Wheelchair Fencing

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The opportunity to participate in Wheelchair Fencing is available to both men and women with mobility compromises. Most of us have seen handcycling, basketball and some of the other wheelchair sports, but did you realise that fencing is one of those sports ? A wheelchair sport is not for the faint of heart. It will stretch your physical abilities to the limit. Fencing has the potential to be a dangerous sport. It is an extremely safety conscious sport. The athletes wear Kevlar masks and protective clothing.

There are three events in Wheelchair Fencing: foil, epee and sabre.

Wheelchair fencing is now practiced in 26 countries and is growing. A wheelchair sport can take the athlete from a spectator to a participant in the sport of their choice. Fencing challenges both physical prowess and mental abilities.

The official governing body is the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation - International Wheelchair Fencing Committee (IWFC). Wheelchair Fencing is an official sport of the Paralympic Games.

Classification:

Wheelchair fencing is open to both men and women with varying degrees of locomotive disabilities. There are three classes.

Class A athletes have good balance and full trunk movement.

Class B athletes have no movement of the legs and impaired balance and trunk movement.

Class C athletes have all four limbs affected. This class is included in local, regional and some world championships, but not in the Paralympic.

Each athlete is classified during an official evaluation, where they are evaluated on a point system and are subsequently matched with athletes at the same level. However, athletes can choose to compete in a higher class. This wheelchair sport can be a challenge for those with mobility issues in all four limbs and poor balance in the trunk.

In 1988, the rules were revised to evaluate participants in wheelchair fencing more accurately. The International Wheelchair Fencing Committee regularly reviews the rules.

Rules:

Wheelchair fencing requires the participant’s wheelchair to be clamped into a frame. The distance between the chairs is set. The athlete with the shortest arm will decide if the separation will be at their opponent's distance, or their own, or in-between.

Team events and individual competition are included in epee, foil and sabre or men as well as team and individual events for epee and foil for women. Each team must include at least one Class B athlete.

Age restrictions:

No fencer may take part in an official event of the IWF unless he or she is at least 13 years old on 1st January in the year of the competition.

Fencers taking part in all the official IWF Junior competitions, individual or team, must be under 20 years old at midnight on 31st December of the year preceding the year in which the competition takes place.

Apart from the stipulations above, there is no maximum age limit for those taking part in any other official events of the IWF.

Entry Restrictions:

An athlete may not participate in more than two types of events (epee/foil/sabre which must be the same in individual and the team events.

No competitor may appear in a category lower than that in which he has been officially placed. (e.g. category A fencer cannot compete in a category B event). A fencer may decide to fence in a higher category (e.g. category B fencer in category A event), provided that they state their decision on entry and compete only in that category through-out all the fencing events in this tournament.

Piste:

The same piste is used for all three weapons. The piste is the 'playing field' for fencers.

In able-bodied fencing, two fencers compete on a strip 14 meters long. In wheelchair fencing however, the wheelchairs are fixed immovably in place with metal frames. The chair should be clamped to both sides of the frame to keep the chair from tipping. The distance between fencers is decided by the one with the shortest arms. One arm/hand holds the fencing weapon while the other holds onto the chair when lunging and recovering.

Safety:

Fencers supply their own weapons and clothing, and fence at their own responsibility and at their own risk. (see Maraging steel below).

The safety measures specified in the Rules and in the standards contained in the annexe to them and the methods of control laid down in the material rules are only designed to reinforce the fencers' safety. Safety CANNOT be guaranteed. They may not, whatever the manner in which they are applied, impart any responsibility to the IWF EC, the competition organisers, the officials or personnel who carry out such organisation, or those who may have caused an accident.

Fencers who have significant loss of grip or control of the weapon hand, may bind the weapon to the weapon hand. The binding must cover and close the sleeve opening of the weapon arm and must give satisfactory protection to the weapon hand.

Fencing plastron (underarm protector) by pschemp.
Creative Commons licence text.

Fencing plastron (underarm protector) by pschemp.

At all three weapons, each fencer must wear under their jacket, a regulation protective under-plastron (underarm protector - basically a one-sleeved jacket to protect the underarm of the arm holding the weapon), made of cloth which can resist 800 Newtons, in addition to the special mask and gloves. The use of a breast/chest protector (made of metal or some rigid material) is compulsory for women and optional for men. At foil, this breast/chest protector must be worn below the protective plastron.

The rules for wheelchair fencing include the fixed distance between fencers. With foil and sabre competitions, the target is the same as in able-bodied competitions. The target in epée competition is everything above the waist, and an apron is worn below the waist to help in cancellation of touches outside the target area. The athlete's feet must remain on the footrest and the athlete must remain seated. The chair is fixed at an angle of 110 degrees to the central bar.

As in able-bodied competition, the first fencer to score 15 points (direct elimination) or 5 points (preliminary pool play) against the opponent wins. Points are awarded each time a fencer touches the opponent in the legal target area. A direct elimination match consists of three 3-minute periods. There are individual and team events in foil and epee for men and women. Sabre events are men-only.

