FOLO FIE “Hard” Epee Review: a Rising Star and a True BF White Competitor

Disclaimer:
I was provided with a complimentary blade from FOLO in return for my honest review. Parts and labor (outside of the blade/tip itself) were provided by me. I received no monetary compensation for this review, nor am I endorsed by FOLO in any capacity, mostly because I suck at Fencing. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own and not influenced by FOLO and/or its affiliates in any way.

In the 25 years I’ve been fencing, there’s been a shockingly low number of new gear competitors entering the market—especially when it comes to blades. Walking vendor to vendor at a NAC, you’re more than likely to see the same motley crew of brands: Blaise Freres (BF), Leon Paul, Vniti, STM, Franchini, etc.

In Fencing, blades carry a similar kind of brand loyalty to buying a car: if you’ve driven a Honda your whole life and you’re satisfied with the experience, then you’re more likely going to buy the same brand of car when the time comes[1], and if you got some of your best results with a particular brand of blade, you probably value familiarity and consistency over the unknown.

In the world of Epee Fencing, the Blaise Freres (BF) line of blades remains an unslayable king. The preferred blade among the highest-level Epee fencers, BF has set the gold standard with their white, blue, and black lines of blades. It’s what I’ve used exclusively for the last 15 years, and it features all the things I’m looking for in a blade: great feel, durability, and a reasonable price that corresponds with its quality.

So when I had the opportunity to review FOLO’s FIE Epee blade, I’ll admit, it felt akin to the heartbreaking ending of Toy Story 3 where Andy gives his toys away, like I was leaving an old friend behind and entering into unfamiliar territory. My hesitation was quickly put to rest, because after about 20 hours of usage, I can tell you with zero hesitation: this is the finest quality of blade from the tip to the tang and it deserves consideration in your arsenal as a potential BF White replacement. That’s not without some asterisks—because this review is only based on one blade, and they seem as easy to find as a Sony Playstation 5 (that is to say, not at all). So without knowing the blade’s durability and without being able to find it with ease, you can consider what I write here an initial impressions review.

Some Caveats
Blade preferences are relative. What I like in a blade, you might hate. What you love in a blade, I might hate (I don’t know how anyone likes Leon Paul’s Epee Blades. I’d rather take a tuft of cat hair, glue it together and shove it in a bellguard than use one of their blades, though their uniforms are peerlessly amazing). When FOLO asked me the kind of blade I wanted to review, I told them I wanted the stiffest, heaviest blade weighted towards the tang that they had. They obliged, sending me their FIE “Hard” Weapon.

One of the most important things missing from this review (at the time of publication) will be durability. My intention is to fence almost exclusively with this blade until it breaks. If and when that happens, I’ll update with specific metrics on hours/practices fenced with the weapon and how long the weapon lasted. Of course, even that number should be scrutinized. Not all forges are created equal, and I’ve had some BF blades that have lasted me 10+ years, and other brand-new ones break after a hard opposition 8 just a few practices/tournaments after purchasing. Without testing multiple FOLO blades, it’s hard to really measure durability.

Another important thing I’m missing here is a test of consistency. When blade shopping at a tournament, I’m inclined to spend an hour minimum before I pick a blade. I want to see where the blade bends and press multiple blades against my shoe to ensure they’re bending at a consistent angle—preferably towards the tip. I want to see where the center of gravity on the weapon is. I want to test flickiness blade-to-blade. When I visited the Philadelphia National Championships, by that point, FOLO was sold out of their FIE weapons so I couldn’t do my normal tests. Not all blades are created equal, and even though you’re looking at the same forge and stiffness level, you still want to have your blades be as similar as possible.

So, this review is based off of one blade, and only one blade. Without testing multiple weapons and durability, it’s hard to really articulate if FOLO will have a future place in my Fencing bag, say, five years down the road.

