Have you been looking for a sport where you can inflict pain on others and flex your muscles without having to run around too much? Have you just binge-watched all four seasons of Game of Thrones and fancy yourself an expert swordsman, but want to maintain (slightly) better hygiene? Well, fencing might just be the sport for you.
Firstly, any swordsman must arm themselves. Fencing has thankfully evolved from military training to a proper sport over the past few centuries, and subsequently it has boiled down to three different weapons, each of which with a blunt tip so as to avoid any severe wounds or mutilations:
- Foil, the more delicate of the three blades, is one of the two thrusting weapons in your armoury. To score, you must land the point on either the torso or the groin of your opponent, a rule inherited from an age when duels were to the death and therefore one would target mostly the vital organs, which is fun.
- Sabre is the ‘Zorro’ blade: “fencing for ogres” to quote my coach, but actually a light weapon with which fencers can score points using both the point and the flat of the blade. Points can be scored with successful hits above the waist, including the arms and head, the latter delivering a satisfying knocking noise on connection.
- The third is the epée, the heaviest and sturdiest in the arsenal. Epée could be described as the most relaxed of the weapons: like foil, you can only score with the point of the blade, however the fencer can hit any part of their opponent’s body, with less rules regarding right-of-way. This no-target-off-limits style of fencing also favours the sneakier amongst us – there are few things more joyous than your opponent’s rage when you repeatedly tap them on the wrist, or better still, the foot.
Weapon selected, it’s time to hone your skills. Footwork is essential to fencing, and any budding fencer should expect sore legs while getting used to the en garde position and moving essentially crab-like for sometimes hours at a time.
Bladework will make up the majority of your training, where you’ll develop your primitive lunge-and-hope-for-the-best into an arsenal of parries, ripostes, disengages and other tricks of the trade; you’ll learn, forget and eventually relearn the names for the positions of all said parries, some seemingly identical to one another. Most often, however, you’ll abandon all of this and attack furiously until you hit something.
The equipment necessary for fencing is wide-ranging and can be on the expensive side. Any fencing club will have the necessary electrics, and as for your own personal gear, you can accumulate most of this as you go.
Clubs will again have the majority of the things you need, from blades to clothing and protective gear, although if you do take to the sport you may want to invest in the clothing early, so as to avoid sharing so much sweat with your peers. Breeches are often a good place to start, and while they may not be your sartorial preference, they’ll give you a bit more protection than your average trackies.
Ladies will require chest armour which should similarly be available at any club, but gents will want to invest early in a glamorous protective box of their own. Trust me. A fight can be first to anywhere between 5 and 15 points; shorter fights will help stave off fatigue and aching knees, and will favour those who rely on little tricks and sneakier tactics, while longer fights allow more time to figure out your opponent’s weaknesses and force any fencer to change their game if they’re looking to win.
Tall fencers may favour epée for the ability to skewer their opponent on approach, while the shorter among you may opt for another blade where you can enjoy an even smaller target area. Left-handed fencers will be in the minority, but will often find themselves the coach’s favourite, as their right-handed opponents will have far less experience fighting a leftie.
With so many variables to each bout, fencing requires a flexible approach and one-trick fencers will soon find themselves trailing several points behind. Fencing might not be the first sport that comes to mind when you’re considering a new club to join, but most universities will have one and there is likely to be at least one more in your city, all of which should offer free taster sessions where you can get a feel for the sport before parting with any membership fees.
Most clubs will have a huge range of skill levels and accommodate multiple blades, so you have the opportunity to both learn from more experienced fencers and have a scrap with your fellow newbies.
It’s not exactly tough cardio but your muscles will get a workout, and I can promise you that you will sweat profusely from the moment you put your many protective layers on. Fencing is a hugely rewarding sport, and with regular training and several competitions a year, the sky’s the limit and there is always room for improvement.
So: suit up, en garde, and stick ‘em with the pointy end.