Competition:

If there are too many competitors to go directly to the direct elimination bouts, then the field will be broken up into equal sized pools and a round of pool bouts will take place to rank the players and eliminate the lower ranked.

The effective duration of a bout is:

For pools, 5 hits, maximum 3 minutes.

For direct elimination, 15 hits, maximum 9 minutes divided into 3 periods of 3 minutes, with one minute‘s pause between any two periods.

For team events, 3 minutes for each lap or bout.

Method of Making a Hit

Foil:

The foil is a thrusting weapon, and offensive actions are made with the point only. It has a flexible rectangular blade and a smaller guard than the epee.

The target is the trunk only, and excludes the limbs and the head. The upper limit is the collar up to 6 cm above the prominences of the collar bones, and at the sides to the head of the humerus. The lower limit follows a horizontal line across the back joining the tops of the hip bones, and then by straight lines to the junction of the lines of the groin. It also includes the part of the bib beneath a horizontal line 1.5 – 2cm below the chin and which, in any case, may not be lower than the line of the shoulders.

Epee:

The epee is a thrusting weapon, similar in length to a foil but heavier, with a larger guard and a much stiffer blade. Attacks are made with the point only.

The target includes the whole upper part of the fencer‘s body, above a horizontal line drawn between the top of the folds formed by the thighs and the trunk of the fencer when in on-guard position. Any portion of the wheelchair above this line is also a valid target.

Flexible lamé aprons, provided by the organisers, cover the non-valid areas. This apron is earthed to the apparatus. It may not cover any valid target and must be firmly fastened in position without constriction of the fencers´ mobility.

Sabre:

The modern version of the slashing cavalry sword, similar in length and weight to the foil but able to cut with the blade as well as hit with the point. Used for thrusting and cutting with both the cutting edge and the back of the blade. All hits made with the cutting edge or flat or the back of the blade are counted as good (cuts and back-cuts). It is forbidden to hit with the guard.

The target is any part of the body above a horizontal line drawn between the top of the folds formed by the thighs and by the trunk of the fencer when in the on-guard position.

Weapons

Maraging steel: A special steel alloy used for making blades rated for international competition. Cheaper blades may seem attractive price-wise, but they will tend to break MUCH more often.  Maraging steel blades are thought to break in a more safe manner (less jagged), but this seems NOT to be the case, and their main advantage is their longevity. All blades will eventually  break !

Foil as a whole. Picture taken by Roger McLassus on 4 Apr 2005.

Foil:

The blade is steel and is rectangular in section. The total weight must be less than 500 g and it may not be longer than 110 cm.

Creative Commons licence text.

Old fashioned foil with straight handle, by Roger McLassus.

A Blue Gauntlet épée, with a BF FIE blue maraging blade, titanium bellguard, and Uhlmann Visconti style pistol grip. Image by digital_me.

An épée with modern pistol grip.

Epee:

The blade is steel and is triangular in section. The total weight must be less than 770 g and it may not be longer than 110 cm.

Sabre:

The blade is steel and is approximately rectangular in section, and must be 88 cm long at most. The minimum width and thickness of the blade (at the button) is 4 mm and 1.2 mm respectively. The total weight must be less than 500 g and it may not be longer than 105 cm. The end of the blade must be folded over onto itself or be fashioned in one piece to form a button.

Wheelchair:

The wheelchair's back must have a minimum height of 15cm, measured from the seat of the chair or the cushion when the athlete is seated upon it, and must be 90° to 92° to the horizontal. For wheelchair fencers who have a physical need for a different height or angle, it is the decision of the wheelchair controller and a classifier. No side guard may be used on the fencing arm side of the wheelchair at any time during competition. The side guard on the non-fencing arm of the wheelchair must be at least 10 cm high measured from the seat of the wheelchair, or the cushion when the fencer is seated upon it, and must be at least 20 cm long measured from the back of the chair. This side guard must be made of rigid material and securely fixed.

Fencing Frame:

For wheelchair fencing a frame is utilised on each piste. The frame must fulfil the following conditions:

The frame holds the wheelchair in a stable position, by securing all wheels of the wheelchair to the frame.

The wheelchairs are fixed at an angle of 110° (±2°) to the central bar.

The front wheels must touch the central axis in the forward position and all wheels should rest on the base of the frame.

The frame allows for easy adjustment of the fencing measure to accommodate the varying lengths of the fencers' arms.

The frame should also be easily adjustable to various widths of wheelchairs. If the wheelchair does not fit in to the frame, a replacement wheelchair that does fit must be used.

The frame must be easily adjustable for left-handed fencers.

The frame must also be constructed so that distance, angle and width of the wheelchair is fixed and cannot move/change during the bout.

The frame should stay stable on the ground during a fencer's lunge.

All frames used in official IWF competition must have been approved by the IWF EC


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