As Sheffield’s first batch of beginners finished their course just before Christmas and have now moved in to the main club, I’m now being asked questions about buying kit.

Before we got started – disclaimer: My recommendations, advice, etc are all my own. I am not employed, endorsed, nor sponsored by any manufacturer (although I do occasionally help out at a Leon Paul stand, and the best man at my wedding is also my drug pusher). This is not a perfect document, and there may be some inaccuracies. No responsibility is accepted for your purchasing decisions.

Your best source of advice is your coach. Talk to them before making any purchases. Your club may have a shortage in a particular piece of equipment, or your coach may have a discount with a supplier. There’s nothing more frustrating than a student turning up with a new piece of kit and having to tell them it’s no good to them.

I make the assumption that your beginner’s course was steam (non-electric), and your main club mostly fence electric. Most clubs today now take this approach.

Safety Regulations, Standards, And What They Mean To You

As you’re browsing equipment, you’ll find references made to “CEN1”, “CEN2”, “FIE”. These are standards to which equipment used in the EU must conform to, and mean the following:

  • CEN1: 350N equipment, suitable for use at national level.
  • CEN2: 800N equipment, suitable for use at international level.
  • FIE: 800N equipment, a mark given by the FIE(international federation) to show suitability for use in international competition. The term is now usually interchangeable term with CEN2.

The minimum standard for all clothing and masks for use domestically is CEN1. You can read the details of the standard, and what they mean to you, on the British Fencing website. The clothing must carry the mark indicating the protection level to be accepted for use in competition. All of your club equipment should also have a mark, query anything that does not. Your club’s insurance is invalid if you turn up to train with equipment which does not meet the minimum requirement, so please be careful purchasing second hand kit (see below). Your club may (and should) refuse you from using equipment not up to standard, even if it is your own. Anything now purchased new from a supplier in the UK will meet this standard.

Where To Buy

Equipment can be purchased first or second-hand, there is no restriction on the sale of fencing equipment. You must remember that any equipment you purchase, must be a minimum of CEN1 for use in club. Any new equipment purchased from a supplier in the UK will conform to this minimum specification.

Buying New

First up – ask at your club. Lots of clubs have relationships and discounts with suppliers. It’s worth asking first before forking out full price, only to discover you could have had the exact same item for 10% less. Suppliers can be split in to two board categories: traditional brands, and the newer discount suppliers. Traditional brands tend to be European, and are well established. Discount suppliers supply newer equipment from brands based in Eastern Europe and China. There have been some issues in the past with equipment sourced from China, but as of writing, all of those issues have now been addressed. Bear in mind that not all equipment is equal, and whilst you may be paying more for one of the traditional brands, you tend to get what you pay for.

There are three ways to buy new – order online (or by phone), turn up to a showroom, or turn up to a competition hosting an equipment stand. Remember when buying online, distance selling regulations come in to play, giving you a right to return. Where possible, I would recommend going and trying equipment, especially for clothing and masks. Entry forms for competitions will usually state whether a stand is available, and for which supplier. Ask at club. You do not need to have entered a competition to turn up to the venue, and all suppliers are used to helping beginners (well, we all start somewhere). There are very few fencing shops in the UK, although Leon Paul and Duellist in London are pretty accessible if you live in the south.

A short list of suppliers in the UK:

Traditional: Leon Paul, Allstar Uhlmann UK, PBT-UK

Discount: Sword Price Fighters, Blades Brand, The Fencing Shop

Buying Second Hand

Ebay, despite appearing to be a sensible choice, is something of a mine-field for fencing equipment. People find old fencing equipment in their houses from a previous generation or an ill-spent youth, and decide to sell it on. Most of this equipment is not suitable for use having been manufactured prior to the current safety regulations. If you do decide to purchase from Ebay, make sure the equipment looks to be in good condition, and has the required certification marks.

Alternatively, most clubs that cater to junior fencers have a healthy market in second hand clothing. Since fencing equipment is relatively fixed in size, some parents find themselves turning over clothing every six to twelve months as Johnny or Jane outgrows yet another jacket. Rather than let it go to waste, they would rather sell and recoup some of the costs. This can be a great way to get your first set of jacket and breeches for your junior, and if it’s still in good condition, you can resell it on in turn.

Finally, the Fencing Forum has a second hand board which lists a few items a month. Since this is usually frequented by active fencers, most equipment sold through here is to current specifications. As usual, check for condition and marks.

What To Buy And What Order To Buy It In

First purchase – a glove. The glove is the interface between your hand and your weapon, and is one of your most personal pieces of kit. An electric glove differs from a steam (non-electric) glove by having a Velcro fastening to close the cuff, allowing you to feed your bodywire to your weapon. There is no point if fencing in an electric club in buying a non-electric glove. If you’re fencing sabre, you will either need to buy a glove with lame (metal material used for electric jacket) sewn in to the cuff, or buy a separate cuff to go over your glove at a later date. I recommend purchasing the built in cuff, it saves for later hassle. Gloves can be ordered online, but size is important. If it doesn’t fit, send it back. Get one that does.

Second purchase – a weapon. Blades are made in two types of metal: “tempered steel” or “maraging steel”, also referred to as “non-FIE” and “FIE” blades. Experienced epeeists and foilists will tell you to buy “maraging/FIE” – I will tell you otherwise. Your first weapon will be abused heavily, and bent into all kinds of shape while you develop your technique and sense of distance. When you’ve spent a year or so working at the lunge pad, then it’s worth the time upgrading to that nice blade everyone seems to win their fights with. Your weapons is the sum of many parts, not just the blade, but at this point your primary concern is to make sure your weapon is electric – the giveaway is the socket for your bodywire to connect to at the guard. No socket – no electric. On sockets: epeeists have it easy, there is only one type – the three pin. For foilists or sabreurs, there is a choice of two pin or bayonet. The choice of socket determines the choice of wire. If your club “mostly” fences with one type or another, choose that. If there is no majority, I would recommend bayonet for availability.

Seniors should always buy a size five blade, juniors a size zero or size three dependant on age. Ask your coach, who will be able to tell you the correct size to purchase.

Third purchase – a bodywire. It’s a small purchase, but an important one. Epee bodywires have a three pin plug at either end, a foil or sabre bodywire has a three pin plug at one end, a “tail” leading to a clip and a long wire leading to a plug, which may be either two pin or bayonet. Make sure you purchase the wire to match your weapon. In general, wires will work fine between manufacturers, for example a bodywire from PBT will work in a Leon Paul weapon. Get one for now, and mark it as yours. This is now your precious – don’t let it out of your sight. Bodywires are the number 1 piece of kit to go walkies. Mark it with your name however you can.

At a later point, buy a second, then a third, then a bag of them. Mark every one.

After your first three initial purchases, the rest of your equipment can be purchased in any order, but I would recommend: mask, breeches, plastron, jacket, lame, bag. Do not underestimate the usefulness of having a fencing bag to put all of your equipment in – it soon mounts up.

Over time and with experience, you will form your own opinions on kit. Equipment is something of a holy war – people will swear loyalty to one brand or another, swear that all their winning fights are down to one particular blade, all based on their own experiences. The best piece of advice you can take away is to talk to your coach and other fencers at your club – they will most certainly have an opinion, and may even be able to help.