Art of Fencing, Art of Life

How Many Weapons You Should Really Have for Competition

How Many Weapons You Should Really Have for CompetitionGoing to competition, especially a major competition like an NAC or nationals, can be nerve wracking. Fencers want to make sure that they’re as prepared as possible for what’s coming, but at the same time you don’t want to go taking everything and the kitchen sink with you to a competition.

Fencing rules about the number of weapons

A lot of relatively newcomer fencers and their parents tend to miss an important point in the fencing rules regarding the number of weapons that they should have in competition. According to the fencing rules, a fencer should come to the strip with 2 working sets of everything. That means you need to have two of each of the following in working order:

  • weapon
  • body cord
  • mask cord (foil and sabre)

One set is there for the fencer to actually use during the bout. The other set is to be kept nearby to be used in the case that something goes wrong.

These are the rules for fencing bouts, what you’re supposed to have with you. And this is where most inexperienced fencers stop. This rule doesn’t actually tell you how many weapons you need to pack, only how many weapons you need to have with you when you get to the strip. It’s the job of the fencer to figure out how to follow the rule. 

Thinking beyond the rules

Beginners tend to stick to this rule – the have exactly 2 pieces of everything. But does that really cover you? Are you really prepared if you’ve got just two of everything?

For some (or even for most) of the bouts in the competition, if you’ve got two of everything then you are perfectly compliant with the rule. The problem comes when something goes wrong in a bout. For instance, a weapon snaps (a very common thing). If that were to happen, then the fencer is left with only 1 (one!) weapon. What happens at the next bout if you break one of the two weapons that you brought with you? If the other weapon fails the test or breaks in the middle of the bout, then there is a big issue because you’ve gone through your backup.

I’ve actually witnessed this exact situation a few times with our fencers. One such occurrence happened with a relatively novice lefty fencer who had his blade broken only to find that his backup weapon was confiscated due to test failure. In that instance he was very lucky, as his opponent fenced with the same hand and gracefully handed him his own spare weapon. While this was an incredible display of good sportsmanship, it was also a valuable lesson for our fencer to learn as in that moment he could have easily had to forfeit but for the saving grace of his generous opponent.

Yes, there are some venues that have vendors who in theory could supply you with a rushed replacement in this kind of situation or fix the broken piece of equipment if necessary. However that’s nothing that you can count on as it’s impossible to be sure that such a vendor will be there in that particular venue, or they would be able to do anything for your next bout and definitely not for the ongoing bout.

What you need in your bag for competition

Now that we’ve effectively laid out the problem and convinced you that you need to look beyond the bare minimum as required by the fencing rulebook, the question becomes – what exactly should you have in your fencing bag for competition?

Here’s what we suggest to have in your bag for competitions:

1.      At least 3 working similar weapons.

It is better that every weapon is configured the same so the “feeling” of a new weapon will be the same and the change would go unnoticed in case of first weapon malfunction. You don’t want to be thrown for a loop during competition by a weapon that’s configured completely differently from the one that you’re starting with.  For example, if you use a pistol grip weapon make sure your your spare one is not a French grip!

2.      At least 3 working body cords for foil.

Foil body cords are more fragile than epee body cords. That’s especially true with little kids, as they break too often. Epee cords are more robust and you might get away with 2 most of the time, though it’s never a BAD idea to have three just in case.

3.      At least 2 mask cords.

Mask cords break less frequently than other cords, and having 2 mask cords break during a competition is very rare. But on the other hand, mask cords are very cheap and you wouldn’t feel a significant financial burden if you stock one more. Go with your judgement on this one, but three wouldn’t be crazy.

4.      A repair kit

This almost goes without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway. It’s essential that you have a good quality repair kit in your bag for competition. Tape, screws, springs, screwdrivers, etc. Having a good repair kit at your disposal is often the difference in equipment that works and equipment that doesn’t! Save yourself the headache and have everything you need in your bag.

Confidence comes from preparation

There is no substitute for being well prepared for competition. Having the right number of tools in your bag will allow you to feel at ease and ready to fence without being afraid of an equipment failure. In the event that one does happen, you can be confident in knowing that you’ve got the backups there so that you don’t have to feel overwhelmed. Mindset means everything in competition. If a fencer doesn’t feel confident and secure in their weapon, then they’re not going to fence as well as they want to.

Preparing effectively will give you the peace of mind you need! No more being unsure about what’s in your bag – walk into the venue and take on your opponent knowing that you’ve got the weapons in hand that you’re comfortable with.

Good luck in the next competition!


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  1. R

    Don’t forget you need to have a mask and glove that pass inspection, i.e. no glove holes and for saber, conductivity. As to weapon number, if you do your own armouring you need less. If not, more. To preserve body cords, learn to wrap them properly to prevent breaks – the same for stainless steel lames.

  2. Michael Houst

    The one thing most fencers do not have enough of at tournaments is TIME. Even if you do your own armoring, fixing a balky or broken weapon means you need time to do so. If the breakdown happens during bouting, you’ll be lucky to have 5 minutes until you’re up again; time to get from your strip to your bag with the repair kit, to find a clear enough area to work, and then get back to the strip ready to fence again. Tip screws, contact and return springs, pommel tightening, maybe reattach a body cord plug, that’s about the maximum you’re going to be able to do. Which means you’re best served by having at least 3 weapons fully ready and tested.

    I’ve come up with my personal rule of thumb that I should have one working weapon with me for each DE I’m going to be fencing that day. Most of the time, 5 weapons is enough. But for a big regional or national, I’ve brought up to 7 just in case. (And no, I did not expect to get to the final rounds of a field of 280+ fencers, or I’d have brought more weapons. /wink)

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