FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

These London Fencing Club FAQs are presented in two parts:

1. General: common questions about starting fencing and training.

2. London Fencing Club membership: rules of the Club, membership and fees

PART 1 : General


1.1 What sports and martial arts comprise fencing?

1.2 How did fencing originate?

1.3 How is modern fencing different from the "real thing"?

1.4 Which is the best weapon?

Getting Started:

1.5 Does it hurt?

1.6 What is the best weapon for a beginner to start with?

1.7 How long does it take to become good?

1.8 What qualities make a good fencer?

1.9 How much does it cost to get involved in fencing?


1.10 What kind of cross-training will help my fencing?

1.11 How can I improve my technique without the help of a coach?


1.1 What sports and martial arts comprise fencing?

The Olympic sport of fencing is comprised of three weapons: foil, epee, and sabre. All are fenced on a long rectangular strip, and electronic scoring aids are normally used to assist in the detection of touches. The rules governing these three weapons are determined by the FIE (Federation Internationale d'Escrime). Briefly, the FIE weapons are described as follows:

Foil: Descended from the 18th century small sword, the foil has a thin, flexible blade with a square cross-section and a small bell guard. Touches are scored with the point on the torso of the opponent, including the groin and back. Foil technique emphasizes strong defence and the killing attack to the body.

Epee: Similar to the duelling swords of the mid-19th century, epees have stiff blades with a triangular cross section, and large bell guards. Touches are scored with the point, anywhere on the opponent's body. Unlike foil and sabre, there no rules of right-of-way to decide which attacks have precedence, and double hits are possible. Epee technique emphasises timing, point control, and a good counter-attack.

Sabre: Descended from duelling sabres of the late 19th century, which were in turn descended from naval and cavalry swords, sabres have a light, flat blade and a knuckle guard. Touches can be scored with either the point or the edge of the blade, anywhere above the opponent's waist. Sabre technique emphasises speed, feints, and strong offense.

The most popular of eastern fencing techniques is kendo, the Japanese "Way of the Sword". Kendo is fought with a bamboo shinai, intended to resemble a two-handed Japanese battle sword. Combatants wear armour, and strike to the top or sides of the head, the sides of the body, the throat, or the wrists. Accepted technique must be observed, and judges watch for accuracy, power, and spirit.

Other martial arts that include elements of swordsmanship are:

Aikido -- self defence against armed and unarmed attackers. Includes using and defending oneself against Japanese sword techniques.

Arnis, Escrima, Kali -- Phillipino stick and knife disciplines.

Iaido -- the Japanese art of the sword draw (also Iaijutsu and batto-jutsu, more combat-oriented variants of the same).

Jogo do Pau -- a Portuguese stick-fighting discipline.

Jojutsu -- a Japanese stick-fighting discipline.

Kalaripayitt -- includes sword and weapons techniques from south India.

Kenjutsu -- the unadulterated Japanese martial art of the sword.

Krabi Krabong -- a Thai martial art that includes many sword forms.

Kumdo -- A Korean variant of Kendo.

Kung-fu -- a Chinese martial art that includes many sword techniques.

La Canne -- French Boxing, with a single-handed stick, using rules similar to classical fencing.

Le Baton -- similar to La Canne, but with a longer, 2-handed stick.

Maculele -- Afro-Brazilian machete forms, related to Capoeira.

Mensur -- German fraternity "duelling", with schlagers.

Modern Pentathlon -- the "soldier's medley", a sport that recreates demands placed on a pre-20th century military messenger: running, swimming, shooting, equestrian jumping, and epee fencing.

Pentjak Silat -- Indonesian arts that include sword and stick forms.

Single Stick -- an ancestor of sabre fencing, fought with a basket-hilted wooden rod.

SCA duello -- rapier-like fencing in the round, with off-hand techniques. Additional info on the SCA can be found in the newsgroup rec.org.sca.

