A Body Cord Haiku:
Fencing Body Cord
They’re Always Broken
OK, so that was corny, but you get the picture. Inevitably as a fencing parent, my daughter will come to me two days before we leave for some big tournament and say “All my body cords are broken, I’ve been using one I borrowed from Allie for the last two weeks in practice.”
The body cord is the cheapest piece of fencing equipment, but it’s also the weakest link. This month I’ll focus a little on styles of body cords and how they work. A future article will focus on testing body cords and repairing them on your own.
Body cords are made of three wires with matching connectors on each end. There are two primary styles of cords we use at RFC, epee and foil/saber, with connectors that look like these at the ends:
Epee body cords have the three prong connector at both ends. Saber and Foil have the three prong on one end and a two prong + alligator clip on the other end. The three prong end plugs into the wire that goes from the fencer’s back and into the scoring equipment. The two prong connector (or other three prong for epee) plugs into the weapon. For saber and foil, the alligator clip connects to the lame.
Competition side-note: If your child fences foil or saber and you are at a competition with equipment vendors and you need to buy a body cord quickly, the vendor will ask you “Two prong or bayonet?” or perhaps the even more enigmatic “German or Leon Paul?” Don’t panic! We use two-prong connectors, sometimes called German connectors, almost exclusively at RFC. Bayonet, also known as Leon Paul style, is a different type of connector at the weapon end used by some fencing clubs. Sometimes I think the vendors do this just to make a harried, slightly panicked parent trying to buy something quickly even more confused, just to break the monotony of sitting there for 8 hours. I remember my daughter’s first travel competition having to run and find a coach to get the right answer. Just say “Two prong!” with confidence and take out your wallet.
So, as you might have guessed, three prongs (or two prongs + alligator clip) = three wires. Each of the three wires is used differently for each weapon, so I’m not going to get into the details of the circuitry here, but if you’re an electrician or just a geek, the fencing circuits for the various weapons are described in more detail here: http://www.leonpaul.com/acatalog/Armoury.html (follow links for each weapon).
So why do body cords break so easily? They take a lot of abuse. Imagine spending 90 minutes a day bending and stretching a lamp cord at the same spot over and over with a fair amount of force. The wire fibers inside the cord where you’re bending and pulling finally snap, causing a short circuit. Or more likely, they mostly-break, creating an intermittent short-circuit depending on which way the cord is bent. That’s exactly what is going on with body cords.
The side effects of a broken cord depend on the weapon and which wire breaks, but generally include various, odd flashing lights and frustrated fencers.
For saber and foil, body cords are most likely to break at the two prong end that plugs into the weapon, right where the wire enters the connector, as this is where most of the bending and stretching occurs. This is easy to fix because for most brands of body cords. It’s simply a matter of taking off the connector, cutting off the end of the wire (making the cord slightly shorter), and stripping/reconnecting the wire. In a future article, I’ll go into details with lots of pictures.
Occasionally, the solder joint on the alligator clip will go bad, but it’s not usually the three prong end with a short for saber and foil.
For epee, the cord is exactly the same at both ends, so either end may be the culprit.
As a parent that has fixed many body cords, I highly recommend buying body cords with clear insulation. This makes it much easier to see where there are breaks in the wire, and therefore easier to fix. Transparent insulation body cords cost about $5 more, but they are worth it if you plan on repairing them yourself.
To close out this month, I’ll say it’s a really good idea to have a checklist of equipment to go through before a fencing tournament. A top item on the checklist should be, one week prior to event, ask your child, “Do you have two or three working body cords?” Even though body cords are relatively inexpensive compared to other equipment, repairing them is much cheaper than buying new ones!