What is Fencing?
A great Russian Fencing Master once said: "Fencing is physical chess." Nothing could be truer of this graceful sport which combines strength, agility, piece of mind and speed. Fencing is an ancient discipline, the only European Martial Art and one of the few sports that have been represented in EVERY Olympic Games since Athens 1896. There are three weapons in fencing: the epee, the foil and the sabre. The Epee is the original dueling weapon, similar to those used by the Three Musketeers. With the epee, you can attack any part of the body with the point of the weapon. The Foil was originally a practice weapon used by the nobility in France and Italy to train for dueling. Much smaller and lighter than the epee, the foil may attack the torso with the point of the weapon. The Sabre was developed by the Italians in the spirit of the classic cavalry sword. The sabre may attack any part of the body above the waist with a slashing action or with the point of the sword. Fencing is the ultimate combination of strength, elegance, flexibility and mental and spiritual discipline.
Does it hurt?
Not if done properly. Although executed with appreciable energy, a good, clean fencing attack hurts no more than a tap on the shoulder. The force of the blow is normally absorbed by the flex of the blade. Reckless and overly aggressive fencers can occasionally deliver painful blows, however. Fencing *is* a martial art, so you should expect minor bruises and welts every now and again. They are rarely intentional. The most painful blows tend to come from inexperienced fencers who have not yet acquired the feel of the weapon. Fencing is often said to be safer than golf. Whether or not this is true, it is an extraordinarily safe sport considering its heritage and nature.
What is the best weapon for a beginner to start with?Foil is the most common starter weapon. It is an excellent weapon to begin with if you have no preferences or want to learn generalized principles of swordfighting. Transitions to the other weapons from foil are relatively straight forward. Foil is an abstracted form of fencing that emphasises proper defence, and cleanly executed killing attacks. Historically it was a training weapon for the small sword, so it is well suited for the purposes of learning. However, it is far from a simple weapon, and many experienced fencers return to foil after trying the others.
Sabre can sometimes be an effective starter weapon, for a few reasons. Like foil, it has rules of right-of-way to emphasize proper defense, and its de-emphasis of point attacks can be a relief to a beginner who doesn't yet have much point control. Also, in some areas it may still be possible to compete in dry sabre competitions, meaning that it can be the cheapest of all weapons to compete in (although electric sabre is definitely the most expensive weapon). However, sabre differs from foil and epee in a few key respects that can reduce its effectiveness as a starter weapon if the fencer plans to try the others in the future. Among these differences are the aforementioned de-emphasis of point attacks, and a different sense of timing and distance.
Epee is sometimes used as a starter weapon for two reasons. First, the rules are simple and easy to grasp, and second, the equipment costs are lower, since no lame' is required. However, the apparent simplicity of the sport can obscure its subtleties to the beginner, and make progress difficult later on. Furthermore, the lack of right-of-way in epee can make transitions to the other two weapons difficult, if put off for too long.
How long does it take to become good?There is a saying that it takes two lifetimes to master fencing. By the time anyone has come close to "mastering" the sport, they are long past their athletic prime. Some may feel that this is a drawback to the sport, but most fencers see it as a great strength: fencing never becomes dull or routine; there are always new skills to master, and new grounds to conquer. A dedicated novice who practices twice per week will be ready to try low-level competition in 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 10-15 years of experience.
Progress can be faster or slower, depending on the fencer's aptitude, attitude, and dedication. Rapid progress normally requires at least three practices per week, and regular competition against superior fencers.
The average world champion is in his late 20s to early 30s and began fencing as a child.