SCA heavy lists -- medieval-style heavy combat, with rattan weapons, armour, and shields. Additional info on the SCA can be found in the newsgroup rec.org.sca.

Shinkendo -- real-sword-oriented variant of Kendo.

Tai Chi -- another Chinese martial art that includes many sword techniques.

Lastly, it should be pointed out that stick/baton fighting, shield use, and related infantry tactics continue to be a part of modern riot police training.

1.2 How did fencing originate?

Swordfighting as sport has existed since ancient Egypt, and has been practiced in many forms in various cultures since then. Although jousting and tournament combat was a popular sport in the European middle ages, modern FIE fencing owes more to unarmoured duelling forms that evolved from 16th century rapier combat.

Although rapier combat had a nominal military role (for thrusting into the chinks of heavy armour), it was most popular amongst civilians who used it for self-defence and duelling. Rapiers were edged, but the primary means of attack was the thrust. Rapier fencing spread from Italy to Spain and northwest Europe, in spite of the objections of masters such as George Silver who preferred traditional cutting weapons such the English long sword.

The Spanish school, under masters such as Narvaez and Thibault, became a complicated and mystical affair whose geometrical theories required much practice to master. Italian masters like Agrippa and Capo Ferro developed a more pragmatic school in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, introducing innovations such as linear fencing and the lunge.

By the 18th century, the rapier had evolved to a simpler, shorter, and lighter design that was popularized in France as the small sword, or court sword. Although the small sword often had an edge, it was only to discourage the opponent from grabbing the blade, and the weapon was used exclusively for thrusting. The light weight made a more complex and defensive style possible, and the French masters developed a school based on subtlety of movement, double-time parries, and complex attacks. When buttoned with a leather safety tip that resembled a flower, the small sword was known as le fleuret, and was identical in use to the modern foil (still known as le fleuret in French). Indeed, the French small sword school forms the basis of most of modern fencing theory.

By the mid-19th century, duelling was in decline as a means of settling disputes, partially because victory could lead to a jail term for assault or manslaughter. Emphasis shifted to defeating the opponent without necessarily killing him, and less fatal duelling forms evolved using the duelling sword, or epee de terrain, an unedged variant of the small sword. Later duels often ended with crippling thrusts to the arm or leg, and fewer legal difficulties for the participants. This is the basis of modern epee fencing.

Cutting swords had been used in bloodsports such as backsword prizefights at least as far back as the 17th century. Broadswords, sabres, and cutlasses were used extensively in military circles, especially by cavalry and naval personell, and saw some duelling application in these circles as well. Training was performed with wooden weapons, and stick fighting remained popular until Italian masters formalized sabre fencing into a non-fatal sporting/training form with metal weapons in the late 19th century. Early sport sabres were significantly heavier than the modern sport sabre and necessitated a strong style with the use of moulinets and other bold movements. As with thrusting swords, the sabre evolved to lighter, less fatal duelling forms such as the Italian sciabola di terro and the German schlager. Hungarian masters developed a new school of sabre fencing that emphasized finger control over arm strength, and they dominated sabre fencing for most of the 20th century.

Duelling faded away after the First World War. A couple of noteworthy duels were fought over disputes that arose during Olympic games in the 1920s, and there have been rare reports of sword duels since then. In October 1997, the Mayor of Calabria, Italy, publicly challenged certain Mafiosos to a duel. German fraternity duelling (mensur) still occurs with some frequency.

The first modern Olympic games featured foil and sabre fencing for men only. Epee was introduced in 1900. Single stick was featured in the 1904 games. Epee was electrified in the 1936 games, foil in 1956, and sabre in 1988. Early Olympic games featured events for Masters, and until recently fencing was the only Olympic sport that has included professionals. Disruptions in prevailing styles have accompanied the introduction of electric judging, most recently transforming sabre fencing. Foil fencing experienced similar upheavals for a decade or two following the introduction of electric judging, which were further complicated by the new, aggressive, athletic style coming out of eastern Europe at the time.

