This sport has ancient roots and maybe a bit of a stuffy, upper-crust reputation; its rules are based on aristocratic etiquette and officiating happens in French. But fencing still has some not-at-all stuffy appeal: You get to use a sword! Is your child ready to step onto the piste for some youth fencing?
The basics: There are three types of weapons used in fencing, and each one has different rules. Foil swords are light, and only the tip is used (slashing is not allowed). To score a point, the fencer must flick or thrust the foil at her opponent's torso or groin. Other parts of the body are out of bounds. In epee, the swords are slightly longer and heavier. The fencer still uses only the tip of the weapon, but can target her opponent's entire body. When using a saber, slashing is allowed and points can be scored with the edge of the blade or the tip. The target is the opponent's entire upper body, including the arms and head.
A fencing bout takes place on a 6- by 44-foot strip known as a piste. The object of each bout is to score more points than your opponent. The piste and the fencers are wired so that touches can be recorded and scored electronically. In foil and saber, one fencer is the attacker (this is known as having the "right of way") and the other is the defender. The defender can gain right of way by blocking his opponent's attack or making him miss. In epee, there is no right of way.
Age kids can start: Many clubs and schools welcome kids of about 6 or 7 and up to introductory fencing classes.
Skills needed/used: Aggressiveness, quick reflexes, discipline, balance.
Best for kids who are: Able to analyze a situation quickly, interested in strategic play.
Season/when played: Year-round.
Team or individual? Both; fencers compete in bouts and tournaments individually to earn points for their teams.
Levels: The US Fencing Association (USFA) recognizes Cadet (under 16), Junior (under 19) and Senior divisions. Fencers are classified with letters from A to E to reflect their skill level.
While some colleges field fencing teams, high school teams are rare. Most young fencers compete on behalf of a private fencing club. The USFA has youth tournaments that serve as qualifying paths for young fencers.
Appropriate for kids with special needs: Wheelchair fencing is a Paralympic event. For other special needs, you might need to discuss possibilities with a fencing club on a case-by-case basis.
Fitness factor: Medium. In an adult weighing 150 pounds, fencing burns about 408 calories per hour. Lunges challenge the lower body, balancing activates core muscles, and wielding the sword requires upper-body strength.
Equipment: Aside from their weapons, fencers need protective clothing: jackets, knickers, gloves, and masks made of heavy white cloth with extra reinforcement (like mesh over the face). Foil fencers wear a metallic vest called a lamé to record touches by the opponent's foil. Fencers also wear athletic shoes designed especially for the sport.
Many clubs provide equipment for new fencers. Used equipment is also available and acceptable.
Costs: A set of beginner equipment costs around $120. Club dues for youth are in the range of $60 to $100 a year. Introductory classes cost $10 to $20 an hour.
Time commitment required: A beginner lesson is usually one to two hours, at least once a week. More advanced players or team members will spend more time in coaching and practice. Tournaments usually take all day or weekend depending on when/if your child is eliminated.
Potential for injury: Low. Fencing is a low-contact sport and safety gear keeps the risk of injury down. Most common injuries are sprains or strains in the knee, thigh, and ankle.
How to find a course, program, instructor, or tournament:
- USA Fencing club directory (also includes clubs in Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, and several other countries)
- Wheelchair Fencer directory
- Canadian Fencing Federation club finder