Wheelchair Fencing

Wheelchair Fencing 

Wheelchair fencing was introduced into the International Stoke Mandeville Games (ISMG) in 1954, when a demonstration was given by a paraplegic from the Spinal Unit at Rockwood, Cardiff, and his able-bodied instructor, Professor Reynolds.Dr (later Sir) Ludwig Guttmann, himself a keen fencer in his student days at Heidelberg University, Germany, was very quick to recognise the potential for fencing as an addition to the sports practised from a wheelchair.  

There followed visits of Professor Reynolds to Stoke Mandeville, not only to carry out initial coaching of paraplegic patients, but in particular to initiate "Q" Hill, the Spinal Centre's redoubtable physical trainer seconded from the Army, into the art of coaching the sport.The International Stoke Mandeville Games in the following year, 1955, launched sabre fencing as a competition within the Games programme of events.  The Challenge Sword for the winnder was presented to the Welsh Fencing Team by Dr  (Sir) Roger Bannister, Guest of Honour at the Games.  

The Competition took place on the outdoor netball pitch of the sports ground of Stoke Mandeville Hospital.In 1956 foil fencing competition was introduced to the Games for women fencers.At the meeting of Trainers at Stoke Mandeville in 1956, it was suggested that Epee also be introduced as a third weapon.  A demonstration of an electrical device made in Italy for scoring was given by the Italian representative, after which it was unanimously agreed that this weapon should also be introduced to the International Stoke Mandeville Games Wheelchair Fencing programme.

The meeting of Trainers in 1962 records a great many amendments to the sport's technical rules and agreement that Epee also be competed by women.Since 1965, foil competition for men has also been part of the programme at the Games.Since the Paralympic Games in Barcelona 1992, the growth of the sport in terms of participants and competitive opportunity at international level has more than doubled.  The sport, with its uniqueness, is favourably impressing able-bodied fencers to create a single fencing community. 

This bond has been strengthened by the opportunities presented by Organising Committees to create combined FIE/IWAS World Championship situations, such as the World Championships in Torino Italy (2006) and the forthcoming World Championships in Paris, France (2010)

Wheelchair Holding Devices

The early fencers competed their sport from heavy brown wheelchairs issued by the Ministry of Pensions, known as travaux chairs.  There was not much movement during bouts, but as the type of wheelchair became lighter and the fencers more agile in the sport, there was a need to try and stabilise the chairs.  At this time it was a manual solution, with an individual crouching behind the fencer's chair and hanging onto the wheels.

As the sport developed, manufactured holding devices came into play.  Again Italy led the field in innovation and these new devices were first tried out in the 1957 International Stoke Mandeville Games.  Various types have been devised over the years; the object being to provide stability for the wheelchair and fencer at the same time as transportability. 

In 1982 the ISMWSF gratefully accepted the gift of 4 sets of fencing frames from the Dutch member Federation, which both stabilised the wheelchairs and fixed the distance between the fencers.  They were, however, very cumbersome to transport and set up.In 1987, the Italians brought over another frame which was copied in England and formed the basis for the several versions that are still being used today.  Minor adjustments included the consideration of lightness of equipment and the facility to more quickly accommodate fencers taking into account the important consideration of left and right-handed fencers.

Event today in the late 2000's, effort continues to find the ultimate fencing frame.  IWAS was particularly grateful to EDF and their development of new, extremely lightweight frames used at the Paralympic Games from 2000 and for their contribution to ISMWSF (IWAS), supported by IPC, of a number of these frames.  These have been put to good use as a development tool over the intervening years through a loan system for countries seeking to start and/or increase their wheelchair fencing programmes.