What does an international fencer do when they retire?
I stopped fencing in June 2012 with the European Championships in Italy being my final event. Barring a few little fun outings at small UK domestic events, I have not picked up an epee in anger for over 7 years. I’ve not completely stopped playing with swords, as I do a small amount of coaching in the club but no great volume.
As many people know, I started work for Leon Paul, my former equipment sponsors, as their Fencing Centre Manager in the summer of 2013. This kept me out of trouble during the day but I still had free time in the evenings. I tried several activities to fill my newfound freedom including playing 5-a-side football with LP Director, Ben Paul and his team. Ben is a surprisingly good goal scorer, a fox-in-the-box if you will. The lack of structure and no training sessions made it hard for me to buy into the activity though I did enjoy going to the pub after a game for a couple of beers.
I even got into online chess as a pass time. As a novice, it was fun playing low-rated online tournaments. Problems with online cheating and having a cat that makes a habit of walking over my keyboard when I’m trying to play, caused both annoyance and erratic play. This added to the complete lack of physicality left me feeling as though I was missing something in my new non-fencing life.
My then girlfriend, now wife, had started running and signed up for a marathon. As crazy as this sounded to me, she was really enjoying it and went on to join Trent Park Running Club. After about a year of watching and listening to her talking about it, I decided to give this running lark a go as well. Being a former athlete, I wasn’t a complete newbie to running but after struggling on my own for a bit I took the plunge and joined the club as well in November 2018.
Alongside starting fencing, taking the Leon Paul job and marrying Emily, giving running a go was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. It suits me down to the ground with the physical elements and training structure. However, even more is being part of a club again. The jokes and banter between the runners in my training group is so similar to being in a fencing squad it’s unreal. They never miss a chance to point out how much better at running my wife is than me.
I have been introduced to a whole new world from local Saturday morning Parkrun to Marathons all over the world. I have lost 5kg in weight since I started running whilst actually eating more! The feeling of being outside and doing physical activity again with a group of friends has been great for my physical and mental wellbeing. With mental health being a more acceptable topic of conversation in today’s world, I would recommend to anyone who can, go out and walk, jog or run at their local 5km Parkrun on a Saturday morning. It’s total free and the volunteering side is very rewarding also.
This brings me to my final point. I will be running the London Marathon on Sunday 26th April 2020 and in doing so, raising money for the Welbodi Partnership. It is a very worthwhile charity that works to build the capacity of the health systems in Sierra Leone, West Africa. It is a cause very close to Leon Paul Director Alex Paul’s heart, as he and his wife spent a year out in Sierra Leone volunteering with the Charity.
Leon Paul is generously donating a Three Weapon Wireless set and a £100 Leon Paul Voucher as prizes for a draw to help raise money. Anyone who sponsors me via my ‘gofundme’ page and types the word FENCING! in the comment after donating will be entered into the draw which will be done on Monday 27th April, the day after the marathon. You get 1 ticket for every multiple of £5 donated, so if you sponsor me £20 that’s 4 tickets!
I know what you might be thinking, I’m not ‘sponsoring him to do something he wants to do’ but don’t worry, I promise not to ‘dial-this-one-in’ and plan to complete the Marathon is sub 3:15. You can rest assured in the knowledge that I will be suffering lots during the 750 planned training miles and then the 26.2 miles of the race itself.
Here at Leon Paul we are determined to create the best innovative products for our customers and love it when we can work and support other British companies who can help us do this, especially when we can utilise them in advancing material technologies.
The other week Ben, James and I ventured to Croydon to visit D3O’s head office to discuss using more of their fantastic materials in a few of our existing products. We were given a tour of their excellent facilities, to see where the magic, also known as chemistry happens, as well as their test rigs and GOO tank.
You may be aware that we already use D3O in our EXO Shin Guard for Epee, due to its smart, rate-sensitive, non-Newtonian properties. D3O “empowers people who use our products to take risks, challenge their limits and stay safe.” Their products provide impact protection for sportsmen, workmen, the military and even for your phone.
In my previous post Chest Protector Development, I discussed using new materials in the development of the women’s chest protector. D3O is definitely something that I am considering, however there are lots of different types and grades of material that D3O are able to offer all with their own unique properties. Visiting D3O’s headquarters meant that we were able to see all these materials firsthand and discuss with their sales team what they think would be best for this new protector.
kind enough to provide us with lots of samples of their materials to carry out
test on, which I look forward to doing in the new year. I am anticipating carrying
on with this project when I go back to University next year as my final year
project so I will hopefully be able to carry out product testing on some
prototypes to ensure they are safe enough to become sellable goods.
Finally, the pictures you have been waiting for … the GOO tank!!
