If you’re familiar with the sport of fencing, you’ve no doubt seen the protective equipment that the competitors wear. It’s important to know all the different pieces of equipment, as well as to have a familiarity with the different swords used, to really understand this sport.
Fencing has three weapons – the epee, the sabre, and the foil. These swords are somewhat like their ancient counterparts, but are actually much lighter. They all range from 30” to 35” long, and usually weigh under 500 grams, or about a pound.
Like any other sports equipment, there is a set of requirements to which each weapon must conform, obviously for safety reasons as well as for fair play.
Epee fencers score touches with the tip of the blade, and are allowed to hit any part of the opponent’s body. Epeeists often train to hit the opponent’s hand, toe and leg, since these are the closest targets.
The sabre has a basket-shaped hand-guard that completely covers the hand, and a blade which is Y-shaped in cross-section.
Sabre fencers can score with the tip, but more commonly use the edge of the weapon to make “cuts” to the target; this makes it different from the foil and epee, which only scores by using the tip.
The sabre is the only edged weapon in fencing. Sabre fencers can hit any part of the opponent’s body above the waist.
Sabreurs often train to hit the opponent’s hand, since it is a close target, and the opponent’s head, since it is easy to hit with an edged weapon.
It’s thought by some that the sabre is the most difficult sword to learn fencing with, since it is typically heavier and has a more opportunities for hits, and attacks are very fast.
The foil has a small, round hand-guard and a blade that is rectangular in cross-section.
Foilists train to hit the chest, but a school of technique is also built around hitting the opponent’s back with a move that bends the blade in a curve (the “flick”).
Equipment and Protective Gear.
As with any other sport, safety should be of first importance for the organizers and participants alike. Being properly equipped with the right safety gear is an absolute must for anyone that is interested in fencing, whether experienced or just beginning with this sport.
Additionally, bear in mind that many competitions have regulations as to the type of safety equipment that’s required, and certain standards that the equipment must meet. Never assume that anything you purchase or use in your class is sufficient for competition; instead, review their requirements carefully. If you’re not sure of any of your equipment, never hesitate to ask your instructor or the event coordinator.
It may seem strange, but the fencer’s movements are so quick it would probably be impossible for a human judge to see every stroke or hit. So, the fencers compete on a rectangular strip of floor, and fencers are actually attached to a cord which is connected to a reel on each short side of this strip. Each cord is spooled on a reel and each reel is connected to a scoring machine, which is on a table along one side of the strip. This electrical cord is what keeps the score – a strike is recorded electronically.
The electrical circuit set-ups for all three types of swords are virtually the same. The body cord of the fencer attaches to a lightweight, transmitter-receiver pack, which is worn on the back at the waist. This pack is about the size of a cigarette pack and is much like those packs worn for portable microphones. This pack transmits radio signals to the electric scoring box with the lights.
This cord system is designed to move in and out with the fencer’s movements, but can give some added distraction. Newcomers to the system do feel some resistance during strikes and so need to compensate.
To make the fencer totally unencumbered, a reel-less, electrical system has been developed and was tested in the 2004 Athens Olympics. However, until this system is in place, you do need to consider the cords you need for electrical competition when purchasing your equipment.
Here are some of the most basic pieces of protective equipment, also referred to as armor:
The jacket worn in fencing of course serves as protection against the blade, but is also designed to keep the combatant as comfortable as possible. It is padded in the chest area and typically has a high collar, and fastens on the side opposite the weapon hand. Most are designed with a fabric that wicks away perspiration. When considering which brand of jacket to purchase for yourself, investigate these options. Sometimes paying a few extra dollars for a higher quality material will be well worth it, and of course men’s and women’s jackets are sized differently. Women’s jackets also have a padded breast protector available, worn under the jacket in a pocket area.
When trying pants, be sure that there is adequate room for lunging and other such movements – never get a pair that are tight or snug in any way.
Your type of mask is actually dependent upon your weapon; be sure that you’re using the appropriate type of mask for the weapon at hand.
Masks have a padded bib area, which is like a flap that protects the neck.
Your mask should not be too snug around your face or push down on the top of your head, but should have adequate padding inside and should not be so loose that it causes a distraction.
A white fencing glove is worn on the weapon hand; the other hand is left bare. Make sure you choose a glove that is not too tight or too loose and that fits properly around the sleeve of your jacket. Move your fingers back and forth, making a fist repeatedly, to be sure you’ve chosen the right glove for you.
There is really nothing very special about fencing shoes except that they are lightweight and offer arch support. You may want to opt for a pair of light court shoes, at least at first, before investing money in fencing shoes. However, be sure that if you’re going to participate in a competition of any sort that your equipment, including your shoes, meets their regulations.
Fencing gear for children is available; be sure that if you are outfitting your child that you purchase items that are of an appropriate size, and replace them as necessary as the child grows. Having loose fitting or too snug clothing may be fine for everyday items, but not for competition.
Other equipment tips.
It’s always recommended that men wear a protective athletic supporter when fencing. Women should also always wear the protective breast pads under their jackets.
Be sure that your socks go up over the knee so that your entire leg is covered. This is not just for safety, but is part of the regulations of most fencing schools and competitions.
Many fencing equipment stores offer a “beginner’s kit,” which usually has one item of each of the above. These kits may be less expensive than purchasing items separately, so definitely investigate this option as well, especially when you’re first starting out.
Some fencing schools will have equipment that you can rent, which may also be a good option for someone just starting out who is hesitant to invest money for the sport immediately. However, remember that if you own the protective clothing, you’re the only one using it – and sweating in it!