Recently, the FIE officially approved a rule change that would allow wearing only a specific type of chest protector in the foil category of fencing, which was also adopted by the USFA. The rule is dictated by the following:
“At all weapons, the use of a breast/chest protector (made of metal or some rigid material) is compulsory for women and optional for men. At foil, this breast/chest protector must be worn below the protective plastron. At foil, the protector will have the following characteristics: The entire outside of the chest protector (the side facing the opponent) must be covered with a soft material such as E.V.A. (Ethylene-vinyl acetate) of four mm thickness and density of 22kg/m3. (The material can be attached to the current plastic models or incorporated into the manufacture of new chest protectors). The material must have the SEMI technical mark at the center of the upper edge.”
Anytime there is a new rule in fencing, it’s important to understand why the rule has been put in place, and how it will ultimately affect you.
What Does This New Rule Mean?
This rule has been created to help foil touches that have otherwise gone un-registered to be counted. It will be a great thing for the sport that will make foil fencing more accurate and fun. The reason foil has been singled out for this rule is because foil weapon and apparatus circuitry works differently from other weapons.
Epee circuitry is quite simple. The two wires running in the weapon are not shortened together, so when a touch is made and an epee tip is pressed and thus touches these two wires, the circuit closes, and the machine registers the touch. As long as the circuit is closed in this way for 2ms, the touch is registered.
Unlike epee, the foil circuitry works opposite: when the tip is not pressed, the circuit is closed and when the tip is pressed, the circuit is open. This will trigger a registration of the touch.
When it is pressed the circuit opens, and the machine registers a touch. It is important to note that there is a requirement of how long the tip should be pressed (i.e., how long the circuit is open) for the machine to register a touch, which is 14ms in foil, i.e., much longer than in epee.
How These Chest Protectors Will Help the Game of Foil
Because of this circuit differentiation and how long the tip is pressed, many times in foil, some touches are unregistered. Consider, for example, fast touches, such as flicks. These touches are very light, and when they land on a bouncing surface, like a plastic chest guard, they bounce back too quickly, and the circuitry does not stay open long enough to register a touch.
I bet many of you have experienced some touches that you thought were good valid touches but were not registering on the machine because they bounced off the chest plate too soon.
The FIE decided to change the rule to make the foil chest protector a tool to imitate the feeling of the thickness (less bounce) of a body with an additional 4mm layer formed from a special material (EVA) on top of it. This will mean these touches will not bounce off of an opponent’s chest as they have in the past, and will have a more realistic chance to register.
What You Need To Know
Wearing a chest protector is mandatory for women, and not for men. However if men chose to wear one (and I would recommend that this is important for children of any gender), the foil chest protector would need to conform to the same guidelines.
For the upcoming Summer Nationals, Youth and Division 2/3 foil fencers can continue to fence with their old plastic protector. However, they will need to purchase a new one at the beginning of next season since all USFA sanctioned competitions, and this means your local ones as well, will require this new plastic protector.
The new foil chest protector is covered with a soft EVA material (reminding pressed foam or rubber), meaning it will likely become dirty and smelly very fast. So be sure to continually take it out of your bag and air it to dry.
Sorry parents, this will make clean up a bit more labor intensive. Unfortunately, it is not really an option to wash this chest guard in a washing machine. The best way to clean your new chest protector would be to gently hand wash with soap or another detergent and rinse with water. Air dry either by hanging to dry, or laying on a flat surface.
Where and How Do You Get One?
During Summer Nationals there will likely be many vendors selling a variety of fencing paraphernalia. You could wait until the nationals to try to purchase a new chest protector there. Especially if you are a youth or Division 2 or 3 fencer since you won’t need to have it for Summer Nationals. It might be easier in this case, to try on a few different chest protectors at the venue to see which one you prefer, rather than buying online.
However, for those who will be required to have it by Summer Nationals, it’s essential that you order a new chest protector as soon as possible. The rule dictates that it won’t be in effect until Summer Nationals, this is to allow manufacturers to keep up with the supply and demand. But do not delay, as you will need a new one before the season starts.
(Picture below is taken from the Absolute Fencing Gear product page)
What Do You Do With Your Old Chest Protector?
Once you receive your new chest protector, there are some options for what you can do with your used chest protector:
1) Give it to your epee or sabre friend if they need one.
2) Donate to your fencing club. For training purposes, any protector is considered acceptable, and your club will be grateful for this donation.
The sport of fencing is an ever-evolving game. These changes will ultimately make the sport of foil even more fun to play. Being able to adapt and evolve with these changes will ensure that you remain both competitive and continue to enjoy a sport that you love.