Equipment, Rules and Etiquette

SSS Durham has few requirements, and most of our rules are aimed at getting to the pub alive after a session. We give our students a great deal of freedom to choose what they want to do, but obviously there are some requirements.


All you need to start fencing is clothing and footwear suitable to play sports in, which leaves no bare skin when a fencing mask and gloves are added. This is important since blades can become burred along the edges, which will cut or tear bare skin even if the blade itself has no cutting edge. Traditionally, fencing students wear dark trousers and white above the waist.

The club has small quantities of equipment for loan during sessions; there is no need to buy specialist safety equipment until you are sure you want to pursue historical fencing. A full set of kit includes the following items.

Footwear should be sensible and not prone to slipping. Thin-soled ‘indoor’ trainers such as squash shoes (or even fencing shoes!) are better than thick soled running shoes, but the difference is not enormous.

Legs should be completely covered by (at the least) trousers, jog pants or the like. Fencing breeches offer better protection from a broken blade, but must be worn with socks that cover the rest of the leg and stay up. Cuts to the lower leg are rare in most systems we teach but they do happen, and not always deliberately. Additional leg protection such as shin guards are used in some historical fencing systems but are not necessary for most of our activities.

Torso and Arms should be completely covered by a long-sleeved top at the very least. Students are strongly encouraged to obtain a fencing jacket; there are some activities that cannot be permitted without this level of protection. However, it is not necessary to conform to the FIE rules for sport fencing equipment – our requirements are somewhat different. A fencing jacket should be white for non-instructors.

Additional torso protection in the form or rigid or padded impact protection for the ribs area is required for freeplay. Various equipment is available, some specifically for fencing and some for other sports. Opinions vary as to what is best; it is worth consulting the instructors before buying kit. Apart from anything else, it’s fun to watch them argue.

Additional forearm/elbow protection is necessary for heavy cutting weapons such as the backsword or sabre. Skateboard or BMX equipment is very suitable, though there are other options too.

Both hands need to be covered by gloves, which should have a gauntlet long enough to cover the end of the sleeve to prevent a blade from entering. Soft gloves are entirely suitable for some weapons such as smallsword, but the additional protection of armoured gloves is advisable for heavier blades. These are available for a variety of applications ranging from security to sports such as lacrosse.

Head protection is provided by a fencing mask. Inserts are available to protect the back of the head and neck, but these are not necessary for most activities.

Note: Historical fencing has different safety requirements to ‘sport’ fencing for various reasons, mainly the way attacks are made and the fact that the thin blades used in sport fencing pose a greater hazard if they break. It is not necessary that historical fencing equipment conforms to current international sport-fencing tournament standards, but it must conform to the needs of historical fencing.

Most commercially available fencing equipment meets or exceeds our requirements, but historical fencing does require additional impact protection and a glove for each hand. Additional equipment is sometimes required for some weapons and in tournament situations.

One of our trusted suppliers is The Knight Shop.

General Rules

As noted elsewhere, we do not have a lot of rules but the ones we do have are important. Some of the most notable rules are:

  • No bare skin when training or freeplaying
  • Full safety equipment must be used unless the instructor says it is not necessary for this activity
  • Do not turn your back on anyone who is freeplaying
  • Apply common sense when freeplay is in action. Wait for a safe moment to pass by; do not wander through the middle of a sword fight.
  • The instructors have the right to veto any activity on safety grounds
  • Freeplay is not permitted unless the instructors have agreed to it
  • Specific safety rules apply to certain weapons and must be followed


Our class is far less formal than many fencing groups, but we do have a basic etiquette. Common courtesy also applies – keeping instructors or other students waiting while you faff about is ill-mannered at best.  There are no special titles or modes of address for instructors, but a certain level of mutual respect is necessary. We prefer to keep the class informal, which means that instructions are usually phrased as polite requests. They still need to be followed, and of course students are expected not to behave in a way that makes it difficult for the instructors to teach and other students to learn.

Courtesy is part of fencing. Rather than trying to score points by any means and arguing about whether a given touch should count or not, we expect students to acknowledge hits against them fairly and to refuse to accept a hit that they think is too marginal to be valid. It is still possible to be highly competitive in this environment; we simply expect courtesy and fair play.

Courtesy also includes taking care not to hit hard, and following the agreed rules of a bout. Issues of this sort can become a safety matter for the instructors to deal with, but most problems simply do not happen if good manners are observed. Common sense and courtesy ensure that most safety rules are never needed.

The Salute

The class begins and ends with a salute led by one of the instructors. Each fencing class has its own salute, and commonly the students salute the instructor. Due to the history of our chapter, our salute is mutual between all present. The salute is normally made with whatever weapon you are using that evening, though it is permissible to use any suitable weapon for the salute. It is better to salute with the wrong sword than to keep everyone waiting while you rummage through your kit for the right one.

A freeplay bout also begins with a salute and ends with a handshake. The pre-freeplay salute is often simpler than the ‘academy salute’ but it is an important part of the courtesy associated with fencing.

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