Fencing Is Ace Hyper-Speed Fun And You Should Try It

Keen fencer Tim Sheridan reveals how shimmying around like a musketeer puts you on the fast-track to fitness, with his beginner's guide to fencing

Britain’s James Davis winning the 2014 European Men’s Foil Gold

I first crossed swords (soz!) with the ancient sport of fencing as a part of A-level theatre studies. We were learning to stage fight, and were taught by a proper fencer.

Tim Sheridan and his musketeer’s tash

Before we were allowed anywhere near bloody great stage fighting broadswords though, we had to learn the rudiments of fencing as a sport (safety first and all that). I was immediately hooked. In fact, I defy anyone wearing all the gear and holding an épée not to be. So here’s my beginner’s guide to fencing.

So what exactly is fencing then? 

Put simply, it’s the sport of defending yourself and attacking your opponent with a sword to score points. It’s kind of like high-speed chess crossed with dance, but in a really good way.

It’s hands-down one of the fastest sports in existence

When done properly it’s hands-down one of the fastest sports in existence.  Something that has to be electronically monitored at competition level is fast – although trust me, it takes years to build up to that speed.

I won’t bore you with all the rules, as they’re mostly impenetrable to the uninitiated, owing to chronic Frenchness. But I will tell you it’s insanely fun from the get go, even as a complete beginner.

Hang on though, swords? Are they like, real, pointy swords?

Yes, but don’t be put off – it’s a really safe sport. You’ll be in protective clothing and it’s almost impossible to get hurt in any meaningful way.

There are three types of sword, or armament. The lightest is the foil, then there’s the épée, which is much heavier. With both of these weapons you use the tip for scoring points. The third weapon is a sabre, where the cutting edge is included in scoring a hit too.

Is it going to get me fit?

Definitely! It’s all about short, deeply intense bursts of activity. The fitness levels among fencers are outstanding.

You spend hours scuttling, leaping and lunging like a psychotic crab so you end up with legs a skier would envy

You spend hours scuttling, leaping and lunging like a psychotic crab so you end up with legs a skier would envy. You also develop a core of iron as you’re constantly extending your upper body. Fencing improves your balance, coordination and flexibility, and it’s a good work out for the brain too, as you’re always thinking about your next move.

Back in ye olde days, sword fighting was a sport for the gentry, but we’re guessing anyone can have a go nowadays?

Of course. Age, sex etc doesn’t matter. Younger children can have a go with foam and plastic swords, and there are always plenty of adults trying it out for the first time – men and women. My first teacher was a tiny woman in her fifties who delighted in wrong-footing huge blokes and sending their foil clattering across the floor.

Wheelchair fencing is very popular and, as a nation, we’re pretty good at it.  Team GB have bagged a number of Paralympic medals

It’s a hugely popular wheelchair sport too, and it’s certainly not just for the posh – we were all doing it at night school in Leeds back in the 80s.

Ok, you’ve convinced us. How do we give it a go?

It’s a mere click of the mouse to find your local club. Many run beginner’s courses or will lend you some gear to see if you like it. You’ll find a list of venues, courses and answers to any other questions at

And if you like it, then we can start talking about Japan’s Kendo and Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA), then work up to the lunatics at Historical Medieval Battle (HMBIA) who go at each other with real weapons and sometimes have to be cut out of their armour after a bout. It all starts with fencing.

Salute the president and… en garde!


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