Hawkeye Fencing Club Guide to Equipment


This is a quick guide to equipment for the beginning fencer. It will try to answer what to buy, where to buy it, what to look for, recommendations, and answer a few other questions. Alright, let's get cracking.
The Basics:

Regardless of the weapon or weapons you use there are pieces of equipment every fencer needs. A full fencing uniform is called "whites". A full set of whites includes a mask, jacket, plastron (underarm protector), glove, knickers, long socks, and shoes. Women also need either cups or a full chest protector. Chest protectors for men are not required but are highly recommended. Many tournaments require plastrons and knickers, but our club does not require them for practice.

If you are fencing electrically you also need a body cord for your weapons. Foilists need a foil lame and mask cord, and saberists need: a saber lame, a mask cord, a saber mask, and either a saber glove or a saber cuff to go over a regular glove. Lastly, you will need your weapon of choice.

What to buy:

Fist, let me remind you that you do not have to purchase your own equipment. If you pay your club dues you are entitled to use the club equipment. That said, many fencers like buying their own equipment because they can be sure that it doesn't get broken without them knowing, and they can keep it clean and well-maintained better than they could with club equipment.
Fencing is a sport where you get what you pay for. It can also tend to be very expensive (especially for some college students' wallets). If you are just getting involved in the sport you do not need to buy everything all at once, and you do not need to buy the most expensive piece of equipment you can find. A good place to start is with a glove, mask, and jacket. These will cost about $120 at a reasonably priced supplier. Many suppliers also provide "starter sets" and "electric starter sets", these are also good places to start if you are not experienced buying gear.
If you plan on buying your own electric weapons I would plan on buying at least two of whichever weapon you are using and at least two body cords. This is because in a tournament you are required to have at least two of each of these in case one of them doesn't pass testing or it breaks. Trust me, things will break and you need backups, or you'll get a card. (See below for more information on electric weapons and body cords.)
Where to buy:
If you purchase fencing equipment it will almost certainly come from the internet. I have not yet seen any real store that carries gear for the sport. You can also sometimes get gear from vendors who come to peddle their wares at tournaments. Not all vendors are created equal, but you will be able to see this by the difference in prices. For most fencers who are just starting, I recommend using a mid range supplier since you probably don't want to spend an arm and a leg on a sport you don't know you'll be doing five years from now.
Some good mid-range suppliers are: Absolute, Blade, Blue Gauntlet, and Physical Chess, If you are looking to spend a little more and get equipment that is of higher quality you can look at Leon Paul, Uhlmann, or American Fencing Supply.
Get a Grip:
Which grip you choose to use is mostly a matter of taste. Try using a few different kinds of grips and find the one you like best. Note that the grips described below are for foils and epees.
Most fencers start with a French grip. French grips are good because they develop muscle memory and wrist strength in a new fencer. You can also "post" with them (hold it at the end) to give you a little extra length in your lunge. 
Most experienced fencers will use an orthopedic grip. They give you better control and are more comfortable. Some variations of orthopedic grips are described below. 
Belgian: This is the main orthopedic grip that the club uses. It has a high ridge that goes between the middle and ring fingers, and gives you a really good grip on the sword. They can be used for very close in-fighting. Belgians come in a few different sizes. 
Russian: These are very large and very solid. If you are a person who like to "beat" you might like to try this one. It has a lower ridge than the Belgian and is a lot thicker and heavier. This is a good grip if you have large hands.
Nigeri Visconti/German Visconti: The German Visconti is fitted to the hand with groves instead of high ridges and is very close to holding your hand in a natural position. They are a little hard to in-fight with, but otherwise afford you a lot of control in every direction. Your guiding fingers are easy to use with a Visconti. The Nigeri is a little lighter than the German version of this grip.
German: Very Similar to the Visconti. This grips has several grooves which make it very easy to control but the extremely long tang makes infighting very difficult.
American: It is very straight and heavy. It is unlike most of the other grips, almost a French grip with extra ridges for a better hold.
The standard blade size is a 5. (If you borrow a blade that is a size 2 you will have a rough day because that blade is sized for children and is shorter than a size 5.) Which blade you use is again a personal choice. Some people like blades with a lot of bend, others like them to be stiff. If you intend to use it electrically you either need to get a wired blade or or a bare one that has a groove for the wire. Do not buy a practice blade and then ask to wire it.
Another thing is that the length of the tang determines what kind of grip can go on the finished weapon. A French cut blade can have a French grip put on it or can be cut down to accommodate an orthopedic grip. An orthopedic cut blade cannot have a French grip put on it, but you could switch between different kinds of orthopedic grips.
Sockets and Body Cords:
The club uses bayonet style sockets for sabers and foils (and three-pronged sockets for epees). There are also a few other kinds like the two-prong. I recommend getting the bayonet so you don't have to switch body cords when your weapon breaks at a tournament and you need to switch to a club weapon (it happens all the time). Your body cord needs to match your weapon.
Shoes and Socks:
You do not need to buy shoes or socks made especially for fencing right away. Shoes are nice because they are designed to stand up to the weird movement of a fencer and are also very light (you can move faster). Adidas and Leon Paul both make great fencing shoes. Tennis shoes with good traction work well otherwise.
Fencing socks are also nice  because they stay up over your knee and have some extra padding in the front to pad those epee shots. But soccer socks or any knee high sock will work.
The Basics Checklist:
  • Mask
  • Glove (with conducting cuff for saber)
  • Jacket
  • Chest Protector
  • Electric weapon (x2)
  • Body cords (x2)
  • Mask cord (foil and saber)
  • Lame (foil and saber)
  • Knickers
  • Plastron
  • Socks
  • Shone
  • Test equipment: Weights, Test box, shims, etc. (experienced fencers)

I hope you find this find this guide informative, and hope this helps you get on your way to getting your own equipment. If you have any other questions you can email us at hawkeye.fencing@gmail.com or ask during practice. Great, now that we have all our gear let's get to the strip and score some touches.

Written by: Alex Harms, Hawkeye Fencing Club President 2007-2009
Modified: 2015