Types of Tournaments
Tournaments in the USA fall in the categories of local, regional, and national. Local competitions are sponsored by the clubs themselves or the governing Division. Regional competitions include Super Youth Circuit (SYC), Regional Youth Circuit (RYC), Regional Open Circuit (ROC), and Sectionals. The last category of domestic tournaments is those run by the USFA. These include the North American Cups (NAC) which typically combine several different events in a tournament and are held around the country throughout the season. The championship tournaments for US fencing are the Junior Olympics in February and the Summer Nationals in July.
- Youth means fencers who are 14 years old or under. Youth fencing is further divided into Youth 8 (Y8), Youth 10 (Y10), Youth 12 (Y12), and Youth 14 (Y14). A fencer’s age on January 1 of the current season determines eligibility. There is a helpful chart in the Athlete Handbook , a downloadable PDF can be found on the USFA web site.
- SYC/RYC—On the regional level Youth fencers are also eligible to compete in RYC and SYC events. RYC events are held all over the country and are listed on both the USFA web site and on AskFRED, For Y10 and Y12 fencers, participation in an RYC automatically qualifies the fencer to fence at the Youth NAC event– typically held in April– as well as at Summer Nationals. RYCs do not award points for the National Points List. SYC events (also found on AskFRED) are fewer and larger; and fencers who finish in the top 40% will be on the National Points List. Y10 and Y12 participants are again automatically qualified for the Youth NAC and Summer Nationals.
- Youth fencers can also compete in two national level events: the Youth NAC (typically held in April) and Summer Nationals. For Y10 and Y12 fencers participation in an SYC or RYC qualifies them. Y14 fencers do not need to qualify for the Youth NAC. However, for National Championships, the qualification criteria are stricter. Please refer to the Athlete Handbook for the qualification pathways.
Cadet and Junior
- The next two categories, Under 17 (U17) and Under 20 (U20) are more commonly referred to as Cadet and Junior respectively.
- The U.S. Championship tournament for Cadet and Junior fencers is known as the Junior Olympics, or JOs. Qualification for JOs is by having national points (from a NAC) or by placing in the top 3 or the top 25% (whichever is greater) of participants in the qualifying tournament. Running the qualifying tournament is the responsibility of the Divisions within the USFA.
- The senior category includes everyone age 13 and up. Club tournaments referred to as “opens” are open to any USFA member 13 or older regardless of rating.
- Preregistration (through AskFRED) is required for these but typically deadlines are fairly close to the time of competition. These larger events may include both mixed and women’s events. In addition, some clubs host “ratings restricted” events in which participants are restricted to those at or below a certain rating (C and Under, D and Under. and so forth). These can be found by using the search function on AskFRED.
- Regional Open Circuits (ROCs) are listed on both the USFA web site and on AskFRED. ROC tournaments also serve as a qualifying pathway for Division IA, one of the events at Summer National Championship.
- Veteran fencers are those aged 40 and up. There are two Veterans’ NACs during the season. Events held during these competitions include: Veteran Combined (40+); Veteran 50-59, Veteran 60-69, and Veteran 70+. Veterans’ events are also held at Summer Nationals. Participation in any NAC; any ROC; Sectional Championships; or the Division 2/3 qualifying competition makes the fencer eligible for National Championships in this category.
Division I, IA, II, III
- At the national level, participation in Senior NACs is based on rating. Division 1 NACs (typically two or three per season) are restricted to fencers with a rating of a C or higher. Division 2 is restricted to C and under. Division 3 is restricted to D and under. National Championships are held in all three categories as well as an additional category, Division 1-A. For details about the qualification pathways for these events, please consult the Athlete Handbook.
This is so confusing! How do I decide which tournaments to compete in?
You can compete in as many tournaments as you like. When deciding on your competitive schedule you should talk to your coach about which tournaments will help you meet your goals for the upcoming season. You should also be honest with yourself about your budget. While going to national tournaments is a lot of fun, it can also be expensive. National tournament fees are considerably higher than those for locals and one must typically include airfare, hotel, and dining expenses.
After your first semester of fencing classes, you will want to compete in a fencing tournament. There are a wide variety of tournaments in the local fencing area (the “Division”). They vary in size, strength and restrictions on who can enter. Some local tournaments are restricted by classification. Some are restricted by gender or age group. Your first tournament should be age or classification restricted. Many areas have “novice” or beginner tournaments for those fencers who have not been fencing very long, or have yet to earn their first classification. Tournaments require an entry fee somewhere between $40-50 depending on the club and region.
In all cases, your coach is the best reference to determine when you are ready to compete. Some people are mentally ready for competition much sooner than others, so if this guide is for your child, make sure that it’s also something they want to do.
Where to Begin
- You don’t want to wait until the last minute to get your gear for your competition. If you need to buy parts of your uniform or weapons, you should get them early enough to possibly make any exchanges or returns.
- Test your gear at LJFA before you go to the tournament.
- Register for your event (www.askfred.net)
- Be aware of registration deadlines for your tournament. Some tournaments may require you to preregister for the event. For North American Cups, Junior Olympics, and Summer Nationals, the deadline for registration is more than a month before the tournament. Most local USFA sanctioned events are having their registration managed by an online system called AskFRED.
