Utility of Fencing?

Hi, i was wondering what does everyone on here think of western fencing? As far as i know its the last (living, not recreated) European weapons based martial art. Im interested in wma as well as learning a weapons art, how do you rate fencing? Basically will it help me understand wma principles better, and would it be applicable to modern self-defence or are the moves/principles too watered down by its sporting application?


There's no doubt modern fencing - in both it's "classical" and electro-sporting guises - has tremendous utility.

Bruce Lee took fencing lessons for the footwork. Ray Floro was State fencing champion, and again, it really shows in his footwork. In the original WWII commando course, Fairbairn got the recruits to spend more time sabre fencing than handling any other weapon.

I can remember poo-pooing modern fencing as a silly wussy sport when I first got into swordsmanship, but I hae to say I was wrong now. There's lots of really good martial theory there, and great combative athletic skills it can teach. One of our members is a sports fencer once regarded as having the best lunge in the country, and he can hit you from what seems like the other side of the room before you know it's coming.

That's not to overplay it as an effective martial art, and of course the electricisation (is that a word?) has taken a lot of the sword-like martial aspects from it, but then I don't think there's anyone (myself included) who wouldn't benefit from fencing lessons.

Well said, Paul. I commend you for your view on sport fencing, especially since many WMA practitioners seem to dislike it and downplay it.TFS and myself both fence and we are huge advocates of the skills it teaches. Timing, distance and efficiency of motion are just a few of the many benefits learned.The most adept people I have ever sparred with a single-stick (the mock-sword variety, not a kali stick), rubber-knife, or any mock sword for that matter were fencers. In relatively short time a good fencer can pick up the angles and distances in knife work. After they get used to the short blade and the different distances, etc, they usually do very well because of their live sparring training. I believe that having some backround in fencing is better than going off on your own and trying reinvent the wheel, or working with the archaic text and pictures of a medieval/Renaissance manual with no former training. I feel that this is especially so with the grappling. I feel that some former FUNCTIONAL training is absolutely necessary. There was a long debate about this a while ago on sword forum, but I believe that a fencing backround can be extremely beneficial.I am also all for bringing back heavier fencing blades in the sport.I feel after one gets adept at fencing, (especially saber) they can take the some of the skills and principles learned and apply them (with a bit of adapting) to pretty much any cut-and-thrust, single-handed sword.It's definitely a good start in my opinion.

I am also all for bringing back heavier fencing blades in the sport.When I first started fencing at school, one of the seventh formers (ie. 17-18 years-old – about three years older than I was at the time) was a national sabre champion. I was fencing sabre with him (my favourite of the three weapons), and ended up hitting him a little hard (in his opinion). He actually started crying because of the pain!I shudder to think what might have happened if we had been fencing with heavier blades. ;-)

Paul Wagner and YL are correct.I would like to add that my old maestro at BCAF, Mark Holbrow, is an advocate for replacing foil blades altogether with epee blades, to prevent the notorious "flick attack" (the bastardized version of the coupe, which is a pet peeve for classical fencers everywhere).And the new S2000 saber blades are WAY more solid than the old style I-section and Y-section blades (you REALLY could have made that fellow bawl by hitting him "too hard" with one of those, IBI!) :)

I think we've seen a similar attitude with some traditional martial artists and their views of grappling or striking sports, many saying "I'm reconsidering my preconceived notions" after experiencing the practical elements of the formerly denigrated "sport" for the first time.

I know I did.

I recall a t-shirt I once saw put out by the Gracies.

It read:

"Sport IS Reality"

Some people may disagree but sportive force-on-force training will probably get people functional in a shorter period of time than anything else despite all the "shortcomings" of sports.

It works for me :-)

Ok, thanks for the replies! Seems the general consensus is that fencing teaches good footwork and timing (good enought to help my boxing?) as well as teaching good blade skills in itself. I had a look on the web for a bit more info and it seems the saber is the only weapon of the 3 that teaches 'realistic' sword fighting?

Also, can anyone recomend any clubs based in london?


