How Dangerous Is Fencing and 3 Historical Deaths

Fencers have to gear up because fencing is a dangerous sport.

How dangerous is fencing? Fencing can lead to common injuries and death in rare cases. The most well-known fencing death is Vladimir Smirnov, who suffered injuries during the 1982 World Championships that later killed him.

Nevertheless, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, University of North Carolina,

  • there were around 1,689 fatalities from football injuries in the US between 1931 and 2007.  
  • there were only 7 fatalities in fencing in a similar period worldwide — and no fatalities in the US.

Fencing Fatalities in 3 Countries

Italy 1928 Fencing Death

The fatal accident happened on the 19th of July at the World Championships in Rome in 1982 when Vladimir Smirnov was fencing foil against West German fencer Matthias Behr.

  • Smirnov was a former Olympic champion and a star of the sport in Russia.
  • During the foil match, Behr’s foil blade broke off, went through Smirnov’s mask, through his eye socket, and into his brain.
  • Smirnov lived for nine days before he succumbed to his injuries. 

Ioan Pop, the international technical director for fencing's governing body (FIE), said

The current standard of safety in the sport owed much to the accident 40 years ago.

Japan 2005 Fencing Death

On Oct 2, 2005, there was a reported death of a fencer in Japan. Mr. Yukito Uetani (55), the president of the Prefectural Fencing Association had the sword of a high school boy stabbed under his armpit. Uetani was taken to the hospital but died of hemorrhagic shock. 

  • The sword entered through the cuffs of the armor. The wound was about 15 cm deep and had reached the lungs.
  • According to the police station investigation, Mr. Uetani suddenly took a long time to sit down and fell on his back during the match. The sword is 1 meter 04 in length and 0.7 cm in diameter, and the tip of the sword is flat for safety. 
  • The referee confirmed both swords and armor were worn before the match, but there were no abnormalities.  
  • Mr. Uetani was participating in the fencing competition Foil at the Mie Sports Festival. Foil is a competition that attacks only the opponent's torso. Mr. Uetani wore armor to protect the left arm, shoulders, and chest of his dominant arm under the uniform covering his whole body, but when he extended his left arm, the opponent's sword seemed to enter.  
  • Mr. Uetani has been fencing for about 40 years and won the 1975 Mie National Athletic Meet Adult Men's Epe. On that day, he participated in the game while serving as the competition chairman.

Ukraine 2004 Death

A teenage fencer died after a broken blade penetrated his chest during a bout at the Junior Games in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Friday.

  • Yevgen Prokopyev was fatally wounded when his opponent’s foil broke and stabbed the 17-year-old in the chest, puncturing his lung, local media reported.
  • Doctors tried to save the fencer’s life at the scene but failed, prompting organizers to cancel the competition.
  • During an attack, the foil of the sportsman broke. But he already couldn’t come to a stop and with the broken blade fatally injured his opponent Yevgeny Prokop’eva.  The event was especially shocking as all safety equipment was being used at the event.
  • The head judge took the decision to immediately halt the competition, which would have continued until March 17th.

The root cause of foil thrusting into the body leading to death is not unknown. Therefore safety gears were always worn and check before every competition. The gear even includes a plastron, an underarm protector, that is worn underneath the jacket.

Nevertheless, the fencing blades exhibit poor durability and are broken easily after a short period of usage. Moreover, the lack of standardization for the production of lower quality fencing blades makes it difficult to obtain desired properties.

As seen in 2 of the 3 cases, the unbroken blade led to an unexpected penetration through the protective gear. It does not happen often which is why fencing is still deemed as a relatively safe sport, in comparison to death in football or other sports.


Fencing injuries usually involve bodily strains and sprains because of the high speed and acceleration of movement over time. I would say don't worry as fencing is relatively safe, especially with its presence in Olympics to ensure fairness and safety.

Sky Hoon. About
Martial Art Fan
He started his love on martial arts by watching MMA and Angela Lee. He then started this blog to learn more about the different martial arts.
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