Foil Fencing

About the Course

The Instructor

Phil Bidwell
B217H Milne Library

Office Hours by appointment.

I learned how to fence in this very course, taught down the hall in the main gym by Brenda Meese in the fall of 1984.  I fenced on and off for twenty years, and having returned to SUNY Oneonta and restarted the fencing club, I began teaching the introductory foil class in 2004.  Besides teaching this class and advising the club, I also serve as the College's Director of Data Networking in the Information Technology Support group. 

I am proud to be teaching this course, carrying on a tradition that has existed in this room for over forty years.


Course activities and teaching strategies

The course consists of a mix of lecture/discussion, group drill/instruction, and pair practice. Later in the course students will participate in bouts, getting the opportunity to experience fencing competition as well as judging and directing of bouts.

Lecture/discussion will revolve around assigned readings and will require active participation and integration of topics in the students’ fencing practice.

Course requirements

Students must arrive on time and ready to participate in the class. They are responsible for equipment issued to them for the duration of the semester, and are required to keep equipment clean, maintained and secured while not in use. If fencing equipment becomes the subject of any incident that results in a disciplinary action, then the student will be administratively dropped from the course.

If a student is unable to participate in class activity due to injury or illness, it is expected that they will make every effort to attend the class and participate to the best of their ability, as a judge, videographer or commentator.

The student will be required to purchase foil parts and a fencing glove.  All other equipment will be supplied by the college.  Lost or damaged equipment will be charged to the student.  Costs are:  Mask - $55, Jacket - $45, Equipment Bag - $20.

Method of evaluation

Final written exam
Individual skills assessment

Make-up policy for exam - I will arrange alternative options for students who must miss the exam.


Emergency Evacuation Procedures

In the event of an emergency requiring evacuation from the Chase 211 Studio, please evacuate to the sidewalk in front of the Netzer Administration Building so that College Officials can account for you. Please review the College's Emergency Evacuation Procedures and Shelter-in-Place Procedures at All students are encouraged to register for NY Alert for information and notification of campus emergencies on or near the campus.

Attendance policy

Students must make every effort to attend each class session prepared to participate. A student is permitted to miss two class sessions during the semester without penalty.  Students receive points toward final grade for on time attendance - they receive half credit for the day's class for being late.

Readings will come from the website and will be critical for participation in class lecture/discussion.

Unique aspects of course

Fencing is one of the very few sports where women and men can compete on entirely equal terms. This is because the intelligent and focused fencer can successfully compensate for any deficiencies he or she may have, and may even be able to turn them into assets. At the same time, any fencer, no matter how skilled, has vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Any opponent’s skills can be made into vulnerabilities with diligent study.

Fencing requires a mastery of skills that are sequential and hierarchal in nature. If one of the skills is not acquired, the follow-on skills will be very difficult to master and the fencer will be at a permanent and serious disadvantage. This is absolutely critical in the beginning stages of the class, becoming less so as time goes on but never totally fading away. Thus if a fencer feels that he or she has not adequately understood a lesson or acquired a skill, it would be important to seek additional help outside of class.  The instructor and club members are available at club practice sessions to work individually with students.

College Catalog description of course

“Study of the history, philosophy and practice of foil fencing. Course places an emphasis on the development of fundamental skills, including the advance, retreat, lunge, basic attacks and defenses plus instruction on bouting and strategy. No prerequisites.”

Course goals and objectives, as measurable student outcomes.

At the end of the course students will be able to:

  1. Describe the evolution of swordplay from medieval dueling through modern competition.
  2. Define basic fencing terms and fencing actions.
  3. Know the USFA rules of bouting for foil fencing and apply those rules to given situations.
  4. Demonstrate growth in fencing skills.
  5. Relate the skills and the cultural attitudes of fencing to life outside the salle.

Most of these goals are related to factual knowledge about fencing, coursework that is similar to material you might encounter in any class.  Within Goal #4, however, there are five specific physical learning objectives in introductory foil that I expect the successful student to have a basic competency in by the end of the course:

  1. En garde stance, proper footwork, correct lunge and recovery.
  2. Maintaining point-in-line on parries and ripostes within the cone of defense.
  3. Proper observation of right-of-way during attacks and counterattacks.
  4. Proper distance during all phases of action.
  5. Effective counterattacks and continued attacks.

These may seem relatively easy at first glance, but you will find that acquiring these skills within the space of one semester is very challenging.  These are the fundamental components of a properly trained fencer, and it would take you many years to completely master them.  Each of them is easy to state in words, but have dozens of implications depending on circumstances.  They will be the focus of the physical part of the course.