Foils in thefencing  bag of the competitive fencer

Foils in the fencing bag of the competitive fencer

Many novice parents want to know what fencing equipment is really required for fencing competitions. They look at the heavy bags and cases carried around by experienced fencers and they see dollar signs. All of that stuff looks expensive, doesn’t it? Buying fencing gear can be a burden to a family’s finances. That’s why it’s important to understand what you truly need so you can maximize your investment.

So what is the bare minimum of weapons one must have to compete? What is “enough”, what is “one too many”?

Fencing equipment and gear consists of two major things: your outfit and your weapons. I want to cover the outfit first because it’s simpler.

With your outfit, depending on the level and age of your child, in my opinion things should be relatively straightforward—buy decent equipment for a decent price and don’t go overboard. Short version: for a growing child, buying an FIE outfit is overkill. It’s as simple as that. Quite literally the amount of money does not justify the experience. Save this money for your child’s fencing education and for traveling to competitions.

So what apparel should you buy for a child? Choose a decent nylon outfit (underarm, knickers, jacket), choose a good, non-FIE mask, and you are good to go. This by itself will save you a few hundred bucks.

I suggest that you stick with this plan until your child has almost reached his or her final size (for example, many 14-15 years old girls will probably not grow too much beyond their current heights). When you think your child is close to finished growing, you can consider more expensive apparel and your first consideration should be an FIE mask, especially for epee fencers. However, upgrading your outfit is not mandatory and your first priority should be your child’s weapon. So let’s get to that topic.

For weapons, my advice is a bit more complicated.

If your child is in the Y10 category and fences with a #2 blade, save your money and do not buy FIE blades. Why? Three reasons:

  1. The #2 blade is only needed for Y10, so spending $50-100 more per blade is not reasonable when the blades are only needed for a short time.
  2. In the Y10 age group, the style of fencing and level of competition leads to much less wear and tear on the blades than in higher-level competition. So, non-FIE blades will do just fine and the higher quality blades are simply unnecessary.
  3. The younger kids have a tendency to forget their blades at clubs and competitions. You may be the most organized parent and your child may be one of the most responsible kids around, but in the heat of the moment after a loss or when rushing from a competition to beat traffic or whatever else, you will inevitably lose a blade. When it happens, you’ll be glad you stuck with the non-FIE blades for this part of your child’s career.

The obvious next question is, what about after Y10? For Y12 and above, I do recommend investing in FIE blades. Based on our experiences the tradeoff between expense and value is worth it. This should be your first investment in FIE equipment, the outfit is secondary.

How many weapons should your child have? Short answer: at least two weapons and two body cords. When I say “at least,” I really mean that if your child is competing, you should have three. If your child isn’t competing yet, two should be enough. Why do you need three weapons? Well, things break, especially at competitions. Here’s a short list of common reasons you would need extra weapons:

  1. Wires break and the weapon becomes unusable.
  2. Screws and tips fall down, especially on an epee weapon, and the weapon is unusable. It cannot be brought to the strip, so having an extra weapon avoids a yellow card.
  3. Weapons break: they snap, stop working, stop holding weight, or fail a shim test for epee.

So, if your child is a Y10 fencer, you need at least two size-2 weapons, and you may choose to have three for your own peace of mind or if your child begins competing. The weapons can all be non-FIE, and we actually recommend that you stick with a good brand for non-FIE blades until later in the fencing career.

If your child is Y12 and above, have at least three weapons and invest in FIE blades.

Last but certainly not least—always mark your weapons! Mark the belt guard and the pad for easy identification. You’ll thank me for this advice when you’re looking at three weapons in a row with no idea which one you brought to the competition.