- Don’t forget to speak to your coach about getting coaching at the event ahead of time. It is very important to have your coach at the tournament with you especially in the first couple of events. Most students request coaching at all events if scheduling allows. Speak to your coach ahead of time to find out about availability, coaching fees and other options if your coach can not attend.
Day of the Tournament
- Check in.
- Don’t be late! Some larger tournaments will also require that you check your fencing equipment.
- Before the tournament starts, you want to warm up. This would be the time you follow the warm up routine that you’ve been following every day at practice leading up to the event. The best way to prepare for the tournament is to bout with someone you don’t know or have rarely, if ever, fenced before. Most experienced fencers have the most trouble with their first bout in the tournament. Fencing strangers during your warm up time eliminates the awkwardness of having to fence someone new once the event actually begins.
- Getting started—An announcement should be made informing participants that pools have been posted. This is the beginning of the first round in a standard competition. Fencers are spread out into fairly even groups, each group being assigned its own strip. Check the sheet to see which strip your group is assigned to and hurry to that location to meet the referee. The referee officiating your pool will be checking to see that your gear has passed inspection, and that you are at the strip and ready to fence.
- Know how to hook up to the strip.
- Every fencer in the pool will fence every other fencer in the pool to 5 touches or to 3 minutes of fencing time. The referee will be calling fencers to the strip either by name or by an assigned number. It is better for everyone involved if you know when you’re going to be called to the strip before the referee has to come looking for you. Be aware of the order of bouts and be ready to hook up to the strip when the bout before yours is finished.
When you’re not fencing
- Scout the other fencers in the pool. Take notice of important elements of their fencing. Don’t just watch it, study it. Some common things to look for include an opponent’s favorite attack, their favorite parry, where on the strip they score most of their touches, and how other fencers prepared the actions that worked against them. This is all information that you would do well to record in a fencing journal. Besides this scouting information about opponents, you can document how your bout went with them and how it related back to your scouting info. You can also track elements about yourself: your bout scores, your favorite touches, what you thought worked well, and what you feel you most need to improve on for your next event. A fencing journal from your tournament experience is an invaluable tool to take back to practice.
After a Bout
- Check your bout scores.
- Shake the referee’s hand—This is an important habit to start building at your first event. No matter what, no matter who, shake the referee’s hand and thank them for their time.
- Rest—Try to conserve energy between pools and the direct elimination round. Sit down whenever possible. Snack if you need it, especially if it has been a long time since you ate and as always, try to stay hydrated.
- Now would be a good time to go to the restroom.
- Besides this, wait for the other fencers to finish their pool round, relax, stay calm and mentally prepare yourself for the next round.
- Check seeding & tableux—An announcement will be made once all the pools have finished, and the bout committee has tabulated the results. Fencers will be seeded by their pool results from the best to worst finish. This seeding will be used to place fencers into brackets. Check that your scores from your pool have been totaled correctly, and then make your way to the strip that the bracket says your bout will be fenced on. Report to the referee there just like you did for pools.
- Fencing direct elimination bouts (DE’s) should be done somewhat differently than your pool bouts. The first difference is that DE’s are fenced to 15 touches instead of 5. There are also 3 periods to each bout. In saber, the first period ends when one fencer scores 8 touches. In foil and epee, a period ends when 3 minutes of fencing time has elapsed. Between periods, 1 minute rest is given to the fencers. During this time, a fencer must stay on the strip, but a coach may come and talk to them and bring them water if they need it. Because of the difference in format, the strategy and progression of the bout also differs. Five touch bouts can often be won with 1 or 2 tricks, while a 15 touch bout really tests the consistent skill of the competitors.
After Your DE Bout
- Winning a DE bout is often one of the first goals of beginning competitive fencers. Don’t be discouraged if you did not win yours in your first tournament. It’s far from impossible though, so, if you did manage to accomplish this, congratulations! Either way, sign your score sheet after making sure it correctly indicates the score of the bout and which fencer won.
- If you won your bout, take the score sheet to the bout committee table. They might hand you a new slip to return to the referee. You will then fence another opponent. This process continues until only one fencer remains. Once you have lost a DE bout, your first tournament might be complete, but your experience isn’t over yet. Too many fencers make the mistake of packing up and going home as soon as they are eliminated. You’re missing out on watching all the fencers that are still competing and winning. It costs only your time to watch the rest of the tournament and learn what the winners are doing.
- Be sure to stretch! You want to be able to return to practice as quickly as possible without being too sore from the competition.
- Check your fencing bag again to make sure you’ve gathered all your fencing belongings.
- If possible, thank the tournament organizer for hosting the event.
- It’s important to keep the fun of fencing in mind during the competitive season. With so many clubs running tournaments, it’s easy to load up on tournaments and that can lead to over training and frustration when you hit “the wall”. It’s perfectly normal to take a week or two off here or there, especially after a big competition or series of tournaments.
- The competitive season for US Fencing runs from September through July. Each local fencing organization (called a “division”) runs a series of tournaments of various skill levels. These culminate into two qualifying events for the Junior Olympics (held in February) and the Summer National Championships (held at the beginning of July). Most fencers focus on competing at the division and region levels before spending the extra time and money to go to the larger national competitions. In the summer you’ll also find a host of fencing camps where your kids can meet new friends and learn from coaches in other parts of the country.
Have fun and good luck fencing!
For more detailed info on your first tournament please read this article written by fencing.net