Understanding fencing competitions is confusing.
Tournament Basics by Kate Baker
Dear Parents of Fencers:
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the tournaments:
1. How does my fencer choose events?
When your fencer wants to participate in a tournament, they must register for the events in which they want to compete (see below for information on registering for events). Your fencer’s coach can help him/her decide the events in which to compete. Here is some basic information on how events are organized:
Events for kids are organized by type of weapon and age. There are three weapon events are our tournaments: foil, epee and saber.
Figuring out whether your fencer is the right age to fence a particular event can be a little tricky. Your fencer’s coach will always be able to tell your fencer (and you) if he/she is age-eligible for any given event. Suffice it to say that if they are 12 years old, they can expect to fence in a Y12 event and if they are ten years old, they can expect to fence in a Y10 event and so on.
Some fencers are ready to fence in more than one event at a tournament. For example, a ten-year-old Y10 fencer may be ready to also fence in Y12. Have your fencer check with their coach before signing up for more than one event. Sometimes events will likely overlap and this can be stressful for a new fencer or cause big delays for later events that must wait for earlier events to release fencers.
Your fencer’s coach will always be the best person to help your fencer choose an age and skill-appropriate event.
Age Classification Chart
2. How does my fencer register for events?
There are two ways to register for events: online or on the day of the tournament (very expensive, since late registrations usually cost 2 to 3 times the cost of regular registration.)
If your fencer wants to enter a sanctioned event, they will need a current USFA membership card and a competitive membership (these cost $75, but if you get one now it is good through July 31 of current year). If you or your fencer are not sure if they need competitive membership for a tournament, they should check with their coach.
AskFred.net is a website where you can search for and register for tournaments.
Start by creating an AskFred online account (it’s free). This will allow you to browse tournaments and register your fencer for events within a tournament.
Once we announce a tournament – and its name – you will be able to search for it on AskFred and register for events. If you have any trouble finding or registering on the site, please ask a coach for assistance.
If you register online, please remember that on the day of the tournament you will still need to pay for the event before registration closes for the event.
Registering at the Tournament:
Alternatively, you can register for events the day of the tournament. This is riskier as events are limited in size and will close once all spaces have been filled by online and in-person registrations.
If you must register on the day, look for the registration table when you enter the tournament location. Please note that the times for each event listed in the tournament schedule and on AskFred are the times when registration closes, not when the event begins. As mentioned, you will also need to pay for the even.
3. When should we get there?
Please remember that your fencer must register, pay, before registration closes if they are to participate in an event.
The event itself will usually begin about 30 minutes after registration for the event closes. It may start immediately after closure if there are only a small number of fencers participating in the event.
For these reasons, plan to arrive well before registration for the event closes:
For a local event: plan to arrive at least 60 minutes before the event registration closes. This will allow time for registering, paying, form-filling, dressing, warming up, participating in practice bouts with other fencers, and dealing with any equipment issues. Plan to register and pay first and dress and warm-up afterwards.
For larger, regional, national or division tournaments and USFA sanctioned events at any tournament: plan to arrive at least two hours before registration closes. At bigger and more formal events such as these, you and your fencer will need additional time.
Parking can take extra time at a larger venue. Your fencer will also need more time to familiarize themselves with the layout of the tournament room(s).
Before participating in events at many larger tournaments, fencers will also need to have masks, gloves, body and mask cords and lames formally checked and marked at a specific location at the tournament site at the armourer’s table (for more information on equipment, see below). Fencers can only use equipment that has been checked and marked in their event. If your fencer needs to buy new equipment at the tournament (at larger venues there may be a sales table), it must also be checked and marked before the event.
Bear in mind also that, at large tournaments, the lines for equipment checks and for event registration and payment can be long. Your fencer will also need time to scope out a good place to store their belongings. And, as with any tournament, your fencer will need time to dress, warm-up, and fence practice bouts before their event. If the event is multi-day, it would be advisable to check the equipment with the armourer a day prior to fencing in the events. Once the equipment is checked and stamped, it does not need to be re-inspected again for the tournament.
Big events such as the Capitol Clash allow fencers to have their equipment checked the afternoon before the tournament begins. If the tournament offers this option, consider arriving a day early to take advantage of this time-saving opportunity.
Please remember that, whether it’s a big or small tournament, if your fencer fails to register, pay and fill out the necessary forms before their event registration closes, they will not be able participate in the event.
