Fencing Dual

How to get started in fencing

Fencing is the fastest growing women’s high school sport, and the second fastest growing men’s high school sport.  Even at that, there is a lot for parents to learn and the most frequently asked question is, “How do I get started in fencing?”  

We’ll be addressing that topic through the following questions:

  1. Why fencing?
  2. How to find a fencing club or class.
  3. What should you expect at your first fencing class?
  4. How old does a beginning fencer need to be?
  5. Do new fencers have to compete?
  6. Is fencing for girls too?
  7. What is the best advice for new fencers?
  8. How do fencing parents find out more about this non-traditional sport?
  9. What fencing equipment is needed?
  10. Conclusion

1. Why fencing?

How do young athletes even get interested in the sport?  Former Minnesota State Foil Fencing Team Champion member, Jacob Mickelson, said that his parents found an ad in a paper and asked him if he wanted to try it out.  He did and he really enjoyed it.

Olympic Epee and Hall of Fame Coach, Ro Sobalvarro says that roughly half of his students attend classes at his Twin Cities Fencing Club because of a sibling or friend.  The other half saw fencing on the Olympics, in a book, on TV, or some other medium and grew interested.

“Romance of the sword”

Four fencers posing with their fencing weapons.

All for one and one for all!

Coach Bruce Eyton said the reason young athletes are turning to fencing is due to the “romance of the sword”, as depicted in such movies as The Princess Bride, The Three Musketeers, and of course the Star Wars series.  It’s a 1-v-1 battle each time, and, like video games, you don’t get hurt (fencing is very safe) and you just “re-spawn” for the next round of fencing against another fencer.

Coach Bruce and Coach Ro both agreed that fencing appeals to athletes who:

  1. Aren’t as into traditional sports.  Maybe they enjoy more individual sports or they just don’t enjoy bouncing a ball. 
  2. Have been in traditional sports during their youth, but never found “their sport”, so they try out fencing. 

2. How to find a club or a class

The first step is to find somewhere to fence.  

  1. Search your local Parks and Recreation website or Community Education website.  Many of these entities offer fencing in local schools or community centers.
  2. Search Youth Enrichment League.  YEL offers fencing in dozens of communities.  Our fencing classes start with 2nd graders and goes through seniors in high school.  It’s a great place to get introduced to the sport and learn more about this fast growing sport.  Find out more about the Youth Enrichment League program by CLICKING HERE.
  3. Do a Google search for “Fencing Clubs near me”, or “fencing classes near me (or put in your location)”. 
  4. In the Minnesota Metro area, there are two primary clubs, Twin Cities Fencing Club run by Hall of Fame fencing coach, Ro Sobalvarro, and Center for Blade Arts with a rich history of excellence at all levels of the sport.
    1. Des Moines has the Des Moines Fencing Club
    2. Rochester, MN has fencing options through YEL.
  5. Check with your school.  High school fencing as a sport is experiencing rapid growth.  As mentioned earlier, it appeals to a type of student who doesn’t gravitate towards traditional sports, and most schools are looking for more opportunities to get their students involved in sports.
    1. If you need some help introducing the sport to your school, email us at info@yelkids.com for some initial guidance.

3. What should you expect at your first fencing class?

 

When you first walk into a fencing club or class, you may be walking in while a previous class is in session.  So expect a lot of movement, a lot of clinking of blades, a lot of action!

Most club coaches have a system in place to greet new fencers.  For instance, YEL classes have a Warm Welcome approach.  The coaches greet each student and assure them they are in the right spot.  The coaches may ask the students to answer roll call with their favorite ice cream flavor or Mario Kart level instead of saying “here”. 

Ro Sobalvarro at TCFC makes sure that he himself or his most experienced coach, Kate Hanna, greets new fencers when they walk in.  His club has super-parents who are always willing to welcome new members and show new parents the ropes!

Coach Bruce Eyton said that in his decades of experience as a coach and as a fencer that he has always witnessed an encouraging and nurturing atmosphere in fencing clubs, especially with new fencers.  They are always looking for more fencers.

4. How old does a beginning fencer need to be?

It is widely accepted that beginning fencers should be no younger than seven or eight years old.  The reasons for this are maturity (they have to follow very specific safety guidelines), and athletic development (new students need to be able to hold a foil and move like a fencer from the very beginning).

4.1 Can you be too old to start fencing?

In a word, no!  There are multiple instances of 13 year olds, 15 year olds, even 18 year olds joining the sport for the first time and accelerating at it quickly.  There are even divisions at national tournaments for 70 and 80 year olds.  So there is no upper limit for when to start.

5. Do new fencers have to compete?

No, but yes, they are encouraged to do so.  Coach Paddy Murphy likens competition to a test.  He states, “There’s no way I would sign up for a college class without taking a test at the end to see how I did.”  Coach Paddy also has stated on multiple occasions that you learn so much in one tournament, that it’s like 4-5 hours worth of classes.  So he highly encourages tournament participation.

There are occasional local tournaments that YEL hosts that are excellent introductory tournaments for kids.  There are also larger regional events that are more competitive. 

Coach Ro Sobalvarro tells the story of a young fencer who went to a Division I (upper level) competition for the first time and lost.  The mother said, “Well, that’s it.  She’s going to quit, she won’t come back.”  Ro said, “I think you underestimate her.”  The next class came up and the fencer returned.  She went to Coach Ro and said, “Okay, I lost.  What do I need to learn so I don’t lose next time?”  That young fencer went on to be captain of the Princeton team and fenced on two USA fencing teams.

