In celebration of the fact that in less than a week I’ll be traveling to Kentucky for a tournament that I am completely unprepared for, I’d like to take a moment and appreciate the rainbow of bruises I’ve acquired through fencing.
Last night, fencing for the first time in a month or so, I went to take a shower, and thought at first that I had some sort of rash on my chest. It was covered with bright red splotches, which I quickly realized were fencing bruises.
The only strange thing about these bruises is that I’d been away from fencing long enough to not immediately recognize them.
There are three different weapons in fencing: foil, sabre, epee. If you spent a semester fencing in college, chances are you were fencing foil. Foil is generally considered the beginner’s weapon, not because it’s easier, but because it supposedly sets a good basis for the other two weapons without causing bad habits. As someone who fenced three years of foil before changing to epee, I can tell you the part about bad habits isn’t true, but that’s another post entirely.
Foil and epee are both point weapons, meaning the fencer scores by hitting his or her opponent with the point only. Because of this, the bruises you’ll find in foil and epee are similar, generally round splotches about the size of a thumb print. This can cause awkward remarks: I’ve heard stories where the parents of fencers are referred to child services, and I have a teammate who once had a random stranger stop her in the restroom to tell her, “Honey, he’s not worth it.”
In both weapons most bruises are on the upper chest and front arm (your dominant hand, right for most people). Because epees have thicker (and therefor stiffer) blades, and slightly larger tips, epee bruises are usually slightly bigger. Epee does have one kind of distinguishing mark that you don’t find as often in foil or sabre: a red scrape-like bruise, often on the inside of the elbow that sort of resembles a junkie’s track mark. This is because in epee, unlike in foil, the entire body is valid scoring area, and the inside of the elbow is a typical place where the point sticks. Obviously, it’s also an area with fairly sensitive skin, hence, bruising. This kind of mark usually has a central point where the impact was greatest, with a colorful aura around it, and a tail where the point dragged. It looks a bit like a comet.
Most people think of sabre as being more brutal than the other two, but bruises are less frequent. Marks that do occur in sabre tend to be more welts than bruises, as sabre is a blade weapon, where touches are scored by using the edge. Legs are not valid scoring area, but leg welts are common because many sabre fencers practice in shorts.
Welts do occur in foil and epee, just not as often. There is an attack known as a “flick” where the fencer makes a motion similar to casting a fishing line with an abrupt stop, only the line in question is a “36 long piece of metal. In theory, the point continues traveling forward, scoring a touch. If done improperly, the entire blade can connect, which is far less likely to result in a point, but much more likely to seriously piss off your opponent. Some people consider this a bonus.
Flicking is more common in foil, and I’ve seen bruises all down foilists’ backs from lousy flicks. Some people do flick in epee though it takes a great deal more strength, and is that much more painful when done incorrectly. I’ve actually had welts accross the stomach from epee flicks, fun fun. These marks usually have a double line where the skin actually wraps around the blade. In epee there is usually an obvious end point, because the epee tip is relatively heavy, but this is not necessarily the case with foils or sabres.
Fencing bruises really do come in a rainbow of colors, but that doesn’t necessarily make them pretty. The most common colors are red, blue and greenish yellow. Of course you also get some lovely purples. Bruises on the hand are sometimes a sort of sickly grey brown color. The only color I’ve not noticed in fencing bruises is orange, but give it time.
This weekend I’ll be fencing a tournament, with a capital T, that is completely out of my league. It’s a national tournament, you must have achieved a certain ranking (measure of skill) to even enter, which I only have because I was good when I was in college and my ranking hasn’t expired completely yet. I’m not optimistic about my chances, but I’m going to do my best. If I do poorly, I could end up going home after only a few short bouts. If I do well, it is within the realms of possibility that I could fence a first round of short bouts than maybe another two, or even three longer bouts. I’m hoping to get a whole lot of colorful bruises.
More bruises mean I fenced longer.