If you’ve ever seen a fencing match, you probably remember two things: the weapons and the white uniform. You might have even wondered why fencers wear white.
Why do fencers wear white? Fencers wear white uniforms because early on, before electronic scoring, white was easiest to see marks from their opponent’s weapon. This helped in scoring as fencers score when they make contact with their opponent. Before washing machines and stain treatments, white was also the easiest color to wash.
There are a couple more reasons behind the white suit of fencers. Take a look at what I found.
Read Also: What Is A Fencing Outfit Called?
History of the White Fencing Uniform
Fencing has been around since the 16th century. Since its beginnings, the uniform has evolved quite a bit.
Early artwork shows opponents wearing various, colorful clothing. The clothing ranged from rich, flamboyant garments to more toned-down clothing.
Early on, there was no standard uniform.
Around the late 17th century, the artwork begins to show fencers with their coats and vests removed, which left them fighting in white shirts. This may have led to the standard white color we see today.
There are a few possibilities for why fencers wear white. Take a look at those possibilities:
- Ease of cleaning
- Shows blood/marks well
Read Also: 11 Best Fencing Gloves
Ease of Cleaning
Those fencers in the 17th century most likely wore white because it was easiest to make and easiest to clean. In those days, there were no washing machines, or stain treatment sprays to get stains out.
White stains easily, but it holds up to aggressive washing and doesn’t fade over time no matter how many times you wash a piece of clothing. Once you wash a piece of white clothing and pop it in the sunlight, it gets right back to its bright, white color.
It was around the 19th century that we began to see a more formal, white fencing uniform worn in matches. This was true of many sports, not just fencing.
Shows Blood and Ink Marks Well
In the early days before fencing was considered a sport, illegal duels were held throughout Europe. Opponents fought until “first blood” was spilled.
Obviously, blood is pretty easy to see on white, so some people believe this is the origin of the white uniform.
As the sport moved from illegal duels to an actual sporting event, the white uniform remained because it made it easier to score.
We have electronic scoring today that connects to fencers and keeps score, but that didn’t exist in the early days.
Judges had to watch carefully and mark when a person was hit. Fencers soaked a wad of cotton in ink and attached it to the top of their weapon or wrapped the top of their weapon in foil and covered it with red chalk.
When they made contact, this would leave a mark on the uniform. Obviously, the mark was easiest to see on white.
Nowadays, it’s still very common for fencers to wear white, but it’s not actually a requirement anymore. You’ll see fencers wearing gray, yellow, or blue vests and even colorful socks as they battle.
Although a full white uniform is not a requirement anymore, many fencers consider wearing it a sign of respect and reverence to the history of the sport. You’ll also notice that fencing masters and coaches wear black.
Background on Fencing
As I mentioned, the history of fencing dates back to the 16th century. In fact, fencing was included in the first-ever Olympic Games in 1896 and has been included in every Olympic Games since.
In case you weren’t clear on how exactly the sport works. Take a look:
- Two competitors face each other
- Opponents try to strike each other
- Opponents try to avoid getting hit
- Opponents are scored on hits
There are three disciplines in fencing. They are as follows:
Read on to get an insigt as to what each discipline involves.
This discipline involves an electric jacket called a lame. The jacket covers the torso area and is where hits are aimed. The rules in this discipline include many “Right of Way” rules on when each opponent can hit. Because of this, the foil is considered the most strategic discipline of the three.
The discipline of Épée involves the heaviest sword of the three disciplines. The entire body can be targeted on hits. This discipline is a more realistic representation of actual dueling.
Do you want some help to know the best epees? Click on this complete guide.
Sabre originated in cavalry combat. It is the only fencing discipline that uses a cutting motion to score a hit. Sabre requires a lame, but it covers the entire upper body for this discipline.
The blade in this discipline has a curved guard and a flexible blade. It’s considered the quickest of the three disciplines. Fights in this area are considered fast and furious.
Fencing is a very strategic, quick sport. Take a look at some of the other interesting aspects of fencing:
- Speed of event
- Extremely mental and physical
- Welcoming Sport
- Strategy over strength
- College is the most elite level
- Learning curve
- Potentially expensive
Speed of Event
Fencing is a very fast-moving sport with short matches. You come out of the gate swinging, and the match is over in minutes.
Each exchange in a match may only last 30 seconds before a quick break followed by another explosive exchange.
The longest a fencing bout lasts 10 minutes with two, 1-minute breaks.
Extremely Mental and Physical
Fencing is an extremely mental sport, which doesn’t mean it’s not physical as well. You must overcome your opponent, both physically and mentally.
Every move you make is decided by what your opponent is doing.
Fencing requires watching your opponent’s every move, recognizing patterns, and calculating your next move. Fencing is frequently referred to as “physical chess” because of the mental aspect of the sport.
Fencing is a sport pursued by a fairly small, but passionate group of people. Because of this, most people involved in the sport are very welcoming and eager to share their love of fencing. They’re very welcoming of newcomers and usually don’t have any problems helping other fencers out.
Strategy Over Strength
While some strength is required in fencing, it’s not as important to hit hard as it is to plan your hits well.
This also means you’re not likely to get knocked out or seriously injured fencing since it’s not about hitting hard.
The equipment must meet very strict safety regulations, including masks that must pass “punch” tests and jackets with Kevlar woven into them. You may get bruised here or there, but that should be the extent of your injuries.
College is the Most Elite Level
Since there is no professional sports scene for fencing, college is where it’s at. You’ll find the best fencers in the country at the college level. The best of the best head to the NCAA college fencing championships each year.
The best fencers are often also very bright. Three out of the last 5 team championships were won by Ivy League schools.
If you’re looking into fencing, it’s important to realize that the sport has a pretty steep learning curve.
You must learn the basic moves used in fencing before you can even dream of meeting an appointment and that’s on top of all the rules.
Fencing Can Be Potentially Expensive
Fencing can cost quite a bit of money as you get serious. You’ll have to buy your own equipment, and gear and these items need to be replaced frequently.
Fencing is more than just a white uniform; it’s a unique sport with a very long history.