Among the many questions that I get asked as a fencer and a now a fencing instructor, inevitably a student will ask, “Why do I have to start with foil?” The short answer is not “Because I said so,” but rather, “It’s the starting point for all training in competitive fencing.” I still get the blank look with that statement, so perhaps I should elaborate.
My choice and method are not random or arbitrary. My guide and inspiration for this methodology is one of the masters of our sport, Nick Evangelista. Master Evangelista has written several authoritative books on the art and sport of fencing in addition to being an accomplished swordsman in his own right. He has over thirty years’ experience in fencing and teaching fencing. His thoughts on this subject are quite clear and uncomplicated:
The approach I take is to teach fencing so that it is both efficient and effective. I teach form so that it establishes economy of motion, point control, timing, judgment –the foundational elements of fencing from its earliest days. I also teach my students the ‘language of fencing,’ so that they learn to think fencing. I would be stealing from those who come to me if I taught them anything else.
When asked about why he teaches foil first to his students, he responds:
I teach fencing in a very traditional fashion. Everyone begins with foil. No exceptions. Foil instills the fundamentals of fighting with a sword in a fencing student. The conventions of the foil are, in fact, a valuable template for changing our behavior from everyday people reactions to controlled fencer responses. This basic training is essential for everything that follows. Those who begin their fencing careers with either epee or saber are missing an opportunity to bring added depth to their weapon of choice.
So nothing is accidental or mere busywork when teaching the skills and fundamentals of fencing. Each basic form or movement is a building block for the next skill, and then the next skill, and so on.
The best summation for all of this is an article that Master Evangelista wrote himself. I truly could not state it any better than he has, so for the sake of efficiency, the link to his article, Starting With Foil, is included here for your information. I would encourage every student (and parents, too!) to read it and understand it. You’re starting with foil not because the coach says so, but because it is the BEST approach to mastery of the sport.
Starting with Foil by Nick Evangelista