Women's foil was first contested in the 1924 Olympic games, and Women's epee was only contested for the first time in 1996, although it has been part of the World Championships since 1989. Women's sabre is making its first appearance in the 1998 World Championships as a demonstration sport.

1.3 How is modern fencing different from the "real thing"?

Different people mean different things by "real" fencing.

For some, "real" fencing is a duel with sharp swords and lives on the line. Other than the fear/courage factor, the primary technical difference here is that with live blades you only need to hit your opponent once, and therefore only require one good move (which explains the prevalence of "secret thrusts" in the bad old days). The sport fencer, by comparison, has to hit his opponent as many as 15 times (even more if the officiating is poor!), and so requires considerably more depth than the duellist. On the other hand, the sport fencer takes many more defensive risks, since he has up to 15 lives to work with.

Some purists will equate "real" fencing with classical fencing, ie. the prevalent styles of the traditional French and Italian schools of fencing that predominated before electric fencing was popularized. By comparison, modern fencing is more mobile and athletic, while classical fencers were known for their more sophisticated phrasing and bladework.

A few fans of heavy metal think real fencing is only done with big, strong swords, and that light duelling-style weapons are toys. Historically, however, lighter thrusting swords evolved because they were considerably more deadly than heavy cutting weapons. Many masters of the 17th century disliked the new schools of fencing precisely because they were too murderous. However, the light duelling sabres that arose near the end of the 19th Century did lack offensive punch on the cut compared with their more military antecedents. Military sabre fencing required more arm strength, and the use of moulinets.

Lastly, it just seems apparent to some that sport fencing has evolved away from its bloody origins. Technically, this is untrue, at least for the thrusting weapons; the theory, methods, and techniques of fencing have not seen significant innovation since at least the last century. The modern fencer remains well-equipped, skill-wise, to fight a duel. Tactically and psychologically, however, the sport is a vastly different world from the duel. Obviously there is no real danger to getting hit, and with up to 15 hits needed to secure victory, there often isn't even much figurative danger. In addition, since the quality of a hit (eg. fatal vs. serious wound vs. minor scratch) is immaterial, fencers will naturally prefer an easy "wounding" hit over a difficult "fatal" one, and glancing hits will often win out over strong thrusts.

1.4 Which is the best weapon?

Such a question is an open invitation to religious warfare. Everybody loves to participate, but nothing is ever settled.

If the question means "what kind of fencing is the most fun?" then the answer is: it depends what aspects of fencing you enjoy the most. If you are fascinated by technique, bladework, and tactics, you will probably get a lot of satisfaction from foil fencing. More visceral fencers who want to experience the adrenaline rush of a fast, aggressive sword fight will want to try some sabre. Most epee fencers consider themselves practical, no-nonsense sword fighters who rely on as few artificial rules as possible. Enthusiasts of more medieval combat styles, involving armour and heavy weapons, should consider joining the SCA or a kendo dojo.

On the other hand, if the question means "which weapon is the most deadly?" the answer will depend on a lot of factors, not the least of which are the skill of the combatants, the presence of armour, the military and cultural context, and the rules of the fight (i.e. is this a street fight, a gentlemen's duel, or open field warfare?). Most swords are highly optimized for performance in a specific environment, and will not perform well outside it. Comparing two swords from completely different historical contexts is therefore extremely difficult, if not downright silly.

Then again, perhaps the question means "which style of fencing is the most realistic?" It must be said that questions of realism have little relevance to an activity that has almost no practical application in the modern world other than sport and fitness. Historically, however, epees have the closest resemblance (among FIE weapons) to real duelling swords, and the rules closely parallel those of actual duels (sometimes being fought to only a single point).

