Fencing vs "real world"


October 5, 2013, 02:46 PM
SO my son needed to pick a "sport" at his school this year and picked Fencing where they are working with the saber.

While I like the fact he is taking anther martial art other than his Shotokan I wonder if this saber fencing has any usefulness other than as exercise and learning to learn.



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October 5, 2013, 03:11 PM
As an observer and not a participant I can see several "gains" from fencing.

Eye hand coordination, reflexes, strategic thinking, personal awareness of surroundings and others I can't think of.

I imagine that a trained fencer would be able to make great use of a sword cane or collapsible baton if needed.

I don't know enough about the sport to know if there is a commercial side other than the Olympics.

October 5, 2013, 03:44 PM
Best single martial art, even for real SD!

As Red Alert mentioned, the pinpoint timing and distancing fencing teaches is incredibly valuable, even if you're unarmed.


October 5, 2013, 03:52 PM
owen and I have studied western fencing and some others as well.

I wonder if this saber fencing has any usefulness other than as exercise and learning to learn.

Saber has a lot of value along the lines RedAlert has laid out. Speed, endurance, focus, reading body position, balance, footwork, sure footedness, agility, flexibility, power, independence, stress management, mental quickness. Being an individual sport it teaches personal responsibility for outcomes and real sportsmanship. Being a club or team individual sport it teaches camaraderie, sacrifice, teamwork before and after the competition.

October 5, 2013, 04:01 PM
Agility, reflexes, timing, stamina, footwork...

When I was in college, I took dance to assist me in my footwork and balance for judo and kickboxing, and to help with my lower body strength for other sports. (Also nice to be the only single guy in a room full of fit athletic attractive women...).

Fencing is better than many extra-curricular offerings I'm sure.

October 5, 2013, 05:37 PM
I took a year of fencing classes in college. It was an eye-opener. The most dangerous opponents were not necessarily the karate experts taking the class, or the strongest, or the fastest. The most dangerous were the smartest. The greatest thing about fencing is that it is a close in contact sport, and you can learn from losing to a very good opponent without it costing you anything. If you lose a boxing match, you may indeed learn, but you may never be the same either.

One of my greatest regrets was not finding the opportunity to pursue fencing further. I had no talent, but I loved it, and it was a true confidence builder.

October 5, 2013, 05:48 PM
I was pretty good for the 2 years I took fencing in college in the early 60s. I soon gravitated toward saber ;) which actually limited my intermural competition oppurtunities. Small wonder I recieved the "Spirit of the Bayonet" award in Army basic which gave me PFC and a ticket to Airborne training ect.:D

October 5, 2013, 07:35 PM
I studied Hung Gar for about five years. We spent a lot of time on the mechanical motions of throwing a punch/kick/elbow, etc, but it wasn't until I tried fencing years later that I learned about controlling tempo and distance and manipulating your opponents expectations.

I studied saber a little, but I think foil and epee both have a lot more tactics and strategy to teach. Saber is very much first to start the attack wins.

Many clubs will have seminars on other sword arts too, such as kendo and classical fencing.

Florida has a pretty strong fencing scene IIRC.

Downsides: my left knee still bothers me (tendonitis), and I haven't fenced much in about 7 years.

October 6, 2013, 11:00 AM
A fencer friend of mine points out that if you cane use a saber, you're on the fast track to being a real threat with a cane.

October 6, 2013, 11:45 AM
I'm another who used to fence in school, but once I got to the point of needing to buy my own gear to really compete, I couldn't really continue due to finances.

You can learn a lot through fencing (as others have mentioned). It really is more of a mental game with a small physical aspect to it. I've heard it likened to chess with blades. I was always partial to foil and I think that it's a better place to start off when first starting to fence (smaller target area, only thrusts can score) but saber was always a lot of fun.

October 6, 2013, 04:09 PM
Foil would be a better place to start than saber.

October 6, 2013, 09:02 PM
I wonder if this saber fencing has any usefulness
While fighting with smaller blades is often based on Indonesian or Filipino martial arts, fighting with a large blade is often based on fencing...certainly that is what James Keating bases his technique on

Yo Mama
October 6, 2013, 10:08 PM
I wonder if this saber fencing has any usefulness other than as exercise and learning to learn.

Your question comes at a perfect time!!! This guy ended up doing ok with it:


Dirty Bob
October 6, 2013, 11:08 PM
I used fencing techniques in Filipino martial arts: specifically in knife work. Fencing teaches a lot of faking, feints, and making an attack on one line, then disengaging under the parry to attack on another line.

