This happens in small ways at first, and it has to be built over time. You cannot hammer into a young athlete a sense of resilience without building them up in strong ways all along the way. It happens over time. It happens with years of practice. 

A strong internal drive can only be built by first letting a child be independent, and then supporting them with positive reinforcement and encouragement. Pressure will tamp down that drive and put out the light of passion. 

Both coaches and parents can support the development of a strong internal drive by giving kids guidance, then stepping back and allowing them to do it on their own. No child can develop independence when an adult is always there to hold them accountable. They have to figure out how to hold themselves accountable. 

This will take time, and often we’ll see kids fall down and fail while they’re working through tough things. It’s hard for us to watch this sometimes, but we have to let them make mistakes. Fencing already teaches kids to come back from losing a point or losing a match. It’s a fantastic teaching tool, because resilience is baked into fencing if we allow it to be.

42 Fascinating Fencing Facts Every Fencer Should Know

Fascinating Facts about Fencing

We all know that fencing is a cool sport, but how up to date are you on the outlying, and honestly super weird facts of fencing? 

To help you expand your horizons in fencing, we’ve put together forty-two fascinating and (sometimes) obscure facts about fencing. 

  1. Fencing is one of the five sports that have been featured in every modern Olympic Games since their inception in 1896. The other four were Track and Field, Gymnastics, Swimming, and Cycling. 
  2. The term “en garde” in fencing comes from the French phrase meaning “on guard” or “ready.” (that’s an easy one!) 
  3. The weapon used in foil competitions weighs approximately 500 grams. In epee, it’s 770, and the sabre is 500 gram. The weight used to check the minimal pressure needed to be applied to the epee to score a touch is 750 grams, foil is 500, and there is no weight in sabre as the sabre is not a poking weapon.
  4. Fencing’s roots date back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt and Rome. The earliest evidence we have of fencing comes from the reign of Rameses III in 1190 BCE. Illustrations from the Temple Madinat Habu show people wearing masks and competing in the earliest bouts. 
  5. Fencing was one of the first sports to introduce electronic scoring equipment, which replaced the traditional scoring system. That’s before the first telegraph was sent! French magician Robert Houdin (yes, Houdini named himself after this guy), made the first attempt at an electronic scoring system with a metallic jacket and a metal pointed sword. He’d later give the patent to fencing master Augustin Cabin, who would later patent it and promote it. Electronic scoring came into the Olympics in 1934.
  6. The target area in foil fencing is limited to the torso, including the back, while the arms, head, and legs are considered off-target. Saber is everything above the waist and the legs are off-limits. Epee is the only fencing discipline where the entire body is a valid target, including the arms and legs.
  7. Though fencing schools in Europe were focused on actual combat through the 19th Century, sport fencing goes back 1500 years. The first recorded competitive sport fencing match took place in the 6th Century in the Byzantine Empire. Fencing manuals from Europe date back to roughly this same time period, with various competing first manuals of fencing going back to the 14th and 13th centuries in Italy and France. Most early fencing manuals included other combat types, like knife fighting and wrestling. Fencing schools in Europe devoted to sport wouldn’t come until later. 
  8. The concept of right-of-way, which determines who scores a point in foil and saber, was introduced in the 18th century to add structure to fencing bouts. Right of way basically means that the point doesn’t count unless you clearly meant to get it. While it sounds simple, right-of-way is actually quite challenging concept to understand. I wrote a whole series of posts explaining this concept.
  9. Only men participated in fencing in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Actually, only men participated in all the sports in the 1896 Games. Women began participating in 1900 in equestrianism, golf, croquet, sailing, and tennis. Women’s fencing was added to the Olympics in 1924. Fencing was still one of the first sports to introduce women’s competitions at the Olympic level, though it would be 80 years later that women were included in all Olympic fencing when women’s saber was added in 2004. Fencing was one of the first to include women, but also one of the last to be completely gender inclusive. Women’s boxing wasn’t added till 2012, which is when all sports were offered for both men and women. 