FOLO Meets the Dark Underbelly of Fencing: a Love Story

FOLO was founded in 2018 by ex-Fencers Dennis Potapenko and Yvgeniy Myrgordoskyi in Kharkiv, Ukraine. They received their first FIE homologation in October, 2020 on their Epee’s, making them newer kids on the block. I jumped on the phone with their founders to hear their story, what got them into making blades, and their goals and ambitions for the company. FOLO, they told me was founded to create a true competitor to BF, STM, and other major players in the blade market. I was immediately appreciative of their humorous honesty—they told me their first blade they made was a non-FIE Epee, which they told me was “not very good” and “better for children.” I came away with a similar feeling after testing those out at the Philadelphia National Championships.

Their growing presence in the Fencing community hasn’t been without controversy. FOLO has deployed an aggressive, grassroots oriented marketing strategy, sending their blades out to prominent members of the Fencing community for review, including Andrew “Cyrus of Chaos” Fischl and Rick “BDR” Watrall. They recently posted a (since verified) story of Paolo Pizzo using one of their blades to win a World Cup event, prompting skeptical members of the Fencing subreddit (aka the “dark underbelly of USA Fencing”) to respond with: “So this is an Ad right?” and “Please get the hint and understand that people are fed up of this kind of marketing approach. It is actively harming your reputation.”

FOLO responded with a thread titled: “FOLO Appeal to the Reddit Fencing Community” in which they extended a proverbial olive branch to the dark underbelly of Fencing defending their marketing practices, which they quipped were “…so strong, that they forgot to post it on website and only post on Instagram :).” The post also included a picture of a broken-down factory oven with one of the founders’ butts sticking out while trying to fix it. It was an odd submission to the dark underbelly, but a wholesome one indeed.

Regardless of how you feel about their marketing approach—one thing is clear: Myrgordoskyi and Potapenko are passionate about their products and are brimming with enthusiasm for them. They’re confident enough to send them to skeptics and critics of the Fencing world with assuredness their products will pass the scrutiny of curmudgeons like me, Cyrus, and BDR. Now, let’s talk about the blade.

Initial Impressions out of the Box

The FOLO FIE Blade leaves a great first impression from the unboxing. I’m a sucker for aesthetics, and starting with the titanium tip, I loved the purple coloring. The blade has a lovely sheen to it, with the FOLO Fencing branding etched into the tip and at the forte of the blade.

Weighing in at 192 grams, the FOLO blade is on the heavier side and almost 10 grams heavier than an average BF White (183 grams). I have a preference for blades heavily weighted towards the tang, and measuring against my small arsenal of BF’s, my FOLO blade had a lower center of gravity than each BF blade I measured it against. The blade is firmly stiff and not whippy in the slightest (which is my preference) so if you prefer the noodly floppiness of a Vniti or enjoy having your blade rattle like a pacifier when beat like a Leon Paul, this blade probably isn’t for you.

The blade’s chamber has a deep “v” shape, which feels ever slightly more concave than a typical BF white but not as deep a chamber as you see on a Leon Paul weapon. The glue job itself was close to perfect, and I can honestly say I didn’t see so much as an iota of excess glue in the chamber, and the wire was uniformly straight from the tip down through the entire chamber with no curvature.

The blade bends nicely towards the tip, whereas, as you may have experienced with BF Whites, they kind of bend across the entire blade the more and more you use. After 20 hours of usage, the blade has not developed any awkward kinks or s-curves, despite a number of hard opposition takes that bent the blade upward.

Using the blade in bouting, I found that I was able to rediscover forgotten parts of my repertoire, and the balance towards the bottom of the blade was conducive to smaller, tighter parries and generating flicks using small motions with my fingers. The blade never felt unwieldy when flicking, and hopefully its natural curve in in the blade towards the tip will be maintained with further usage. Passing the blade around to other teammates and coaches for testing, all seemed to be unanimously glowing with the weight, feel, and balance of the blade.