Fencing also uses rhythms to fake an opponent into a pattern, then you break the rhythm and nail the opponent. You also learn distances, and just how far away an opponent can be and still be able to attack almost instantly. Watch a good fencer, and be amazed by how fast they can cover ground.

I agree with John: foil is probably the best starting point. It's a good place to learn much of the above, and many fencers stay with foil as a sport.

OTOH, it is a sport, so there are some things that "work" in fencing, but not in the real world. I've seen fencers who rely almost totally on all-or-nothing lunges that leave them open if they don't score a hit. Fencing is also a back-and-forth game, not a combat in the round. There is little room to sidestep an attack, as many martial artists would do.

Still, any combative art or sport has something to teach us, and fencing is no exception. Absorb what is useful and make it your own.

All my best,
Dirty Bob

October 7, 2013, 10:46 AM
I agree that foil is the best starting point, but epee without the right of way or target limitations is more practical if you're interested in modern defensive applications being bolstered by the sport. While I fenced saber I don't consider the techniques to be as applicable to modern knives, but it is good for the longer cane.

October 7, 2013, 10:58 AM
My first impulse was to say "nothing" but after reading some of the other, earlier posts I have to say they've brought up some good points. My fencing experience was limited to two semesters of foil back in college (needed the PE credit and it seemed more interesting than the more conventional offerings). I think you do have to be aware of the artificialities that the rules impose on some tactics, so as not to be caught “off guard” (no pun intended!) by an "illegal" response from your opponent.

October 7, 2013, 12:06 PM
I was involved in fencing for a long time as a kid. Not only is it great for self-defense but it is far more physically challenging than you would think. Some bouts can last 15-20 minutes and that is pretty non-stop action. I was a pretty fat kid when I started the sport and was thin as a rail after about a year. As others have stated, the startup costs are kind of high but they are not going to be any worse than something like football. It is far more challenging mentally and physically and you are far less likely to have a serious injury believe it or not.

October 7, 2013, 12:15 PM
Thanks guys. The Boy travels from his school to U of F for his classes, but I do not know who teaches him. I have been considering showing up one day and watching. I handed him my saber, a Chinese 1900 cav blade, just for giggles this past week end. Nothing like a sports saber. Fortunately he did not sprain anything trying his parries or cut anything important off either of us. He had experessed an interest in the foil some years ago as it was available at his gym, but it conflicted with the Shotakan.

I feel somewhat better about him taking sabre from you guys' responses.


October 7, 2013, 12:57 PM
if I met a fencer who was even moderately capable of holding the foil or epe correctly.. I'd fear for my life wiht any weapon BUT a gun. they are fast.. and while the teach to parry on the sword, a slap to the wrist in the real world will disarm without killing. At the least it'd be like getting caned with a long, metalic rod...

October 7, 2013, 02:44 PM
While I'm not a fan or "sporterizing" martial skills, as other have pointed out, there is still much to be gained from them.

As for its "usefulness" ... well, it'll be pretty much just as "useful" in today's world as it would if he were studying Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaijustsu from a Japanese master. There's not much call for those physical swordsmanship skills in our 21st century life, but the lessons learned from the study and practice are both universal and timeless.

October 7, 2013, 09:44 PM
I don't get to blow my own horn very often, so I'll take this opportunity!

Never being one for team sports, I got into fencing as a teen. I competed for several years. I was accomplished enough that I qualified for the Junior Olympics, and even won the Sunshine State Games here in Florida in the U17 age group and placed 17th out of 54 in men's. I was primarily a foil fencer, but did some sabre on occasion. In my senior year of high school, I helped to establish a local club in my town and instructed there as well.

As a sport, fencing is great. It teaches excellent hand-eye coordination, reflex reaction, footwork, patience, and strategy. It can be very fast and over in seconds, or long and drawn out with equally-matched competitors. Foil is the entry-level weapon, and I've never seen sabre taught without the student having learned foil first.

Sabre is my favorite of the three weapons, simply because it does incorporate slashing, whereas foil and epee are point only. Additionally, it is the most dynamic of the three because of the large target area to protect from the slashing motion. Plus, it's really noisy, with all the clanging of the full handguards, which is awesome, and it's the most fun to watch.