Electrification had the same revolutionary effect on foil technique in the last quarter of the 20th century as the mask had in the first quarter of the 19th. But in 1955, when electric foil was tried for the first time at a world championships, there was little indication of the changes to come. Charles de Beaumont said at the time, “The electric foil worked on the whole very well and did what was required of it – to register hits exactly and impartially. This device at last eliminated the imperfections of the judges, which have been the worst feature of international foil fencing for generations.”
There had been many unsuccessful attempts to ‘eliminate the imperfections of the judges’, starting in the 19th century. Towards the end of his life, the French magician and fencer Robert-Houdin (1805-1871) invented a metallic jacket connected by wires to a battery so that when the metal point of a foil touched the jacket a bell rang. He gave the rights to this invention to the fencing master Augustin Cabot, who registered a patent in 1895. Another electric scoring apparatus had been developed in Belgium in 1885, and in 1896 the English surgeon Muirhead Little invented a similar device involving an electric wire connecting a jacket woven with copper thread to a wall-mounted recorder [Fig. 1]. But, although they were successfully demonstrated, the sight of two fencers moving up and down the piste on wires like a couple of captive beetles caused such hilarity among spectators that the systems lost all credibility.
By 1931 a satisfactory electrical system had been developed for epee – it was introduced at the world championships for the first time in 1933 – but the problem of distinguishing between valid and non-valid hits proved more difficult to solve. Electric jackets were successfully demonstrated at the 1935 world championships in Lausanne, but the foils used were heavy and cumbersome. Two years later the FIE initiated the first men’s foil international electric tournament in Brussels, using an apparatus developed by the Italian engineer Sergio Carmina. Just before the war, a former Hungarian army sabre champion, Bela de Tuscan, demonstrated an ingenious battery-operated system and demonstrated it with his wife Joanna on stage in London. A wire led from a battery inside a transparent bell guard and along a channel cut into the foil blade with the tip of each blade slightly recessed. The fencers wore jackets with the target area covered with a thin layer of metallic cloth. When the blade hit the cloth, a light came on inside the guard to indicate who had scored a hit, but not if the hit was off-target. Another display involved connecting a miniature light bulb to the end of their foils so that, on a darkened stage, they could trace fencing moves [Fig. 2]. But the second world war brought all development to a standstill.
After the war, research started again. By the time of the world championships in 1950, electric foil was sufficiently well advanced for an experimental pool to be run: it was won by René Paul [Fig.3 ]. Finally, in 1954 the FIE gave approval for a full trial of electric foil at the 1955 world championships. Britain’s first national coach, Roger Crosnier, was not an enthusiast. “In its present state, the electric foil does not favour technique, but is to the advantage of the unorthodox and forceful fencer”, he wrote in The Sword (Spring 1955). “An American foilist .. summed up the position rather conclusively. He said, ‘It brings fencers like D’Oriola, Rommel and co down to our level. We’ve a chance of beating them now.’ He has, in fact, formulated the opinion of most foilists, which is that the electric foil will bring fencing technique down to a common lower level. Surely, this in itself should condemn the weapon.”
The blades were about 65 g heavier than non-electric ones and the resulting lack of balance caused many foilists to give up the weapon in disgust. But the best fencers adjusted, as demonstrated by the Frenchman Christian D’Oriola, who won the gold medal at both the non-electric 1952 Olympics in Helsinki and the electric 1956 Melbourne Games. At these latter Games the main problem was with the foil point, which caused a white non-valid light to come on whenever there was the slightest fluctuation in current; the white light registered four times more frequently than the coloured lights for a good hit. Nevertheless, Gillian Sheen [Fig. 4] overcame all obstacles to win Britain’s first, and so far only, fencing Olympic gold medal. In those early days, it was felt that referees would be so pressurised that they would not be able to work for more than 15 minutes at a time.
In 1957 the FIE formally adopted the electric foil, but at that year’s world championships the apparatus caused considerable problems. Charles de Beaumont noted, “ … a non-valid hit would be shown as a valid hit on both competitors and valid hits were registered on the mask so often that after a time exasperated contestants started to wear ladies’ bathing caps under their masks to stop their sweaty hair forming electrical contact to the jacket. The new French apparatus was most unsatisfactory and is far less reliable than the British or Italian models.” Allan Jay [Fig. 5] performed a remarkable feat of endurance at these championships, fencing through eight days of foil and epee events during which he had 85 bouts and reached both individual finals, coming third at foil and sixth at epee.
