Fencing classes

By Frank Bolger - Last update

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When men were men and women fainted a lot, fencing was a way to avenge an attack on your honour. Whether a cad had slighted your sister, or a drunken barbarian accused you of at cheating at cards, fencing brought, if not justice, at least a decided result.


The sport as we would recognise it today emerged around the time of the Renaissance. Swords evolved swiftly, changing from the medieval cross-shape to lighter and longer blades and big, decorative hilts that protected the swordsman’s hand. By the late 16th century, the fencing craze had swept Europe like a Harry Potter roadshow. The upper classes often had a fencing master on a retainer and between 1590 and 1610, one third of the nobility in France died in personal duels. Gratifying as this undoubtedly was to the serfs, it was decided that the carnage had to stop. Death match fencing was officially outlawed in the 18th century, although in practice duels still took place even during the 20th century.

Non-fatal fencing has been an Olympic sport since the first modern games took place in 1896. There are three different types of fencing to choose from – foil, epee and sabre.

Types of Fencing

Foil fencing uses a light, flexible blade and points are scored by touching your opponent in possibly fatal areas (excluding the head) with the rounded tip of the sword. There are strict rules regarding the order of attack. Whoever attacks first has “right of way” which means that their opponent can’t try and hit them until they are finished their lunge. Instead, they must parry away their blade, thus gaining the upper hand and the right to attack.

With epee fencing, such social niceties are dispensed with and you can stab away to your heart’s content. If both players hit each other at the same time, they both get points. The blade is also heavier and your opponent’s whole body is fair game. But don’t get too excited – as with foil fencing, you can only use the very tip of the blade. However, those of you who like to think of your weapon as an extension of self will probably be drawn to sabre fencing, which allows points to be scored with both the tip and the sides of the blade and you can attack the entire body, apart from the legs.

Fencing is a strange mix of antiquated and modern traditions. For example, fencers still wear the traditional white uniforms and masks, but determining the score is now the epitome of Jetson living. Combatants wear electronic padding beneath their uniforms, which registers when a hit takes place with flashing, colour-coded lights. All very exciting, but just remember what your mother always said and go before you leave the house.

Search Classes Today

Your fencing class in the local school hall might not stretch to electronic scoring, but it will teach footwork, strategies, and the various types of attacks and parries. After learning the myriad of fencing rules, including scoring, you will be able to participate in competitive bouts. Fencing will undoubtedly get you fit – all those squats and lunges – but it is also a handy skill to have for those awkward situations where some clod-hopper bumps into you in Coppers. Just slap him with your glove and ask him who his second is. The day will be yours, guaranteed

Frank Bolger

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