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 recognize the potential for fencing as an addition to the sports practiced 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 Program of Events. The Challenge Sword for the winner was presented to the Welsh Fencing Team by Dr. (Sir) Roger Bannister, Guest of Honor 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 (ISMWSF) Program.
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 Games Program. 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 favorably impressing able-bodied fencers to create a single fencing community. This bond has been strengthened by the opportunities presented by Organizing Committees to create combined FIE/IWAS World Championship situations, such as the World Championships in Torino, ITA (2006) and the World Championships in Paris, FRA (2010).
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 stabilize 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. Italy led the field in innovation and these new devices were first used 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 four sets of fencing frames from the Dutch Federation, which both stabilized the wheelchairs and fixed the distance between the fencers. 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.
Since 2008, USA Fencing has accepted the responsibilities for the wheelchair fencing programs, which had been handled previously by Wheelchair & Ambulatory Sports, USA and U.S. Paralympics. During the transition period, USA Fencing worked closely with U.S. Paralympics in a cooperative effort to develop world class wheelchair fencing athletes, as well as broadens the base of wheelchair fencing. U.S. fencers have distinguished themselves in World Cups, Americans Regional Championships. (Zonals), World Championships, and Paralympic Games since the program started for U.S. wheelchair athletes in the 1990s.
Men and women with disabilities that include, but are not limited to, amputation, spinal cord injury, and cerebral palsy, are eligible to compete in events including foil, epee and saber.
The official governing body is the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS).