How to Learn to Fence
Have you ever wanted to know how to fight with a sword? Unbelievably for some, the sport fencing has not died out. Far from it. The rules have become fairly complex; electrical equipment has been invented that aid in the playing of the sport, and schools of fencing exist in all parts of the earth. It's an exciting sport in the Olympics that combines traditions going back hundreds of years, with modern technology. Fortunately, the days of swordsmen are over so you can have a lot of fun fencing, without risking life and limb.
Getting Information Before You Start
Decide why you want to fence.Is it for fitness, competition, or for historical appeal? All of these are legitimate reasons, and each leads to a different type of fencing and training. Fencing is an old art that has great traditions and cultures, so you may find it more enjoyable if you immerse yourself in it. Fencing is a great way to learn both mental and physical skill and discipline.But it’s also great exercise and great fun for the more casual fencer too!
Research different types of fencing.Fencing has very strong traditions, and a number of distinct schools with different styles and approaches. The Italian, Spanish, and French schools, which can trace their histories back hundreds of years, are dominant across the world of fencing. The difference between these schools may be relatively slight, focused on the specifics of different weapons, but it is worth having a basic knowledge before you start.
- The first book on fencing, Treatise on Arms, was written by Spaniard Diego de Valera between 1458 and 1471.
- You will also learn a little about fencing's history, which may inspire you to take up a sword.
Find a fencing club or school near you.The next step is to find somewhere near you to get started. You may find that there are more possibilities for fencing than you imagined, so research each school within easy travelling distance. You should keep in mind the following criteria for selecting a fencing club:
- Does the club match your goals? If you want to compete in tournaments, or even the Olympics, then you need a club that is highly competitive. If you want to have fun and tell Monty Python jokes, you want a more laid back club.
- Does the club properly enforce safety? Are fencers allowed to use their blades while not wearing masks? If such horseplay is permitted, avoid that club.
- Is the club easily accessible? Though it doesn't have to do with fencing itself, you want to be able to get to and from your club on a regular basis.
- Do you know anyone who fences? Find out where they go, and what they think of the place.
- Does the club have a good mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced fencers? When you're starting out, it's nice to have people at your level. Having a range of abilities generally indicates a club with some stability and longevity.
- Are there enough coaches for you to have private lessons regularly? Private lessons from a coach are essential to the beginning (and intermediate through advanced) fencer.
- Does it teach the weapon that you want to learn? A lot of fencing schools and clubs only teach one or two types of fencing, so make sure that they have the one that you want before you commit.
Joining a Club and Getting Started
Join up.Once you have decided on where you want to go arrange a trial period, or taster session to see what you think. You can also just sit in on a class to see how it all works, and get a feel for the coaching techniques and styles.
Start going to group classes.Throw yourself into it, but be sure to pay attention to the style of the classes, be respectful and listen. Fencing is a combination of physical skill and mental sharpness, as well as lots of self-discipline. Be ready to really concentrate on what you are learning, which means both the theory and the practice.
- The rules can be complicated so do your homework and ask about anything you are unsure of or confused by.
Try to find out who the best available coach in your club is.Usually, they'll have a few hours a week in which you can fit in private lessons with them. Sometimes, this is not the case, and it will be necessary to take group lessons from that coach, if you want to take any at all. Take them up on this if it is offered, but try to find another coach to give you private lessons as well.
Mastering the Basics
Learn to use your sword correctly and safely.It's important that you know how to hold your sword. Don't wave it around, and never point it at somebody who isn't wearing the protective mask. When you are holding it, keep the point of sword pointing towards the floor. If you are moving while holding the sword, hold it by the point not the handle. If you need both of your hands to take your mask on or off, be sure to put the sword down first.
- You should always check on the condition of your sword and ensure that the point has a covering that is intact and in a good state.
Get to know the essential terminology.You will need to have a solid understanding of the basic lexicon of fencing. Some of the most important terms to learn at the beginning are: En garde, Attack, Parry, Riposte, Counter Riposte. Attack is an offensive action, parry a defensive one.A riposte is a counter-attack after a parry, and a counter-risposte is an attack that follows a parry of a riposte.
- Take some time to read through a to familiarize yourself with them.
- Remember that some people might use the French or Italian words.
Master the basic footwork.Footwork is absolutely essential in fencing, so it's important to develop fluid and easy movement. The basics you will need to learn, however, are the En Garde position, and the simple advance and retreat. The En Garde position is your starting position. You will stand side on, leading with your sword hand, with your foot on that side pointed towards your opponent while your rear foot points out at roughly 90 degrees. When advancing the front foot leads, and when retreating the back foot leads.
- Try to get an even balance of weight and be on the balls of your feet so you can move quickly.
- As you progress you will learn more techniques like attacking lunges.
Learn the right grip for your weapon.Before you start to learn sword techniques you have to master the grip and learn how to hold the sword properly. There are different styles and your instructor will probably have a preference for their students. Different swords also have different grips, so you have to learn these with an instructor.
- A common mistake for beginners is to hold the grip too tight. You need loose and flexible wrists.
Learn the first blade work techniques.Once you have got a comfortable and technically sound grip you can learn the first elements of blade work. This may depend on your instructor and weapon choice, but you can expect to learn the straight thrust and the simple parry first. These are the simple offensive and defensive moves which you will then build on with variations and additions.
Decide on your sword.Once you've got started you might want to choose to focus on one weapon which you prefer. Your coach will probably present you with a choice of weapons (Foil, Epée, or Saber), or give you a foil without such a choice.Many fencing masters and coaches believe that the correct order to learn the weapons in is foil-épée-saber. Sometimes you will encounter a coach who will try to start students with Epée or Saber (this is actually fairly common among high school coaches, as they need to generate fencers in all weapons quickly).
- Some believe it preferable to always start with Foil because, they assert, Foil provides point control necessary to épée, right of way ensures that you develop the correct technique, and right of way is an essential aspect of Foil and Saber.
- The other side would contend that while most of this is the case for épée, you can learn right-of-way and technique perfectly from Sabre. Ultimately, it's up to you.
Find out about the equipment you need.Fencing is a relatively equipment-heavy sport, so find out about the special protective clothing that is required as well as the swords. Some of the protective clothing for fencing differs for genders, and comes in differing right and left-handed versions. Before thinking about buying any of the equipment, do some investigations and see if you can borrow club equipment.
Use the club's equipment.Many clubs have spare equipment stores, so borrow equipment for your first few lessons, just to make sure you like the sport enough to continue. Club equipment is often old and worn thin by use, the masks unpleasant from the sweat of fencers, and the weapons bent beyond the point of recognition as a sword. This will eventually happen to your own equipment as well, but you'll get a good few years use out of everything, at the very least.
- It might be old and a bit tatty, but treat the club equipment with respect and don’t be careless with it.
Buy your own equipment, when you're ready.Fencing equipment can be expensive. A few hundred dollars or euros, so be completely positive that you will be fencing for some time before you go out and buy it. But be sure to talk to your coach about what to get before you go to the store. The USFA maintains a list of vendors in the US.
Improving Outside of Class
Do lots of drills.Virtually all fencers agree that they're boring, but no one denies that drills will improve your fencing. A tip to make is less boring is to visualize that you are using a real weapon on a real opponent (only if you are macabre, though). But like all things, practice makes perfect.
Watch the pros.Spend some time just watching pro competitions to learn more about the top-level of the sport. Watching the experts can also inspire you to practice more, and increase your love of fencing by seeing it practiced so excellently. If you have the opportunity to see a big competition nearby, go for it!
Read books on the subject.This may seem like carrying the sport to the point of fanaticism, but books about fencing are often useful. Aldo Nadi's "On Fencing" is a volume filled with a good number of drills, exercises, and hints and Rudy Volkman's "Magnum Libre de Escrime" is a fantastic resource for beginners.
Improve your fitness.Although it might not look it to the untrained eye, fencing is a physically demanding sport. Work on improving your general fitness outside of your classes in order to improve your stamina and sharpness with a sword.
Going to Competitions
Prepare for competitions.A big part of fencing, and the best way to test your skills and measure your progress, is by going to official fencing competitions. Before you actually go to compete, you might want to go to a competition as a spectator to get a feel for the event and the atmosphere.
- Pay attention to the scoring, and try to learn from what you are watching.
Go to competitions!This cannot be stressed enough! When you go to a competition, you're under pressure to perform well. This pressure can bring out weaknesses in your fencing for you to work on with your coach. Do not, however, go to competitions before your master/coach thinks you are ready. There's a certain level of readiness that you should be at before you throw yourself into an actual tournament.
Win some matches!Once you have developed your skills and confidence, and your coach has given you the green light, put all your work into practice and go and win some matches. Competitions requires serious mental strength so be sure to keep your cool and respect your opponent and the referee at all times. Dignity and humility in victory and defeat is crucial.
QuestionDoes fencing require any wrist movements?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, there are lots of moves in fencing that require good wrist movements. In fact, wrist movements are the most used in fencing.Thanks!
QuestionIs it too late to start fencing at fifteen years old?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNot at all. You can start to fence at any age.Thanks!
QuestionIs it possible to train at home?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, you can bring your weapon home or you can use a broomstick and shadow fence, or just practice your footwork without a weapon. If you have a weapon and gear at home you could practice with a sibling or friend and give each other mini lessons.Thanks!
QuestionI am 11 years old. Is it alright for me to fence?Top AnswererYes. However, the school may prevent you from doing certain things at that age, even with parental consent.Thanks!
QuestionCan I start fencing in my 60's?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, as long as you're healthy enough to start a new physical activity.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I know which fencing style is best suited for me?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTry using each style against an opponent, compare the scores, and go with the one that resulted in the highest score for you. You can also practice multiple styles for more versatility in your fencing style.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I don't have enough money to buy fencing equipment?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou may be able to rent equipment. Contact teachers in your area or look for used equipment.Thanks!
QuestionWhy can't I fence in shorts?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou need full equipment and protective gear, as fencing is a potentially dangerous sport. Shorts do not protect you from harm.Thanks!
QuestionWhat should I do if the person I'm fencing with has laced his sword with poison?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou'll have to avoid getting cut, then. Send someone who can run quickly for an antidote.Thanks!
- If you try to learn anything, make sure you're trying to learn it from a coach, or at the very least, learn it from someone to whom a coach delegated the task.
- When you start fencing, don't try long complicated compound attacks. Keep things simple and straightforward, or you'll increase your chances for error astronomically.
- Treat the equipment well. It will make your equipment last longer, and watching out for the reels and light boxes will keep people at the club off your back about breaking club equipment.
- Aim the sword down if your opponent doesn't have on his/her mask, it can be dangerous.
- Always join a club with the following resources: assistant coaches, at least one armorer and a good competition team.
- It is typically best to talk with your coach about purchasing equipment before you do so yourself. They are more experienced with the process, the sizing, the quality of equipment, and businesses which sell equipment.
- All fencing clothing is specifically designed to be right or left handed! Always wear the correct kind. For instance, if you wear a left-handed jacket, the zipper will be on the wrong side and the jacket will not properly protect you from a broken blade.
- Do not fence in shorts.
- Fencing has an equal amount of physical and mental skills. Don't take a coach that favors one person and yells at everyone else ( my coach does that).
- Fencing without masks is very dangerous. Never raise a weapon against someone without their mask on, and never let anyone point or brandish a weapon at you without your mask in place.
- Watch out for bystanders! Sometimes non-fencers just don't get how easily your blade could get knocked about by your opponent. Do your best to avoid injuring anyone who wanders too close to a fencing bout.
- Faulty equipment can make the sport dangerous. If a blade snaps (and this does happen), it can have sharp edges. A rusty mask or a jacket with holes could have results too gruesome to relate. Make sure all of your equipment is in good condition.
Things You'll Need
A fencing jacket
- If you are fencing saber, make sure to obtain an electric mask; they are cheaper and protect the head
A plastron (a.k.a. An Underarm Protector)
- While many people practice without one, it really isn't a good idea. The plastron specifically protects a vulnerable point in the jacket, and accidents can happen in both practice and tournaments.
A breastplate or the 'coaster' (For Women)
Lightweight gym clothes which cover all skin
Good running shoes.
- Indoor court shoes for sports such as badminton, squash, indoor soccer, etc. are ideal.
A fencing weapon with a non-electric blade that has a rubber tip instead of an electric button.
Tournaments are significantly different from practice. All officially sanctioned tournaments are electric, so you must have a complete set of electric equipment. In addition, all official tournaments require full fencing attire from head to toe, i.e. no jeans or sweatpants allowed.
For tournament fencing. you'll need:
- Fencing pants ("knickers")
- Long socks (approximately knee length)
- A lame (foil and saber only)
- Cuff (saber only. This is more electrical equipment)
- Mask cord (foil and sabre only)
- Two electric weapons - minimum! If you break a blade at a tournament, and do not have an immediate replacement at hand, you are disqualified.
- Two body cords
Optional, but recommended items:
- Fencing shoes.
- A protective cup
Sources and Citations
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