Safety in Olympic Fencing

May 15, 2009


2009 Foil Fencing Match

If you ask a group of non-fencers how safe fencing is, conjecture would probably center on the safety of the blade.  The non fencers would be reassured to know that deaths in fencing are few and far between.  In fact, more people die playing football each year than in fencing.

Ask a group of veteran fencers what the dangers of fencing are, and you are more likely to hear about pulled muscles, tendon injuries, and trauma to the ligaments of the knees and ankles.  Some fencers experience overuse issues with the elbow joint (lateral epicondylitis) not unlike those faced by tennis players.

Fencers are taught to suspend activity immediately if a blade breaks.  However, if they are properly attired in their mask and protective clothing, they have little to fear.  While today’s fencing gear is designed to reduce encumbrance to the fencer, the fabrics used, such as ballistic nylon, effortlessly repel the impact of a broken blade.  One fencing enthusiast mused that there is more danger of getting injured in a car accident on the way to fencing school than an injury on the strip.

Although the dangers of modern fencing in a well-run and conscientiously managed fencing program are few, failure to follow appropriate procedures and rules will jeopardize the safety of the individual fencer, teammates, and observers.  Several safety precautions (credit to Benjamin Jacobs, Fencing: A Parent Orientation and in the fencing environment include:

1)     Never point a weapon at an unmasked person

2)     Never engage another person when you are not wearing a mask

3)     Always wear safety equipment

4)     Stop fencing as soon as you are aware of any unsafe factors (factors include broken blades, unsafe floor conditions, or an opponent who is not under control)

5)     Do not participate in unsupervised practices.

6)     Always warm up before fencing to prevent the likelihood of muscle, ligament and tendon trauma.

7)     Check your clothing for holes.  A trapped blade in your clothing could cause a serious accident.

8)     Unless you are a novice fencer, make sure you wear underarm protection.

9)     If you are a male fencer, wear an athletic supporter with a protective shield.  If you are a female fencer, wear breast protectors.

10) Protect your legs with appropriate pants.

11) Be aware of your surroundings.  Before stepping out onto an active floor, check to be sure it is safe (no loose equipment, no fencers engaged in a bout or practice).

12) When you are fencing, do not drive your opponent into a wall or other hazard because you are so eager to win a touch.

13) Don’t fence too close.

14) If you are repeatedly colliding with your opponent, stop fencing until you can correct the error.

15) Aggressive fencing is ok; violent, uncontrolled fencing is not.  Nothing you do should cause pain or harm.

16) When hit, don’t point at the area with your finger.  Instead, immediately acknowledge the touch in a clear, audible voice.

This is a lengthy list, much of which boils down to common sense.  With attention to these types of safety considerations, fencing can uphold its outstanding safety record.


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