4. What if my fencer needs to borrow gear?
Speak with Coach Greg as to ability to borrow gear. If the child is ready to compete, it is time to purchase a complete uniform and electrical gear. A complete uniform is knickers, underarm protector, chest protector, jacket, mask, glove, and socks that reach the knee. Electrical equipment for foil & saber is a lame, mask cord, two body cords, two mask cords and two electrical weapons. For Epee two body cords and two electrical weapons are required.
5. How does my fencer know when his/her event is going to start?
Once registered and paid, your fencer should dress, organize their equipment, and warm up without delay. Events usually begin 5-10 minutes after registration for that event closes but may start immediately.
The pool assignments will be posted and the announcement will be made. At this time, the parents and fencers should go to the pool assignment sheets and locate their name and which strip they will be at.
When your fencer’s event is due to start, make sure your fencer is in the gym and paying attention to what is going on near the strips so they don’t miss their event or their name being called. If you are not sure where to go, you are welcome to ask for help at the registration table.
6. So how do events work?
Events are broken into two parts: the initial bouts and then the direct elimination stage.
The Pool - initial bouts:
At the start of the event, the tournament Registrar will give the Referee a list of randomly-assigned bouts between pairs of fencers. This list of fencers is called “the pool.”
The bouts will be ordered so that every fencer will get a chance to fence every other fencer in the pool (multiple pools are explained below). When coming into the pool to register with the Referee, please, have your lame and jacket partially unzipped and allow the Referee to inspect the armourer’s inspection stamps as well as make sure that the fencer is wearing plastron and chest protector.
When pool bouts are about to begin, the Referee will announce the names of the two opponents about to fence and also the next two in line so they can be ready (they are “on deck”). Referees will sometimes assign every fencer a number instead of using names.
Please note that at smaller tournaments, Referees will check fencer’s equipment on the strip before they fence. You may see some Referees do this as each pair of fencers comes onto the strip for their bout or it may be done in a group before the first bout begins. Referees will check that foils and cords are correct and will often ask each fencer to open their jacket to show that their chest protector (the plastic shield) and underarm protector (the one-armed cloth sleeve) are in place.
Each bout in this part of the event is fenced until one opponent scores five points. Always encourage your fencer to do their best in these bouts as every point scored helps them in the next stage of the event (direct elimination – explained below). This is true even if they lose the bout.
As the event proceeds, the routine will stay the same with the Referee continuing to call the opponents for each bout. When your fencer is not in a bout, they can relax (and have some water, a snack, or a quick bathroom break, if they need it). However, fencers should stay near the strip as they may be called to fence at any time until they have fenced everyone.
If there are more than eight fencers registered for an event, the tournament Registrar will divide the fencers into more than one pool. Each fencer in a pool will fence the others in their own pool until everybody has fenced everybody in their own pool (but not the other pools). Your fencer should listen for instructions if pools have been created. Often the pools will fence at the same time on two (or even three) different strips (with more Referees drafted in to help).
After everyone has fenced everyone in their pool, there will be a break before the second part of the event takes place. The second part is called Direct Elimination (DE).
During the break, the tournament Registrar enters data from the pool (or pools) into a computer program that arranges the next set of bouts based on how everyone did in the initial bouts. This scoring is based on victories, touches scored, and touches received. “Touches” refer to when a fencer’s weapon touches an opponent and scores a point. Understanding and following a fencing bout – and making sense of the hand signals you will see the Referees using - needs a primer if its own. Suffice it to say that what counts as a touch differs depending on the type of event (foil versus epee, for example) and the Referee’s judgment.
The break after initial bouts and pools usually lasts about 15-30 minutes but can take longer when there have been multiple pools.
Before DE starts, the Registrar will post a piece of paper (called a tableau) on the wall that shows who will fence who in the DE bouts. As the DE’s progress, this paper may be replaced with an updated list depending on who has been eliminated.
The Referees will continue to call for fencers by name as their matches occur. In events with many fencers there may be several DEs going on at the same time on multiple strips.
DE bouts are fenced to 15 points with short timed breaks where the fencers stay on the strip but can have some water (which you can deliver to them). When a fencer loses a DE bout, he/she is eliminated.
If your fencer is eliminated, it is important to stay until the end of the event for several reasons: first, it is helpful for your fencer to watch the other fencers and learn from them, second, they should be supportive of their club and friends who are still fencing, and third, depending on how many fencers there are, your fencer may still earn a medal or recognition. You can ask at registration how many places will earn recognition. The number of fencers receiving a medal or ribbon varies by tournament; generally it is between 3 and 8 fencers.
