There are some general fencing safety rules that all fencers should follow, though sometimes they aren’t as obvious as we imagine they should be!
Fencing is naturally a sport of weapons. Despite this, it’s consistently one of the safest sports that anyone can participate in, regardless of age. Many people are shocked to realize that sports like soccer and gymnastics have much higher rates of injury. The most dangerous part of fencing actually isn’t from swords at all, it’s from muscle strains and other sports related injuries.
That being said, there are some safety instructions that every fencer should be aware of. Many of you have heard these before, but it’s never a bad idea to review them again and again. Naturally your coach will have additional rules that you want to be aware of and follow, and always apply your best judgement
Also, it is very important to realize that safety is not only a concern for the fencers themselves, but also for anyone around them. It is equally important that parents, siblings and other people visiting a fencing venue follow fencing rules. For example, don’t allow your loose toddler to run towards a strip when people are fencing there. Even if they themselves follow strict fencing safety rules, a small child who is running through can get hit. It is super important that anyone who happens to be in the fencing venue respects and follows safety rules.
As it is impossible to state all situations and conditions, a good rule of thumb for fencing safety is this – make sure there enough space between an unprotected person and a person with a sword. Always. Use your best common sense and judgement.
1. Wear proper attire
This means the mask, fencing uniform, protective gear, and glove. Shorts and open toed shoes risk injury and should never be worn when fencing. Unless a fencer is properly dressed, they are strictly not permitted to fence.
2. Weapons always pointed down
When not fencing or doing fencing drills, weapons are always pointed to the ground. This is almost more of a law, for clear reasons. Though the ends of fencing swords are blunted, they still can be dangerous if they poke a person who isn’t equipped.
3. Weapons are pointed away from others
This is an extension of the last rule. Unless the person you are engaged with is full masked and ready to fence or drill, the weapon is never, ever pointed at them. This is something we drill into our new fencers until it’s such habit that they should do it automatically. It’s still worth pointing out though!
4. Mask are on when weapons are raised
There is no scenario where we pretend to fence, or showing some slow motion drill, or are just playing around without a mask. Not ever. Fencers must always be masked when weapons are raised, pointing forward. This goes for lame checks as well. Sometimes, especially with young foil fencers, their weapon can slip upwards and hit an opponent face in the when checking lames. Always protect your face. It is not necessary to put the mask on fully, but it is very important for young foilists to cover their face with a mask by holding it near the face with the non-fencing hand. And even for bell guard checks in epee it is a good idea to protect your face.
5. Salute must be done from the enguarde lines
Oftentimes kids finish fencing and approach each other to shake hands while saluting. They become to be dangerously close with weapon that’s pointing up, and there is the potential to hit the opponent in the face. In competition, good referees will always point to the enguarde lines and request the salute, but during the training a lot of young fencers forget this rule. Always go to the enguarde line to salute and only then, while your weapon is down, approach each other to shake hands
6. Put away all equipment
A stray epee or foil lying across a bench is an invitation to injury. All equipment should be tidy and out of the way unless it is in use. This is not just about a neat working area, it’s really about safety.
7. Don’t wear fencing shoes outdoors
The little bits of dirt and grit that come in from the outside can do serious harm to the fencing floor, which will in turn be potentially harmful to fencers themselves. Not to mention expensive to repair.
8. Inspect the mask and weapon, every time
You never know when something will go wrong with a weapon or a mask, and it warrants a check every single time! There is no skipping on this one, not once. A faulty mask could fall forward during a practice or match and cause injury, and a cracked weapon is an obviously dangerous thing to have.
9. Stop immediately if there’s an issue
No matter how close the match may be or how in the zone a practice session is, fencers must always stop immediately if someone shows signs of injury or broken equipment. There are often false alarms with this policy, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution rather than to have someone come away with an injury.
10. Report injuries immediately
As soon as something happens, the coach should be informed. No matter how small the injury or issue might be. Coaches are experienced and know what to look for, as to referees. Fencers should never keep it to themselves.
11. Stop if you feel pain or discomfort
Any pain that you feel in your body other than typical fencing bruises or regular muscle soreness is a cause to stop immediately. Again, always err on the side of caution! If you are injured, say with a muscle that is pulled or an ankle that is twisted, it is risking major injury to keep going in spite of the pain. It is very important to stop immediately and give it the proper attention and rest, otherwise you might harm yourself even more. Remember, the vast majority of fencing injuries are due to common sports injuries like sprains and twists!
12. Non-fencers out of the fencing area
Only fencers who are actively training should be in the fencing area. No parents allowed! This is for the strict safety of the fencers and the folks around them. This extends to the fencers who might be hanging around but are not actively training.
13. No food or beverages in the fencing area
Food and beverages are not allowed in the fencing area. There is a chance that these will make a mess or spill. Sticky floors and slippery floors are both dangerous prospects for fencers who should be focused on their training.
14. Only take off the mask with communication
There are times when it’s necessary to take off the mask during practice or competition. If you need to take mask off when you are in the middle of the strip – either ask permission from your coach or get your opponent to fully acknowledge that you intend to unmask yourself. Only do so at the end of the strip near the reel, never in the middle where the action is happening and more dangerous. Communication is key here!
15. Always wear protection when engaging
Yes, we play with pool noodles and sticks for fun and without gear, protection when you’re holding a fencing sword is a hard and fast rule. Never play with your weapon against another person when the two of you aren’t protected. Even innocent games can harm you if your weapon suddenly goes in the wrong direction or snaps.
16. Practice self awareness
Fencers must always be aware of their surroundings. Mind the other people around you, and be careful not to get lost in your head when you’re holding a fencing sword. Vigilance in the realm of fencing is a major part of staying safe!
17. If you see something, say something
Intervene and interrupt any foolish behavior on the part of other people. They might not know what they are doing or do not think it is a dangerous activity. Or they might know that it’s dangerous and are simply acting foolish to act foolish. Either way, speak up about it! We are a fencing community, and it’s up to all of us to work together to increase safety!
These are the rules that we strive to instill in the fencers at our club, but it’s by no means an exhaustive list of everything that you should follow when you are fencing. Every club has its own rules and every fencer has her or his own ideas about what safety in fencing is. Always listen to your coach and listen to your experience. Above all else, be safe out there on the strip! We’re here to have fun and we can only do that if we follow the safety rules!