Choosing an Epee blade


Epee blades
are bound by FIE rules that set specifications for the manufacture of equipment. The FIE also lists those blades approved for competition. Still, there is a great deal of differences in blades, even among the same manufacturer variations are normal. I will be discussing electric or wired blades. Blades length is describes with a numbering system from 0 to 5, with 5 being the longest. Shorter blades are mostly used by children and are required for our youngest fencers

Blades marked FIE are rated for top level competitions but are not required in the US for local competitions. I use only FIE blades in teaching as they have the highest safety standards and in my experience they last much longer

Now lets get to the juicy part. Epee fencers prefer different qualities in their preferred blade. How stiff or flexible the blade is, what does it way and how much does it cost (is it a good value) are perhaps the most common. Epee blades vary greatly as to how stiff or flexible they are. The reasons I hear for preferences of a stiff blade are that they are more accurate, allow for a sharper beat to the opponents blade. The more flexible school says that flex allows for flicks, that the blade feels more alive. Indeed the flexible blade can open up some interesting techniques for those that understand it. I will come back to this later

Weight is also a consideration. A light blade is said to offer a faster disengage and other actions while the heavy blade is said to offer more power. All of this ignores the effects of balance and technique, a heavy pummel on a French grip can change the feel dramatically but I digress.

It is a poor carpenter that blames his tools”. We all have heard this and yes, it applies to epee blades as well. In my opinion, with the exception of youth and other special need situations a fencer will quickly become accustom to his or her epee. I should still like to address some of these often repeated myths regarding epee blades.

“Stiff blades are more accurate” this is simply not true. Train with a stiff blade and you may become more accurate, train with a flexible blade and you will become more accurate. The same is true of binds and beats. Frankly the only difference I consider important is that of safety. Those that may prefer a stiff blade often choose to keep the blade 100% straight. This combination is in my opinion more likely to produce injury then a quality flexible blade with the allowed bend. As to flicks, if done correctly most blades flex enough, if you're having issues, consider your form. It should resemble a sabre cut, not a swat!

The weight of the blade, can become a balancing act between speed and power. I am all for light blades for children and those with issues that makes a heavy blade problematic. For most however it comes down to form. How does one control the blade, with balance or power? See my post on “Death grip revisited” in the archives for more concerning this issue.
I consider a relatively light blade is less stressful on the hand when using a pistol grip. With a French grip I prefer a blade with more heft. Technique however is vital, especially when the fencer pummels the grip. It must be done with an understanding of balance and a supple wrist. I have demonstrated and effective bind using only my thumb and forefinger to control the blade. Use leverage, not brute force.

When asked I tell students that it is of greater importance to have your epee collection as consistent as possible, to train with what you will use. Practice with your epee till you become totally at home with its character. The balance and bend of the blades, including tangs, must be consistent. When ordering your blade, let the retailer know what you want. I prefer a flexible blade, if for no other reason then it hits softer, important for a coach, as well as the novice that may have poor distance skills. My retailer will grab a handful of blades and test each for flex and send me my preference. If your retailer does not offer this, change retailers!

Questions for club use
I have many epee available for club use. They get beat up and abused. I’m a cheapskate so I look for a good value. For training youth in beginners classes, I use dry foil blades, epee bells and sabre grips. The blades are softer and lighter reducing hard impacts. I use sabre grips as they are ambidextrous, all I have to do is adjust the bell for lefties (yes I keep the blades dead straight) My electric epee are all flexible Vniti FIE blades. Yes, they cost more, but they last a lot longer. I have both pistol and French grips, right and left handed available. German tips and wires are my choice. I also coach with Vniti blades, I have only broken one in the last six years of heavy use, including club weapons. That one broke at the tang.

coach Geoff

Injury, no thanks


Serious injuries in our sport are rare, fencing is considered safe. Yet that does not mean injuries can’t happen

Injury is a dreaded word for athletes. Our gut reaction is one of fear and hopelessness. As having seen injuries, both as competitor and a coach, I am more familiar then I’d like to be with this topic. I want to talk briefly about prevention and how we cope with injuries when they occur.

I think every coaches worst fear is having a student hurt. We should look at the common sources of injury. First let’s discuss repetitive injuries resulting from poor form, overuse, and failing to adapt our form to the individuals unique physiology. Both teacher and student must have an ongoing conversation, as in “hey coach, it hurts my knee when I lunge, am I doing something wrong”. Coaches must insure that workloads are increased gradually and time is allowed to develop muscle groups needed for the activity. Overtraining shows a high correlation to all types of injuries. Coaches and students must constantly look for issues of form that if allowed to continue will likely induce injury. All these types of injuries have symptoms, as a coach we must know the signs and suggest alternative training techniques, as a student we must advice our doctor and coach regarding any developing symptoms. The student must understand clearly, coaches are not usually medical doctors! The best advice is alway, talk to your doctor first.

Another source of injury is the traumatic type. This can be from unsafe practices and techniques, unsafe equipment or unforeseeable accidents and sometimes just bad luck. I am going to confine this discussion to those injuries that occur in our sport, but slipping in the tub can be just as devastating (Not to mention some of the examples found in extreme sports that are now popular). To my mind the most common threat results in poor distance. This can result in collisions, broken blades and other assorted mayhem. I will specifically refer to the flesche, or running attack. Back in my youth, (don’t you hate it when old guys say that), fencers would always flesche to the opponents four side. Never a rule, but it was considered good form. It also had some safety aspects if both fencers went at the same time. That many athletes of today tell me, this really not a concern for them, that getting the touch is all that matters, this my friends, is a very short sighted and worrisome approach. Competing at high levels has risks in any sport, but unnecessary risks should be considered as unacceptable.


So what to do when injured? Simple, stop and evaluate. When in doubt seek your doctors advice. In my opinion every elite level athlete should have the following (no particular order here) on speed dial: your primary doctor, orthopedic doctor, Physical therapist, Sports medicine specialist, your massage therapist and coach. In my opinion you should have emergency contact info and medical alert info available and updated. Learn first aid and CPR while your at it!

The most important thing to possess after an injury is patience and the discipline needed to stick to your recovery program. Don’t rush things and risk further injury. I speak from experience here, listen, reentry into your sport may take additional time dependent on the nature and duration of what happened. Your skills may be rusty, your form diminished but we all tend to deny these issue when we return to our sport. That is when accidents happen.

Keep up with your friends and teammates during your recovery, they rely do care. The social aspects of sport should not be underestimated. These people will help with isolation and depression that can accompany injury.

Learn your lesson. How can you avoid this injury in the future? Only thing worse then an injury is a repute injure from the same fundamental cause.

Keep the rubber side down,
coach Geoff