Any Fencers here? (the sport)

Probably going to take a basic fencing course soon. I’m fully vaccinated. How long does it take to learn the basics?

I’ve only done historical fencing, not Olympic fencing, but I’d have to ask - what do you mean by “the basics”?

If it’s anything like historic fencing, you can pick up the basic rules, stances and moves in a couple sessions, but it’s going to take months of regular practice before you’ll be using them correctly and have built up even the beginnings of the muscle memory it takes to spar properly. That’s just sparring.

Here’s what the London Fencing Club has to say:

In times past, students often were not permitted to hold a weapon until they had completed a year or two of footwork training. Modern training programs rarely wait this long, and in many cases students will be fencing (badly) within a few days of starting lessons. Low-level competition is feasible within 3-6 months. Competition at this point should be viewed as a learning aid, not as a dedicated effort to win.

Serious attempts at competing will be possible after 2-3 years, when the basic skills have been sufficiently mastered that the mind is free to consider strategy. A moderate level of skill (eg. C classification) can take 3-5 years of regular practice and competition. Penetration of the elite ranks (eg. world cup, A classification) demands three to five days per week of practice and competition, and usually at least 10 years of experience.

Took a number of classes during college. Congratulations ! Fencing is an awesome sport. It is a great workout, and you will really notice an improvement in your reflexes !

“Learning” the basics does not take that long. “Getting good” is a different story.

Footwork is key. This is not highlighted in Errol Flynn movies, though. So you might want to work on some exercises for your quads and maybe calves. We used to do this one warm-up that worked really well: 1) standing straight, put your heels together so your feet make a 90 degree angle. 2) rise up onto the balls of your feet, 3) keeping on the balls of your feet, do a squat (lowering by bending the knees), 4) still on the balls of your feet straighten your legs to come up from the squat, 5) lower back down on your heels. Repeat

The best advice I can give on actual swordplay is this: be thinking “subtle” movements. Beginners tend to over parry or slap, and that leaves you open. This will make more sense once you start.

I am guessing you will start with learning the foil. This is probably the best weapon to start with for the basics, and for working on your form/technique.
I would HIGHLY recommend at least trying saber. I enjoyed fencing saber much more than foil. It is a blast.

Feel free to ask any questions.

Is it true that fencing is only taught at boarding schools?

No. First classes were at community college, then saber at state college.

Re: “A moderate level of skill (eg. C classification) can take 3-5 years of regular practice and competition. Penetration of the elite ranks (eg. world cup, A classification) demands three to five days per week of practice and competition, and usually at least 10 years of experience.
The way Olympic level competition works is that you try to get the highest classification (A or B) in your “primary” weapon (foil, epee, or saber), and then get the “best you can” in the other weapons. Seems with most teams you compete in all 3 weapons at a competition.
I found out that my instructor for saber was one of the only people ever to achieve an “A” classification in all 3 weapons. He was on the Japan 1960 Olympic team, and then was the captain of the Japan 1964 Olympic team. We all knew he was awesome (yet very humble), we just didn’t know how awesome !

I do most things left handed so I will fence as a lefty. Does that make a difference when most people are right handed?

In case you are wondering I write and play baseball right handed. Everything else I am a lefty. I guess maybe I should have been a lefty from the start.

Our local place coaches have very good credentials , two of them won Big 10 titles at Ohio State.

Being a lefty will give you an advantage: since most people are right handed, they learn to fence against right handers. But you will also learn fencing against right-handers, whereas they won’t have had as much experience with lefties.

In theory it shouldn’t make a difference. But the few lefties we had in class tended to have an advantage - particularly with foil. Seems something about when both the same shoulders are “forward” (a righty facing a lefty), it is harder to score. Not quite sure why.

I run a good-sized fencing club, and coach at the national level (though not at the national team level) in the US.

cormac262’s quote from the London Fencing Club is reasonably accurate regarding typical rates of progress. The days of making students practice footwork for six months before they touch a foil, and making them do practice drills for another year before they get to fence another person, are pretty much gone.

Regarding left-handedness: lefties confuse their opponents because everything’s on the wrong side, so some technical actions will be a little different. What’s always fun to watch is two lefties fencing each other, since none of their lefty tricks work.

Feel free to ask me anything. Welcome to the sport!

You’ll have to decide which weapon you wish to focus on. That alone will take some while. I was surprised at the equipment cost - if interested in competing. You can be a modestly competent novice w/in a couple of years. But the jump from novice to anything better is pretty huge.

I tried fencing for a couple of years as an alternative to other martial arts after a number of injuries. Wasn’t thrilled at the extremely artificial rules - the strict forward/back motion, acceptable targets. And there is a level of participants who impressed me as - um - arrogant? Elitist?

It might depend on the club you join as well. At least in the US, high-level clubs that teach all three weapons at the competitive level are not that common any more. Single-weapon clubs have become a lot more prevalent the last 10-20 years or so.

Famously entertaining fencing match between two “lefties.”

I took a semester of fencing when I was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison – I’d always been interested in swords (being a nerd and a D&D player), and my roommate was on the school’s fencing team. In the class, we only fought using foils, but we got to play around with epees and sabers a bit, too. Over the course of the 15 weeks (two sessions a week), I definitely got substantially better at it, and I had wished that I had been able to take another semester of it.

A few years later, I was in a stage combat group for a couple of years, though that wasn’t fencing so much as stage choreography – still very fun, but a different thing entirely.

I fenced I college as a lefty. One day I faced another lefty and we both looked bad.

I took fencing in college. The hardest part was learning the necessary French.

I fenced in high school. Yes it was a boarding school. I qualified for the Junior Olympics but my parents wouldn’t of for the trip.

Warning: it will forever ruin movie sword fighting for you.

One more thing: if you invite family and friends to a tournament, they will be bored to tears.

Stretching beforehand is vital for fencing (or so I found, fencing foil in college - I tried a lunge once without stretching, and it was not good)

One thing I love about fencing is that it’s like chess, where you can have fun on Day One.

That was great for me and my kids. We walked in, the instructor said “Ok, we have three kinds of swords. You can use classic fencing tournament swords, or you can use pirate swor…” “PIRATE SWORDS!”
(Yeah, I yelled as loud as the kids)

So all three of us played with rapiers for years.

A lot of the fun was watching the others. Some of the guys in the group were wild: they wielded hand-and-a-half swords, then made their own medieval armor and smashed at each other every Thursday night, and pretty soon they were dueling at Ye Olde Bristol Renaissance Faire.

I took a few classes through the university fencing club when I was in grad school. My strongest memory is of getting a number of small circular bruises on my chest (even through the chest protector).

That reminds me… Way back when I was at a community college I used my spare time for three things: Magic the Gathering, chess, and fencing. The one guy who overlapped on all three managed to break his right hand just before the start of a quarter, so he started from scratch with his left hand. He had a harder time adjusting to playing speed chess and bughouse with a cast on.