  10. Fencing bouts take place on a strip called a “piste,” which is 14 meters long and 1.5 meters wide. The piste can be made of rubber, aluminum, or metal. They’re regulated by both the governing body of each country and FIE. 
  11. Fencing gloves are specially designed to protect the hand while allowing the fencer to maintain a firm grip on the weapon. Just any glove won’t do!
  12. Fencing terminology is predominantly in French, reflecting the sport’s historical origins and its strong tradition in France, but people yell in every possible language. Sometimes people even yell during matches in made up words that don’t make sense in any language. Most fencing terminology is in French because so much of fencing started in France. Though it’s spread around the world, fencing’s language stays the same no matter who is competing. This is part of the reason fencers can compete against one another even if they don’t share the same language – the ref is still calling it in mostly the French fencing terminology speak!
  13. Fencing is not just an Olympic sport but also has a rich history of international competitions, including World Championships, World Cups, and regional championships. Though we’re all most familiar with the Olympics, the other large international competitions are still highly prestigious. International fencing competition is fierce and governed by the FIE. It’s a completely different level from domestic fencing in the United States, and many fencers who compete at the international level from the U.S. are also competing for the NCAA, the college athletic organization. How fencing works on the international level is complicated and every country does things differently – so differently that I wrote and entire book about it.  
  14. The first Fencing World Championships took place in 1921 in Paris, France. The World Championships aren’t held in Olympic years now, but when the Olympics didn’t have all events included, the World Championships would hold just those events. Prior to 2020, after women’s epee and sabre was included in the Olympics, fencing team events were on a rotating schedule, so there was always some team event that didn’t have a top level international competition at the Olympics. Now that all events are held in each Olympiad, the World Championships doesn’t have to hold extra events.
  15. Fencing has a long-standing tradition of saluting opponents before and after a match as a sign of respect. Handshakes used to be the norm, but the pandemic pushed everyone to bump elbows, tap blades or just salute from a distance. Now handshake returned to be a norm.
  16. The distance between fencers at the beginning of a bout is called “en garde distance.” In the beginning of the bout or after every scored point, strips have lines to show where the opponents should stand, but when there aren’t lines (for example, if a bout was halted), fencers stand far enough apart that their weapons can’t touch when each person’s weapon is extended.
  17. Fencing blades are made of steel and can bend significantly without breaking. The art of picking a good blade is really an artform, something that experienced fencers and coaches can be very particular about. A stack of ten blades made in the same factory at the same time will each have a slightly different “feel”, and you might prefer something slightly more bendy, slightly stiffer, and have a different balance. While for most beginner fencers this difference is too subtle to notice, highly competitive fencers will spend a lot of time choosing ‘their’ blade.
  18. The grip of a weapon can be coated or covered in various things to enhance grip and prevent slipping. It can be coated in a special liquid rubber that will enhance the grip, or it can be wrapped in leather to enhance the grip. All of this, including which of the many kinds of grip a fencer uses, is very much up to personal preference. 
  19. The sport of modern pentathlon includes epee fencing as one of its five disciplines. Competitors must go through two rounds. In the first pool rounds, the fencer who scores the first hit in under sixty seconds wins, and they both lose if no one scores. The second round consists of 45 second direct elimination rounds that are seeded by the previous pool round. Athletes then go on to a 200 meter freestyle swim, a show jumping 12 obstacle course on a horse, and a combined running and shooting event. There’s a point system to add all of this up, and it’s all now done in a single day. Sounds pretty exhausting but fun!
  20. Fencing uniforms are designed to be form-fitting to minimize the risk of opponents’ weapons getting caught. No one wants that epee to be stuck.
  21. Fencing was included in the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960 and has been a part of the Paralympic program ever since. Also previously known as wheelchair fencing, the combatants’ wheelchairs are stuck to the floor, but they can pivot back and forth as they score points. USA Fencing governs wheelchair fencing in the UA, and you’ll see it at different national events.
