Q. How old do you have to be to start fencing?
A. It used to be “standard” that to make the Olympics you had to start at age 7. We start at 7 pm. But seriously, experience takes exception to most rules. While many clubs and classes will not take students under 12 years old, we say “we welcome all adults regardless of (physical) age,” noting that only in America are children expected to be immature. We have seen many exceptional young Americans, and take the view that all things are possible with enough desire and a teacher with an open mind.
Q. How safe is fencing?
A. Modern fencing: In terms of day-to-day bumps and scrapes, modern fencing is like most sports except the size of the bruises (small but sometimes quite focused). Fencing jackets are built to protect against puncture, not bruising, but you can add as much padding as you like. Masks are designed to prevent potentially lethal piercing of the face and throat.
In terms of self-inflicted sprains, pulls, twisting and tearing injuries, modern fencing is pretty safe. We teach movement within healthy alignment ranges, and the stretching we do is good for the joints. Basketball and tennis, for instance, are much more prone to twist/tear injuries.
Major injuries are quite rare. Our club has never had a major injury in modern fencing, and worldwide fatalities are less than one per generation over the last century. This is because getting pierced is on everyone’s mind from the first day they even consider swordplay, and the governing bodies take their safety rules very seriously.
SCA fencing with schlager and heavier blades has only 15 years of history in this region, and so cannot be considered safe in any measured sense. SCA rules require a strong gorget for the neck and a 3-weapon grade mask to deal with the stiffer blades.
Period fencing with longsword and pollaxe has almost no safety history; we are experimenting along with hundreds of others across the U.S. and Europe. While some Western Martial Arts clubs use various forms of armor and helmets, we use no protective gear beyond simple gloves. It’s a trade-off. We chose ease of access and round-edge wooden swords over “military” realism and steel or aluminum weapons, preferring to learn control of the weapon rather than build false security in armor. (This is not through ignorance; instructor David Hoornstra has over 25 years of SCA armored-combat experience and still enjoys that art – outside the Sword Club.)
Q. What are the equipment and other costs of the sport?
A. You can start with almost no fencing equipment as we have loaner masks, jackets and weapons. For details on that, go to Getting Involved. For specific equipment recommendations and costs, go to Swords and Equipment.
Q. How do I find fencing or Western Martial Arts near where I live?
A. Modern, USA go to USFencing.org or “Google” Fencing under “Local.” In Canada, www.fencing.ca. Elsewhere, go to www.fie.ch (Federation International d’Escrime). For Western Martial Arts, there are are scattered strong groups. Those in Chicago, Toronto and Worcester, MA have descriptions and direct links via our Links page. For others, see the other links at the bottom of that page.