"I had a look on the web for a bit more info and it seems the saber is the only weapon of the 3 that teaches 'realistic' sword fighting?"

I wouldn't say that, but I'll let these other fine posters clear that up.

HULC,I had a look on the web for a bit more info and it seems the saber is the only weapon of the 3 that teaches 'realistic' sword fighting?Modern saber fencing is indeed useful, but it is only "realistic" in the sense that it utilizes both thrusting and cutting (albeit in an efficient manner which can "translate" pretty well to other arts). The weapon itself is unrealistically light for a cutting weapon, and it makes use of the same conventions as foil fencing.Ask a fencer which weapon is most "realistic", and chances are they will say epee. The epee is realistically weighted enough for a light thrusting weapon. The whole body is a target. And there is no "right of way" in epee fencing (if you don't know what that means, let me know).If you decide to take up fencing, do yourself a favor and learn it the traditional way (ie. foil first). The foundational training you learn with foil will stay with you, and the progression to other weapons will be comparatively easy. In fact, I have worked with a good foil fencer who, to the best of my knowledge, has never done saber (or at least not much), and he did pretty well in informal singlestick bouting. YL commented on his excellent stop-cuts to the hand and arm, and the fellow credited the foundational point control work with the foil as being his main strength in that regard.Peace,TFS

I wholeheartedly agree with TFS.

Although the most "unrealistic" for street combat; I specialised in the foil.

The attributes developed in using this weapon far outweighs the others.

That's interesting Ray,

What do you think it is about foil that helps to develop attributes in favour of the other two weapons?

Is it right-of-way? Limited target area? Something else?

It's interesting to note that in Broadsword and Singlestick by RG Allanson-Winn and C. Phillips-Wolley (1898), the authors state that foil was not just a prerequisite for epee and saber--it was also considered to be an important precursor to training with other weapons, like the quarterstaff.BTW Stu, I think you mentioned some of the foil's strongpoints. "Right of way" encourages good parry-riposte habits. The limited target area & thrust-only weapon also allows the novice to develop point control on a comparatively large target. Point control is something that should really be worked on before one begins to learn cutting actions.It is largely because of the above that the foil is so important, IMO.


My "alternative" to the "foil saber" (the modern, ultra-light saber that is derived from the "Raedellian" saber of the late 19th century) is the singlestick! ;)

As to why the modern saber came into being--that's another story, one which I will address after work tonite (unless someone beats me to it).



Hi Stu,

TFS covered the points......with the addition that, of the 3 disciplines, foils needs a lot of dynamic footwork......more distance to cover, more distance to "explode" to bridge the gap. Also recovery from a full lunge is developed.

Also, the "right of way" helps develop lighting fast counter attacks.......parry/riposte, counter parries and counter disengages

Foil maximises the use of distance and timing........crucial elements to develop.

Just as an after thought.....at 4.00am

This topic is one of those "proof is in the pudding" moments.

For those of you who have sparred me, I will ask:-

Do you think the way I judge distance is effective?

Do you think the way I "explode" and close the distance is quick?

Do you think my counter attacks have speed?

Do you think my thrusts have accuracy and power?

Do you think I break the rythme well?

Do you thing my timing is any good?

If the answer is "yes" to any of the above - I attribute that developement TOTALLY to my training with foil fencing :-)

Thanks for the answer Ray,

A whole bunch of Yes to the above.

I can see the point very clearly about ROW creating a clean fight that really hones disengagements etc.

But, what is it about foil then that increases the distance? I would have though epee to be much the same in that regard. Why is recovery from a full lunge so developed? Doesn't the light go off as soon as someone touches someone else?

Thanks again for all the responses, tfs i have nos idea what 'right-of-way' is as im completely ignorant at fencing. :)

Right of Way in fencing is very similar to right of way in driving. it is present in the rules for foil and saber fencing, and determines who has the 'right' to attack. in a saber or foil bout one may score a touch simultaneously with one's opponent, but if you've seized RoW by declaring your attack(extending your arm, beating their blade) their point will not be counted, and yours will.