This article is from the Fencing FAQ, by Morgan Burke with numerous contributions by others.
There is a saying that it takes two lifetimes to master fencing. By
the time anyone has come close to "mastering" the sport, they are
long past their athletic prime. Some may feel that this is a
drawback to the sport, but most fencers see it as a great strength:
fencing never becomes dull or routine; there are always new skills to
master, and new grounds to conquer.
In times past, students often were not permitted to hold a weapon
until they had completed a year or two of footwork training.
Modern training programs rarely wait this long, and in many cases
students will be fencing (albeit badly) almost immediately.
Novice-level competition is feasible within 3-6 months.
Competition at this point should be viewed as a learning aid, not
as a dedicated effort to win.
Serious attempts at competing will be possible after 2-3 years,
when the basic skills have been sufficiently mastered that the
mind is free to consider strategy. A moderate level of skill
(eg. C classification) can take a few years of regular practice
and competition. Penetration of the elite ranks (eg. world cup,
international 'A' level) demands three to five days per week of
practice and competition, and usually at least 10 years of
Progress can be faster or slower, depending on the fencer's
aptitude, dedication, quality of instruction, and the age at
which they begin. Rapid progress normally requires at least
three practices per week, and regular competition against
superior fencers. With the increasing emphasis on athleticism in
the modern sport, fencers are getting younger, and the champions
are getting to the podiums faster.