The rotating foil tip underwent significant changes as attempts were made to make it both reliable and effective. The first type, known as the hedgehog, had both horizontal and vertical ridges designed to ensure that it would fix. It certainly did that, but it also tore jackets to pieces. In 1958 a version with the vertical ridges removed was tried, but this was not much kinder to clothing. The Italians produced a flat-tipped model in 1961, but it still had a sharp edge. It was not until 1968 that the bevel-edged tip we know today became the standard shape, although its diameter has changed over the years. [Fig. 6]
Every fencing country has developed its own electrical equipment. As soon as electric foil was introduced, Leon Paul devised a very effective bayonet-type bodywire plug and socket, but most European countries favoured a two-pin connection and eventually in 2015 the FIE adopted this as the international standard, much to the frustration of the UK, USA and Italy which had used bayonet sockets for decades.
In 60 years the scoring apparatus has improved beyond all recognition from boxes with unreliable mechanical relays to today’s remote-controlled electronic wonders capable of automatic scoring and time-keeping.
Various non-electric methods of indicating hits have been tried over the centuries. Back in 1687 Sir William Hope in his book The Scots Fencing Master recommended covering the foil tip with sponge and dipping it in vermillion and water so that the judges could see the effect of every thrust. It took 270 years for this system to be improved upon. At the 1955 world championships the Russians demonstrated an invention that, it was claimed, could replace the costly electric foil. It consisted of a hollow spring-loaded point containing a wad of cotton wool that was impregnated with a mix of water, red dye and ammonia before each bout. When a hit was made that caused the point to be depressed, a red mark appeared, disappearing a few seconds later depending on the amount of ammonia in the mixture. But, apart from the inconvenience of having to regularly replenish the mixture, the system did not work on metal and so off-target hits on the wire mesh of the mask did not register. Like other ingenious devices for recording hits developed over the previous 250 years, it passed into oblivion.
Not long after the war, a radio-controlled system made its appearance and experiments with it continued for years, culminating in a serious appraisal by Wilkinson Sword in the early 1980s, but they were thwarted by the problem of interference. It was not until the late 1990s that a Ukrainian company, StM, introduced a system, initially for sabre, that worked reliably. It was used at the world championships for the first time in 2001 and at the Olympics in 2004, before being adapted to epee at the 2007 world championships and finally to foil at the 2008 Olympics. Since then it has been used in the final stages of all major tournaments. Competitors wear a special conductive T-shirt next to their skin. A hit activates a transmitter attached to the fencer’s waist, which triggers a light on the mask and transmits a signal to the scoreboard in the arena. A sophisticated encoding system solves problems of interference from any other transmitter. Fig. 7 shows a bout at the 2019 Tokyo World Cup (photo by Augusto Bizzi).
Hi Fencers! Danielle here, product development intern at Leon Paul. As of September, I have been working here, undertaking a 9-month placement as part of my sandwich year at university. I am currently reading Sports Engineering at Nottingham Trent University and am very fortunate that Leon Paul offered me this perfect opportunity to learn more about the engineering behind sports equipment in a work environment.
I myself am a fencer, I have been competing now for 10 years and this knowledge of the sport has been very helpful when looking at improving products. I have been working on a multitude of TOP SECRET projects watch this space!
For me the most interesting project that I have been trusted to work on at Leon Paul is the women’s chest protector. Now before I lose half of the readers who this product probably won’t be of much interest to, hold on, I may be able to peak your interest with some pretty cool materials and technology.
My relationship with my chest protectors has been very on and off. On one hand it isn’t very comfortable, not very attractive and can slightly restrict your mobility however it does provide the protection I need to not get hurt, with the confidence that I am protected whenever I fence.
So, over the summer my university had an opportunity for me to take place in an EROS research project titled “Fabrication of Auxetic Meta-Materials using SLA 3D Printing” The definition of Auxetics is “…. structures or materials that have a negative Poisson’s ratio. When stretched they become thicker perpendicular to the applied force” There are some pictures and diagrams below, but the idea is that when force is applied the material structure expands. So, I immediately jump to how this can be applied to fencing? I ended up looking into the chest protector as this technology is already being explored in cycle helmets, running shoes and in the military, due to its protective and flexible properties.
I spent 6 weeks exploring these patterns and materials and attempting to apply them to the chest protector. My most successful prototype can be seen photographed below. Due to the detailed intricate patterns, computer capacity was the biggest struggle. As I was unable to make the mesh smaller, the holes are too large to be an effective product and made it hard to carry out any realistic tests. This project still needs a lot more work to carry out the appropriate testing and perfecting the design. This is a very new technology so there aren’t huge amounts of existing research, but as more and more is being discovered, hopefully new solutions will arise that can be utilized.
