Because fencing is a niche sport, there aren’t always easily available guidelines for youth fencers especially on what to do in the case of things like training and equipment. For the most part, there is a wide variety of wisdom out there on things like choosing the right blade, and sometimes it can be conflicting.
Today, I want to offer some clear advice to parents who are trying to choose the right blade for their youth fencers. This is an area that people are often confused about because fencing blades are so specific – it’s not quite the same as choosing a basketball or a soccer ball. Choosing the right one is more important than choosing the right ball.
Parents naturally want their children to have the best equipment, both because it will save them money down the road in having to replace equipment that gets battered through use, and because they want their kids to have every advantage.
In fencing, where the sport is intense and the costs can add up, parents often come to us to ask about what the best thing for their child is. This brings us to FIE blades.
What are FIE blades?
FIE is the International Fencing Federation (Fédération Internationale d’Escrime), and it’s the governing body of international competition.
There are two kinds of fencing gear – FIE and non FIE.
The FIE requirements for equipment are more rigorous than the requirements for USA Fencing. The fabric has to be tougher and have more layers, the combat gear has to withstand more hits, and the conductive gear has to be more durable. This is in large part due to the elite level of international fencing, where bouts are more intense and hits are harder. Once fencers hit a certain level, this kind of equipment is essential.
That being said, most countries outside of the U.S. follow FIE protocols for their gear in competition. The United States is fairly unique in the world for having a different set of standards for its gear in competitions. In other places, the lower level of gear is only used when fencers are training at the club.
FIE fencing blades must meet specific requirements in strength and durability. They’re usually made of maraging steel, a formula of steel that holds together for longer when cracked. When a fencing blade breaks, it usually starts with a tiny knick, which then cascades into a crack, which eventually leads to a break. The treatment required for blades for FIE does keep the blades from breaking as often as they do in swords that don’t have FIE strength blades.
Non-FIE blades are made of a different grade of steel that doesn’t require the same kind of treatment. They are less dense and don’t do as good a job of resisting cracking, though by no means does that make them fragile. Some of the difference is also in the regulation. FIE blades are manufactured in facilities that are more heavily regulated than non-FIE blades. This extends to the treatment of the blades in terms of heat etc.
The mechanics of steel are complicated, but the takeaway is that FIE blades will last longer and deform less under heavy use, and are heavier than non-FIE blades. There are slightly different requirements for each kind of weapon, and FIE is constantly evaluating and tweaking what it requires for each of its pieces of equipment to make things safer and longer lasting. The end product is that FIE level equipment can cost significantly more than non-FIE equipment.