That said, other than developing fast and accurate hands, explosive movement, and being able to quickly recognize the best parrys (blocks) for the attack that might be coming at you, the form and motion of fencing does not directly translate very well for more than a few activities. There are some things it does translate well to, such as certain styles of knife fighting and hands-focused Eastern martial arts (because the weapons are taught to become extensions of the hands and arms), though I think if one wants to learn a practical martial art for fighting/SD, fencing would not be my first suggestion. I liken it to tae kwon do, which is a sport based on a martial art. Someone who knows tae kwon do could certainly hurt someone who does not, but it's real purpose is to compete against other people using tae kwon do for points. I could really hurt someone with a foil, sabre or epee if I wanted to, but the forms are really designed for attacking and defending against another fencer, and are not practical for real fighting. I think the greatest thing I retained from fencing (aside from actually being able to say I was once good at something) is hand-eye coordination and reflex. It certainly wasn't the chronic knee pain from all the lunging and footwork...

Even though it is loosely based on the renaissance style of sword fighting, being good with fencing weapons does not automatically make one good with actual swords. Real swords weigh much more and have rigid blades. Fencing weapons are extremely light and have much more flexible blades, suitable for "coupe" attacks, or attacks where the weapon is essentially "whipped" at the opponent using the wrist and forearm and the point of the weapon lands on the opponent at the end of it's motion without a lot of thrust behind it from the attacker's body. We must remember that fencing is a sport simply designed to obtain points. In order to obtain those points, one must only lightly touch the opponent in the target area just enough to make the electrical connection to register on the scoring machine, which requires far less effort than actually piercing or slashing flesh. Not that there aren't plenty of times when it hurts, even with the protective clothing, but the light gauge and flexibility of the blades removes the mass and rigidity of a real sword blade, and therefore the inertia and needed strength and energy to swing such a weapon. Of the fencing weapons, epee is closest to it's real counterpart (rapier) because it has a semi-rigid blade with a flat, triangular cross-section, but there is still much less weight to a competitive epee than a classical rapier.

October 7, 2013, 09:54 PM
As others have mentioned, fencing is excellent for developing tactics, distance control, and timing. I use fencing tactics quite often in my karate studies.

And it's a better way to meet eligible young women than a dojo.

October 8, 2013, 04:59 PM
It's great practice for Ping pong, and vise versa.

October 12, 2013, 09:03 AM
Doesn't matter what he does. As long as he does something and does it well and does it often.

Billy Shears
October 12, 2013, 09:47 AM
I used to fence in college, and I endorse everything centermass said. It's great exercise, and will help you develop coordination, balance, timing, explosive movement, and so on, but it is a sport, not a real martial art, and will provide only limited direct benefit in terms of defensive skills. There is some benefit; Bruce Lee based much of the footwork of Jeet Kune Do, the martial art he developed, on fencing, and you may note that his preferred stance was very, very similar to the fencing en garde position -- right down to leading with with the strong hand (most righties lead with the left, and most lefties with the right, but Lee, a right-hander, saw more benefit to having his strong hand forward).

If your son is interested in the history of fencing, and how it developed from the real martial art it once was, and how some are trying to resurrect that martial art today, you might direct him here: http://www.thehaca.com/

This organization is trying to redevelop, not just swordplay, but the whole array of historical Western martial arts from the manuals left behind by the "masters of defense" of the renaissance. As such it includes swords of several types, staves, knives, polearms, etc. There are a lot of interesting articles, including information on how different fighting with real swords is from the feather-light fencing weapons in use in sport fencing today.

October 12, 2013, 11:14 PM
Any sword art taken in high school has to better than taking something such as interpretive dance. If he likes it, he can continue with it or do other weapon arts such as Arnis, samurai swords, staff, etc. it can't do any harm. The more weapons he can practice with the better. Being able to do it in a high school class is just a bonus.

October 13, 2013, 03:21 AM
I have been involved in fencing for most of my adult life. If anyone is looking to get into fencing, go look up usfa.org. They have a club finder page on their web site.

What does fencing give you in self-defense training? Personal combat. There isn't any holding back in fencing. People come as hard and fast at you as they can, no pulling 'punches'. Sometimes blades break and people get injured, though I believe it's safer than football. Your threat distance is greater than in other martial sports or arts. And you learn to think while somebody is trying to hit you with a piece of steel. :eek:

October 20, 2013, 05:13 PM
I fenced for many years when I was younger. As many have said, the more abstract aspects of fencing are well worth learning from a practical standpoint. Even Bruce Lee, who was a more serious thinker about martial arts than some may realize, looked into fencing for the things he could take from it.

Although this will be obvious to many, it's worth pointing out that if you want to fully apply the things you learn in fencing to real life encounters, at some point you have to learn the technique of the actual tools you'll have. Awareness of tactics, timing, expectation, feints, etc. is invaluable, but being able to transfer them to another context and get the most out of them requires work and practice.

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