We all know that fencing can be expensive. There are so many little things to spend money on – equipment often breaks, lessons aren’t cheap and travel can really strain your finances.
However, it’s not all bad news. At least fencers don’t need to stable their own horse or maintain a sailboat. So, the good news is that it’s not the most expensive sport out there either. And the real truth is, if you want to get serious about any sport, it’ll cost you a fair bit of money.
We don’t need to go over why you should fence (if you need a refresher on some of the benefits fencing has in store for you, be sure to check out some of our other articles), but we will go over how to prioritize your fencing spending.
This article also isn’t about fencing on the cheap. To a certain extent, you’ll need to spend what you need to spend to reach and maintain your desired level. However, this article will attempt to identify how to focus your investment in fencing to get the most value.
Whether you’re just starting out or regularly competing at national tournaments, you’re going to need to maintain a working set of gear (if you’d like to learn how to repair your own equipment, check out our equipment repair articles on the subject). Your needs will differ based on your skill level and competitive goals, but you’ll want to remember these rules of thumb:
You get what you pay for
Be wary of purchasing cheap equipment. You will likely have to replace it sooner than you’d like. An inexpensive set of cotton whites will break down in a year or so. Instead, look for jackets and knickers that are made out of various kinds of nylon. They will be a lot more comfortable, are designed to better handle sweat and will last a lot longer.
You don’t need the most expensive set of gear
Likewise, you don’t need to buy the most expensive FIE – approved mask the minute you start fencing. Instead, look for a quality, mid-range version with a removable liner (for cleaning) that is comfortable and meets the FIE standards. You also don’t necessarily need shoes made specifically for fencing. Many less expensive court shoes (for squash, racquetball, volleyball, or handball) work equally well (and there are a few top-level fencers that don’t wear fencing-specific shoes for competition). You also don’t need to buy fencing-specific socks. Any long sock (such as those made for soccer players) will work just as well.
Buy some equipment, borrow the rest
If you are new and just trying out the sport, you don’t need a full set of gear right away. Many clubs will lend equipment as a part of their introductory packages. This can be a great way to save money if you’re just starting out.
Most people prefer to buy new stuff, but it’s definitely not necessary. Ask around at the club or in local fencing Facebook groups to see if you can buy equipment from other fencers or their parents. Most fencing families will have lots of good, used equipment lying around after their fencers have upgraded (or left the sport).
Take care of your equipment!
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Simply put, take care of your equipment, and it will last a lot longer. Hang wet items up as soon as you can. Don’t bleach or use harsh chemicals and keep your metal gear dry and away from your whites. Check out our in-depth article on equipment care for more information.
Repair your own equipment or pay for repairs
Don't rush off to buy new equipment just because yours failed inspection. Sew holes in gloves. Patch lamés. Fix body cords. You can often get a good deal of extra life out of your equipment if you spend the time to repair it.
Alternative Fencing Bags
Having a rolling fencing bag is a convenience, but it’s certainly not required. Before you plunk down the cash for a top of the line Allstar bag, consider one without wheels. Sabre fencers can even get away with large duffel bags if they take apart their weapons and check the blades separately.
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ routine for fencing. If you speak to fencers who have been competing for a long time, you’ll start to hear a lot of differences in their training preferences. Some fencers will focus mainly on their footwork, while others will spend more time bouting. Some will fence 7 times a week, while others will do more cross training and fence less often.
This is great news for fencing on a budget. It means you don’t have to fence every night and buy expensive lessons to improve quickly (not that it hurts – it’s just not strictly necessary). Here are a few things to keep in mind.
It’s worth going to a quality club to avoid developing bad habits
It’s better to fence less often at a higher quality club than it is to learn bad habits and have to correct them later. Do a little research before picking out the club you’d like to join. What are the coaches credentials? Who will be teaching the beginner classes? This information can go a long way in helping you improve quickly.
Spend some time actually bouting
Many clubs have free (included as part of a basic membership) or inexpensive bouting opportunities. This is a great way to get more practice on the strip without having to shell out for expensive classes several times a week.