1.5 Does it hurt?

Not if done properly. Although executed with appreciable energy, a good, clean fencing attack hurts no more than a tap on the shoulder. The force of the blow is normally absorbed by the flex of the blade. Reckless and overly aggressive fencers can occasionally deliver painful blows, however. Fencing *is* a martial art, so you should expect minor bruises and welts every now and again. They are rarely intentional. The most painful blows tend to come from inexperienced fencers who have not yet acquired the feel of the weapon.

The primary source of injury in fencing is from pulled muscles and joints. Proper warm-up and stretching before fencing will minimize these occurrences.

There is a risk of being injured by broken weapons. The shards of a snapped blade can be very sharp and cause serious injury, especially if the fencer doesn't immediately realize his blade is broken, and continues fencing. Always wear proper protective gear to reduce this risk. FIE homologated jackets, britches, and masks are ideal, as they are made with puncture-resistant fabrics such as kevlar. If you cannot afford good fencing wear, use a plastron (half-jacket worn beneath the regular fencing jacket), and avoid old and rusty masks. Always wear a glove that covers the cuff, to prevent blades from running up the sleeve.

Fencing is often said to be safer than golf. Whether or not this is true, it is an extraordinarily safe sport considering its heritage and nature.

1.6 What is the best weapon for a beginner to start with?

Foil is the most common starter weapon. It is an excellent weapon to begin with if you have no preferences or want to learn generalized principles of sword fighting. Because most skills learned with the foil can be applied to the other weapons (the reverse is not true), it is the best choice for anyone not sure where their interests lie.

There is little disadvantage to beginning with epee or sabre if the student is certain that they will stay with that weapon. However, if the student wants to take up another weapon, he may find the transition more difficult if he begins with the sabre or epee. Sabre student typically have problems with point control at first, and the epee student may struggle with the concept of right-of-way.

Cost may also be an issue; dry sabre is becoming increasingly rare, so the initial investment in a full set of competition sabre equipment is the highest of all the weapons. Because no electric jacket is required in epee, on the other hand, epee is the least expensive to compete in.

1.7 How long does it take to become good?

There 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.

In times past, students often were not permitted to hold a weapon until they had completed a year or two of footwork training. Modern training programs rarely wait this long, and in many cases students will be fencing (badly) within a few days of starting lessons. Low-level competition is feasible within 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 (e.g. C classification) can take 3-5 years of regular practice and competition. Penetration of the elite ranks (e.g.. world cup, A classification) demands three to five days per week of practice and competition, and usually at least 10 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.

1.8 What qualities make a good fencer?

There 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 epee, but not necessarily in sabre. Small or thin people are harder to hit in foil. A long reach helps in epee, and long legs are an asset in foil.

It should be noted that left handers usually enjoy a slight advantage, especially against inexperienced fencers. This may account for the fact that lefties make up 15% of novice fencers, but half of FIE world champions.

1.9 How much does it cost to get involved in fencing?

Beginner's dry fencing setup: about 100 - 180 GBP

Includes: cotton jacket, glove, dry weapon, mask

FIE Competition setup: about 300 - 600 GBP

Includes: FIE 800N jacket & britches, FIE 1600N mask, at least 2 electric weapons, body cord, socks, glove, shoes, plastron, 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.

Club costs vary widely, depending on the quality of the space, the equipment provided to its members, and the amount of coaching included in the club fees.

1.10 What kind of cross-training will help my fencing?

The best training for fencing is fencing. Fencing development is asymmetrical and few other sports use the same muscle groups, so this is a difficult question whose answer depends largely on what aspect of your training you really want to focus on.

Cardiovascular fitness and leg strength always help, so anything that enhances these will be beneficial. Cycling, swimming, aerobics, and skating are good examples. Running, sprinting, soccer, basketball, and similar sports can also be helpful, although some athletes dislike the stresses they put on the knees. Racquet sports like tennis, badminton, squash, racquet ball, and table tennis are also excellent, and will exercise your weapon arm in addition to your legs. Circuit or period training (short bursts of high-heart-rate exercise followed by brief recovery periods) has been put forward as particularly relevant to the demands of fencing.

