How long does it take to become a ‘good’ fencer?

Competition fencingThere 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 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, dedication, and quality of instruction. 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.

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What qualities make a good fencer?

Foil fencerThere are many.

On the athletic side, speed and endurance must rank foremost. Other traits that can be exploited are strength (for explosive speed, not heavy-handedness), precision, and flexibility. Quick reaction time is extremely important.

On the intellectual side, a good mind for strategy and tactics is essential. The ability to quickly size up your opponent and adapt your style accordingly is essential.

Psychologically, a fencer must be able to maintain focus, concentration, and emotional level-headedness under intense conditions of combat. Stress management, visualization, and relaxation techniques are all helpful to putting in winning performances.

As far as body type goes, it is always possible to adapt your style to take advantage of your natural traits. Even so, height seems to be useful in epeé, but not necessarily in sabre. Small or thin people are harder to hit in foil. A long reach helps in epeé, and mobility is useful in sabre.

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How much does fencing cost?

Fencing saluteAt beginners level, using club equipment, surprisingly little!

We run inexpensive beginners courses to get you started, providing all equipment.

If you find fencing is for you and you can seriously see yourself carrying on, then think about buying some starter kit. Most people start with a mask (to fit your own head!) and a jacket. We don’t force people to buy kit, but you’re at the ‘mercy’ of the club kit and whatever size and shape we have on the day.

One of the novices bought a full set after 3 weeks, another started a piece at a time after 3 months.

You can acquire kit one item at a time – masks start around £60, jackets around £65.

Most of the suppliers do a complete starter set.

Like any sport, the top kit prices are sky’s-the-limit. You don’t need it for club fencing.

Grades of fencing equipment:

Beginner’s fencing setup: from £135-200
Includes: cotton jacket, glove, steam foil, mask

FIE Competition setup: from £250-1000
Includes: FIE 800N jacket, breeches, plastron, FIE 1600N mask, at least 2 electric weapons, body cord, socks, glove, shoes, lame (foil & sabre only), sensor (sabre only).

Note: while FIE-certified equipment is recommended both in terms of safety and quality, clothing costs can be as much as halved by purchasing regular cotton or synthetic knits. Do not expect such equipment to be accepted at national or international levels of competition, however. Always wear a plastron when using non-competition-weight fencing jackets.

Club costs vary, we have an annual fee plus term fees for attendance (see Fees). Many clubs will provide or rent equipment to beginners.

Looking to Purchase your own fencing equipment? See our Equipment Guide (pdf document)

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What age IS Junior in fencing?

Juniors fencingIn centuries past, children started, learning combat skills from the time they could walk, but in the context of a modern sport, there is such a thing as too young.

The children’s class we run is a mixed age, mixed ability group. There is a recommendation from the FIE (fencing governing body) that age 8 is a suitable age to join in group classes, both for safety’s sake and for beginning productive lessons. That’s the minimum age we’ve tended to start kids at Sway and in other classes we have run in the area.

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Safety First

Epee mask

Our guidelines on safety are under constant review.

Also, beginners may appreciate the reassurance under Does it Hurt?

In short: no.


Fencing is a safe sport. Regulation equipment conforming to safety standards and common sense fencing helps to maintain our good safety record.

If you are attending classes for the first time, please observe the dress code outlined in What do I wear?

Safety First

  • Always wear a mask when fencing.
  • Occasionally in a controlled lesson, the coach may dispense with the mask while demonstrating a particular point, but this is an exception.
  • Unless the coach says otherwise, the rule is PLAY IT SAFE.

Official Safety Guidelines

A summary of British Fencing Safety Guidelines is available as a PDF document.

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The Essential Equipment Guide is available as a PDF document. Indicative prices are correct as at September 2013.

General Safety Rules

Finally, a few common sense precautions. Although they apply to all, they are directed more at the younger fencer whose enthusiasm and exuberance is sometimes difficult to control!

  • First, NEVER wave your weapon about in front of people who aren’t wearing masks.
  • NEVER turn your back on the person you are fencing. This leaves the neck and back of the head exposed. In competition this is illegal and you will be penalised.
  • NEVER remove your mask in the middle of a fight expecting your opponent to stop without warning. The recognised way to stop a fight is to hold up your unarmed hand, palm facing your opponent, and step backwards. Do this BEFORE you take off your mask.
  • Finally, NEVER, NEVER slash at your opponent with your sword; this serves no purpose except to injure. There is no warning or penalty, you will be disqualified from a competition or banned from fencing for dangerous behaviour.
  • Remember, fencing is fun, providing you PLAY IT SAFE.

Safety Equipment

The mask
The plastron
The jacket
The glove

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