Pencil Fighting

Pencil Fighting

As the Five-Finger Fillet of elementary school games, Pencil Fighting is perhaps one of the more destructive games found in classrooms and playgrounds everywhere. Readily accessible mechanical pencils, as well as school rules, have caused this once-popular game to dwindle away into the memories of those who were active participants. Of course, at Retroland, we thrive on those memories.

The object of the game is simple: to break your opponent’s pencil. All one needs to play is a pencil of at least enough length to somewhat safely hold it. One player holds the pencil horizontally, with a hand grasping it on each end, while the other player, the attacker, must swiftly swing his or her pencil down to try and break the other pencil, preferably in the center. Here’s an admittedly dramatic depiction of a pencil fight, but if you’ve never seen one, at least you can get the gist:

There are, of course, other ways to go about it, dictated mostly through the rules. Some variations of the game allow the attacker to come directly down on the pencil, making a perpendicular attack on it. To defend against such a move, the opposing pencil must be strong enough to withstand the more direct force involved. Because of the smaller area of attack, this move can often result in a miss. In some games, a miss allows the opponent an extra turn, which diminishes the other player’s chance of survival. That extra hit can be all it takes to break the pencil. Some players also choose to play “dirty.” A slight tilt upward on one end of the defending pencil often results in a misjudgment for the attacker, and provides a poor surface for an attack. Also in an act of frustration, some attackers have even been known to slip their hand down to break the pencil.

The inherent dangers of pencil fighting have caused many schools to ban the game. Not to mention, it’s often a drain on school supplies provided by teachers and the school. The relative obscurity of the game today has caused fans of the game to seek pencil fights outside of school bounds. And for those with professional pencil fighting aspirations, some areas of the U.S. have created pencil fighting championships. No, we are not making this up:

If you’ve sliced through your share of pencils back in the day, we suspect you might have some battle stories to share. We, of course, welcome them in our comments section as we pay tribute to this memorable school activity that is now relegated to the playground equivalent of a back alley – at least until your abilities rise to the level of professional competition.

4 Responses to “Pencil Fighting”

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  1. Pizzed says:

    There’s a couple errors/omissions above. First, when I used to pencil fight back in the 70’s, you didn’t “swing” the pencil – it was snapped onto the target pencil – you held the blank end motionless in your right hand (assuming you were right handed), and pulled back on the eraser end using your left thumb – the energy is to come from the “spring” potential of the pencil itself.

    Secondly, it is unsporting to use a “shorty” pencil or to use any pencil that is measurably shorter than your opponent’s. The shorter the pencil, the greater the force required to break it.

  2. donedeal says:

    There were some strict guidelines to adhere to. At least where I played. First of all, it was like Pizzed said. You had to snap/spring the pencil. Also true: Your pencil had to be of proper length. A golf pencil was just out and out illegal.

    Furthermore, the way I played:
    – Had to be the wood part of the pencil hit from the offense. You couldn’t hit it so the metal part of the eraser made contact.
    – Defender had to hold the pencil correct. Fingers couldn’t be bracing it from behind.

  3. Charles says:

    I used to pencil fight in the late 80’s early 90’s. my favorites were ZEN & heavy metal pencils bought from a pencil machine for 50 cents a piece! I can’t begin to tell you how much I spent on pencils doing this. On the school bus and at lunch time, great memories.


  1. Retro? « At Psychological Gun Point says:

    […] schoolyard favorite game of pencil fighting is now being classified as “Retro”. For anybody that was born 1980-1985, do you really […]

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