Many martial arts have physical and mental demands that are similar to fencing, and can improve both your fitness and your intellectual approach to the sport. Technique and tactics very rarely translate, however.

Weight training can help, if done properly, but the athlete must remember that flexibility, speed, and technique are more important than raw strength, although proper strength training (especially of the lower body and legs) can improve speed significantly. Otherwise, endurance training should have priority over bodybuilding. Excessive weight training of the upper body can adversely affect point control, according to some masters, who prefer weighted wrist straps worn during regular practice.

Some fencers maintain that juggling improves reactions, hand-eye coordination, and use of peripheral vision.

Many coaches and fencers suggest occasional fencing or workouts with your opposite hand, both to improve skill and balance your muscular development.

1.11 How can I improve my technique without the help of a coach?

It is very easy to acquire bad habits and poor technique if you do not have the guidance of a knowledgeable fencing master, coach, or fellow fencer. If you are serious about improving your fencing, quality coaching is always your best investment. However, a disciplined fencer still has options if decent instruction is not available on a regular basis.

Firstly, a solid knowledge of fencing theory and regulations is a must. The freelance fencer should study the FIE Rules of Competition and a good fencing manual (see Section 3.3). The fencer should test and apply this knowledge by presiding whenever possible. An appreciation of good fencing style is also essential, so that the fencer can readily identify weaknesses in his own and other fencers' techniques. Observation and comparison of skilled or accomplished fencers will develop this ability. Training videos and videos of high-level competitions are also helpful in this regard.

The freelance fencer must be open-minded and critical of his own technique, so that he can recognize problems before they develop into habits. Discussion of his weaknesses with training opponents will help him clarify the areas that need work. If possible, he should videotape his bouts and review them to spot defects in his tactics and technique.

The fencer should seek out opponents who will strenuously test his weaknesses. More experienced fencers, left-handers, those whose tactics are particularly effective, and even those with annoying (i.e. difficult) styles should be courted on the practice strip. When fencing less skilled opponents, the fencer should restrict his tactics to a small set that require practice, and resist the temptation to open up if he should start losing.

The opportunity to participate in footwork and line drills should never be passed up. When he can find an agreeable partner, the fencer can do more personalized drills to exercise his weak areas. (Of course it is courteous to indulge the needs of one's partner when he in turn works on his own training.)

Lastly, the fencer should remain aware of his bout psychology and mental state when fencing, and try to cultivate the mindset that in his experience produces good fencing.

PART 2 : London Fencing Club membership

2.1 Who can join London Fencing Club?

2.2 How can I apply for the Membership?

2.3 What kind of training does the Club provide?

2.4 Will the fencing equipment be provided?

2.5 What would I need to pay as a regular Member of London Fencing Club?

2.6 Saturday sessions include "free fencing" - does this mean that I do not need to pay for them?

2.7 What happens if I miss a training session?

2.8 Is it possible to alternate between sessions on different days?

2.9 I've paid for an individual lesson. Can I also train or fence with others on that day?

2.10 I will be away for two months. Should I suspend my Membership?

2.11 How can I cancel my Membership at London Fencing Club?


2.1 Who can join London Fencing Club?

London Fencing Club is a friendly and sociable Club which welcomes new members. Adult membership is available for people aged 17 and over. You must be fit enough to carry out training which can include heavy physical exercise. The Club also has a busy children's section for ages from 7 to 13.

2.2 How can I apply for the Membership?

Temporary membership is automatically granted to people attending our fencing courses for beginners. If you'd like to join London Fencing Club as a regular member, please fill in the contact form mentioning your previous fencing experience. We will reply to you with the guidance regarding the further steps.

