Learn to Fence

There are three ways of learning to fence.

One, buy a book and try to learn from that. Very difficult, but people have been known to do it. (See Books to Read page for some suggestions.)

Two, join a fencing club.

Probably the best way to learn fencing. There are six senior clubs in Christchurch which welcome beginners or experts alike - see poster below:

Three, take private lessons from a fencing coach. The fastest, but most expensive way to learn. If interested in individual lessons at any of the clubs or private lessons at the Olga Jeykll Salle, contact me direct.

My recommendation is to utilise all three options. Buy the book to give you the background knowledge of fencing. Join a club to learn the weapon you want. Most New Zealand clubs start teaching with foil, but there are some around who start with epee (the University of Canterbury Fencing Club: http://www.ucfencing.net/) or sabre (The Sabre Sessions at Waltham Primary School). Since much of the technique is similar it does not matter (in the early days) which weapon you begin with, just begin and enjoy it. Then, when you have mastered the basics and begin to fence competitively, take private lessons in the weapon of your choice.



Nobody knows when fencing started. By the Bronze Age swords were in regular use and a bas-relief on the wall of an Egyptian temple shows swordsmanship training taking place around 1200 BC. Until the invention of gunpowder the pike, halberd and other tin opening devices where just as important as the sword. Gunpowder changed all that. The sword became lighter and more suitable for quick, neat movements of skilful swordplay.

Guilds of Fencing Masters and fencing clubs grew up to teach this new art of swordsmanship. In Milan, for example, the famous men’s’ club, Society del Giardino, imported a foreign fencing master and turned some stables into a fencing hall when it found it was losing too many of its members in duels (See the photo of the two Italian Maestros in the About Me section - They are standing in the former stables and on the wall behind them are listed the dozens of club members who have been Italian, World and Olympic champions). The invention of the mask around 1780 saw and increase in the complexity of swordplay and the beginning of the sport we see today.

The Sport Today

Fencing today is called the Western martial art. It is a highly physical and technical sport and uses space age materials to make it safe for all. It uses the latest electronic devices to keep the score in its lightning fast fights. Maraging steel foil and epee blades are used to cut down the incidence of sharp broken blades, which could cause injury or death (Crack propagation in maraging steel is a lot slower than in carbon steel. This results in less blade breakage and fewer injuries.It is also used in the great centrifuges processing uranium for the nuclear industry). Fencing clothing is made from the same material as stab-proof vests and bulletproof jackets used by the Police and Military and, at major competitions, fencers are replacing the ultra-strong stainless-steel mesh masks with polycarbonate see-through examples. (My experience, having used a see through mask in coaching for some years, is that they can cause misting problems if you wear spectacles. However, the trade-off in better vision is worth it).

In fact, the only injury likely to be suffered by the modern fencer is over used muscles from fencing too much.

The Weapons

There are three weapons used in modern fencing foil, epee and sabre.

FOIL: Is a light sword that evolved as a training weapon for duelling. Foilists wear a woven metal jacket, which registers a hit, with a coloured light, when the switch at the tip of the foil is depressed on the lame.

EPEE: Is a heavier triangular bladed weapon once used for duelling. The whole of the body, head to toe, is target and it is the only weapon with which both fencers can score a hit at the same time.

SABRE: Is a development of the scimitar and cavalry sabre. It is a three-dimensional weapon with hits scored by both edges and tip. Its target is from the hips to head – much as it would have been when fighting on horseback.

A History of New Zealand Fencing

This was taken from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966. Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/1966/F/Fencing/en

Although the art of fencing has a long and fascinating history, the rules of modern fencing were not drafted until 1896 when the sport appeared on the venue at the first Olympic Games.(Fencing is one of three sports that have been in all the Games since 1896. VJM.)

In 1913 the first world governing body, the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime, was set up in Paris where the first European championship was held. Fencing was introduced into New Zealand in 1916 when Major T. Brown, of the Indian Army, gave tuition to a class of New Zealand Territorial officers in Auckland.

The first clubs were formed at Otago and Canterbury Universities during the 1920s, and these were followed by the Christchurch Swords Club, one in Invercargill, and several in Wellington. In 1934 members of the Auckland Operatic Society formed the Auckland Swords Club, and soon afterwards, similar clubs took shape at Thames, Tauranga, Timaru, and Nelson. (The University of Canterbury Fencing Club is generally accepted as the oldest continuously running fencing club in New Zealand and celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2008. VJM)

The New Zealand Amateur Fencing Association, which controls the sport in this country, was formed at Christchurch in 1937. It is affiliated with the Fédération Internationale and the Olympic and British Empire Games Association. In 1938 the first national championships were held. They continued in the following year, remained in abeyance during the war years, and were resumed in 1946. Since 1938 New Zealand championships have been contested in the following events: foil, epee and sabre - for men; and foil for women (more recently, epee and sabre).

See a rchived Gossip and Photos on the Gossip Page.