But even after all this time spent working on this product, I was still interested and still hopeful that one day there would be a better alternative to what’s on the market for women. Since working at Leon Paul, I have been given the freedom to work on the chest protector again. I know this isn’t going to be easy as I would like to produce a product that is not only protective but stylish and meets the needs of the women wearing it. Whilst working here, I have been exposed to interesting new materials and technologies that I look forward to working with and can’t wait to tell you all about the first test products soon.
In September this year I became British Under 17 (Cadet) Champion and followed it up the following day with silver in the Under 20 (Junior) Championships. At 14 years old it felt like the highlight of what had been a fantastic set of results for me in the previous 6 months.
Although I always review my performance after a competition with my dad and coach, Keith Cook, writing this blog forced me to think perhaps more deeply about why my weekend had been so successful. Normally we look at all the elements that made up my day – what I ate the night before and, on the day, how well I slept, my warm-up and how I was feeling on the piste both physically and mentally. And then we follow that up with a movie night of video analysis of my direct elimination fights.
What struck me most when thinking about this weekend was that I felt fresh and I was keen to test the work my dad and I had been putting in over the summer. The season had just started but my preparation for this event had begun in July with two training camps – one at the Leon Paul Centre immediately followed by a week of intensive sparring with the GB Senior Men’s Foil Team and some of the top Under 20 fencers in the country at the Salle Holyrood Summer Camp. This was such a special week for me which really motivated me to work even harder.
Part of the preparation for the British Cadet and Junior Championships was ensuring I was competition ready. We scheduled in three competitions before this to challenge me – the Leon Paul Summer Open, the Junior British Ranking Competition in London and the Fencers Club London Open. I’m starting to feel like London is my second home!
I felt good on the morning of the competition (I’d had my coca pops!) but also nervous. I knew how important a good result at this event would be to seal my selection for the GB squad to the first international in Budapest. Talking of nerves though, I think the most nerve-racking thing of the weekend was my winners’ interview with Georgina Usher after the event. That’s no reflection on Georgina.
Despite knowing the importance of the competitions ahead, one of the things I always try to work on is not to think about the bigger picture – “how will I do, I need to get such and such a result” etc – but rather maintain my focus on each hit. My poule in the Cadets went great and I felt I was fencing well. I dropped only 4 hits putting me at the top of the rankings going into the Direct Eliminations. Despite my hard work, I had a pretty tough run to the final and only won this by a single hit. The only point at which I was up in the fight. I was pleased with my performance for lots of reasons – I kept the head, stayed in control, stayed focused and really believed I could win, despite being down for the whole of the final match in the Cadets. One of the things my dad and I had been working on was active defence, making it difficult for my opponent to get into a rhythm and find the right distance and timing to attack. This was something I felt really pleased with over the weekend. Sadly, by the time I came to the final of the Juniors the next day, my legs finally ran out of steam and my active defence was a little less active!
What made my Cadet Championship win so special was that I shared the podium with two of my clubmates, Callum and Rhys. These two results at the start of the Cadet season, together with a last 16 at the British Under 23 Championships put me in Number 1 spot in the British Cadet Rankings. A great feeling and I’m so looking forward to the journey this season.
Improving safety for fencers is one of the FIE’s main roles as a governing body.
Huge steps have been made over the last 30 years to increase safety, starting with the implementation of both FIE level protective clothing and the lower level 350 newton testing standard. This is an ongoing process and has led to many improvements in safety, including:
The use of maraging blades
Implementation of 800N sabre gloves
Improvements to the fitting system of masks
It is little known that to further increase safety at some elite events, blades are also tested for cracks prior to the events. This mainly happens at the Olympics and World Championships where the speed and power of the fencers has the perceived greatest risk of injury from a broken blade.
This basically looks for fluctuations in the magnetic field which can indicate the presence of a micro crack in the blade. Blade failures all occur at the position of a micro crack and so it is possible to predict failures before they occur. Practical testing like this can allow the event organisers to reduce the chances of a blade breaking during use.
Testing in a coil is a good start, but we wanted to look into this in more depth to find out if there was anything better. We invited testing experts who normally work in fields such aviation and the gas pipe industry to visit us and show us the kinds of systems that were being used in other industries to predict failures before they can occur.
They explained that passing a blade through a coil was a reasonable way to predict micro cracks, but was limited in its accuracy. To test something accurately by passing it through a coil, the part needs to be of a uniform cross section and the coil needs to match that cross section. In fencing where the blades are tapering this is impossible. So although this type of analysis can give some indication, it is not very accurate.
They demonstrated a pen type eddy test where you pass a probe along the blade to do a similar test, but as the probe is touching the blade it is far more accurate. The problem with this approach is that you have to do both sides of the blade and it is very time consuming.