Private lessons are not required unless you’re trying to compete
Private lessons can be hugely beneficial to your fencing progress because they allow you to work with a coach one-on-one. However, even without private lessons, many coaches are willing to help you in their group classes if you express interest and a drive to learn. Discussing your goals with your teacher can go a long way towards helping your early fencing progression.
Talk to your coach about prices
Most fencing coaches are still in the game because they love the sport. Many understand that fencing is expensive, and you may not be able to afford it. It is not uncommon for coaches to charge students on a sliding scale, or to ask a student to help out around the club in exchange for discounts on lessons. It never hurts to ask!
One of the best ways to keep the cost of private lessons and/or classes down is to just get more out of the classes you do go to. Consider keeping a fencing journal to write down all of the information you’ve learned after every class. Keep those lessons fresh in your mind by reviewing them before each new session. If you want to learn more, consider looking at Soren Thompson's thoughts about training for the unknown.
Unfortunately, fencing competitively is expensive. If you want to compete in a tournament, you’re going to have to shell out for registration fees. However, here are a few basic tips to help control the indirect costs:
Don’t fly if you can drive
Driving is usually cheaper. Plus, you can stay farther away from the venue if you have a car, which opens up more hotel options.
There’s no reason to stay in the venue hotel
Most of the time, the venue hotel is going to be an expensive Marriott or Hilton. If you do a little research, you can usually find a number of less expensive hotels within a 5-10 minute drive of the venue. There is also the option of staying at an Airbnb which provides the opportunity to cut costs by sharing with family, teammates, coaches and/or like-minded fencers. Most will be equipped with a kitchen so you can prepare your own food and avoid the expense of eating out. If you don’t have a car, be sure to consider how much you’ll pay in Taxi/Ubers into the comparative costs.
Local tournaments are much more affordable than national tournaments
Local tournament registration fees are much more reasonable than NACs. If you’re trying to get more tournament experience and aren’t that concerned about national points, chances are you’ll be able to compete in at least a few tournaments a year in your local area. Check askfred.net for upcoming events.
Consider getting qualified as a referee
If you referee at events, the organizers will often pay for your airfare and a few nights in a hotel. This can get you to a tournament at a much more affordable rate.
Book your tickets in advance, but not too far in advance
Booking your airline tickets a couple months in advance usually gets you the least expensive flights, according to this study done on the cheapest time to book tickets. It seems that somewhere around 54 days ahead is the sweet spot.
Consider bag fees when purchasing airline tickets
When searching for the cheapest flight, remember to take into consideration that most airlines charge at least $25 each way per checked bag. The only domestic airline without checked baggage fees (for 1st or 2nd bag) is Southwest (as of 2018). If you travel with a large fencing bag, you’ll also want to check on size restrictions, so you aren’t surprised by oversize luggage penalties.
Take advantage of hotel and credit card rewards programs
The benefits of these loyalty programs vary widely but reward programs can offer helpful perks to traveling fencers, such as free breakfasts, additional nights in hotels and/or frequent flyer miles to redeem for flights or upgrades. Sticking with a program can really pay off in the long run.
Bring your own snacks / plan your meals
If you like to eat certain snacks at tournaments, pack them and bring them with you. This will help save you money and concern at the tournament, as food options tend to be limited and expensive at the venue. Alternatively, there will often be a grocery store nearby where you can stock up on the items you like.
Over the years, a surprising amount of expenses can be attributed to hasty tournament spending - when you’ve forgotten something at home, or an item fails inspection (that you know you can repair) and you need to use it in the next 30 minutes. Make a few friends at tournaments. Most fencers are more than happy to lend their gear when they aren’t using it.
Fencing isn’t the most cost-effective hobby or sport you can pick up (perhaps try meditation), but there are a few strategies to help your green go the extra mile. We hope you found this article helpful and will keep these tips in mind.