All four of our coaches in this interview were in agreement that competition was not required, but strongly encouraged.

6. Is fencing for girls too?

Absolutely!

Coach Paddy stated that he believes the best young fencer in the state of Minnesota right now is a female.  

Coach Ro pointed out, as mentioned earlier, that fencing is the fastest growing high school sport for women.  Coach Ro also coached the United States Women’s Epee Olympic team to its highest finish ever in the Olympics.  In 2012, that team made won a bronze medal.

7. What is the good advice for young fencers?

Coach Bruce Eyton stated that the best advice he was given was two fold: 1) Keep fencing.  Fence during class.  There is time for chit-chat after class, but during class, keep fencing; 2) Practice footwork outside of class.  On the way to brush your teeth, get the mail, or walking down the school hallway.

Coach Paddy Murphy stated that when you are in practice…then practice.  Don’t compete.  In fencing classes and clubs, you tend to face the same opponents multiple times, so don’t worry about the score.  Worry about getting the action correct or the move right.

Coach Jacob Mickelson stated that he has received so much good advice, it’s difficult to parse it out.  He says that fencers can hear the same thing in different ways, and there is one way that might click with that fencer and make a difference.

Coach Ro Sobalvarro said the best advice he got was actually encouragement as a young coach.  He visited the eastern block of Europe for a coaching seminar and an amazing coach by the name of Zbigniew Czajkowski took Ro under his wing and challenged him to show up two hours early each day and stay at least two hours late each day.  Ro learned a ton and is now in the Hall of Fame.

8.How do parents find out more about this non-traditional sport?

8.1 First of all, parents shouldn’t feel pressured to know everything about fencing.  Even though it is growing rapidly, it is still a niche sport and even experienced parents have a difficult time following the action of a point scored during a match (or “bout”, in fencing terms).  Fencing has nuances that aren’t apparent to spectators until they have a lot of experience.

8.2 Secondly, parents should start by asking other parents.  Most fencing parents are happy to welcome a new parent and share their knowledge and love of the sport.  Once you introduce yourself to the parent community, you’ll gain lot’s of insight into the parents role for their young fencer.

9.What equipment do I need?

YEL fencing classes bring all the necessary equipment to classes, so beginning fencers don’t need to bring any additional equipment.  Many clubs offer similar options, but that was before COVID-19.  So we recommend calling your local club or emailing YEL at info@yelkids.com for details about equipment.

Equipment is something parents can usually ease into and don’t need to put out a lot of money at the start.  As your child’s interest grows, you will want to purchase their own equipment and should consult your coach for sizes and purchasing options.

10. Conclusion

In conclusion,

  • Fencing classes are growing rapidly in the US. 
  • Fencing classes are safe, fast paced, and fun. 
  • Fencing appeals to intellectual athletes who don’t find interest in traditional sports, and young athletes who have tried other sports and want to try something new.
  • Fencing clubs and classes are always looking for new fencers and very welcoming to new students and new parents alike.
  • To find a club, visit YELKids.com, look in your local Parks and Recreation and/or Community Education guides, Google Search “fencing clubs near me”, or ask your school if they have a club or would be willing to start one.
  • Fencers start at the age of 7 or 8, but there is no upper age limit.  Many fencers join later in their youth or adulthood.
  • Fencers don’t need to compete, but it is highly encouraged that they do.
  • Fencing is for girls as well as boys.

Questions:

Have you been able to find a fencing club near you?

Do you have any other questions about fencing?

Please leave a comment.  We’d love to hear from you.

Contributors:

  • Coach Paddy Murphy
  • Coach Jacob Mickelson
  • Coach Bruce Eyton
  • Hall of Fame Coach Ro Sobalvarro
5 replies
    • Olivia Lutter
      Olivia Lutter says:

      Hi,

      I am interested in a fencing program coming to a Girl Scout Day Camp I am running this summer. I will have groups of about 10 campers and am wondering if this is something a fencing program could do. The camp is from July 26th-29th in Apple Valley. I hope this is something we can work out and talk more about. I look forward to hearing from you.

      Thanks,
      Olivia

      Reply
      • Chet Gunhus
        Chet Gunhus says:

        Thank you, Olivia. Our summer fencing camps are very popular. I see the email you sent me as well and I’ll ask Mike Lutz from our office reach out to you about specifics.

        Reply
  1. Ivy Burkhart
    Ivy Burkhart says:

    Hi Chet
    We met at a few fencing tournaments last year. I remembered that your wife said the YEL was your company so thought I would connect with you here. My sons are Bryce and Grady Burkhart from Minnetonka. This year we moved the boys to Southwest. I think Grady was in the graphics design class with Leif this past semester. Do you know what the fencing schedule is at Southwest this year? I think Grady, maybe Bryce too, will join.
    Thanks. Ivy Burkhart

    Reply
    • Chet Gunhus
      Chet Gunhus says:

      Ivy,
      Thank you for reaching out to me. Leif does remember Grady from Graphics Design class (I loved the projects the kids came up with).

      I know SWCHS is looking to keep the fencing program going. I’m hoping to work as a parent liaison of sorts to help with scheduling, tourney prep, communication, etc. I’ll reach out to the Athletics Director and let him know Grady and Bryce are interested. Either he or I will be in touch. Would you mind emailing me at chet@yelkids.com and then I can communicate with you via email?

      I hope you are enjoying the move to SWCHS. We love the school. It’s been great for Leif.

      Reply

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