This is an entirely non-destructive test where you magnetise the piece of steel and then apply a magnetic UV reactive dye. The dye is pulled into any cracks and then can be clearly seen under a UV light.
You can see an interesting video of it here
We sent off some blades to test and the test rig supplier were able to clearly able to demonstrate that the entire blade could be tested very quickly and micro cracks were immediately visible:
The cost for a suitcase sized test rig is around $8000 so we believe that this kind of testing could be used to significantly improve safety at high level fencing events.
When I was first invited to the Belt and Road Master event, I had no idea what to expect. There wasn’t a lot of information other than that it was going to be held in Xi’an (formerly known as Chang’an) and that it was going to be held sometime after the World Championships. Even on my flight over to Xi’an, I was a bit unsure of how to competition was going to be run and what exactly we were supposed to do. Turns out my worries would be unfounded as the event not only exceeded my expectations, but was a true spectacle through and through.
Xi’an is a very important city in Chinese history for not only was the beginning of the Silk Road (an ancient trading route that brought Chinese influences to Middle Eastern and Western countries and vice versa), it was also the ancient Chinese capital and burial place of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. When I first told my mom that I was invited to compete in a competition in Xi’an, she was ecstatic because this was an opportunity for me to see the Terracotta Warriors. The Terracotta Warriors are not only world famous, but are extremely culturally significant to the Chinese people because they were built to protect the first Chinese Emperor in the afterlife. Qin Shi Huang was the first person to fully unify China as a country and though he did fight war after war to unify China, he is also credited with standardizing everything in China. Before Qin Shi Huang, each province had their own dialect, their own measuring system, and their own currency. Qin Shi Huang was able to standardize everything so that it would be the same in all of China, including a written language which made communication much easier amongst all of the provinces. His influence can still be seen today because even though all the different provinces in China still have their own provincial dialects, the written language is still the same. Growing up with a Chinese mother and attending a Chinese bilingual school for 11 years, I was really excited to see the city that I had only previously studied or heard stories of.
The competition in Xi’an featured four men’s foilists and women’s saberists from the world and four each from China. In the men’s foil competition I was joined by Peter Joppich, Erwann LePechoux, and Alessio Foconi whereas the women’s saberists were Mariel Zagunis, Olga Kharlan, Irene Vecchi, and Manon Brunet. Though I was familiar with all these fencers, this was an opportunity to get to bond and get to know everyone a little more.
The first night we arrived to Xi’an, after dinner, I decided to go explore the city a bit with some of the other fencers. Erwann had mentioned a night market that was within walking distance from the hotel, so we decided to go there. Though I am familiar with Chinese night
markets, the night market in Xi’an was different than any I had gone to before. You could tell right away the influence the Silk Road had on the city of Xi’an because the second you walked into the night market you could smell a plethora of different middle eastern spices. Not only that, the night market is located around an old mosque that was built for the first Muslim settlers in Xi’an so you can see Islamic architecture and writing on the buildings and walls surrounding the night market. Erwann, Manon, and Olga were fascinated by some of the exotic foods that were being sold at the various stands. There were deep fried crabs on a stick, pigs feet (these were sold by non-Islamic stands) on a stick, grilled squid on a stick, and much much more. We went through the night just soaking it all in and regretting that we had eaten so much food at dinner but even though we were full, we decided we had to try something. It being a staple at almost every night market across China, I bought some candied strawberries and candied shan-zha (a Chinese fruit, almost like a mini apple) for the group to share.
The next day was the competition. The format for the competition was direct elimination from a table of eight with each “world team” fencer matched against a Chinese national team fencer. My first match was against Wu Bin, the current anchor for the Chinese team. Though I have fenced him before and had success, I knew I had to be focused because I hadn’t trained too much yet after World Championships and also the Chinese fencers would have the benefit of the hometown crowd. The preliminary bouts all took place in a mall across from the main gates of the old city of Xi’an. Although it was just the prelims, there was quite a decent crowd spectating the matches so I knew I needed to fence hard. Starting off the bout, I could tell that my opponent was ready and motivated to fence. It was a back and forth affair, trading touches throughout the bout, but I was able to secure my spot in the semi finals, 15-13. My next match was against another Chinese fencer who had beaten Le Pechoux the bout before. Huang Meng Kai is a strong fencer and I’ve actually known him since my last junior world championships. Again, right from the beginning of the match, he was motivated and fencing hard. With the crowd cheering for him, the last Chinese fencer standing, he was able to take me down 15-14 to face Foconi in the finals. Though I lost the bout, I was really honored to partake in the individual event and have so many fans show up to watch the competition. I even won over some new fans when the organizer (knowing I speak Mandarin) asked me to say a few words to the crowd. Even though I had such a good experience during the prelims, nothing would prepare me for what I was going to experience in the finals.