Advance, retreat and lunge. These are foundational movements in fencing. Fencers go the gym to perform squats, lunges, deadlifts, leg curls, leg extensions, glute bridges, kettlebell swings and countless other exercises to facilitate the execution of these foundations. But, what about your brakes? Huh? What?
Yes, brakes. You know, they’re the last thing you think about when you’re looking wide-eyed at a sleek Ferrari at the International Auto Show. However, all that speed and power is wasted if the brakes aren’t in tip-top shape. If not, that mean machine won’t be on the road for very long. Likewise, if you don’t train your muscles and connective tissue for deceleration/braking, you’ll be putting yourself at risk of injury. Improving your brakes requires more than skill drills.
Let’s view the importance of “brakes” from a fencer’s perspective, by way of this image of a lunge.
The fencer accelerates forward with great force into the lunge movement. At this stage of his lunge, the quadriceps, as an example, have lengthened and must now decelerate, under the load of her body in forward momentum, for him to stop moving forward. In other words, an effective lunge not only requires great range motion, but strength throughout the range – especially at the end range. The essence of quickness is the ability to decelerate one movement and quickly transition to the next. All the muscles noted in this image (and more) participate as decelerators of this movement.
When the word “flexibility” is mentioned, our minds immediately think of joint range of motion (ROM). Many people believe that, ideally, the more range of motion we have, the better off we are. There is some truth to that, but there is an accompanying qualifier – strength. When we see someone who can do a full out split, we might assume they are flexible. Not necessarily. They may simply have achieved enough joint range of motion to perform a split, but not enough accompanying strength to effectively perform a fencer’s lunge in competition.
So, perhaps we should look at flexibility in a whole new light. It’s not about merely making muscles longer. It’s about the muscle’s ability to create force (flex) – enough force to “put the brakes on” a movement like a lunge and store elastic energy in the tendons to spring into the en garde position.
So, how do we achieve strength throughout the range? You stretch – but, not the conventional static stretch. You do it with resistance stretching, an alternative method that has gained popularity among elite athletes in recent years. Let’s examine exactly how the two techniques differ.
Traditional Static Stretching
Static stretching is probably the most researched stretching method. What’s come out of that research is that it isn’t likely to improve performance or reduce the risk of injury. If performed properly and regularly, it can help you to increase your ROM. Here’s how.
To begin a static stretch, the target muscle is relaxed and lengthened to the end range and held for a set time, anywhere from five seconds to two minutes. A relaxed muscle is a non-working muscle. A non-working muscle will not adapt. It won’t lengthen or strengthen. So, it’s primarily the nervous system that is affected by static stretching. It simply increases the nervous system’s tolerance to the stretch. Any resulting increased range is usually temporary, unless consistent static stretching continues regularly. However, without accompanying muscle and connective tissue adaptation, the new ROM can’t be controlled. Here is an example of a static stretch for the hip flexor muscle group.
Static Stretch - Hip Flexor - YouTube
Resistance stretching employs scientifically proven eccentric contractions. This simply means lengthening a shortened and contracted muscle under load. Imagine doing a dumbbell biceps curl in reverse. As you lower the dumbbell (load), your shortened and contracted (not relaxed) muscle is decelerating the speed of the dumbbell’s descent. If the dumbbell were extraordinarily heavy, you would stop its descent before your elbow was completely extended.
Eccentric contractions form the basis for resistance stretching. The resistance stretch begins with the target muscle shortened and contracted and one’s own body is used as the load to begin lengthening the contracted muscle. Lengthening continues until the contracted muscle can no longer produce enough force to resist any further lengthening, signaling the end of the stretch. Since the muscle is active and loaded throughout the entire lengthening process, it will adapt to become stronger through the range. The results are immediate and cumulative.
