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Women in fencing

At the first international fencing competition for women in 1921, Uta Barding, a ‘strong and scientific Danish fencer’, won the event fencing to the strains of the Toselli Serenade.

How civilized.

Of course, there were no squealing scoring boxes to compete with, just the sound of clashing blades and perhaps the occasional ‘yes!’ from the fist-pumping Dane.

A sport for boys?

A sport involving one-on-one combat with a weapon might not be the obvious choice for girls who love to compete. Sabre traces its roots to military training and the mastery of killing. Epee was born out of dueling, an inherently male pursuit bound up with notions of manhood and honour. But from its infancy as a competitive pursuit in the early twentieth century, women have taken to the piste in droves.

There have been a few obstacles along the way, like long dresses and a stubborn male insistence that we couldn’t handle an epee or a sabre. But history lent us a hand. French fencing clubs, desperate for customers after World War 1 decimated its clientele, began offering special courses for women in the 1920s. Women fencers in Denmark held national foil championships between 1915 and 1918 and we have British and Danish women to thank for convincing the FIE to include a women’s foil competition at the 1924 Paris Olympics. The women’s team foil event was eventually included in 1960. Skirts were compulsory until 1935.

Too dangerous for girls

It took until the 1980s for a committee of five women, chaired by a man, to investigate issues of ‘protection and safety’ for women fencing epee. After much debate, women competed in this weapon internationally for the first time in the 1989 World championships and at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, but only using the traditional French grip handle on their weapons. Pistol grip was considered too dangerous.

Sabre followed suit eventually, despite misgivings the weapon was ‘too demanding (with) blows too violent for frail shoulders’. The first world championships for women’s sabre were held in Seoul in 1999 with the first Olympic event in Athens in 2004.

Hear us roar

Today women are more likely to have their voices heard in our sport, comprising six of the 22 Executive Committee positions on the International Fencing Federation, including Australian Helen Smith. And what better demonstration that women can do battle on many fronts than our own Evelyn Halls; fencer, wife, mother, lawyer, President of the Australian Fencing Federation and current national women’s epee champion?

Inspiration indeed.

By Angela Bensted


Source: Thierry Terret and Cecile Ottogalli-Mazzacavallo (2012) Women in Weapon Land: The Rise of International Women’s Fencing, The International Journal of Sport

For the first AFC competition of 2017, the D.H. McKenzie Tournament in Brisbane, the AFF is pleased to welcome back Ariana Klinkov (USA) as our international guest referee. Ariana visited Australia last year for AFC 3 and the Asian Masters Championships in Perth.

Ariana was the first female referee to be accredited at FIE level in all three weapons. She has extensive experience in refereeing at World Cups and World Championships, and was the first female referee to be selected to Referee for a World Championship Gold Medal Match.

The AFF will be conducting a refereeing seminar on Friday 24 March prior to AFC 1 facilitated by Ariana and National Officiating Manager Peter Creese. The focus will be on the craft of refereeing (those parts of the role which are not necessarily explicit in the rules) as well as looking at the rule changes which will apply at AFC competitions from 2017.

The seminar will be held at the competition venue from 5:00-6:30 pm, and all fencers, coaches and referees are welcome to please register online so that we know how many people to expect.

Registrations are now open for the first Australian Fencing Circuit event of 2017 - the D.H.McKenzie Tournament (AFC#1), incorporating the Australian Under 23 Epee Championships. 

This event will be held at Yeronga State High School in Brisbane (see timetable attached).

Before registering, Australian fencers should make sure their home State affiliation is complete and paid up. Late registration fees apply from 12 March 2017, so be sure to register early! 

To register for entry (both local and overseas fencers), click here.

Download this file (DHM2017-Schedule-v1.pdf)DHM2017-Schedule-v1.pdf[ ]87 kB

The AFF Board has approved the introduction of a revised AFF Selection Policy, to take effect from 12 March 2017.

The revised Policy makes a significant structural change to the existing Policy, with the provisions common to all age categories now consolidated into a single section so as to reduce duplication. 

Some of the key changes to the substantive provisions of the policy include:

1) the amendment of the selection criteria for Asian Zone Championships to provide for equality of selection as between AFT and AFS fencers;

2) the introduction of provisions clarifying the process for individual and team selection for FIE, EFC and FCA events (where no call for nominations is made);

3) the expansion of provisions regarding team selection to provide for a greater variety of team events (eg mixed ages, genders, weapons etc);

4) the introduction of provisions regarding the replacement of a selected fencer who subsequently withdraws from an event; and

5) the correction of certain anomalies in Appendix A to allow for the allocation of points where none were previously available (eg where a lower age category fencer competing in a higher age category event was previously eligible to earn points in the higher age category but not in the lower age category).


The AFF is seeking expressions of interest from members of the Australian fencing community who would like to be considered for future roles as team managers, accompanying Australian teams to overseas events.

The AFF is looking to expand its existing pool of experienced team managers, to ensure there are appropriate resources in place to support the increasing number of international competition tours undertaken every year. These roles are unpaid, with managers receiving reimbursement of travel and accommodation expenses and a per diem only.

Expressions of interest (including a summary of relevant experience) should be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..