Before the finals began we were taken to the front gates of the old city of Xi’an. These city walls were originally built in the 14th century to protect the old city and the end of the Silk Road. Though we had seen the city walls during the daytime, seeing them lit up during sunset and the night time was quite spectacular. The opening ceremonies began with a presentation and
performance of some old Chinese folk songs, all while we were busy signing autographs for the many children in the audience. Though we thought that had the opening ceremonies concluded right there it would’ve already been a great opening ceremonies, we were all blown out of the water with what came next. Once the singing finished and the sun began to set, we began to hear music blaring from the speakers all around the front of the city gates and a light show began right in front of us. The opening ceremony involved over a hundred performers dressed in traditional Chinese garb, not only putting on a performance, but leading us into through the old city walls and to the finals arena. They even brought the drawbridge down for us to ceremonially walk across and into the old city of Xi’an. All the fencers already were in awe of the opening ceremony, but when we came to the finals arena, everyone’s jaws dropped.
The finals were held outdoors, in between two palaces, with a massive jumbotron behind the fencing strip. Even with the wealth of experience shared between Joppich, Le Pechoux, Foconi, and myself, all of us agreed that we had never fenced in a venue like this ever before. Just knowing you are going to fence in a venue like this makes you want to perform as well as possible, no matter the circumstances. Although I didn’t have a chance to finish my individual
competition in the finals venue, we had the friendly “China vs. the World” team event to come. Unlike the normal team event that involves three fencers fencing the other three fencers on the opposing team to a total score of 45, because this was just a friendly match, each fencer was only to fence one bout against a single fencer on the opposing team. As members of the “World Team” we drew straws to determine the order in which we would fence. The final order, from first to last was: Joppich, Foconi, me, Le Pechoux. Getting on the strip in such a grand fencing venue was truly surreal, but luckily my team gave me a bit of a lead going into my bout. It was really an honor to fence in such a spectacular venue, and I tried to savor the brief moment I was on stage competing up there. I was able to win my bout against Chen Hai Wei and Le Pechoux closed out his bout to bring home the victory for the World Team.
The next day was organized for just sightseeing and relaxation. We started our morning by touring one of the local elementary schools in Xi’an. We were all greeted extremely warmly and it was a good opportunity for us to interact directly with the students and fencers who were
watching the competition the day before. Not only did we get to watch some fencing between the athletes of the school, we were able to spend our time signing autographs and speaking directly with the kids. Being able to interact with the kids on a personal level, and not just taking photos and signing autographs, is what is truly rewarding to me because I want to be able to inspire the next generation and be a role model for the athletes that come after me. Being able to do it in China, where the kids are less exposed to international fencers, is also particularly rewarding because you can tell how excited the kids are to meet, not only me, but all of the athletes who were there.
After we left the school, we finally were headed to where I was most excited to see this trip: the Terracotta Warriors. As I mentioned before, the Terracotta Warriors are extremely culturally significant to the Chinese people and even my mom has always wanted to go see them herself. When she heard I was invited to compete in a competition in Xi’an she told me I had to
do it, if only to see the Terracotta Warriors. They did not disappoint. The sheer number of warriors was already an amazing sight but, if you look closely, you can notice that the details on each of the several thousands of warriors are completely unique. Whether it be the facial hair carved on the head, the weapons they were carrying, or the colors that they were painted, no two soldiers are the same. Unfortunately the color has faded from most of the soldiers that are open to the public, but there are photos from when the excavation first started that shows how differently each warrior was painted. Not only that, but each warrior carries a different rank based on their height, hairstyle, and uniform. Whether they were a soldier, archer, general, crossbowman, or cavalryman, you can identify their rank or position just by looking at them. All of us were truly blown away by the craftsmanship demonstrated in these ancient warriors, especially because without this trip, many of us would have never seen the Terracotta Warriors in person. Seeing such an integral part of China’s history was absolutely amazing and it was an experience I will never forget.
Once we finished our tour of the Terracotta Warriors, our last dinner was to be held at the Xi’an Fencing and Golf Club where some of the fencing official would help host a traditional Chinese dinner. Exhausted from such an exciting day (and trip), it was the perfect way to spend the last night of the trip. These are some of the moments that I will always look back fondly on once I retire from fencing. Outside of the athletic world, how often do people have an opportunity to sit down with friends and competitors from all over the world, just to share a meal and some laughs? A big part of fencing is just enjoying the process. Make new friends from all different places and backgrounds, experience what the world has to offer, be adventurous and do things you have never done before. As we finished that last dinner and thought about heading home, we all agreed on one thing: we were enjoying the process.
