History of Wheelchair Fencing
The sword is one of the oldest of weapons and has long been used to demonstrate skill and speed, and of course to settle 'matters of honour'.
When the lighter and more manoeuvrable small sword superseded the rapier at the court of Louis XIV in mid-17th century France, the foil was developed as its sporting counterpart. The rules, which restricted valid hits to the body between neck and waist, were made to allow the skills of swordplay to be demonstrated in relative safety.
Epee fencing was developed in Paris in the 1860s as some fencers wanted to recreate the conditions of a duel. Most epee tournaments before the Second World War were fenced in the open air on gravel paths, with bouts initially for just one hit.
Sabre fencing is derived from military swordsmanship, particularly the cavalry sword, but the practice swords used in the army were heavy and cumbersome weapons. Therefore in the late 19th century an Italian fencing master, Giuseppe Radaelli, developed a lightweight fencing sabre that could be manipulated with the speed and accuracy of a foil. By the early 1900s, Italian masters had introduced the principles of this new weapon to all fencing countries.
The Modern Olympic sport of fencing demands those same talents of speed and skill allied with fitness and stamina to produce the complete fencer. Learning the skills of attacking and defending with foil, epee or sabre, fencers develop good coordination, balance and flexibility.
Originally devised at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, U.K., competitive wheelchair fencing was first introduced in 1953 and has been a Paralympic sport since Rome in 1960. Although popular in Europe since its inception, Far Eastern countries such as China, Malaysia and Hong Kong are now regularly topping the medal table at major competitions.
How does it differ from non-disabled Fencing?
Unlike able-bodied fencing, wheelchair fencing is static: the fencers are clamped to the piste, in a metal frame. Beyond this, the sport is largely similar to its able-bodied counterpart.
The wheelchair fencer is clamped down at the appropriate distance and angle from the opponent which means that neither can get out of range during the bout. This makes for exciting, intense and tough competition demanding high levels of concentration with the slightest error resulting in defeat.
Fencers are classified according to their level of ability. Class A fencers have full sitting balance, and many can still stand or even walk. Those in the B Class don't have full sitting balance but do have full use of their arms and hands, whilst C Class fencers do not have full arm and/or hand activity.
Fencing is one of the few personal combat sports that can be successfully practised from a wheelchair.
Fencing has developed widely around the World and the Association provides fencers to represent Great Britain at International, World and Paralympic Competitions. There are also events for the novice and junior fencer.