Weapons

This is the single most complicated choice, with usually the most options available from each supplier.  The reason is that experienced fencers are very choosy about their weapons and manufacturers try to offer as wide a variety as possible so everyone can have what he/she wants. For Little Johnnie/Jenny’s first weapon, go for as cheap and generic as possible, as these will tend to be the ‘middle of the road’ options.

·         We recommend that you buy an electric weapon, as it can be used anywhere, including club and non-electric competitions. In Australia, non-electric fencing is called “steam” (because steam power pre-dated electricity even though it was never used in fencing – and that’s as close to logic as fencing terminology will approach) but in the USA it is called “dry” (not much better as water is not an integral part of electric fencing), and some manufacturers will call steam gear “practice”.  Electric foils have a different blade with a groove for a wire, a different tip with a sprung metal button and a socket in the guard for the bodywire.

·         Electric foils do require maintenance, but only if you expect them to work on the electrics. If you are just fencing steam then you don’t have to worry, but you must remember to test it before an electric competition.  If it has been more than a few months without testing, assume that it will need repairs (these are not hard, and the QFA offers free courses in fencing repairs, or “Armoury”).

·         The grips on the club foils are called “French” grips, but most foilists ultimately use “pistol” grips (when you see one you’ll understand the naming) so we generally recommend that you buy a pistol grip. However, you should get your child to borrow a pistol grip foil and fence with it for a bit to see what it is like first, and if they don’t like it get a French grip: they can always change a French grip to a pistol by buying just the grip and a nut (you can’t change the other way without buying a new blade – it has to be cut shorter for the pistol grip). For epées the choice is harder: many competitive epéeists use the French grip, so speak to your coach.  Avoid Leon Paul’s “tennis racquet” grip, which they call a Carbon Fibre Handle: this oversize French grip fits onto a pistol grip blade, uses a special nut, needs a special spanner to tighten or remove it, makes epée coaches everywhere weep inwardly and will earn your child some gentle mockery.

·         Foil blades also come in many types and here the choices are more complicated.  Maraging blades, called “FIE” blades, are used at national competitions.  They last longer and are probably about the same in value for money terms as non-FIE (2-5 times the price for 2-5 times the lifespan) but we probably don’t recommend them for a first weapon unless you think there is a chance of entering a national competition within two years of buying the weapon.  If not, then you won’t be using the original blade when it comes to that anyway. All Jeff Gray’s blades are good.  For Leon Paul, all except the Flickmaster are good (a highly specialized design for a style of fencing which is now much less common).

·         For epée blades the considerations are much the same but, while most children won’t notice too much difference between one brand and another, the one exception is the Leon Paul blades, also known as “V” blades. These are made only by Leon Paul, including a different style called “Fusion”, and are visually distinctive once you've seen them closely.  They will feel quite different, with most epéeists finding them lighter than the conventional blades. Epéeists are, predictably, split into warring factions and splinter groups as to the desirability of this trait but, whichever True Faith should happen to claim Little Johnnie’s or Jenny’s lasting allegiance, they should definitely try to fence with both types before choosing their religion.

·         In QLD, all fencing and competitions use full size, “size 5” blades (these are 35” long, size 3 is 33” and size 0 is 30” etc).  However, some New South Welsh age events require shorter blades (size 3).  We recommend getting the size 5 blade for use in QLD and then you can borrow a size 3 blade if you are travelling to a southern event.

·         Get a wired blade with the tip that the manufacturer supplies with it – at this stage the difference between tips will mean nothing to Little Johnnie/Jenny.

·         The electric foil will have a socket for a bodywire, and these have different systems for connection.  The two main ones are “two prong” and “bayonet” – the names, for once, are logical, as seen in the push-and-twist action of the bayonet socket and the two prongs of the two prong socket. Bayonet are chiefly offered by Leon Paul, who developed the system, and if you go with this then try to get their plugs and sockets as the versions by other manufacturers have variable quality at best.  Two prong is favoured by continental manufacturers and is much less sensitive to quality but, if you choose the two prong, get the German variety rather than the French style. At this level there is no difference between bayonet and two prong, so we recommend bayonet simply because that is what most QLD fencers use – this makes it easier to borrow gear.  If your supplier of choice doesn't offer it, then you can get a bayonet socket from Leon Paul and put it on the foil quite easily – in the long term this might be best, as the more gear you get, the harder it will be to change everything.  Whichever system you get, make sure that everything you have is standardized to it: foils, sabres and bodywires. You may hear rumours that the bayonet system is not permitted anymore - this is not quite true: it is not accepted at international events, but is perfectly acceptable at state and national competitions.

·         Sabres should always be electric – the difference is just the socket in the guard with the blades the same and many sellers won’t offer anything else. Ignore anything with the name of a champion fencer – they are endorsing the manufacturer’s latest tweaks because nobody could tell the difference otherwise. Sabre blades do not need to be maraging steel, or “FIE” at any level of competition, so don’t get maraging blades (they do last longer, and a competitive fencer training five times a week might consider that they give value for their higher cost, but this means nothing to a child fencing). All sabre in Australia uses the full-sized, “size 5” blades. Ignore anything which looks fancy – sabres are so simple that manufacturers have to invent this stuff to sell new products.

·         There is a fad for “ultralight”, or just “lightweight”, gear sweeping the world – it is totally unnecessary at this level (probably at any level) and “ultralight” is best translated as “flimsy”.

·         When buying any weapon it is worth thinking about getting a spare blade at the same time.  Blades do break (even expensive FIE blades) and the lifespan is unpredictable.  They are expensive to post due to their length, but they weigh little, so there is no difference in postage cost between one blade and ten. In the medium term, getting a spare or two whenever you order a weapon and thus ordering less often might be cheaper.

·         Another point is a spare weapon – competitions require two weapons and bodywires. However, this is increasing the cost yet again and is only really needed if Little Johnnie/Jenny is going to fence competitions. Even then, for the first few events you can more easily borrow a single weapon to be the spare than two, and other fencers are more willing to lend their foil if they know it is simply to be the spare weapon and will be less likely to be used. For older competitive fencers, to have three or four weapons is considered the minimum by most, but you have years to work up to that!

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