Why Fence Dry?

Modern fencing is overwhelmingly electric fencing. In some clubs, showing up with a dry weapon (one which does not use electronic scoring, also known as standard or steam weapons) marks you as either a beginner who no one wants to fence or as someone with odd ideas about what fencing really is. But there are solid reasons to fence without electric scoring, and to make dry fencing a regular part of a training program.

First, there is the simple issue of cost. And cost means access. Electric equipment is expensive, and it breaks easily, leading to the expense of repairs. Adding $150 to $250 to the cost of entry to the sport to fence in the local club doesn’t bother families that make $200,000 a year… but it does cause those at the lower end of the economic spectrum to think fencing may just be too expensive.

Closely allied to this is the need for inexpensive tournaments for beginners. With division level tournaments now having entry fees of $30 to $40, and national tournaments priced at $120, fencing parents tell me that if our salle was not able to loan equipment, they would not be able to send their young fencers to tournaments. Dry tournaments can be structured to offer a training ground and a way to bring more fencers into the sport at a lower cost.

Second, speed is a factor. It takes time to hook up to the electric scoring equipment, time to test, time to fix the inevitable problems that come with the normal standard level of fencer maintenance of the equipment, time to unhook. You get at least 50% higher productivity out of a strip when it is used for dry practice bouts rather than electric. Strip utilization in our annual two hour New Year’s Day dry tournament has reached 20 bouts per hour (the rules are that the fencer who fences the most bouts in the period wins the tournament). If you are time constrained or wish to maximize the number of bouts fenced for training purposes, dry has a definite place.

Third, dry bouts contribute to fencer tactical development. If you use a referee and judges, the interplay after a touch gives the fencer a much better picture of what happened than trying to read the hand signals or interpret the minimalist description of modern refereeing. It may also make the referee’s interpretation of the action clearer, allowing the fencer to learn how to respond to the referee’s view of reality.

Fourth, dry bouts help develop the next generation of referees. In the days before widespread use of electric bouts, judging allowed fencers to both listen to the reconstruction by an experienced referee and match it with what they saw. This process set the stage for moving into the referee position.

This is not to say that you should never fence electric in a club. Competitive fencers absolutely should be fencing electric practice bouts regularly, and preferably with referees that referee using the modern standard of referee communications. Lessons for competitive fencers should include the use of weapons with electric blades and practice electric tips, and electric weapons with trainer boxes. I have started to convert a substantial portion of my salle’s dry weapons to unwired electric blades with electric tips so that students get the sensation of the hit. The electric weapon has a different weight distribution, balance, and performance than a dry weapon, and competitive fencers must be comfortable with the electric weapon’s characteristics.

Source by Walter Green

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