Whenever I tell someone that I am a competitive fencer, they usually ask one of the following questions:
- “Doesn’t it hurt to get stabbed with a sword?”
- “You must get injured a lot in a sport like that.”
Now these are reasonable questions especially, to somebody who doesn’t know a whole lot about the sport of fencing. So, after I tell them:
a.) “the object is not to stab someone with a sword but to touch or hit them with the point (foil and epee; edge of your weapon with saber) of your weapon
b.) “Serious injuries are not that common in this sport “
I come clean and tell them quite honestly that injuries do occur –just like in any sport or activity just like in any sport or activity –imagine that!
Whether you are a seasoned athlete or a weekend warrior, the fact is that injuries can and do occur. Ask Tiger Woods about his bad back. Anybody who plays tennis knows all about the agony of tennis elbow. In fact, casual activities such as pick-up basketball games, tossing a frisbee around or riding a bike can result in the occasional tweak of a muscle, yoink of a hamstring or any number of assorted boo-boos.
So, if you ever contemplated taking up fencing you ‘ll be glad to know that you are much less likely to get a serious injury than in other much more common much, better well-known sports. In an interesting article on the Academy of Fencing Masters Blog website
author Irina Chirashnya’s February 2, 2014 article references statistics from a study done by Lars Engebretsen from the University of Oslo that took a look at the percentage athletes injured during the 2008 Summer 2010 Winter Olympic games. Snowboard (cross) Soccer, Taekwondo and Field Hockey all had injury rates of between 20%– 35% Thirty -five percent of the snowboard athletes in the 2010 Winter Olympics suffered an injury of some type. Ok I know what you’re saying, “Well that’s all hunky-dory, but those are contact sports!” Softball (about 13%), Baseball (about 11%) and Triathlon (about 8%) all had injury rates higher than fencing. Depending on the activity injuries occurred either in competition, training or as a result of overuse.
Where did fencing rate, you ask? Fencers had a 2.5% injury rate—lower than curling, speedskating, table tennis and cycling. (Oddly enough the biathlon, a sport that combines snow, skiing and shooting, had the second lowest injury rate of about 1.25%. FYI Sailing had the lowest injury rate among athletes at about 1.25%.)
I Guess that’s Why They Call it a Bruise
Truth be told, if start fencing as an adult, you may not suffer a whopper of an injury, but you will have your share of strains, sprains and bruises. Although we wear protective coverings, heavy pierce-resistant jackets and knickers, chest protectors (women, mandatory; men optional) , plastrons (sort of half vest that protects, your upper body’s weapon side as an added layer of protection) you will get your share of bruises, which can range from small circular marks from your opponent’s touches against you on a particularly hard hit , or full blown Michigan-shaped whoppers made from your opponent’s blade’s — you get whacked by a flailing defensive maneuver from a less than competent opponent. Remember: rest, ice, anti-inflammatories are your friend. Be mindful if you are someone that has bruising issue, take special care and wear the best protection. It is worth noting that the more skilled you and your classmates get, the fewer bruises you are likely to receive as everyone gains better control of themselves and their weapons.
The Pains from Sprains are Mainly Due to Train(ing)
As alluded to earlier, many injuries suffered by athletes of the 2008 and 2010 Olympic Games where due to muscle overuse. In any activity, rest is key—listen to your body and take the time off to let your body heal. In addition, if you are just ramping up, be sure to include some level of cross training to obtain, muscle balance/strength. Be sure to include stretching to reduce risk of muscle pulls, and tendon/ligament injuries. Core and stability exercises help to prevent back injuries, improve balance and go a long way to minimize ankle and knee injuries. Ask your coaches for fitness tips—they are a great resource.
Hopefully you can put your mind at ease and not worry about suffering an injury in this sport. Fencing has been proven to be a great mental exercise and it’s great for all ages. But full disclosure: just because serious injuries are a rarity, it does not mean that they can’t happen to you. In my next blog post I’ll tell you about the broken bone and triceps tear in my elbow. I’ve discovered the challenges of learning to fence with my opposite (left) hand . Stay tuned .