Fencing vs. Other Combat Sports - Which One is Right for You?

Though we as a society, in general, have moved away from coming to blows to solve our interpersonal problems the way that people used to duel in the old days, combat sports are more popular than ever. 

Combat sports have actually captivated people throughout history, giving us the chance to channel our physicality, to expand our strategic thinking, and to grow our competitive spirit. Kids and adults alike find themselves drawn to the world of combat sports, in no small part because we see them play out in our favorite movies. Whether it’s Mulan or Lord of the Rings, Star Wars or Raging Bull, Pulp Fiction or Nacho Libre, Karate Kid or Over the Top (yes, the one about arm wrestling), we have a love affair with combat sports and how cool they look. But they don’t just look cool onscreen, they are cool to do in real life as well. 

Finding out which combat sport is right for you is all about personality, access, and you may be faced with the question of which discipline to try out. Let’s look at the distinct qualities of fencing compared to other combat sports, helping you determine which one is the right fit for you.

The Art of Fencing

Fencing stands out as a unique and elegant combat sport that combines speed, agility, precision, and tactical thinking. This is, notable, the only modern combat sport that uses weapons (archery doesn’t count as there is no actual combat in archery, just targets). Fencing of course traces its origins back to centuries-old dueling traditions and has evolved into a sport that emphasizes skillful swordplay. 

There are three different weapons in modern sport fencing that utilize different scoring techniques and different rules. Foil, epee, and sabre are each individual sports but at the same time are extremely similar. Fencer generally specialize in one, though they do switch occasionally for a variety of reasons. 

One of the key aspects that sets fencing apart is its emphasis on technique and finesse. Fencers must display grace, footwork, and accurate blade control while engaging in lightning-fast exchanges with opponents. The speed of this sport is faster than most other combat sports, thanks in part to electronic scoring, which is unique among combat sports. We have referees who play an important role in fencing, but scoring machines are the first line of indication here. 

The weaponized aspect is important here, as a fencer’s blade becomes an extension of their body. Because of this, mental dexterity is central, as fencers must anticipate our opponent’s moves, strategically choose our attacks and defenses so that we can adapt swiftly to changing situations. The weapon also means that fencers have to wear gear to protect themselves from the blade. While fencing weapons are not sharp, they are still capable of hurting someone if they aren’t protected. 

Injuries in fencing are less common than in any other combat sport, and in fact are less common than in a lot of non-combat sports like soccer or gymnastics. 

Non-weaponized combat sports

In contrast to fencing, other combat sports such as boxing, mixed martial arts (MMA), and wrestling focus on different aspects of combat and physicality. Without a weapon, they all involve more contact and a range of less protective gear. 

Injuries in all of these sports are more common than in fencing, however a properly reffed martial arts or boxing match within a training setting is not going to be the level of a professional combat sport in terms of risk. Nonetheless, keep in mind that we are talking about contact, and that carries a risk of injury. 

Martial arts: 

This is a broad category that involves dozens, if not hundreds of possible sports. Karate, Jiu-Jitsu (with its many forms), Taekwondo, Judo, Aikido, Hapkido, Tai Chi, Krav Maga, Muay Thai – the list goes on and on.

What makes them all similar is that they involve physical contact with another person, with a varied degree of structure. Unlike fencing, which has a central governing body that regulates tournaments, martial arts is broad and has a huge range of focuses. Some martial arts styles are Olympic sports – Judo, Taekwondo, and these have a similar structure to fencing for dojos that train for that.

Finding the right fit in these sports means vetting schools deliberately and seeking out a competitive or non-competitive experience that works for you. Keep in mind that protective gear and level of impact will vary widely, as will the part of the body that is used for contact. 

Boxing 

Known as “the sweet science,” boxing is a sport centered around punches and footwork. It requires excellent hand-eye coordination, agility, and the ability to anticipate and evade opponents’ strikes. Boxers rely on quick reflexes, precise punches, and defensive maneuvers to outmaneuver and outscore their opponents. 

Amateur boxing is score based, for the most part, just as fencing is. Because it’s an Olympic sport, it relies heavily on regulation, though there are many regulating bodies that don’t qualify for Olympic competition. Protective gear is less codified than it is in fencing. 

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) 

MMA combines various martial arts disciplines, including striking (such as boxing and kickboxing) and grappling (such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling). It is a multidimensional sport that requires people to be good at striking, submissions, takedowns, and ground fighting. Any kind of striking is allowed, but no scratches or pulling as in boxing. There’s a ref, and most matches go to points

It’s everything all wrapped up together (except fencing). When you hear about the UFC, that’s Mixed Martial Arts. It’s become hugely popular in the last two decades, but it’s a sport that’s done without protective gear except for hand wraps. Of everything listed here, this is the most brutal combat sport because fighters go so hard and any style can be used. 

Wrestling

Like fencing, this is one of the original sports included in the first modern Olympics. It’s still in the Olympics today. 

Wrestling is a combat sport that focuses on takedowns, throws, and grappling techniques. It requires strength, agility, endurance, and mental toughness. Wrestlers engage in intense physical battles, aiming to pin their opponents or earn points through various maneuvers and holds. Wrestling emphasizes physical strength and technique, with athletes literally jockeying right there on the ground to gain an advantage over their opponent. It’s a game of who’s actually on top. 

Though wrestling is the most contact of all combat sports, that contact isn’t as brutal as the contact in other things like MMA or boxing. There’s no striking at all. In fact, it’s kind  of the opposite of fencing in that it’s all about the contact of one person and another. The goal is to get the opponent out of the ring, similar to sumo wrestling, which is another combat sport itself. 

Choosing the Right Fit

Once you have the basic understanding of what the combat sport possibilities are, then you have to figure out which of them is right for you. This involves figuring out which sport aligns with your interests and goals, but more importantly you want to go with the sport that you enjoy the most, both in terms of the physicality as well as from the cultural angle. 

Reflect on your inclinations towards speed, finesse, striking, grappling, or a combination of both. Are you drawn to the precision and elegance of fencing, or do you prefer the raw intensity of striking sports like boxing? Understanding your personal preferences will help guide your decision. You also want to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Fencing hones mental agility, coordination, and strategic thinking, while other combat sports may require different physical attributes like power, endurance, or flexibility. 

You want to go with something that complements your natural abilities or one that challenges you to develop new skills. That also means clarifying your aspirations within the combat sports realm. Are you looking for competitive glory, self-defense skills, or simply a fun and engaging physical activity? There are possibilities within each sport as well, such as competitive or non-competitive fencing. 

Finally, you want to be sure to look at what’s actually near enough for you to train effectively in.  Consider the availability of training clubs, coaches, and opportunities for growth in your area. Some combat sports may have more established communities and resources, making it easier to immerse yourself in the sport and reach your goals. 

The choice between fencing and other combat sports ultimately depends on your individual preferences, skills, goals, and the unique qualities each sport offers. Fencing stands out as a refined art form that melds physical prowess and tactical finesse. On the other hand, boxing, MMA, and wrestling provide different avenues for competitive engagement and physicality.

Remember that the most important factor is finding a combat sport that resonates with your passion. You want to do something that brings you joy, and everything else should flow out from there.