Here at Leon Paul, we have always been obsessed with removing weight from our equipment. Science tells us that the lighter the object the less force required to move it. A lighter object can be accelerated and moved faster, and stopped and controlled with less force. However, balance is also key in a sport where point control is essential. To remove weight from an object like a sword that is made from a series of parts is relatively easy, you take it to bits and study every piece, removing grams wherever possible. But to maintain the original balance and control or feeling of the object is much harder.
At Leon Paul we split a weapon into three categories in a similar way as racket sports and golf does. We have ‘Point Heavy’, ‘Guard Heavy’ and ‘Evenly Balanced’. I won’t talk about blade stiffness in this post as that is a whole other subject, but this also greatly affects the point control.
‘Point Heavy’ is where the balance of the blade is higher up the weapon. This balance would be more suited to people that like to flick in Foil or Epee.
Guard Heavy’ is where the weight of the blade is further back and the balance point is as close the hand as possible. This balance would give better stability in parries and a tip that is easier to control.
‘Evenly Balanced’ is when the weapon is balanced on a single point, the distance of this point is about 10 cm or 4″ from the hand.
think about each component in a sword:
Each component effects the overall weight of the blade and the balance point
If you add a very light tip made of titanium, the balance of the weapon will move closer to the hand, if you use a heavy tip made of tungsten the balance moves forward to the tip.
By producing a range of parts in a range of weights you can then create different weapons that can be tailored to an individual’s preference and style of fencing.
By reducing the weight of each part, it allows you to make an ‘even balanced’ weapon that has a much lower weight, allowing you greater speed and control. This is what we wanted to achieve with Project Zer0. A series of products needed to be redesigned and created to achieve our goals.
Foil and Epee
Tip: A Titanium Tip based on a German design and tested with the top international foil fencers. 40% lighter. We have taken the best and made it better.
Handle: The Mag Tec handle made an exponential leap in our ability to reduce weight in a pistol grip. Now we have taken that idea to the next level. Working on the design with Alex Massialas and Enzo Lefort to make something so lightweight, whilst maintaining structural integrity and being incredibly comfortable in the hand.
The Mag Tec Zer0 Pistol Grip is the lightest medium sized pistol grip ever mass produced, whilst still conforming to all FIE rules. At 46g it is 50% lighter than a traditional aluminium grip. Each hole is milled out at 6mm wide to ensure that tips cannot be trapped in the weapon.
Nuts: If you read our blog about nuts here: ALEX BLOG then you would know we are absolutely nuts about nuts. When watching some Formula 1 Racing recently, I heard them talking about how the nuts used to hold the tires on had been specially made to reduce the weight, but maintain the same strength. After some research we now produce our Hex Zer0 Nut. Made from Anodised Aluminium the new nuts weigh a crazily low 1.5 grams! A staggering 80% lighter than the traditional nut used.
For Sabre we have completed the first and the hardest change – redesigning our Sabre guard, whilst two more products are under way and will be completed in time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Redesigning our lightweight sabre guard was a far harder task than envisaged and has taken around 1 year in development. The shape of a traditional sabre guard was quite front heavy and the weight was not distributed evenly or cleanly. Our new sabre guard was designed and created by James Honeybone, Team GB Olympian & Sabre fencer who works here at Leon Paul in our Marketing and Product Development Teams.
A prototype Sabre is now under testing and is shown below. This will be released along with a new Maraging Sabre blade which should be in time for the FIE rule update for Sabre blades after Tokyo 2020.
When Leon Paul launched the Mag-Tec grip I was a little skeptical about trying something new. No one had ever done something like this before and after fencing for 14 years with a standard pistol grip (albeit with a little bit of tape on the grip), I obviously wanted to make sure I really liked it if I was going to use it in practice and competition. In late 2017 and early 2018, Leon Paul sent me the first prototypes and I was instantly drawn by the reduced weight.
Last year I finished a degree in mechanical engineering at Stanford and one of my final projects was on the history and evolution of the pistol grip so I thought this would be a perfect product for me to help develop with them.
One of the reasons that I have always liked Leon Paul is because they are so eager to innovate and improve their products based off feedback from their athletes. With my degree in mechanical engineering, I feel like I can offer even more insight on products because I understand the manufacturing involved and the ideas of design thinking/rapid prototyping. When they initially approached me with the idea of making an even lighter handle, I was more than willing to help brainstorm and work on the product with them.
Initially we explored 3D printing, of which there are several types. This made a nice light handle but each type had its problems. Resin based printing (SLA) ended up with handles that were either flexible and tough, or hard and fragile. Printers which use hot plastic (FDM) ended up splitting along the lines between the layers. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to feasibly 3D print using metal so it seemed like we would have to give up using 3D printing to manufacture the grips.
