Why Can’t Johnny Pick a Fencing Weapon? Part Two: The Yin and Yang of Weapons

If you missed Part One, read it here.

In part one of this topic I explained the rules for the three different type of weapons.  This gives a background in helping your child decide on a weapon that will hopefully, not only allow him to enjoy fencing, but also stick with the same weapon.  Saving you money and not causing the parental dilemma of “weapon, weapon, do I really have to buy him a different weapon?” After knowing the different weapons and their uses, you can understand how two key elements can determine whether your child will enjoy fencing and be successful with his chosen weapon.

The easiest element in choosing a weapon is determining your child’s physical characteristics.  Although some fencing books, and perhaps fencers, will tell you that physical body types are not significant in determining the success at any particular weapon, I have observed that certain body types have more success in one weapon over another.  This seems to be especially true with inexperienced or young fencers who have not yet developed many fencing skills.  Using the three basic body type categorizations of ectomorph (tall and thin), mesomorph (average and athletic), and endomorph (short and stout) you can determine your child’s closest body type. In choosing a weapon for a child, I would choose the epee for the tall child (ectomorph), the foil for the short/athletic child (mesomorph), and the sabre for the athletic/stout child (endomorph).  At least one fencing book generally agrees with these observations viz. Modern Saber Fencing, by Zbigniew Borysiuk, Ph.D., section 8.5.1 (although being a sabre book, it tends toward emphasizing that sabre, due to the amount of footwork, needs a more mesomorphic fencer).  Of course, children may drastically change from one type to another to another as they grow but as their skill grows in the selected weapon their body type may be less of a factor.  As a sidenote, the predominately left handed child has an advantage in all three weapons.   Of course, the physical element is by far the easier one to determine, the harder element is the psychological characteristics.

During my brief fencing experience, my fencing coach told the me that you cannot tell how a person fences until you see them fence.  How a person competes in fencing does not really show itself, especially for children, until they are on the strip with their opponent coming at them with a weapon. You may be surprised by how aggressive your sweet little girl is when she puts on her fencing mask or how thoughtfully concentrated your normally distracted son can be when facing a lunging attack.  In my experience, I have observed two basic types of fencers that I call the “attacker style” and the “defender style.” The Complete Guide to Fencing, Berndt Barth and Emil Beck (Editors), in section 2.1.1 use the (perhaps more) descriptive terms of “fighters” and “tacticians.”  Of course, most people only tend toward one or the other and are not purely one or the other.  In determining a weapon, the defender style usually does better at epee’ and the attacker style does better at sabre.  Foilists may be either, however, for children, due to the “rule of priority,” the thoughtful tacticians will usually win out over the more common fighters.  Fortunately, you are probably familiar enough with your child’s personality to guess at which weapon they will enjoy the most.

My children fence two different weapons and, although brothers, do have two different styles.  My eldest has an attacker style and loves footwork.  Although he started with foil and then switched to epee’, in hindsight, he is more well suited for his (hopefully last) weapon of sabre.  My youngest has a defender style.  He started with, and still stays with, epee.  The problem is, like his father, he probably will not be very tall and may be a better foilist – I just cannot convince him of that. Therein lies the ultimate dilemma in choosing a weapon for your child.

Despite all the analysis and logic behind choosing a weapon for your child, they are most likely going to choose the weapon that their friend fences or the weapon most of the other kids are using. You may have to just play along and hope that it does not cause you child to finally give up fencing due to becoming too discouraged in fencing his chosen weapon.

Of course, if all else fails, elicit the fencing coach to impart the revelation that you have been urging all along.  Because no matter how many times you may say it to your child, he will not listen if you tell him.

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