There’s a range of what is difficult sport and what is not, with lots of places to start and lots of places to go. In the world of sports, this range is broad and always changing.
No, fencing is not a difficult sport. We should start off by saying that. Is it difficult to become an Olympic fencer? Of course, it is. But it is not difficult to enter into fencing or to even become a competitive fencer. This is true no matter your age.
As with anything, how hard fencing is has everything to do with the amount of practice that someone puts into it. If you practice often and smart and train with good coaches in a supportive environment, you can fence well by any measure. It is not hard to get started in fencing and it’s not hard to make positive progress.
Everyone can get a point
No matter who you are, no matter what your skill level, everyone can get a touch in fencing. The best fencers in the world get points scored against them by less advanced fencers, and the most novice fencers are able to get an honest touch. It’s rare that a fencing match goes entirely one way if levels are similar, and that is because of the inherent nature of the sport.
Fencers don’t always have to win matches in order to gain confidence. We’ve talked a lot about why fencers learn more when they lose than when they win right here on our blog.
Is fencing physically demanding?
Some sports require elite skills in order to do them well – the kinds of skills that come with youth and high levels of physical fitness.
One great example of this is gymnastics. For someone to complete a backflip over the vault, they have to have a high degree of physicality. Competitive gymnasts age out in their mid-twenties. After that, their ability to perform declines dramatically, and they no longer can compete on a high level. There becomes a higher risk of injury with age in these kinds of sports because they are so physically demanding.
Fencers, on the other hand, generally peak well after the age of twenty-five in the sport. Olympic fencers are often well in their thirties. The physical demands of fencing are balanced by the mental demands of the sport.
The most common injuries in fencing are sprains and muscle strains. We work technique consistently and push ourselves to amend details as we go forward through time. Foot position, lunge length, wrist angles, body control, etc. are the hallmarks of fencing improvement. A fifteen-point bout is taxing, especially in competition when a fencer is going hard for points, but it is not the same as running down a field in a soccer match.
As a novice fencer continues to practice, the unnatural stances that fencers employ push those muscles to grow. Much of the needed control for fencing is centered in the core, so those muscles that wrap around the midsection increase in strength the more you fence. Fencing stances are similar to squats with knees bent, and just as is the case with the core, the muscle tone in the legs increases with time spent practicing so the stances can improve. Because of these things, fencing is a great exercise that allows large muscle groups to develop. Muscle mass grows along with skill.
Fencing can be physically demanding, but it is a mental game as much as it is a physical game.
The speed of the blade
New fencers and those who have not even tried fencing often see the movement of the blade as being super fast and hard to figure out. How can something be easy that seems impossible to even track with your eyes? It’s a mystery that does not last long, though it is always cool to see
Bladework is a key thing that fencers must learn, and this can be difficult to master at first. It seems to go so quickly! How can you ever learn to go that fast? This is one of those places that becomes intuitive with time. Each fencer starts off slowly, seeing the blade as an extension of the arm that they have control over. With each practice session, that comprehension of what is happening becomes clearer and clearer until a fencer sees that they are able to have real control over what they are doing. This realization is an important part of every fencer’s progress. It’s true that the sword does become one with the swordbearer!
Though the movement of the blade seems lightning quick at first, impossible to decipher, after a few months of working in a club it’s much easier to delineate what’s going on and to even imitate it. It’s a progressive curve that we follow along from the first time a fencer picks up their weapon and as long as they continue to participate in the sport.
Easy to learn, hard to master
Getting started with fencing is easy. We all know what it’s like to pick up a stick and say “en garde!” to a person across from us. It’s a natural thing that kids do! Something about this sport is deeply intuitive, and that translates to fencing being straightforward from the very beginning.
We keep coming back to the central theme that learning fencing is a process that takes time and practice. It is intuitive to begin with, physically accessible, and mentally challenging. The only way to progress towards mastery is to start out simply and then continue to show up with your coach to learn new skills. No one is a great fencer the first time they step onto the strip. Not even the greatest fencers of all time start out as masters.
Mastery is a lifelong pursuit, and that’s a really good thing. There is always somewhere to build to when you are a fencer, and even with practice and mastery of certain skills, there is always a new opponent who brings new ways of thinking about it. A very seasoned fencer learns not only from other seasoned fencers but also from mentoring new fencers and seeing their different approaches to techniques. This is a sport that has been around for centuries, and throughout that time it has evolved through the power of personal growth.
In fact, one of the most joyous things about fencing as a sport is that there is no peak, there is no end place. Fencers constantly learn about themselves and what they are capable of. The personal development aspect of fencing is a key aspect of what we love about it so much. No matter whether you’ve been fencing for a few weeks or a few decades, you always have the potential to grow as a fencer.
Though fencing is not a difficult sport, it can be a fun and worthwhile lifelong pursuit!