Mark Brandyberry Delivers Secret Handshake

Do Fencers Have a Secret Handshake?

Of course, we do!  Okay, it is not a secret handshake, exactly, but here’s the story.  Fencing was a sport that was dominated by nobility and “upwardly mobile” gentlemen of years past.  Fencing was a sign of good breeding and manners at a time when those items were at a premium.  Along with that demographic came protocols and rituals that are extant today.  One of them is the fencer’s handshake.

In any society, fencing or not, it is considered rude to shake a man’s hand while you are wearing gloves.  I’m not sure exactly why this is, but it might have something to do with the unspoken statement, “I won’t take the time to remove my glove to shake hands with the likes of you.”  Or, “Your hands are dirty, so I won’t want to touch you.”  Either way, gloves get in the way. In old movies, photos and drawings you may see gentlemen holding a walking stick and a single glove in his left hand.  This allowed him to shake with a bare hand.  As fencers our weapon hand is always gloved, and fencing custom allows us to shake with the unarmed hand. This eliminates the need to remove the glove. I am a right-handed fencer, so I shake with my left hand.

Furthermore, at the end of an electrical bout is it is required that the combatants appreciate one another with a simple handshake.  This handshake is not so simple, however, as the fencer is encumbered with a weapon that is hooked to an electrical cord that is part of the scoring mechanism.  Unhooking the weapon can be frustrating and is best accomplished when the formalities are concluded.  Consequently, fencers approach one another extending their ungloved, unarmed hand.  Above, I am shaking hands with a left-handed fencer.

If fencers have a secret handshake this is it.  No secret–just an old custom that is unchanged for centuries.

Mark Brandyberry

Foilist at River City Fencing

West Lafayette, Indiana USA 47906