Resistance Stretch - Hip Flexor - YouTube
Some Resistance Stretches You Can Try
There are a variety of resistance stretches that suit the needs of fencers. Here are a couple of self-stretches that you can easily include in your workout regimen. The examples we have included address the muscles in the groin and upper back. You’ll note that there are two versions of each stretch. The first includes a strength movement in which your muscles will go from a long position to a short position while contracted and under resistance. The second includes a stretch movement, in which the opposite occurs. Your muscles will go from a short position to a long position while contracted and under resistance. Because it’s best to warm the muscles up before stretching, you will want to complete all the repetitions of the strength movement first before moving on to the stretch movement.
Two Effective Ki-Hara Resistance Stretches for Fencers - YouTube
Resistance Stretching for the groin muscles:
Strength (6-8 reps):
Sit with soles of your feet together and your heels pulled in close to you
Allow your knees fall out on both sides all the way down to the bottom of your range of motion
Grab hold of your feet and place your forearms along the insides of your legs
Contract the groin muscles and begin squeezing the legs together
As the legs come together resist the movement by pressing down on the legs with your forearms with slightly less force than the upward force of your legs coming together
Release when your legs cannot come up any further
Complete 6-8 repetitions in total
Stretch ( 6-8 reps):
Sit with soles of your feet together and your heels pulled in close to you
Open up your knees slightly, keeping them at the top of your range of motion
Grab hold of your feet and place your forearms along the insides of your legs
Keeping a tall spine, press down on the legs with your forearms
Contract the groin muscles to resist the downward motion
Allow the legs to begin opening up by pressing down with your forearms slightly harder than your groin muscles are resisting
Stop and release when you reach the point when you can no longer keep the groin muscles contracted
Place the palms of the hands together with the fingers interlocked
Raise the hands to approximately the height of your forehead
Close your elbows together to get into the starting position
Imagine that someone is trying to squeeze your elbows together
Keeping your hands together, begin opening the elbows out to either side
As you open, feel the resistance of the imagined force trying to close your elbows together
Stop when you cannot open your elbows any more
Reset and complete 6-8 repetitions in total
Stretch ( 6-8 reps):
Place the palms of the hands together with the fingers interlocked
Raise the hands to approximately the height of your forehead
Open your elbows out to get into the starting position (approximately 90-100 degree angle between your arms)
Imagine that you have a ball in between your elbows
Keeping the hands together and upper back muscles contracted with the shoulder blades down, begin squeezing the elbows together
As they move closer to each other, squeeze the heels of the hands together while trying to pry the fingers apart to help you create resistance in the stretch
Stop when the elbows come together or your can no longer keep the upper back muscles contracted
Reset and complete 6-8 repetitions in total
We can all benefit from some form of stretching. As with strength training, our stretching should be specific to the requirements of the individual. There are several circumstances where static stretching is appropriate and enjoyable for many people. However, fencers and other athletes that are seeking to optimize their flexibility to meet the demands of their sport may do so by incorporating resistance stretching into their training regimen. Beyond reducing injury risk, increasing range of motion and improving tissue density, it will contribute to lasting mobility, improved joint stability, enhanced explosiveness and faster recovery. Stretch Stronger!
Chuck Rowland has been a certified fitness professional for over 15 years and has been practicing resistance stretching since 2007. He is a Ki-Hara Resistance Stretching Certification Instructor and has been recently named the Ki-Hara Resistance Stretching Consultant for the Columbia University Fencing Program.
It’s no secret that focus is an essential ingredient to performing well as a fencer. However, fencing competitions bring a revolving door of distractions that can draw your attention away from what is most important. In this article, we are going to look at one of the most effective mental tools I used in my own career as a national team member to stay focused so that I could perform at my best.
Distractions are the things you don’t control
I define distractions as things you focus attention on that are outside of your direct control. Venues are often big, brightly lit and filled with the noise from the scoring machines, screams from competitors, coaches, and spectators. In a nutshell, it’s chaos.
Examples of things over which you have little to no control:
The venue itself – Are the strips slippery? Is the lighting poor? Are you fencing on concrete?
The opponent – Humans are capable of anything at anytime.
The spectators – Again, humans are capable of anything at anytime, even your own support staff!
Point standings, rankings, – I’ll come back to this point later.