7. What else should I know about events?
Before they can fence about, fencers on the strip must be “hooked up” to the electrical boxes (also called reels) that sit on the floor at either end of the strip. These boxes contain a spool of wire that unreels so that it can clip to the fencer’s lame. A lame is a shiny metallic-looking vest that a fencer wears over their white jacket in foil and saber competitions (see below for epee hook-ups). Once the wire is clipped to the lame, any touches by an opponent’s weapon will be transmitted via the wire and the reel box to the score box that is located near the Referee. Once clipped to the lame, the wire moves with the fencer.
In order to get hooked up, foil and saber fencers must be wearing an electric body cord under their fencing jacket. These cords have a small two-prong plug at one end and a metal clip at the other. In the middle of the cord is a bigger three-pronged plug. When worn correctly under the jacket, the smaller plug end hangs out of the fencer’s sleeve while the clip and the bigger prong hang out of the bottom of the fencer’s jacket at the back.
To get hooked up, the fencer (1) clips the body cord to the bottom edge of their lame, and (2) plugs the big three-pronged plug into the plug at the end of the wire from the reel box. They then (3) plug the small body cord prong hanging out of their sleeve into their weapon. It is much easier to understand when you see it done versus read about it!
Foil and saber fencers must also use a separate short cord to clip their helmet to the collar of their lame.
Epee fencers also wear a body cord under their jacket. They do not need any other plugs or clips because they do not wear a lame.
It is very helpful if parents can learn how to help hook up fencers. Many parents help their own fencer and other fencers clip and unclip throughout the bouts. It’s easy to learn how to do this by watching others do it a few times. It’s a big help to the Referees.
At national or more formal tournaments, as mentioned above, all equipment must be checked, tested and be in full working order before the event starts. Fencers should not expect to get assistance from Referees or organizers. However, many large events do sell essential equipment. Remember that your fencer will have to have any new or replacement equipment formally checked and marked by the designated tournament officials before they can use it in an event.
8. Where should parents stand and can we cheer?
At tournaments, parents are asked to enjoy the seating provided or keep to the edges of the gym. Parents should avoid walking or standing in the competition area as it is very easy to trip over competition equipment or accidentally get in the way of fencers, Referees or coaches. The strips are long and a lot is going on: it’s easy to find yourself in the way of two fencers in a heated bout rushing towards your end of the strip!
Please listen to the Referees, especially if they ask you to step back from the strip or give any other instructions. They are doing their best to make it a great day for the fencers by keeping things running smoothly. They are in charge of their event in much the same way as a pilot is in charge of his/her plane once it’s airborne.
Cheering and clapping is welcome at fencing tournaments but should take place between touches. As with any sport, please use common sense: some fencers will be young, new to competition or emotionally invested; try to be understanding. If it's a team event (such a middle or high school team event), cheer loud and cheer lots!
Some parents like to video their fencer. This is fine as long as you are not too close to the strip or become a distraction to the fencers (yours or anyone else’s). Do not use flash photography – very disruptive to Referees and competitors.
9. What should we bring?
Bring cash, checkbook or a credit card to pay for registration fees.
At bigger tournaments there may be equipment for sale and fencing souvenirs.
For the purposes of our tournaments, we suggest bringing power bars, sandwiches that are light but energy-giving (such as peanut butter and jelly), fruits and veggies that are easy to cut and put into baggies, water bottles and sports drinks.
Competing takes a lot of energy and kids can get hot in their fencing gear. They can lose not only water but also salt and other electrolytes. Keep them hydrated and offer food that provides energy. Having said that; help them pace themselves so they don’t get weighted down with water or food right before a bout.
For larger and more formal events, fencers may need to think more seriously about what they bring to eat and drink. Speak to a coach about your fencer’s needs. Several salt packages or a small full salt shaker is a great idea – quick and easy fix for muscle cramps. Tool bag to field-repair tools, hex or outside wrench to tighten handles, and a crescent wrench are a must.
There can be some long waits during events. Expect to spend on average three hours at a tournament, longer if the event is very full. Consider bringing something to read or do, especially if a younger brother or sister is coming along.
10. I know the coaches will tell my fencer, but just so I know, what does my fencer need in the way of clothes and equipment?
During practice, the coach will teach your fencer about the equipment to be used at a tournament.
Here is a general idea of what fencers need to compete:
At least two electric weapons for whatever event they are doing (for example, two foils or two sabers), two body cords (cords are the same for foil and saber but different for epee), two mask cords (for saber and foil only), one mask (foil, saber and epee each have a separate type), an underarm protector, a plastic chest protector, a fencing glove, a lame (for foil and saber), a jacket, knickers, long socks (socks should be high enough to cover any leg below the knickers) and sneakers. Hair should be above the jacket collar.
Head Coach Greg Kaidanov
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