How long does it take to learn fencing? That’s a straightforward question with a less than straightforward answer. That’s because what it means to “learn fencing” could mean a lot of different things.
It takes a lifetime to master fencing, but that is part of the joy of the sport. We are always growing, always improving, no matter how long we have been fencing. Obviously, becoming an elite fencer on the international level takes many years of heavy practice and training. Elite fencers are not the only fencers though, and most fencers aren’t pushing towards that level, certainly not in the beginning.
That pulls us down to the basics of fencers. If you’re an average person who wants to do this sport for enjoyment, for the thrill of competition, and personal growth, how long will it take you to learn fencing?
When are you a fencer?
Four to six weeks is the average length of introductory fencing courses at clubs. At the end of that time, a fencer will have learned the basics of how the sport works, including the basic rules and regulations, and they’ll know the fundamentals of what it feels like to be a fencer. This could be intensified through fencing summer camps, which pack the introductory material into a shorter time. At the end of a summer camp, a person will also have a grasp on the basics.
That’s a good starting point for fencers. At that time, a person can tell if the sport is for them, or if it’s not a good fit. Still, after an introductory course or a summer camp, you wouldn’t really call someone a fencer. They have been introduced to the sport.
It’s interesting here to note that in the long past of the sport, a fencer wouldn’t actually hold a sword for quite some time – months or even years into training. Prior to that, they would practice footwork or perhaps train with wooden sticks. At that time, patience in training was an essential component. There’s still a lot of patience involved in fencing, but novice fencers do get to hold a sword during introductory fencing lessons!
After the introductory period, you would call someone who keeps on fencing a beginner fencer. They know enough about the sport to continue to train. Beginner fencers might go to their first club competition after six months to a year of training. That first competition, even though it is likely only within the confines of their club or perhaps at a local event, is a real mark of becoming a fencer. It doesn’t matter what your placement is – progressing to competition is a major milestone.
Though most fencers start when they are kids or middle schoolers and most programs are designed for this age, adult fencing has a slightly different structure that also allows for competition and challenge.
Time is in everything when you learn fencing
How much time a fencer puts into their training has everything to do with the rate of their growth in the sport. You can put lots of time into training, or you can put just a little bit into it. Learning to fence does take time to process and integrate the information, to develop the skills, and you can’t rush that. That being said, there is also the reality that it takes a certain number of hours to learn these skills, and they can be spread out over time in different ways.
Fencing clubs structure their programs based on a fencer’s experience. For example, Beginner fencers will train once a week, Intermediate level fencers will go to the club for 2 classes a week. In contrast, competitive level fencers will train 4 times a week and spend some of their weekends competing. These programs are prescribed by the club, and though you can certainly talk to the club about doing more training, they know from experience that this is the kind of program that works. An additional important and necessary training component, which we described before at length, is private lessons, where fencers learn the intricate details of fencing technique in one-on-one settings with their fencing coach.
Those increases in time don’t happen overnight – it takes years to progress through to the competitive level, which involves going to regional and national competitions. Fencing ratings are woven into that process as well, which start at U for unrated, and then go from E at the lowest to A at the highest. To get to the highest level, a fencer might spend many years training.
Speed is not the focus of fencing. Though we see competitors getting younger as the emphasis on youth sports becomes more intense, that’s not necessarily the best thing. There is a saying in fencing that mastery of the sport takes more than a lifetime, and this is true. We are always looking for ways to get better because it’s not about the medals or the podiums. Veteran fencers can and do continue to compete well into their seventies and eighties. Unlike many sports, fencing has wide latitude for any age. It is as much a challenge of mental agility as it is of physical ability.
How long does it take to learn fencing? It takes a few months to get your feet under you on the strip, two years to feel confident in competition, ten years to become an elite athlete, but you have your whole life to enjoy the sport.