We went back to the drawing board and thought about how else we could reduce the weight of the handle without changing the material. That’s when we started looking at drilling out parts of the existing handle to reduce the weight.
When I first received the first “skeleton” grip from Leon Paul, I didn’t know what to expect. Would the various holes leave blisters on my hand? With holes drilled into the handle, would the change in how stress is distributed cause the grips to break more often? The Leon Paul grips are already the lightest out there, would the difference in weight really be that noticeable? With weight being taken away from the grip, would that throw off the balance of the blade? These were just a few of the questions I was asking myself before I had even tried it in practice.
My biggest worry from the very beginning was that the holes that were milled into the grip would leave blisters and cut up my glove. Going into my first fencing practice with the skeleton grip all I did was add some tape to where the pinky finger grasps the grip (which is how I tape all my grips) because I wanted to see if I would have this problem without adding any tape or padding.
I went through my first lesson with the new handle and I could immediately feel a difference. The grip made my foil feel lighter and I felt as though I could move my hand just a little bit faster. Even just letting the other fencers at the club hold it, they all described the experience of holding the foil with the new grip the same way: “air-y”. Not only was there a noticeable difference but, with just the lesson, I didn’t feel like the grip was causing any new blisters or chafing my hand uncomfortably. This was only a lesson though, now I needed to try it in bouts during a real fencing practice.
With the higher intensity and increased speed of bouting, I definitely felt right away that the grip was slightly uncomfortable. Though most of my hand felt fine, the only place where I could feel chafing was the last digit of the third finger because there was hole right there. After my first bout I quickly taped up the hole and continued fencing and for the rest of practice, I didn’t have any problems! It didn’t feel like I was chafing my finger anymore and it was a pleasure to use the grip from there on out.
I took this feedback to Leon Paul and together we decided that the middle two holes where your middle finger and ring finger sit should only go part way through the handle. This way you still have a lot of weight taken off the grip, but you don’t have to worry about the ergonomics of the grip since it feels the same.
I also suggested adding some more holes through the front of the handle vertically. This not only reduces weight but also helps adds more grip for your thumb and index finger.
I have since then incorporated the grip into my fencing practices and have even used it in competition at the World Cups. I actually received the final prototype in Budapest before I competed in the World Championships and used it when I was competing! I love how light the grip is and I believe every high level fencer would be able to tell the difference if they were to try it. The grip feels comfortable, the difference in weight is noticeable, and I haven’t had to change the way I set my blades.
This was the first time I worked on developing a product with Leon Paul and I have to say, it was very rewarding. Not only is it obvious that they care about improving their products so that their fencers have the highest chance to succeed, but the thought and user feedback that goes into developing their products in superb. It has been great to be involved in developing this product in conjunction with Leon Paul and I hope I can help out with more in the future!
At Leon Paul we have a club that has one rule; you don’t talk about it. The reason we don’t talk about it is not because it is dangerous and has Brad Pitt in it, but because it is really quite boring. This makes this blog post hard. The club is Lunch club. For £10.00 a week you can join and then you go onto a rota where 1 person a day goes out buys lunch, and cooks it for the rest of the group. This saves money and means we get a variety of lunches.
One of the main ways we can reduce our carbon footprint is to eat less meat. After some discussion we decided that Lunch Club should go vegetarian. After a few weeks’ things had been go very well, my falafel kebabs are definitely a winner. As my next turn to cook approached I decided to try a BBQ. The only benefit of the current climate change is that it seems that now in London we get more sunny days and less rain, so even now we can still BBQ outside.
I wanted to do vegetable skewers and vegetarian sausages. I needed some skewers. Time for a bit of reusing/upcycling. I have been saving 100s of broken blades for the last few years as I have a plan to try and reforge them… (more on that another day). So I found myself a broken foil, epee and sabre blade. After a quick polish and adding a handle I have made 3 special fencing skewers.
Then for a trip to the supermarket, I tried to buy all the ingredients minimising the use of single use plastics and packaging. This wasn’t as easy as I hoped and took far longer than it should have done, the best I could manage was this:
We have a very long way to go in the UK to become more sustainable and this experiment was a real eye opener for me.
We have a very long way to go in the UK to become more sustainable and this experiment was a real eye opener for me. Here were all the ingredients
prepped and ready to go:
Cooking in progress:
What I learned was:
Sabre blades make the best skewers as the
triangular profile means the ingredients do not rotate.
Epee blades are too thick and break your food, they
also store too much heat which ends up burning the centre of the onions onto
Sharpened swords look so dangerous, duelling in
the old days must have been terrifying!