Shoes

As noted in the “What to Buy” section, these should probably not be proper fencing shoes. However, if Little Johnnie or Jenny is having issues with their usual sports shoes or sneakers, you might look for a few of the things below in a replacement pair.

·         Fencers look for three main things in their shoes: a flat, reasonably rigid, non-marking sole; a rounded heel and a strengthened inner section for the back foot.  The last one is not going to be found on any shoe other than a fencing-specific one, so forget about it – it is only for longevity anyway.

·         The sole should be flat and low: it should not have a thickly padded sole like a basketball shoe which makes the wearer an inch or two taller.  The sideways force on the back foot makes this sort of shoe an invitation to rolled ankles. Ideally, the sole should be only about half an inch thick, though most will be a bit more.  Rigidity in the sole is also good, i.e. it should not be possible to fold the empty shoe lengthwise, but is not critical.

·         The heel should not have a sharp angle. This means it should look rounded when viewed from the side, so that when lunging the front foot hits heel first with the toes up and then rolls down smoothly till the toes are on the ground. The best versions have the material of the sole continuing some way up the heel, which is much more durable.

·         Dunlop Volleys can be surprisingly good fencing shoes but must be used with heel padding.  They offer no protection for the heel against the repeated strikes of lunging and lead very quickly to bruised heels if some added protection is not used.  The gel heel pads sold by chemists are good for this, and can be doubled up to give more protection if needed as it is really only the front heel that needs them, but they must be replaced as soon as they show any signs of deterioration or simply flattening.

·         Squash or indoor soccer shoes can be very good, due to similar requirements. Look for the rounded heel which will be less common as it is not so necessary for those sports. These sports are the natural hunting ground for fencing-compatible shoes, so stick to them.  Some fencers have found good shoes in other sports such as boxing, but most shoes from this and other sports are no better than generic sneakers or cross-trainers.

·         Make sure you get sports shoes, not fashion ones, even if they look right.  The “Tiger” shoes developed for fencers in the 1984 Olympics became fashionable for some unknown and certainly ridiculous reason – while the originals were excellent, the fashionable copies are made for nightclubs not pistes, and will fall apart after very little fencing.

For fencing-specific shoes, talk to a coach or have a look at other peoples'.

·         Leon Paul/Hi-Tech shoes (a collaboration between LP and the shoe manufacturer) are good and tend to be a bit wider for the length than others.

·         Adidas tend to be narrower for a given size and produce several types, all of which are good: the cheaper En Garde, which is a good option if you want better than sneakers but can’t find a good squash shoe; the mid-range D’Artagnan shoes in various models, with the D’Artagnan II and D’Artagnan IV being popular (fencers often speak of these as “Darts”, i.e. “Dart twos” or “Dart fours”, and the older Dart 2 is still very good if you can find it somewhere cheaper);  finally the top-of-the-line Adistar/Adipower, available in boots or shoes.

·         Some earlier models of Adistars were “asymmetrics”, i.e. the shoes for right and left feet were different and reflected the different roles of those feet in fencing – while you probably won’t find any of these, speak to a coach before buying if you do, as they bring many disadvantages with their undoubted advantages, and you must remember to order right- or left-handed! In general, asymmetrics such as these older Adistars or the original Tigers are considered the Holy Grail by many fencers but they should be approached only with experience and caution, should you ever find such a rare beast. They are not a good choice for a child. It is worth remembering that manufacturers moved away from these for a reason.

·         The Nike fencing shoes, known as “Ballestras” (we can only assume they chose a word at random from a fencing glossary) are relatively new, but most reports on them have been positive.

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