How do you say “epee”?
EH-pay. Épée is the French word for “sword”, but also refers to the specific fencing discipline.
How old do you have to be to fence?
We take students as young as 7 at RDF, but you have to be 8 in order to compete at USA Fencing tournaments. It really depends on maturity, so we take it on a case-by-case basis.
Does it hurt?
Not really. We are poking each other with pieces of steel (or plastic for the smallest kids), but they are flexible, not sharp, and we wear protective equipment. We do get bruises and scrapes from time to time, like in any other sport, but hitting hard is not the goal, nor is it particularly advantageous, and it’s not what we train to do. Good fencers deliver precise, controlled hits.
Is it safe?
Yes. Aside from occasional bruises and scrapes, most actual fencing injuries come from overuse, incorrect form, or tripping and falling. We always wear appropriate protective gear during drills, bouting, and any activity with a blade.
Where do you buy fencing gear?
If you live in Iowa, the internet! Unfortunately you can’t just go down to your local sporting goods store and pick up a new fencing mask. Try on club gear and check out what other fencers have – we can usually tell you what company we got it from. The other place to get gear is at big tournaments like ROC (Regional Open Circuit) or NAC (North American Cup) events, because many of the major retailers set up shop there for the weekend, so you can actually feel things and try them on.
Do I need special shoes?
No. While some companies do make specialized fencing shoes and they’re a great choice for a lot of people, most people start with regular running or athletic shoes. Volleyball, handball, or other court shoes usually work well, too, since they have good cushioning and support (especially lateral support!) without being bulky.
Why do you only do one of the three Olympic disciplines?
Quite simply, epee is what we know the best. While we know some foil and saber basics, we currently don’t have nearly enough knowledge to help someone be successful or have a good experience in those disciplines. We used to have a saber program, but after the coach moved away, we filled the time with more epee!
How often do I come?
You can come to as many age-appropriate practices as you want. For some children, once a week is plenty, but some kids want to be pretty serious and have the maturity to handle twice a week. For adults and teens that want to see some competitive success, 2-3 practices a week is recommended. Those who want to compete nationally in Division 1 and Juniors (under 20) should aim for 3-4 practices a week. Obviously the more you practice, the faster you will see results, but we want our members to participate at a level they’re comfortable with and will allow them to achieve their goals.
When do I start competing?
Fencers that come at least twice a week are usually ready to try a local tournament after a few months. The skill range of fencers at local and regional open events is pretty large – there are usually a few really experienced people, a few people at their first tournament, and a lot of people in between. Toward the end of the first year, most fencers that have been practicing 2-3 times a week are ready to try a national-level NAC (North American Cup) event.
For kids, it usually takes a little longer to be ready for competition. We occasionally do in-club tournaments, which is a good introduction to the format and routine for kids, and then we go for local events and branch out from there.
Tournament experience is critical for tournament success, so we encourage our fencers to get out there and go for it once they start getting the hang of things.
How often and where do we compete?
There is usually at least one tournament each month for those ages 13+ that we encourage our fencers to attend. Most tournaments are on weekends, at a fencing club or a school gym, and are within a 3.5 hour drive. Frequent locations include Des Moines, Ames, Iowa City, Sioux City, Lincoln, Minneapolis, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Chicago. There are 8 national events with hundreds of athletes held at convention centers in different cities every year, and when there is one in the Midwest, we strongly encourage our fencers to attend. Our most competitive fencers frequently do 2-3 tournaments a month from Oct.-April and 2-3 national events per year.
Youth epee events are more sparse in this part of the country. We are currently the only club in Iowa that hosts tournaments for the Y10 & Y12 age groups, so most of the tournaments will be held at the club, mostly fencing other kids in the club. We try to keep these fun and low-key, with goals like gaining experience, understanding emotions that competition can bring out, practicing good sportsmanship, and learning how tournaments work.
How long have you guys been doing this?
Coach Kevin started fencing in 2004, and Coach Sarah started in 2005 (as one of Kevin’s first students). The idea for RDF began to take shape in 2012, we started renting space in the lower level of 220 E. 3rd St. in the fall of 2013, our grand opening was in January of 2014, and we expanded the club in August 2018.