When I was asked this question 20 years ago, my answer was, “Sure, if you have a sword on your belt.” Now, having watched my children learn Karate, I realize that fencing teaches many practical self-defense skills.
Quick Thinking and Analysis: In a bout, fencers need to quickly analyze their opponent’s actions and react accordingly. In the real world, this skill will help a fencer recognize that a situation is becoming dangerous. They may then have the opportunity to deescalate the situation, flee or prepare to fight.
A Fighting Stance: The engarde (on guard) position in fencing is an effective fighting position, even if you are unarmed. This position allows you to move forwards and backwards while staying balanced. Both hands can be used for defense or to strike.
Improvised “Swords”: You most likely will not have your fencing equipment handy when thrust into a self-defense situation. However, there are numerous pointy objects that can be used in a fight. Common items include; car keys, a pencil, a pen, scissors, a ruler, a letter opener, garden tools, and a kitchen knife. These items aren’t as intimidating as a real sword, but they may give your assailant a reason to withdraw or inflict enough pain to end the fight. [These items could possibly do serious harm to others, so never "play fencing" with sharp objects. Only use such objects if you are in serious danger.]
Concentration: In fencing we learn to identify patterns and find a weakness in our opponent. In a conflict, we can use that skill to find an advantage that might help us overcome our assailant.
For centuries, fencing was taught in Europe and the Americas as the primary method of self-defense. This was an age when men carried swords or canes everywhere they went. Much of core movements of fencing were developed during this time through countless brawls and duels. The most effective movements and actions were refined and passed down into the modern sport. These time-tested movements can be used today if you find yourself in a bad situation. Fortunately, today we live in a safer and more civilized society.