  22. Fencing weapons undergo regular inspections at the beginning of every bout to meet their specifications. You wouldn’t be allowed to fence with a weapon that a referee disqualified during this check and will be punished with a card. This is why fencers come to competition with more than one weapon – you never know when one won’t pass inspection or when it might break during competition.
  23. The first fencing club in the United States, the New York Fencers Club, was established in 1883, and was also the first fencing club in the Western Hemisphere. It had 200 members by 1892, and by 1914 fully one third of the fencers in this Manhattan club were women. It’s home to the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a non-profit formed by Fencers Club alum Westbrook to provide fencing opportunities to underserved populations in NYC that’s become a model for expanding fencing to communities who are normally outside the sport.
  24. Many fencing masks have removable padding to allow for easy cleaning and maintenance. Don’t attempt to remove the padding if it’s not removable, but definitely take it off to clean your mask if it is. DO clean your mask either way. Here are some ideas on how.
  25. The sport of modern Olympic fencing is often referred to as “sport fencing” to distinguish it from historical or theatrical forms. It also distinguishes us from the kind of fencing that will keep your dog from running away. 
  26. “Flynning” is exaggerated or theatrical swordplay, typically seen in movies, television shows, or stage performances. It refers to highly choreographed and acrobatic sword-fighting sequences that prioritize visual spectacle over realistic combat. Flynning often involves intricate sword movements, flashy spins, elaborate footwork, and dramatic flourishes. It’s derived from Errol Flynn, an Australian actor known for his roles in swashbuckling adventure films like “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938). While flynning can be visually impressive and entertaining, it’s nothing like the real thing. 
  27. Fencing was once used as a form of physical therapy for patients with mental illness primarily in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It has been used more recently, though, as it was part of a program at The University of Michigan Medical Center to help pre-teen and teen boys.  
  28. The longest recorded fencing match took place in 2016 and lasted for 11 hours and 40 minutes. It occurred in Serbia, where 188 fencers took turns stepping into a bout that went on for almost a half day. Everyone from fencing coaches to the general public participated, and the event even drew Olympic Silver Medalist Claudia Bekel as well as several officials within the IOC. People who didn’t even know what epee was and had never seen it in person before stepped in and took part. It was wild and weird. 
  29. The longest competitive match took place in 1897 at the Paris International Epee Tournament and was 2.5 hours long. This was a time before there were time limits on the matches, and the bouts were one hit long. There were obviously lots of really short bouts during this time, but someone usually got someone else in a reasonable time limit – not this time! They bouted for five minutes long followed by a two minute break, then went another five minutes and kept going until someone scored. In this instance, the match between two Frenchmen went for an hour and a half, then they took a lunch break, then came back to fencing for a total of two and a half hours including the breaks. 
  30.  In 1956, the Australian Olympic fencing team wore their competition uniforms during the Opening Ceremony to save money on additional outfits. In America, we always seem to have the cash for fancy opening and closing ceremony outfits. Team USA will take nothing less than Ralph Lauren.
  31. Mensur or academic fencing was once popular in countries like Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Latvia, Estonia, and other nearby countries from the 15th Century through World War II. It has a bizarre and sorted history, but it consisted of two young men in student organizations (think fraternities) who battled with sharp epees. They stood just far enough apart for their swords to clash but didn’t move during the bouts, wearing various levels of protection. Medical personnel were present, but scars (called smites) were often a proud outcome of the matches, even though there were no clear winners. The point of the matches was to build character, not to win. There are references to these fencing duels in everything from James Bond to the writings of Mark Twain to the science fiction classic Starship Troopers.
  32. In the 1977 United States Court of Appeals case ruling on S.E.C. v. Bausch Lomb Inc., Judge Irving Kaufman compared “an encounter with a financial analyst to a fencing match conducted on a tightrope; he is compelled to parry often incisive questioning while teetering on the fine line between data properly conveyed and material inside information that may not be revealed without simultaneously disclosing it to the public.” That doesn’t sound pleasant at all. The concept of “fencing on a tightrope” is apparently a thing in the legal world thanks to Judge Kaufman.  
