Sabre fencer straightens his weapon during a fencing bout at Pan-American Championship 2015What can be more straightforward than straightening your weapon? (Pun intended.) The basic idea is simple: Weapons should be straight and they often get bent during a bout … so you need to straighten them. The problem is that beginner fencers, especially children, often either don’t realize their weapon is bent or they do realize it, but don’t know to stop the bout for straightening. Even when they do know to straighten it, what’s the best way?

In competition, a bent weapon can cost you several important touches. In some cases the referee or coach will point to the fencer to indicate that the weapon is bent, but it’s ultimately the fencers responsibility to be aware of their weapon and fix it if needed. Not to mention, the fencer needs to assess for themselves how straight is straight enough, as some downward bend is desired.

If you, as a parent, see that your child’s weapon is bent, you can politely call for your child’s attention, or alert the coach or referee. You should do this only after the referee has halted the bout and before it has resumed. (As a general rule, never make any loud noises (including cheering) while the competitors are fencing.)

Okay, so how can you help your child avoid fencing with a bent weapon? Three things:

First, help them get into the habit of checking their weapon for straightness before each phrase (the term for the segments of continuous bouting).

Second, make sure they know that they are allowed (and expected) to stop a bout to straighten their weapon. They can simply wave at the referee using their non-weapon arm, and if the referee addresses them, ask to straighten their weapon. This can be a tough step depending on the temperament of your child, so they may need some encouragement.

If the referee for some reason ignores or doesn’t notice the waving and continues the bout, your child should continue the bout and wait for the next “Halt!” to try again.

Third, if permission is granted, straighten the weapon. You can choose from a few techniques:

  1. Sometimes it is enough to simply use your hand. Bend it with your non-weapon hand against the bend. However, this method has some drawbacks that I’ll mention in a minute.
  2. If you need more force, you can use your knee. Place the blade over your knee, pressing down to straighten.
  3. For the most effectiveness, you can rest the blade on the ground while holding the grip, so that your hand on the grip is very close to the ground. Then lightly step on the blade with one foot as close as you can to the grip. While applying some pressure with your foot, slowly pull the blade out from under your foot (see the picture). This isn’t an easy process to describe in writing, so if you’re not clear, ask a coach or experienced fencer to show you what I mean.

The third approach is preferable to the others when the bend is pronounced. For a slight bend, maybe using your hand or knee is okay, but for a prominent bend using your hands can lead to a breakage point where the weapon at some point suddenly snaps in half. The last method, on the other hand, applies even pressure to the entire blade, which is less likely to create a breakage point and eventually a snapped weapon.

One important note is that you should never, ever straighten your weapon on the strip if you use the floor like in the third method. At a competition, this is a sure way to get a yellow card. In training, you may be yelled at by your coach. The reason is simple: you can damage the strip. Pressing a weapon against the strip can leave scratches or holes, or affect conductivity.

So, the bottom line is, to straighten your weapon during a competition, first politely raise your unarmed hand to catch the referee’s attention and then ask their permission to straighten the weapon—and make sure you get off the strip to do so if you need to lay the weapon on the floor.

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