Fencing FAQ

So.  You’ve found a local SCA group and you’re keen to start fencing…  Undoubtedly you have lots of questions, and lots of excitement.  One of the simplest questions you may have is:
What exactly is SCA fencing?

In our area of the SCA, the Kingdom of Ealdormere, we practice both regular heavy rapier combat as well as cut and thrust rapier combat.  Other kingdoms in the SCA also practice with the epee, which is the thinner style of blade familiar to those who have watched Olympic style fencing.  We use safety equipment appropriate to the style of fencing being engaged in with a primary focus on a safe training environment.

As a historical reenactment group we try as much as possible to follow historical styles of fencing and armoring as reasonably possible within our means and resources.  Participation in SCA rapier for adults begins at the age of 18, but youth fighters as young as 14 may participate with the permission of their parent or legal guardian.  Whether you’re male or female, old or young, able bodied or have a physical disability, fencing is a wonderfully fun sport that will challenge you both physically and intellectually.

What do I need to start?

Most SCA fencing groups have loaner gear available for new fencers to use.  Depending on how much loaner gear is available, it may be limited and available on a first-come first-served basis with the option to switch-off with others that need it as well.  If you are male, you will need to bring your own sports cup for groin protection.  Bring a set of running shoes and socks, as well as a light set pants and t-shirt.

The two main things that you will be geared up with with be basic armour for safety, and a rapier.  If you’re interested in reading in more detail about fencing and armouring in advance of showing up to a practice, you could certainly read the SCA Fencing Handbook as well as your local kingdom’s rules for any additional rules and information specific to your local area (Ealdormere’s rapier handbook can be found here).

What can I expect?

Depending on the nature of your local group, there’s a very good chance that you’ll be put into some basic armour, handed a rapier, and be given some basic instruction including getting some hands-on sparring with other fencers.  Sound fun?  It is!  Our style of fencing is to-the-touch for contact between fencers.  Contact between a fencing blade and a fencer should be sufficient in pressure to be felt only.  However, that being said, fencing is a contact sport and accidental harder hits can happen.  Hard hits are fairly rare given our focus on safety, but usually at worst they may leave behind a small bruise.

Rapier training in the SCA begins with single heavy rapier combat training.  You’ll learn how to hold the rapier, how to block with it, how to attack with it, as well as basic footwork in how to move around safely.  Eventually, once you’ve become comfortable, confident, and safe with single heavy rapier combat, you’ll want to speak with your local rapier marshal about scheduling an authorization.

What is an authorization?

An authorization is a test of your knowledge and abilities in a given style of combat to determine that you have basic knowledge, competence, and safety.  You will want to ensure that you have read and understand the contents of both the SCA and local kingdom fencing handbooks.  You will be asked questions from those handbooks to ensure that you have an understanding of their contents and you will also participate in fencing against an opponent.  At the end of the authorization, the marshals that have been supervising will either approve you as an authorized fencer for that style of combat, or will provide you feedback on the areas that you need improvement in before attempting your next authorization test.

Passing your primary authorization in single heavy rapier opens up two new exciting activities:  tournaments, and other forms of rapier combat.

What is a tournament?

Tournaments are one of the most exciting and fun events that fencers in the SCA can participate in.  Tournaments are large events where you will compete against fencers from both near and far.  Tournaments can include one-on-one competitions between fencers, as well as melee competitions where multiple fencers will compete against each other at the same time.   Specific competitions may either be open to any style of rapier combat at the choice of the participants, or they may test fencers in a specific style of combat.

Not only are tournaments a chance to win fame, glory, and prizes, but they are also an incredible learning opportunity.  You will have the opportunity to match your knowledge, skill, and abilities against fencers from both near and far, both novice and experienced, and against different styles and schools of rapier combat that you may not have previously experienced.  Every tournament match is a chance to learn, as well as a chance to meet and form friendships with other fencers.  Have fun and compete with both honour and skill!

What are the other rapier combat styles?

Once you’ve completed your primary authorization, you can begin working towards authorizing in other styles of rapier combat.  The other styles are:

Parry device – Use of a rapier or dagger along with a choice of a parrying device such as a buckler, baton, cloak, etc.

Two weapon – The use of a dagger or rapier in each hand at the same time.

Cut and thrust – A style of rapier combat that requires additional armouring.

Out of kingdom epee – If you are in an area of the SCA that does not use the epee, it is still possible to learn and authorize in this weapon style so that you can compete in out-of-kingdom tournaments that permit the use of this weapon.

Are there different historical schools and styles of fencing?

Yes.  As a member of a historical reenactment organization, one of the goals that you may choose to pursue is to learn and practice the specific style of a historical fencing master or school.  Throughout history there have been fencing masters from around the world that have sought out the best methods of attack and defence.  Many of these fencing masters recorded their work in writing that can be used as source materials in learning their approach to fencing.  In addition to written resources, you may also meet up with advanced SCA fencers that study these specific schools to train with and learn from.

Should I get my own gear eventually?

Yes.  While loaner gear is generally available, eventually you will want to get your own personal gear to allow newer fencers the opportunity to use that gear.  As you venture into specific styles of fencing, you may also desire gear that best suits your specific style (here is a handy article on how to choose a rapier).   You may also want amour or weapons that reflect the style that would have been used in a specific historical time and culture.  As well, despite the best efforts of your local group rapier marshal to wash and keep loaner gear clean and smelling fresh…after so many years of use, loaner gear simply isn’t as nice as having your own personal equipment.

Is there more that I can do in pursuing historical fencing?

Yes.  The first thing you may wish is to consider developing a persona.  Who are you?  What is your persona’s name?  What era of history do you belong to?  From what culture and area of the world do you come from?  Developing a historic persona can add a lot of colour and fun to your SCA experience.

Secondly, you may wish to develop your heraldry.  Your personal heraldry can be incorporated into your clothing, armour, weapons, or even a banner to proudly display at events.  If you’re looking for ideas about how to develop your personal heraldry, you can be greatly helped out by speaking with one of our many heralds (members that specialize in this area of knowledge).

Can I become a rapier marshal as well?

Certainly.  The first step in becoming a rapier marshal is to become a rapier marshal in training (RMiT).  After completing your training requirements to become a full rapier marshal, you will be able to help support rapier combat in the SCA by running practices, gear inspections, tournaments, and authorizations.

Are there awards or recognitions that I can work towards?

Yes.  Awards and recognitions may be presented for a multitude of reasons.  Information on awards in Ealdormere can be found here.