2.3 What kind of training does the Club provide?

London Fencing Club offers group lessons for the beginner, the intermediate and the advanced levels of fencing. Our classes include warm up and footwork, blade work or tactical lesson and free fencing. Beginners classes cover the basics of fencing and are the ideal taster of the sport. They are suitable for people who have never fenced before, or for those who practised fencing a long time ago and would like to return to the sport. The intermediate/advanced level classes are ongoing. They are structured around the annual cycle exploring the variety of fencing skills: both technical, tactical and psychological.

2.4 Will I need my own fencing equipment?

For the beginners the Club provides all necessary fencing equipment at no extra cost. We also provide equipment for our regular members taking part in group or individual lessons. This includes masks, jackets, gloves, breast plates and non-electrical weapons. Use of the Club equipment on the electric piste is subject to a hire charge which accounts for the work needed to check, fix, clean and re-stock the used items . Please note that all broken blades must be paid for.

2.5 What would I need to pay as a regular Member of London Fencing Club?

To become a Member of London Fencing Club you will need to pay a one off joining fee followed by the monthly subscription. The joining fee is £150 (£88 concessions) and includes an individual lesson with one of our Fencing Masters which will help to assess your future training programme.

The amount paid through the monthly subscription depends on how much training you undertake. The basic Bronze subscription is £45 per month and entitles you to attend one nominated weekly session, e.g. Mondays foil class. Here are the membership options available:

per month
per month
per month
per month
per month
How many weekly training sessions you can select
Take part in sessions
when you book
individual lessons

Monthly individual lessons allowance included
2 hours
20 min
None but use members' rate for bookingsNone but use members' rate for bookingsNone but use members' rate for bookings

We recommend Silver or higher level of membership for the recent beginners and Gold or higher if you are interested in the faster progress. Gold and Diamond memberships offer the best value for money: if you do not miss sessions, they work out as 40 pence per hour's training!

The monthly subscription should be payable on the same day of each month by a standing order. The full time table of available training sessions is here.

2.6 Saturday sessions include "free fencing" - does this mean that I do not need to pay for them?

The term "free fencing" means that fencers are free to use all arsenal of their fencing moves during the fight, they are not restricted by any specific training or competitive tasks. Whether you "free fence" or undergo other type of training during the Saturday sessions, they need to be paid for just as any other training time. If you only attend on Saturdays, the monthly fee would be £45 per month. If it's an additional session, Saturdays would add £15 on top of what you pay for your evening classes. Please refer to the previous question for the examples.

2.7 What happens if I miss a training session?

Unfortunately, missed sessions cannot be recouped. Your subscription pays for the option to attend - not for the actual attendance. Whether you show up or not at your nominated session, the Club will have paid for the venue and the coaches, who will have been there waiting for you.

2.8 Is it possible to attend sometimes one session, sometimes another, depending what is more convenient for me?

Occasional swapping between sessions is possible but we ask that this would not happen more than once a month. Please check with the management that place is available before coming to a session which is not on your regular schedule. If you want the convenience of attending sometimes on one day, sometimes on the other, please select the subscription plan which will cover both days - it'll only cost you £15 per month extra.

2.9 I've paid for an individual lesson. Can I also train or fence with others on that day?

Yes, your payment for the individual lesson includes the visitor's fee. You are welcome to train at the Club before or after your lesson at no extra cost.

2.10 I will be away for two months. Should I suspend my Membership?

If you have informed the Club that you will be away, yet continued to pay your subscription, we will arrange for you some catch up individual lessons upon your return. This will help you back after the break and will ensure that money spent on the subscription while away, is not wasted. There are also ways to suspend the membership, please get in touch for more details. We ask for one month notice for all changes to the membership..

2.11 How can I cancel my Membership at London Fencing Club?

You can cancel your Membership by giving one month notice to the management of the Club.



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London Fencing Club is the best and the busiest fencing club in the UK providing coaching and training facilities for more than 300 regular members and hundreds of adult beginners. We also offer fencing classes for children, after school clubs and team building events. The Club employs eight Fencing Masters of the highest calibre.