A fencer once described the sport to me as “chess played at 60mph.” Every move, block, feint and even pose is an effort to out think and outmaneuver your opponent. It becomes a veritable dance of wit and blade when performed at the competitive level. It is something truly artful to behold.
I only recently discovered that fencing exists in the world of wheelchair sports as well. If anyone thought that wheelchair sports were nothing like mainstream sports, this is the perfect counter argument. This is fencing put on hard mode.
The event is played and scored similarly to conventional fencing, but has some key differences. The wheelchairs are fastened to the floor to keep the fencers from rolling while allowing for the highest level of upper-body movement. The three sword styles remain the same, the foil, saber and epee, and blade strikes to the body are used for scoring. However, with the wheelchairs being stationary, the dimensions of sport change drastically. Footwork is not an option, which places a higher emphasis on lightning-quick decision making and even faster movement of the arm and sword. Striking the legs are not an option either, making defense of the torso critical as well.
Check out this preview video from the 2012 London games to get an idea of how it is played and the subtle variances described in the previous paragraph.
This is an international sport, and tournaments are held all across the world each year. Fencing teams exists as well as individual competitions. It is a highly competitive atmosphere, make no mistake.
Wheelchair fencing made a debut at the 1960 paralympics in Rome. Sir Ludwig Guttmann at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital adapted the sport to wheelchairs before then.
After spending my afternoon watching video after video of competitions and championships, I can confidently say that I can’t wait for the next tournament. Wheelchairs or not, this is a compelling sport, and I’m hooked.