I know some parents look at the sport of fencing and think, “I spent most of my time telling my kid to put the stick down and to stop hitting others. So, why on earth would I want to arm him and show him how to stab people?” Fencing seems pretty violent, unsafe, and not something to expose to children. Unfortunately, most American parents, and some bookstores, see fencing as just another martial art. Their thinking sometimes goes that at least he’ll learn how to defend himself against the local bully if he takes Karate, Taekwondo, or some other martial art but what good is learning how to use a sword? These parents are mistaken about competitive sport fencing. Fencing is about as far away from practicing to stab people with a real sword as the sport of Lacrosse is from training Native American warriors for battle. If the ultimate goal of competitive sport fencing is not to learn how to really kill someone with a sword, what is the (no pun intended) point of fencing?
The goal of fencing is to outthink and out maneuver your opponent to score points – it is not your goal to cause your opponent any kind of injury. I am sure you have heard fencing called “physical chess,” and that description precisely sums up the whole point of competitive fencing. There are few individual sports that actually are dependent upon an opponent to be competitive. For instance, while track and field sports are performed with other competitors, you are actually competing against yourself in that you are trying to run faster or throw longer than you personally have done before. If you can do your best time or farthest throw, and if that is better than everyone else, than you win. This is the only way the other person is “competing” against you. The other competitor is not trying to stop you from scoring. Team sports, like football and soccer, are usually the opposite in that you not only win by scoring more than your opponent but by also preventing your opponent from scoring. However, individual sports like fencing, tennis, and other racquet sports do depend on you to outthink and physically out perform your opponent. You don’t win unless you can simultaneously prevent the other person from scoring and manage to score yourself. And yes, I know that sounds a lot like combat but no one would think to call tennis, or a team sport like baseball, “combat.” So, why does fencing get such a bad reputation as a violent sport? I believe it is partially the fault of fencers.
Fencers, and fencing coaches, encourage parents to think that if your child likes to hit people with sticks, play pirate with toy swords, or slash at his sibling with a light sabre, that he will be a natural fencer. How many parents would entrust their children to a football coach that says, “If your child likes to push kids to the ground, well then, I have a place for him on the football team!”? I know it sounds logical to a parent that the goal of fencing is to cause pain to your opponent, but for anyone who has ever fenced such is not what is running through a fencer’s mind in a bout. Actually, the fencer is usually thinking, “What is my best way to touch the person on the target area?”
Fencers also scare parents when explaining the history of the rules for fencing. For instance, the explanation for getting a touch in foil usually is explained something like this. Foil was developed to practice a sword fight to the death. The target area is the torso since that would result in killing your opponent. You have to stab with the foil’s tip so it would push in enough to actually puncture your opponent. The idea is to run him through. Oh, since this is a fight to the death, you must be on the attack, we call it “right of way,” to score a point. Because in a real fight to the death you would never attack into an attack – that would just result in both of you killing each other. So, would your little girl like to try this?
I think we could do a lot to show parents the fun of fencing by just explaining it for what it is – like every other sport. The sport of competitive fencing has been in every modern Olympics. Despite what a parent may imagine, it is a sport, not a martial art, where the goal is to touch the opponent’s target area with your weapon while being on the offensive. Your child will not only have to out think the opponent but be able to physically outmaneuver the opponent to win. It will not only challenge your child to be personally faster and stretch farther than before but will also challenge your child to out smart the opponent. The best part is that, unlike football which your child will probably stop playing after high school, or before if he receives a lifelong injury, your child can still enjoy fencing even when playing with his grandchildren.