Getting the fencing blade size right is an important, if sometimes mystifying, process. It’s one of those things that so many new fencers just aren’t sure about!
Where it starts
The regulated weapon size for youth 10 events is #2, while older category fencers use #5. What those numbers mean is that the #2 weapon is 3 inches shorter than the #5 weapon is. But that extra length also means that it is a bit heavier.
Typically kids retire their Y10 short weapons once they age out of Y10 category. And typically they rush to purchase a shiny new “real size” weapon. Most parents know about either #5 or #2 blades and oftentimes do not know exactly what to purchase when.
The goal of this post is to help novice parent choose the right blade for their child. One word of caution though – before you make your decision based on what I write in this post, consult with your coach. They see your child fence every day, they know their strengths and weaknesses and will be able to make the right choice of the weapon.
So what do blade size numbers mean?
Numbers on the weapon blades means the length of the blade in inches.
There are 4 different weapon sizes: #0, #2, #4, #5. The shortest, #0 has a length of 30 inches, the standard youth #2 blade has a length of 32 inch and the regular standard #5 is 35 inch long.
Why fencing blade size matters
While it looks to the novice person like there is no big difference between blades (who cares about 1 inch, right?), in reality the difference is quite substantial.
First of all, longer blade is heavier. And while just holding it for a moment, this difference might not seem to be a significant weight difference between #2 and #5 weapons, training or fencing with that weapon for a prolonged period of time is definitely much more difficult. And when the weapon becomes to be too heavy for the small hands of a young fencer, their form and technique are sacrificed.
Another thing to think about is that it is more difficult to control the precision of and manipulate the longer weapon.
There’s an easy exercise that everyone of us in our lives experiences before – it is much more difficult to be precise with longer stick. Whether we’re mopping the cobwebs from upper windows or trying to pick our fruits at harvest with a fruit picker, the longer the stick the more difficult it is to be precise.
What does this all mean?
Well, this really means that in order to help your child to find success in fencing the fencing blade size matters a lot.
If your child is relatively small for Y12 (and especially if he/she still fences Y10) there is no need to buy a #5 just yet, especially in foil. Keep your child with #2 until your child matures and gains more power and better point control.
If your child is tiny for Y10, the best thing would be to purchase #0 blade.
If your child aged out from Y10 and moved to the Y12 category but physically (and technically, again especially in foil) are not yet fully developed for their age compared with their peers, move to #4 meanwhile, don’t go directly to #5.
Does an inch matter that much?
This one inch does make a difference and will help your child develop in the long term.
Often parents ask me whether their child will have a disadvantage in a competition with such approach, compared to other competitors.
The answer is yes in some cases, especially in epee, the disadvantage might be felt. In foil I think it is much less important. Also, I tend to take more of a long term view on this whole issue. I would rather have them develop the right technique and form than win because of two inches.
As a parent, I try to apply this rule to my own kids.
With my oldest 10 year old son it is clear – he has only #2 foils and fences with them in the Y12 category. I never saw that his performance or results in Y12 were even remotely affected by lack of 3 inches. I believe that even next year when he moves to the Y12 category, given that he is currently shorter than most boys of his age, he will move to #4 foil blades.
His twin sister, who is an epee fencer, up until this season fenced exclusively with #2 epees, and only now I started to transition her to #5 blades for Y12 competitions.
My petite youngest Y8 girl fences with #0 weapon, as #2 was too big and too heavy for her.
Additional important aspects of getting the right blade configuration
Fencing blade size is only one aspect of weapon configuration. Additional aspects are grip type and size, blade type, pommel type and weight for epees, and blade stiffness. Most of these parameters are for more advanced fencers and I plan to cover them in some future posts.
I hope this post will help you to decide which blade size to purchase for your child. And I really must mention this again – before you go changing your blade, always consult with your coach!