Fencing is a unique sport for many reasons: one being the equipment used during competitions. Weapons, electrical cords, masks—it certainly stands out from the rest! The functionality of the equipment is so critical to the bout, both for scoring and safety reasons, that equipment is checked by the referee prior to a bout and a fencer can be penalized or disqualified if everything isn’t in working order.
Unfortunately, electrical equipment breaks, weapon screws come loose, and gloves suddenly develop holes … to name a few possible issues. The good news is that most equipment problems are repairable. The bad news is that equipment can fail at the most important moments. Nothing is more disheartening to a child than having something like an equipment malfunction keep them from competing. You can minimize the chance of equipment issues during competition with proper maintenance and by learning to check for issues regularly and before competitions.
For parents who are new to fencing, this topic can seem daunting, but this post provides a checklist of things even novice parents can do to help their children prepare for competitions with respect to equipment. The key to keeping equipment in working order is proper maintenance. While this post focuses on what to check before a competition, frequent checks and keeping up with any small fixes will help minimize issues and prolong the life of your investments. Second, it’s best to have access to a testing and repair kit. Some clubs have a testing kit available for use and an armory for fixes, but even if so, it’s best to have your own.
Foil Weapon: Check that the tape properly insulates the blade and the barrel.
The most common mistake of novice fencers is fencing until the tape completely wears off and not knowing to replace it. Lack of proper taping can lead to your fencer’s touches not being registered! You can ask any experienced parent, teammate, or coach how to properly tape—or you can watch this helpful YouTube video that covers taping for foil.
Epee Weapon: Check that all screws are tightly in place.
This is the most common mistake for novice epeeists because the screws often come loose and fall out. A missing screw will be penalized by the referee during the pre-bout weapons check, and the referee will keep the weapon for the duration of the bout (this is why you need extra weapons!). Keep a spare set of screws, tips, and springs in your fencing bag for quick repairs.
Cords: At a minimum, check visually for breaks.
Fencers use two types of cords: body cords and mask cords. Body cords connect the weapon to the scoring machine. Mask cords are only used in foil and sabre; they connect the mask to the lame.
It’s usually easy to see when a body cord has a break, and your child will probably tell you it’s broken. Body cords break often and it’s best to have a few extras.
Mask cords break more rarely than body cords. When they do, it’s typically a break at the soldering connection of the wire and the crocodile clip. Note that it’s not as obvious when a mask cord is broken. Often fencers do not realize until the cord is tested during weapon check that there is a problem. So again, it’s important to have extras.
Here is a funny video on what to do if you find a break! If you have a testing kit you can test more accurately that the cord is in working order.
Lames and Masks: Check for significant wear on the conductive parts of the equipment and ask your child if they have noticed any dead spots (i.e., an opponent’s touch produces an off-target response when it should be on-target).
Lames are only used in foil and sabre and masks are only electrical for these two weapons. To understand why, check out our “Fencing Rules for the Novice Parent” blog series, which starts with this post. If you notice significant wear or your child reports dead spots to you, then buy a new lame or mask before a competition.
Gloves: Check for any holes or “almost-holes.”
USFA regulations require that gloves do not have any holes during competition. This rule is enforced at big regional and national competitions. Gloves take a lot of abuse so you should expect to replace them often and it’s smart to have backups.
Following these suggestions will keep you from being caught off guard come competition day. If you stay on top of things and check your equipment regularly, you can rest a little easier when it’s time to compete.