Any male fencer that has been training for some time has experienced the uncomfortable moment when he takes an ill-placed hit below the belt—it hurts! It’s actually worse for beginners because the less experienced fencers often think that the stronger the stab, the more successful the result. Plus, when they’re still learning, fencers are more likely to cause unintended injuries due to bad point or distance control.
As parents, the last thing we want is for one incident to kill our child’s love of a new sport. At the same time, male fencers of any age or experience can find themselves in this situation, so this post addresses the delicate subject of intimate protection for all fencers.
Discussion on protection for the intimate zone is often bypassed simply because people are uncomfortable talking about it. From a parent to another parent, or a parent to a coach, or a parent to a child, we are sometimes hesitant to bring it up and thus skip the conversation to the detriment of our own children.
Such a simple question, “To wear or not to wear?”, needs a clear answer so parents can make the right decisions for their children. As a mom of four young fencers, two of them boys, I decided to dive into the research, ask the professionals, and summarize what I learned for our readers.
One of the things I learned quite quickly as I started asking questions of my husband and our fencing coaches is that the subject is controversial, unpopular, and does not have one clear set of guidelines. In the simplest terms, groin protectors are not required by U.S. fencing regulations, but we strongly recommend them for all male fencers.
The need for groin protection is obvious—why not protect such an important area? But even our own Coach Alexandr didn’t always think this way in his youth.
Back in Russia in the 70’s and 80’s—when the weapons were not yet that flexible or reliable—fencers were required by official regulations to wear groin protectors and they were checked before each competition. Coach Alexandr confided in me that despite the requirement, many fencers did not use extra protection, even at the competitions. How did they get past the check? He said all of the “manly men” would wear the protector for the check and then throw it away afterwards, not wearing it for the actual bout. He confirms that it wasn’t smart!
So, wear one. Protect yourself or your child.
Here is the official regulation from the USFA Athlete Handbook (2015):
2.6 Equipment Requirements for Domestic Tournaments: “In epée and foil, a full jacket is required (i.e., a jacket with croissard/groin strap). In foil and sabre; the lamé must have a croissard/groin strap.”
As you can see, no mention of a groin protector, just the proper jacket and lame. Perhaps the authors of these regulations never experienced such an unfortunate strike? USFA often mentions the intention to protect “vital organs”, but who says the reproductive system is not vital? I mean, “vita” from its Latin roots refers to life or giving life.
I’m certainly not criticizing the USFA, simply making a point that, despite the official rules, you may want to strongly consider a groin protector for your male children if you don’t already use one. Those who have felt the pain know that it can be real torture in the moment.
Also, as anyone with boys knows, they don’t always want to talk to us about these things. Your son might be experiencing discomfort and not letting you know! Bear the discomfort of the conversation because it’s in the best interest of your child.
I’ve heard an internal fencing joke that says you don’t need intimate protection, you just need to be quicker. Well, perhaps it’s best to use intimate protection while you master your defensive skills rather than subjecting yourself to the mistakes along the way.
(Photo credit: http://funjungle.net/faces-of-men-hit-in-the-groin)