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Fencing is a great sport for people of all ages and fitness. Dating back to around 4,000 years ago, it was originally used as a form of military training before being introduced as an Olympic sport in 1896 in Athens. Nowadays, there are many clubs around the UK offering courses and tuition in fencing, with the aim of teaching people how to perfect this combative sport. We also offer fencing as part of our ‘try something new’ range at Warner Leisure Hotels. So if you’re ready to take on your opponent in this game of skill and sword-play, read on for our beginner’s tips. From frequently asked questions to kit, footwork and etiquette, you’ll master the basics in no time.

What is it and what to expect

If you’re new to the sport, it’s likely you’ll have some questions about fencing. We’ve answered your frequently asked questions below to help you understand how fencing works and who it is suitable for. Fencing is a sport that involves the use of swords to attack and defend against an opponent. During a bout (a fight), the aim is to score the most hits in the target area. Using tactics is important to gain an edge over your opponent, which is why many consider fencing to be a kind of cross between playing chess and dancing – only with swords involved.

Top tips and basic techniques

Fancy footwork – mastering the basic steps. We mentioned above that some see fencing as a kind of dance – and once you see the intricacy of the footwork involved, you’ll understand why. Here are the basic steps and moves you’ll need to know: 
  • En garde position. You’ll start every bout in the en garde position. This ensures you’re positioned ready to fight. Stand sideways with your feet shoulder-width apart and your front foot pointed outwards; keep your back foot pointing sideways. Keep your sword arm loose in front of you and hold the other one behind you, facing your elbow outwards. Relax and bend your knees. Your back should be straight and you should hold your head high.
Making your move – let your feet do the work. The three most common fencing moves are the advance, the retreat and the lunge. You’ll find it easier to move faster if you let your feet lead the way, rather than moving your torso and then your legs and feet. 
  • Advance - move your front foot forward, lifting your toes as you move. Push out your heel to straighten your leg and land on your heel.
  • Retreat - step backwards with your rear foot, using your front leg to push your body back.
  • Lunge - push your front foot out and extend your leg, using your rear leg to push your body forwards. Plant your front foot down, heel first and bend at the knee. From this position, you’ll find it easy to score a hit.
Fencing etiquette. As with most contact sports, etiquette must be followed in fencing. Failure to comply with the rules could lose you points or result in disqualification – so it’s important to take it seriously. 
  • Salute your opponent, the referee and the judges. Before the bout can begin, each fencer must salute the other, as well as the referee and the judges. To salute, hold your mask in your left hand, placing four fingers on top. Look your opponent in the eye, draw the blade of your sword up in front of your opponent’s right eye then bring it down and to the right, without striking the floor.
  • Get into starting position. It’s now time to get into position, as the referee shouts “en garde, ready? Fence!” 
  • Score a hit. Scoring a hit and receiving the point is not as simple as just thrusting your sword into your opponent. The referee and four assisting judges (two for each fencer) will decide which fencer receives the points for each hit in a bout. The judges may decide one of four: yes, yes but off target, no, or abstain. When making the final decision, each judge has one vote, while the referee’s counts for one and a half. That means that if both judges agree on a hit but the referee disagrees, he is outvoted and the hit is awarded. However, if only one of the judges agrees to the hit while the other abstains, and the referee says no, the hit is not awarded.
  • Shake hands with your opponent. Fencing etiquette insists on politeness between combatants so at the end of the bout, each opponent should shake the other’s hand.

Safety tips

If you’re attending a fencing class for the first time, you’ll usually be given a kit. The purpose of the gear is to protect you whilst fencing: 
  • Plastron – designed to prevent a broken blade from piercing the skin. To be worn under the jacket and over your sword arm
  • Jacket – provides upper body protection. Available in two styles: back zip for ambidextrous fencers and side zip which is handedness-specific
  • Chest protector – mandatory for female fencers and optional for men, this hard piece of plastic reduces the force from the hit. Worn under the plastron
  • Glove – worn to protect the sword hand from injury. The cuff should be worn over the jacket sleeve to prevent the blade from injuring your forearm
  • Mask – essential for protecting your face and the sides of your head. Available in different sizes
  • Foil – your weapon of play. Blunted at the end with a rubber button to reduce risk of injury from hits. Available for both left and right-handed fencers
So now you know the basics, you’re ready to get started. Join in the fun at Cricket St. Thomas Hotel.

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