The referee – Some would argue that they can influence the referee, but at the end of the day the majority of what a ref decides is out of your control
The tournament hotel – Is your bed comfortable? Will a fire alarm go off in the middle of the night?
Travel to the tournament – Delayed flight? Lost luggage?
Climate – Do you prefer fencing in cold climate, a hot one, or one that is more temperate?
Consider for a moment how much time you are focusing on things over which you don’t have any control. Does that help you? Or does it actually take emotional energy away from those elements of your fencing that are in your control?
There a number of things that are under your control, which are a more constructive place to put your attention, such as your your equipment (did I make sure all my equipment is working before the competition?), your supplies (do I have the snacks and water I need?), and your routines (am I following a routine I know is best to prepare me for the competition?).
However, the most important thing in your control are the discrete skills that make up your fencing. This is something I’ll refer to as your “process.”
What is your process?
Your process, simply put, is “just fencing” - anything that directly goes into fencing on the strip and winning points. Here are a few examples:
Your footwork – Am I moving well up and down the strip? Am I properly controlling the distance?
Your bladework – Am I using control and precision to maneuver the weapon?
Your timing – Am I executing actions at the optimal moment?
Your tactics – Am I making smart decisions on the strip?
One of the worst distractions: Focusing on results
Many fencers begin to experience issues when they focus too much on the outcome they want to achieve. However, as I touched on before, there are many things outside of your control that influence your result. You can fence the match of your life, making very few mistakes, but if you get a number of bad calls from the referee or your opponent simply fences just a little bit better, you will lose. That is a natural reality in fencing.
The key is realizing that when you focus on your process (i.e. things you can control), you are giving yourself the best odds of actually achieving the result you want.
So instead of focusing on thoughts like “I want to win this bout,” or, “I want to make the podium,” you should focus on process-oriented thoughts like, “I want to control the distance in this bout,” or, “I want to keep my back straight when I lunge.”
These are the things that you control, you can repeat and will ultimately help you win.
Focusing on rankings and point standings
Many fencers check the point standings often, especially those that are in contention for a national team. However, I challenge you for a moment to consider whether that is helpful. The first season that I qualified for the U.S. Men’s Epee Team was the toughest for me, for two reasons. First, I did not know that I was actually good enough to be in the top 4 in the rankings. Second, I spent the entire season looking at the point standings, so I knew before any fencing had started at every competition where I was in relation to other people.
I found my focus drawn to bouts on the other side of the venue because they involved athletes who were near me on the ranking list. This made it MUCH tougher to just fence! Once I qualified, I talked about this with my coach, Maitre Stephane Riboud. He told me I should stop looking at that stuff! Never again did I look at the rankings, point standings or even the tableau during the season. In every subsequent year, I went to competitions to see how good I could be. My process was the only thing on my mind. Not points, not rankings, and not teams. It made it much easier to just fence.
Cultivate self-awareness so you can focus on the process
Even Olympic champions get distracted by things that don’t matter, but the most important skill you can develop for focus is the ability to detect when your focus is drifting. You might notice that you are thinking about how lucky your opponent got on the last touch or how bad that call was from the referee. These are very important cues that can help you identify when you need to make an adjustment. When that happens, you will want to find something more constructive to focus on within your process. Then shift your attention back to that element. So again,
Recognize the distraction
Identify a better focal point in your process
Shift your focus
Try this at your next practice or competition and let us know how it worked for you!
Dr. Justin Tausig is a World Cup Medalist, former 6-time member of the U.S. National Fencing Team and has a Doctorate in Sport & Performance Psychology. He trained in Paris at the Racing Club de France for 11 years and currently, he helps facilitate the development of competitive athletes.
We get it: going to your first tournament can be scary. There’s a lot of pressure on a newer fencer to perform and prove to themselves that it’s worth continuing to travel and fence. On top of performance pressure, there are a lot of rules and small details you’ll have trouble picking up on before you get there. We’re here to help alleviate your stress.
