Have you ever arrived at a fencing tournament, excited to fence, only to find that your sword is not working? I have been fencing for four years and attended many national tournaments both as a participant and a spectator, so I know that this is a common experience for any competitive fencer. Because of the wiring hidden in the body cords and swords, a malfunction may not be noticed until you’ve plugged into the strip at a competition and the referee tests your blade. If a referee tests your sword and it is not working, you will be given a yellow card. If a second sword is not working, you will be given a red card and will lose a point. This can affect you mentally and could even cost you the bout.
Save yourself the worry by testing your blades at home beforehand. This takes only ten minutes and is such a simple thing to do to give you some peace of mind before a tournament and allow you to focus on your fencing. These instructions show how to test an epée and are written for the intermediate fencer. Keep in mind that this process is different than the ones for testing a foil or a sabre.
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Step 1: Gather the Materials
Note: I am using a testing kit from Absolut Fencing, but you can find all the tools at the hardware store, with the exception of the voltmeter.
1. Testing kit, which includes:
· 750 g weight
· Modified voltmeter
2. Metal nail/screw
3. Body cord
4. A small jeweler’s screw driver
5. The epée you would like to test
Step 2: Test Your Body Cord
a) To make sure your body cord is working, plug one end into the voltmeter. On the other end, there are two gaps between the prongs – a larger gap and a smaller gap, as shown in the figure.
b) Hold the screw (or anything metal) in between the smaller gap (so that the prongs are touching the metal). The light on the voltmeter should be green.
c) Repeat with the larger gap and the light should be red.
d) Wiggle around the end of the body cord that is attached to the voltmeter. The light should stay solid. If anything does not work, there is a problem with the wires in the body cord.
Step 3: Examine the Screws
a) Examine the screws in the tip of the blade. There should be two. If one is missing, you will have to buy tip screws and it is simple to re-screw one in. It is always a good idea to check the tip of your sword in between bouts to ensure that no screws have been lost.
b) With a small screwdriver, be sure that they are tight. If they are already tight, DO NOT try to tighten further, as this can strip the screws.
Step 4: Perform the Weight Test
Plug one end of the body cord into the voltmeter and the other into your blade. If using the Absolut Fencing testing kit, attach the 500 g and the 250 g weights together. Place the 750 g weight on the tip of the sword. The green light should go off, but only when the tip is pressed by the weight. If the green light stays on, that means your tip is sticking.
Step 5: Perform the Shimmy Test
Fit the shimmy – shown in the picture – in the gap at the tip of your sword. Move the shimmy around the sword and press down on the tip. The light should not go off.
Step 6: Measure the Tip
This is not usually done by referees at competitions, but it is a good idea to check. Try to fit the measuring shimmy in between the tip. If it fits, then your tip is fine. But if it does not fit, that means the distance to your tip is too small.
Step 7: Repeat With All Blades
Now that you know how to test your fencing equipment, I recommend testing all of your body cords and swords before any tournament. This will enable you to stop worrying about your equipment, relax, and fence your best.
If you have any questions about rules and blade specifications, you can always consult the USFA handbook online.