What Is Fencing?
Wheelchair fencing is included in this family of combat sports that uses bladed weapons. There are three major types of weapons.
The first is the foil-a light thrusting weapon used to touch the torso, including the back, but not the arms. Hits are scored with only the tip. Hits using the side of the blade are not counted and only one fencer can score at a time.
The second is the sabre-a light cutting and thrusting weapon used to target everything above the waist except the hands. The primary use of the sabre is to slash so hits using the side are counted, and again only one fencer can score at a time.
The third is the epee-a heavy thrusting weapon and the entire body is targeted. Only hits with the tip are scored. Unlike foil both fencers can score simultaneously.
The object of the game is to score 15 points against your opponent.
Did you know that wheelchair fencing as a sport has been around since 1953? Sir Ludwig Guttmann introduced the sport in England to provide veterans of war an opportunity to regain strength, coordination and self-esteem.
In 1955 it formally became a part of the international disability games by Stokes-Mandeville. Sabre was the only weapon at those first games and the first fencer to score a touch won the bout. The French proposed to use rules which were adapted from the Federation of International Fencing for the first paralympics games in Rome, Italy in 1960.
In 1964 the first American team competed in the second paralympic games in Tokyo. Japan. The women won a silver medal in the women's team foil event. It wasn't until 2004 at the Athens games that the US would win another medal, this time in the men's B individual epee.
United States Starts Fencing Organization
In 1993 Bill Murphy started a wheelchair fencing program at the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta. There were no programs in America and the Paralympic Organizers encouraged the development of the US Paralympic Fencing Team. In 1994 Bill Murphy worked with the administrators of the Shepherd Center to create this unique fencing program, which he coached. In 1996 they participated in the Atlanta Paralympic Games.
The US wheelchair fencing program received support from everyone involved and athletes started training for the US Paralympic Fencing Team. Murphy became the fencing competition manager for the 1996 Paralympic Games and Stawicki became the national coach for wheelchair fencing.
Class A (athletes with full trunk movement and good balance)
Class B (athletes with no leg movement and impaired trunk and balance functions)
Class C (athletes with a disability in all four limbs, not included in the Paralympic games program)
Each classification competes in both men's and women's events. All three require the fencer's chair to be fixed to the floor, preventing any movement. The athletes may not use their legs or rise from the seated position during the bout.
Who Can Participate
Amputees, Cerebral Palsy, Hemiplegics, Polio, Quadriplegics and TBI are good candidates for wheelchair fencing. Anyone with an injury or disability comparable to a below the knee amputation is eligible to participate.
Ideally the wheelchair frame should be rigid instead of folding. When you are seated in the center of the chair there should be no more than 3 cm of space on either side of your body. The maximum height from the floor to the top of the seat upholstery is 53 cm for both front and back.
The back of the chair should be at a fixed angle of 90 degrees +/- 2 degrees. If you have an injury that prevents you from sitting at 90 degrees you will be required to provide a medical waiver at your first tournament. The minimum chair back is 15 cm across the entire back. No armrest is allowed on the weapon side and the armrest on the non-weapon side must have a minimum height of 10 cm and an overall length of 20 cm.
If you use a cushion it must be uniform in dimension and thickness and conform to your wheelchair dimensions. The minimum thickness is 5 cm and the maximum thickness is 10 cm which brings the overall height to 63 cm. If you need a medical cushion, then it must be approved by the classifier.
The official governing body is the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation-International Wheelchair Fencing Committee (IWFC).