Recreational Fencing

    If you are thinking of becoming a recreational rather than a competitive fencer, you are probably a bit where I was when I started out: you are looking for a sport for fitness, challenge and ejoyment, but have other commitments that will prevent you from devoting enough time to train for big tournaments. Having fenced for seven years, I would certainly characterize myself as a recreational fencer. Over these years, I have also been a busy student, studying through an undergraduate degree and medical school, and now starting a medical residency, but I have managed to stick with fencing as my main athletic hobby. Based on what I have done well as a fencing student, and also on all the things I wish I had done differently, I believe I can share a few suggestions with aspiring fencers.

1.    Learn the basics early and well. Fencing is very much like chess, and like other forms of martial art, it is comprised of easy rules and moves but is immensely difficult to master. From the first day when you pick up a foil, you will be taught the basic foot and weapon work, often quite simple when done in isolation. However, when you first gear up for a bout, the basics can fade from the mind quickly if they have not been practiced well. Take advantage of the time early on to learn the fundamentals, and heed any advice from Maitre Bac especially during this time.

2.    Fence for the good hit, not for the win. As you get further along in fencing, it is easy to get too carried away with getting the win rather than paying attention to basic form. This will easily deteriorate into sloppy fencing, which is not only not stylish, but is also ineffective against better opponents, results in more injuries to oneself and others, and worst yet, brings on criticism from Maitre Bac. Especially as a recreational fencer, focus on getting precise hits using basic attack and defensive moves, and get joy from getting a few good hits rather than many lucky, sloppy ones.

3.    Buy decent equipment early. I give this advice as a reflection of my poor decision early on, as I waited a year or two before buying a full uniform, and certainly regretted it. Fencing unfortunately can be exspensive at times, but at least it's better than skiing or golfing! Even if you don't have the desire to be a competitive fencer, having good equipment takes away the worry of having to borrow, gives you that encouragement to attend class each time, and in some strange way initiates you into the world of fencing and gives you that added confidence each bout.

4.    Attend fencing regularly. I am also certainly the poorest example of this, but I would emphasize this more than anything else. The skills in fencing are maintained only with repetition, and without going at least once or twice a week, things can fade. This, as for me, can lead to frustration when you come back from a hiatus, and takes even more time than you missed to get your skills back to where they were. Also, even if you find your skills are coming to a bit of a plateau, do not let that deter you as you will find yourself making strides again as you fence good opponents regularly.

5.    Bring a friend! My very good friend and I have been fencing together under Maitre Bac since we started seven years ago, and not only is it nice to have someone motivate you each time, but it also certainly adds to the fun of fencing. Mind you, fencers are a very social bunch, and you will certainly make many new friends at the club, but having a very familiar person who you certainly don't want to lose against, but won't take offense to your ultra-competitiveness, definitely adds to the motivation to improve!

6.    Listen to Maitre Bac. His advice always does turn out to be right. Not that he would have it any other way...

Although essentially common sense, hopefully these suggestions will be helpful for all those starting out in this very great sport. If nothing else, I can guarantee that you will enjoy fencing for many years to come!

Dr. Tony Ng