The only oddity I noticed in using the FOLO hard blade, was that on a number of occasions, it managed to set off the grounding on the strip. Now, I’m no metallurgist, physics nerd, or someone who knows anything about armory, and it’s unclear to me if this was an issue of the grounding on the strips at my club, or something to do with the titanium tip itself. I don’t know, but it’s something I’ll look out for, and I’d be curious to hear if that’s something other FOLO users have experienced. To quote the Insane Clown Posse: “F***ing magnets, how do they work?”

As a cool marketing gimmick, FOLO’s packaging includes a poster that encourages you to collect stickers for their top 32 all-time epeeists like a human fencer Pokedex. Interestingly, these rankings have been a source of Sodium Chloride on FOLO’s Facebook page. The two reviews of their equipment are focused solely on the poster (not their products themselves). One commenter wrote: “When you forget Phillipe Boisse, Riboud, and Pusch, it can’t be taken seriously!” and was accompanied by a “do not recommend rating.” Another reviewer cried “Where is Ivan Trevejo and Alexander Beketov!” Anyhow, it’s a fun little shtick and a good opportunity for budding fencers to study the history of their respective weapons.

Availability:

Hall of Fame Football Coach Bill Parcells once said: “the best ability is availability.” When it comes to blades, this is especially true. If you’re in the throes of a tournament and your blade breaks, you’re more than likely going to want to swap the broken blade out with the same one. As a startup company, this is where FOLO’s got some catching up to do.

Among major US vendors, it’s hard to track down the FOLO FIE blades. Absolute seems to require their branding on their weapons, so you won’t find FOLO there, at least, not yet. Leon Paul USA doesn’t carry them. Alliance Fencing doesn’t carry them. The Fencing Post appears to have their non-FIE line of weapons, which to be honest, my first impressions weren’t great with, but that’s another topic for another day. And as aforementioned, by the time I got to Philadelphia, they were sold out by Blue Gauntlet, who seemed to be the only vendor carrying them.

So if you’re a Fencer who uses the same brand of blades across each weapon, think twice before switching exclusively to FOLO until their supply chain issues are resolved. Given the high quality of the blades themselves, this will be an issue that I suspect will sort itself out over time.

Pricing:
The FOLO blade retails for $135 unwired, $145 for wired with standard point, and $155 for the cool, colorful titanium point. That puts it right in line with BF, which sells for anywhere from $125-$150 for a wired white blade.

BladePrice (in USD)
FOLO FIE Hard$135 (unwired), $145 wired with standard point, $155 for wired with titanium point.
BF White FIE$125-$150 wired
Vniti FIE$105 (unwired), $125 (wired)
Franchini FIE$248 (wired with German point)

If we’re evaluating pricing on initial impressions, it matches the expectations for that price point. But would you buy a Ferrari for $200,000? Probably not, if the car broke down on you quickly. It’s a blade priced on the high end, and on quality, it meets the point. On durability? To be determined.

Durability:
As aforementioned, durability is an important part of evaluating any blade. I will update this part of the review if and when the blade breaks and provide specific metrics of how long it took (and include some pics of how clean the break was).

Of course, even that should be taken with a grain of salt. Without testing the durability of multiple blades, it’s hard to say just how long a Fencer can expect these blades to last.

Overall:

Those of you who’ve read me over the years know that I hate everything and everyone, but after 20 hours of use, I’m truly impressed with the FOLO Hard FIE Epee. It’s a wonderfully balanced blade with excellent materials and feel. It’s as stiff as a BF White, and the bend towards the tip with a center of gravity well-favored towards the tang makes this blade a winner on early impressions.

Without measuring durability, it’s hard to know how much the price point reflects its value, but based on the quality of the blade itself, it’s worth that kind of cash from the time I’ve spent with it. I give the FOLO FIE Hard Blade a 10/10 on early impressions.


[1] https://v12data.com/blog/90-car-shoppers-prefer-dealership-where-they-can-start-buying-process-online/

One thought on “FOLO FIE “Hard” Epee Review: a Rising Star and a True BF White Competitor

Leave a Reply to Luca Popper Cancel reply