I recently had a conversation with one of our fencers where she told me that her favorite epee broke and she does not have time to fix it before her next competition. All of the parts of all of her weapons were different: the guards, blades, tips, pistols. Nothing was the same.
I was surprised to hear that she had been using a Frankenstein-ed version of a weapon cobbled together with different pieces and different blades. While I understand that might have been the only way she could attain the right kind of weapon at the time, it made me realize that there are some very important considerations for you to take when purchasing and assembling your arsenal.
All Weapons Should Be the Same
If possible, your weapons should all be clones of one another. They should have the same blade, same guard, point, pad, grip. If possible, even the stiffness of your blade should be the same.
This is important because if your blade breaks, or if you need to replace any part of your “favorite” weapon for any reason, you would be able to replace it with almost the same piece. Just imagine being in a competition and snapping your blade! You won’t have any time to order a new part that is like the one you’ve just broken, so it’s essential to be able to pull a weapon from your bag that is the same.
When it comes to some youth events, a slight difference in elements of your blade may not impact your performance as much, but significant differences definitely will. As an example, I recently watched a child with an extra-small Visconti pistol grip who had his blade snap in competition. He produced from his bag a new foil with a large size Belgian grip. Needless to say in his hand this foil was unmanageable, simply because the fencer could not have any point control.
For his parents, however, both weapons looked the same. It’s an easy mistake to make, but unless you pay attention to the minute details, it’s easy to overlook how you could purchase such different parts.
I also recently watched a fencer who had two different grips on both of his epees. One was a pistol grip, and the other “spare” weapon had an old French grip! When his coach suggested that he need to move to a pistol grip, his parents only purchased one. So when his regular pistol grip epee with which he trains did not comply with the weight test, he produced his old French grip epee and his fencing was really difficult from that point on.
Why It’s Important That All Weapons are Standard
It’s possible that at first glance, your child may not seem to notice a difference between one style of a blade to another. This is particularly true of beginner fencers.
However, an excellent way to be clued into these subtle differences is if suddenly they claim to have a “favorite” weapon, or be distraught that they cannot fence as well as they have if the one they prefer is not useable. They may also designate a weapon as being “bad” or “unlucky.” The more likely explanation is that the weapons are not the exact same in every element, feels in the hand and thus handled differently, and this is the reason for the preference.
Train With Your “Real” Weapon
In general, all training should be conducted with a fencer’s real weapon. Sometimes parents will ask me if it’s possible to purchase a “cheap” training weapon to avoid damaging the “good” weapon before competitions. Unfortunately, this is not advisable, because they need to practice with the weapons that they fence with. If it is a private lesson, a group lesson or competition, the training and relationship a fencer has with their blade must be consistent.
The muscle memory that is involved in training is what a fencer relies upon in competition, and if anything changes between practice and competition (including the smallest difference in weight), the fencer will notice it and have to adjust. More often than not, in a way that is not what they’d prefer, they will be distracted by that fact and it would cause them to perform at a less than desirable level.
Standardize Your Weapons
Ask your coach what configuration of weapon would be correct for your child and try to make all of them the same.
Once you have changed weapons, if you can afford to replace all of the old weapons with the new one, this would be an ideal scenario. You can donate the old weapons to your club or friends.
If you cannot afford to replace all of them at once, then try to retire each of these non-standard weapons one by one and when they need to be replaced, replace them to your favorite “standard” configuration.
Changing weapons during a competition is a standard practice. This can happen many times during a single tournament or even a bout. Because of this, it’s essential to maintain uniformity to your weapons so that when this scenario occurs, you can quickly get back out on the strip, and focus on your game, rather than adjusting to a new blade.