  33. The world’s largest fencing lesson was conducted in 2017 in the United Kingdom, with three hundred people thanks to the Premier Education Group and British Fencing. The goal was to promote National Fitness Day. 
  34. The FIE once considered adding “lightsaber” fencing as a demonstration sport, inspired by the Star Wars franchise, but the proposal was not accepted. However it’s not over yet – in 2019, the French Fencing Federation officially recognized the sport. May the force be with them. 
  35. In Hungary, fencing is hugely popular – think soccer in the United States. Italy and France are also centers of fencing where it’s very popular among kids.  However there are reports of fencing clubs in China with as many as 6,000 members, though these are unconfirmed as there is no reliable data about fencing training in China (or at least I didn’t find one.)
  36. Renowned British photographer Cecil Beaton took a series of portraits of Salvador Dali and his wife Gala Dali in 1936 with fencing gear. Dali also famously wore a fencing mask on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1961
  37. If you’ve ever been curious about what fencing would look like underwater, check out The Royal Arts Fencing Academy’s short film. Perhaps this is the next wave in Olympic sports?
  38. The record for the most generations of the same family winning a Fencing Olympic medal is three. This remarkable feat was accomplished by two different families.The first family consists of Aladár Gerevich, Erna Bogen-Bogáti, and Pál Gerevich, all hailing from Hungary. Their remarkable achievement spanned from 1932 to 1980.Equally impressive is the second family, comprising Aldo Montano, Mario Aldo Montano, and Aldo Montano, all representing Italy. They achieved the same record between 1936 and 2020. Collectively, these two families have amassed an incredible total of 23 Olympic medals in the sport of fencing.
  39. Before the advent of electronic scoring equipment, it took five people to officiate a match. The president of the jury relied on the assistance of four judges in fencing matches. Positioned behind each fencer, with two on each side of the strip, these judges closely observed the actions of the opposing fencer to determine if they were hit. This particular system is commonly referred to as “dry” fencing in the USA or “steam” fencing in the United Kingdom and Australia. Whenever a judge believed they witnessed a hit, they would raise their hand. Subsequently, the president of the jury, who acted as the referee or director, would pause the bout and review the relevant sequences of the action. At each stage of the review, the president would consult the judges to ascertain if a touch occurred and, in the case of foil and sabre, whether the touch was valid or invalid. The judges would respond with “Yes,” “Yes, but off-target” (in foil and sabre), “No,” or “Abstain.” Each judge held one vote, while the president had one and a half votes. As a result, if two judges were in disagreement with the president, they could overrule their decision. However, if the judges were divided or if one judge abstained, the president’s opinion would prevail. Many sabre coaches still remember these glory days.
  40. In 2016, a Guinness World Record was set for the most fencers in a single match, with 63 participants competing simultaneously at the Leicester Fencing Club in Leicester, UK. The goal was to promote fencing ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics and to dispel the myth that fencing is an elitist sport.
  41. In the early days of fencing, duels were fought with real weapons, and bloodstains would be highly visible on white clothing. Therefore, to ensure fair judgment of hits and avoid disputes caused by obscured or concealed marks, fencers began wearing all white attire. This practice continued into modern sport fencing, even though the use of real weapons has been replaced by electronic scoring equipment.
  42. Fencing has its own unique soundscape, with the clash of blades, the buzzing of scoring machines, and the shouts of fencers and coaches. When you’re in a fencing competition in a big hall, it’s like a symphony of music to a fencer’s ears! To some people it might just sound like noise, but to us it’s something really fantastic and extraordinary.

Fencing is strange and wonderful

Our sport has a sorted and sometimes strange history, but one of the reasons that it’s great is because there’s so much history here. Fencing is baked into Western culture, and we’ve got the cultural capital to prove it. 

Which of these fascinating tidbits was your favorite? How many of these facts did you know already?

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