Guide to Essential Practice Equipment

THE NEW FENCER'S GUIDE TO ESSENTIAL FENCING EQUIPMENT

So you (or your student) have learned how to fence! Now, you are ready to get your own set of practice equipment!

What do you need? What will be required? What is the equipment really for and what does it do?

Let's touch (pun intended!) on several important concepts first. 

So, a general primer on practice fencing equipment.

Then, contact me so I can help you avoid the trials of new fencing equipment blues...


THE PURPOSE OF BASIC FENCING EQUIPMENT

The purpose of practice fencing equipment is to protect the fencer from injury - not to make fencing feel cushy. (However, newer fencing equipment IS more padded than ever so comfort is factoring into new designs.) Fencing is actually a very safe sport - when people fence properly. This is no different from any other sport in that regard; i.e., if athletes don't follow the rules in basketball, baseball, and so on then those sports can get dangerous very fast. Fencing is more dramatic simply because of movies, the fact that people really DID fight duels with swords, and so forth. 

A quick side note: there was a recent national survey of emergency rooms for the top 10 sports-related reasons to visit. Guess what? Fencing was not on the list. All of the most popular sports: baseball, basketball, swimming, wrestling, football, etc were on the list. One might argue that that's because far fewer people fence than play football but let's face it - pain is pain and injury is not a desired outcome no matter which sport played. If fencing really was a dangerous sport, there would be a lot of discussion about ways to improve the equipment or change the rules for safety reasons. As it is, the current safety regulations for fencing equipment do a very good job of protecting fencers from injury during normal, proper fencing action.

THE EQUIPMENT

The basic set for a new fencer should be the essential equipment: a mask, a jacket, a glove, and a weapon.

In addition to the basic set, there are some "extras" that the fencer will eventually need but doesn't HAVE to have at first: knickers (fencing pants), a plastron (underarm protector), and a bag to carry all the equipment safely.

REQUIRED WEAPONS

FOIL & EPEE

To practice foil or epee, one needs a 'practice foil' or 'practice epee'. This weapon has a blunted tip that usually is covered with a rubber or plastic tip. The blade can come in a variety of qualities but for most beginners, a standard practice foil or epee blade is sufficient. The length of the blade is most important depending upon the age and size of the fencer. If the fencer is very young (ages 8 - 10) or very petite in size, then a #2 or #4 blade should be used. The #5 blade is full-size for most fencers, teens through adults.

The handle of foils and epees is the next consideration for new fencers. The straight-looking handle that a beginner starts with during an introductory course (usually) is called a French grip. There are other handles with flanges and finger notches that are as a group called 'pistol grips'. Pistol grips come in a variety of flavors, usually based on a country of origin: Belgian, Russian, American, Italian/Visconti, etc. The most popular pistol grip at many schools and with many fencers is the Belgian grip. However, there has lately been a resurgence of the French grip with many elite fencers. In the end, each fencer should decide for themself which grip they like the most. Keep in mind that the pistol grips tend to encourage heavy, wrist-oriented actions whereas the French grip encourages finer, thumb-and-finger-tip actions. The best place to 'try out' different handles is at a large competition (usually national) where fencing equipment vendors set up booths. They'll usually have sample handles for fitting and trying out.

THE SABRE

The sabre is, in my opinion, a more advanced weapon that requires a certain level of training to truly embrace. Beginners should work through foil or epee first to learn many important techniques involving footwork, body actions, timing, and distance. By the time a fencer is ready to pick up sabre, they will know many of the issues involved in choosing a proper weapon for practice and competition.

MASK - required

The practice masks are designed to protect the head and face from injury, in case a blade breaks during fencing. The basic mask one can buy with a starter set meets the minimum safety requirements for practice fencing and basic competitive fencing. There are better models of masks that are called "F.I.E." approved - this means a mask meets an international safety standard of strength and usually costs a fair bit more than the standard. 

The important thing to know about a mask is if it fits you properly vertically first then width-wise. If the masks fits top of the head to bottom of chin without pain, you're in good shape. Then width-wise is easy to tell: if it squeezes your head like a grape, open up the sides by pulling them apart to make room. If there's so much room your head can turn while the mask stays still then you need to squeeze the mask's sides inward until it fits comfortably.

I recommend a basic 3-weapon mask that offers some inner padding for a beginner. Do not worry about the F.I.E. models - they are too expensive for your needs when starting out. When purchasing a mask, refer to the vendor's sizing chart since masks often come from other countries with a different way of measuring the head.

