Note: I’m all about feedback. Got some great input on this from the good folks of the r/Fencing subreddit and wanted to update the post to reflect their comments.
A couple of years ago, a northeast region fencing coach was giving a lesson to a maskless student. One thing led to another, and the student got speared in the eye by the coach’s weapon and permanently blinded. You would have thought that this tragedy (and the memory of Vladimir Smirnov 40 years later) would have led to increased vigilance and self-policing for safety in the club, but then you see these two chuckleheads drilling without a mask, or this maskless coach on a scooter charging at his (also) maskless student down the strip for God knows why. Clubs are too often posting videos of themselves on social media recklessly practicing drills.
Unfortunately, here we are needing a refresher on safety. Fencing safety is the kind of thing that must be taught as early as a simple advance and retreat. You can’t cut corners with it. You can’t ignore it. It needs to be everyone’s responsibility. Here are 6 simple rules to follow in order to maintain a safe environment in your club.
- Do not point your weapon at anyone unless you and your partner are properly equipped. Anytime a drill or lesson occurs in which a weapon is pointed in the direction of another person, proper equipment must be in place. Mask, chest protector, underarm protector, knickers, socks covering the leg, and shoes must be worn. Weapon drills should never occur in the absence of any of this gear. Period. When a weapon is not pointed at someone or something, it should be facing downwards with the tip always perpendicular to the floor.
- A fencing weapon is not a toy. Our sport’s origins come from dueling and military combat. If we treat our weapons with the same care as a firearm, knife, Chuck Norris’s fists, or any other lethal weapon, we can approach practice more safely. Just as one stores, cleans and maintains a firearm, your fencing weapons should be cared for properly too. Place it in PVC piping or a cloth sheath and do not store in the same bag as a sweaty uniform. Rust corrodes a weapon, making it easier to break, and broken weapons are among the most dangerous hazards in Fencing.
- Regularly check your equipment for compliance. Hitting a growth spurt? Make sure there is a 10 cm overlap between your knickers and jacket. Periodically check your mask to ensure it passes a punch test, that the bib properly covers the neck and collar, and that the rubber ring remains glued in place. And that rusted aging weapon with an unfixable s-curve that’s one big hit away from breaking? It might be time to retire that one before it breaks.
- Do not hit anyone with your weapon unless they are ready. Even when fully geared up, it’s important that your partner is mutually ready to begin drills/bouting. Ensure they are attentive when a drill begins, and when bouting, a simultaneous self-tap on the leg to begin a phrase d’armes signifies readiness from both parties.
- Dispose of broken weapons immediately. A broken weapon (particularly those of lower quality blades) is a serious hazard due to its sharpness. If a blade breaks, immediately disassemble the broken shards from the rest of the weapon and throw in a trashcan with none of the sharp parts protruding.
- Hold Each Other Accountable. Safety enforcement does not fall solely on the responsibility of the coach. If you see your teammate forget to put an underarm protector on or they don’t properly wear their knicker straps, or they’re goofing off and hitting each other with no mask on, call them out.