Fencing: The Perfect Sport for Women

“En Garde, Prêt, Allez!” the sound of smacking steel and light footfalls fill the air, mingling with the electric beeping, shouting, and cheering of the huge space. A match is underway, two female opponents fighting for the final touch of a 5-point bout. There is a flurry of action, more metallic whacks, and a loud beep blares from the box, a green light underneath. The athlete on the right side rips her mask off and screams in victory, her team surrounding her in celebration before she goes to shake hands with her opponent. This is modern fencing. 

 

Fencing has been an Olympic sport since the start of the Modern Olympiad, but has formal references back to the 12th century. Sword fighting and dueling have, of course, been around even longer than that. Fencing as we know it now grew from a form of military training to a pastime and sport centered around honor and form. U.S. Fencing has over 600 clubs nationwide, and there are thousands more worldwide. International and National competitions draw hundreds of athletes to compete, and the sport exists in both an NCAA and College Club capacity as well. 

 

Fencing is an incredible sport that promotes involvement at any age and ability, from childhood and veteran fencing to wheelchair fencing and non-athletic participation. Wheelchair fencing was featured at the first Paralympic Games in 1960 and has been at every Paralympics since. 

2 people fencing Photo by Chuttersnap from Unsplash

What makes fencing somewhat unique in the sports world is the lack of difference in rules and regulations between men’s and women’s fencing. Events are sometimes separated by gender to accommodate bigger tournament numbers, but there are no specific rules of play dividing the genders in the sport. Women are required to wear different protective gear than men due to their difference in anatomy, but the events are run the same regardless of gender. However, women’s involvement in Professional Fencing was slower to develop; Women’s Foil was included in the 1924 Paris Olympic games, but Women’s Epee and Sabre did not make an Olympic appearance until 1996 and 2004, respectively. That being said, women were participating in the collegiate and recreational spheres and able to compete at the national and international levels for many decades before Olympic presence was established. 

fencer holding mask 2 Photo by Alev Takil from Unsplash

But why is fencing such a good sport for women? 

 

Besides the lack of rules discrimination, the sport allows for all body types and abilities. There is no “perfect body type” to be a fencer, and you can compete as long as your health allows you to. You are not bound to any specific event, style, mobility, equipment or team, and can tailor your experience to be as competitive as you want. The sport creates opportunity for mental and physical exercise and puts very little stock on appearances, which is what we need more of right now. 

 

Speaking from personal experience: I’ve done a lot of sports, and none have made me feel more accepting of myself than fencing. I’ve been in the sport for 15 years now - I started because Ballet class was full, and never stopped. The sport was the driving force behind my wanting to go to college and what gets me out of bed in the morning, so I can’t imagine life without it. I’m competing against people in college that I’ve been seeing at tournaments since I was 10, the relationships you build with other fencers and your teammates is incredible. 

fencing picture 4 Photo by C Widmann

Curiosity piqued? Keep an eye out next summer for Fencing at the Tokyo Olympics, or check out your club sports listings to see if your college has a club team you can check out. With the longevity this sport allows, it’s never too late to give it a try!