THE JACKET - required

The fencing jacket is designed to protect your body from a broken blade being thrust at you. The materials and weave have to meet certain safety standards so that if possible, the fabric will turn aside a penetrating blade - not allow to punch through. So if you are right-handed, your jacket will have two layers on the right side of the body. Same for lefties with the double layer. The higher cost jackets use kevlar or other expensive fabrics that are especially designed to prevent penetration but allow breathing so you don't get too hot when wearing the garment. I heartily recommend a front-zip jacket with nylon/stretch material. It's a garment you will wear a lot and you'll want the comfort and give of the nylon/stretch. When purchasing a jacket, refer to the vendor's sizing chart since jackets often come from other countries with a different way of measuring the body.

THE PANTS - (optional at first but required later)

The fencing pants or knickers look very much like baseball pants. Our pants use suspenders and go high up on the waist while providing layered fabric protection for leg hits and blows. They are not required for beginners but ARE required for official fencing competitions. Eventually you will be getting some. Your basic model of fencing pants will be sufficient when ordering as they all have to meet certain safety standards. 

When purchasing fencing pants, refer to the vendor's sizing chart since they often come from other countries with a different way of measuring.

THE GLOVE - required

The glove protects the hand that is controlling your weapon and is often the first possible place to get hit while fencing. Metal vs flesh usually results in a loss for the flesh so a glove is necessary even though modern swords are not sharpened. They are still metal and can easily scrape/cut bare skin. The glove should fit well - not too tight and not loose. There should not be a 'pinchable' amount of fabric at the end of the fingers when worn. That means a smaller size is necessary. Likewise, too small a glove will not go on the hand. A basic 3-weapon glove is all that's necessary for beginners. 

When purchasing a glove, refer to the vendor's sizing chart since gloves often come from other countries with a different way of measuring the hand.

UNDERARM PROTECTOR (Plastron)

The underarm protector is a piece of safety equipment/garment that is REQUIRED for modern competition. It is a small garment that fits over the weapon-arm shoulder and covers the underarm/shoulder areas. Fastened with elastic straps, the plastron provides an additional layer of protection for the fencer in the event that broken blade penetrates the jacket. This final layer will help to divert or stop the blade from entering the body. Any basic plastron you order will suffice as they all have to meet a minimum safety standard before they can be sold. You can purchase higher grade plastrons made of Kevlar and other materials but that's not necessary for beginners. 

When purchasing a plastron, refer to the vendor's sizing chart since plastrons often come from other countries with a different way of measuring the body.

THE CHEST PROTECTOR (optional but recommended - especially for females in practice and competition)

Chest protectors are plastic, molded pieces that act as a plastic shield over the chest area of fencers. This definitely helps in lessening the impacts of direct hits on the chest while fencing. There are male and female versions. The female version is more molded to accommodate female characteristics whereas the male version is flatter. Most females choose the male version since it actually covers more area on the sides and higher on the chest than the female version. Many men choose the protector to help tighten their jacket in the hopes that a thrusted tip will glance off instead of catching on materials/fabric.

THE BAG (not required but VERY welcome)

Once you get all the gear noted above, you will want something with which to carry it all. The bags for fencing equipment come in a variety of sizes and costs. From fabric (soft) bags with or without wheels to hardshell cases designed to take the beating luggage gets in an airport. Swords are certain length so a certain bag must accommodate them. Golf club bags of the hardshell case type work great for fencing equipment. In fact, if you have an old hardshell gold club case, you can carry all of the beginner's eq in it. The wheels make it much nicer when traveling as your load gets heavier. For beginners, the basic carrying bag for 3-weapons will suffice.

GETTING THE GOODS (THE EQUIPMENT)

For your first round of equipment, you will find this helpful - just email me to let me know that you'd like me to order equipment and we'll take care of it.

Here are my recommendations for beginners in Foil:

Advanced 5-Piece Foil Set for $200.00

Includes: 3-weapon Mask, FrontZip Jacket, 3-weapon Glove, Practice Foil w/choice of grip, Fencing Bag (holds a few weapons and uniform/gear)

OR if you want the complete uniform including pants and chest protector with plastron, get the following:

The Deluxe 7-Piece Foil Set for $245.00

Includes: a better version of the above set plus an Underarm protector and fencing pants.

For beginners in Epee or Saber, refer to the Guide to Competitive Fencing Equipment. You should already have most of the basic equipment listed above.

Good luck!!

© 2015 • Questions?