In this guide, we give a barebones description of everything you should expect going into your first few tournaments, including an overview of rankings, how to know whether you’ll get points, and a few general rules for qualification.
How are fencers ranked in US?
Fencers are ranked within their points standings by the number of points they have. The fencers with the most points are the highest ranked. These rankings determine who is the best of the best in the USA within their particular category. Fencers earn points by traveling to national or international tournaments and performing well - the higher a fencer finishes, the more points they’ll get for that tournament.
We’ll be discussing how to qualify for national tournaments, and what to expect when you go to a youth, cadet, junior, or senior national tournament. In a subsequent article we will talk in more detail about the regional, veterans and wheelchair paths to National Rankings in those events, as well as letter ratings and how to earn them.
What are the US points standings categories?
USA Fencing maintains a few different point standings*, so even those fencers that are not (yet!) Olympic caliber are able to compete against one another.
Here are the general categories:
Regional Youth Standings
These standings rank fencers according to their region. There are six regions in fencing that split the continental US relatively evenly. Regions are sometimes referred to as sections. Regional points can also qualify a fencer to participate in national tournaments.
(maintained for Youth, Cadet and Junior age categories - see below for explanation)
Regional Open Circuit Standings
These standings are identical to the regional youth tournaments, except they are for adult fencers and have a different name.
(maintained for Open/Div IA. Div II, Veteran [multiple age categories] have other competitive opportunities in ROC tournaments - see below for explanation)
National Rolling Point Standings
These points determine who is the best fencer in the country for each category at any given time. This is a culmination of a fencer’s best scores in national and international events.
(maintained for Youth, Cadet, Junior, Senior, Veteran [multiple age categories] - see explanation below)
National Team Point Standings
These points determine who has the most points towards participating in World Championships. Check out this article if you’re interested in learning how a fencer qualifies for World Championships.
(maintained for Cadet, Junior, Senior; Veterans don’t use team points, but they do have World Championships in multiple age categories - see explanation below)
US Fencers get national points when they go to various tournaments across the US and to World Cups that have been designated as points tournaments by the USFA.
To earn points at a national event or international event, a fencer must finish above a certain threshold. This threshold is based on the number of fencers competing at a tournament, but a good rule of thumb is that a fencer will score points if they finish in the top 64 of the fencers that attended that particular tournament. However, if the tournament is not well attended by other competitors, fencers may need to advance farther in the tournament in order to earn points. You can read more about the specifics for earning points in the Athlete's Handbook.
Note that national rankings are not the same as national ratings which are the letter values (A through E as well as U which stands for unrated) assigned to fencers based on results at designated tournaments. These ratings help seed fencers with no points or at tournaments where points are not used for seeding.
There are some events that are specifically rating-based. These events are the Division IA, Division II, Division III, and team events, and are great for earning national letter ratings. These events can also qualify a fencer for other national events where appropriate, but do not earn a fencer national points.
You can read the specifics of how a fencer earns letter ratings here.
Fencing tournament age categories
USA Fencing restricts many events by age. These restrictions are based on birth year. These include Y10, Y12, Y14, Cadet, Junior, Senior/Division 1, and Veterans (not covered here).
Below is a breakdown of the various tournaments for each of these age categories. Keep in mind that the age cutoffs for this season can be found in the Athletes Handbook.
These tournaments are restricted by age. Y10 is for fencers 10 and under, Y12 is for fencers 12 and under, and Y14 is for fencers 14 and under. The specific age rules are also in the USFA Athlete Handbook. It is important to note that age eligibility changes with the tournament season rather than the calendar year.
Below is a rundown of the various tournaments throughout the year so you have a sense for your options in terms of competing. For specifics on how to qualify, it’s best to check the Athletes Handbook.
A youth NAC (North American Cup) is a tournament where the top youth fencers in the US get together and compete to see who is the best for their age category. Generally these NACs will be filled with parents and friends when compared to tournaments in older age categories. It is not unusual for a fencer to compete in multiple events, whether across age categories or across weapons!
Qualifying for a youth NAC is easier than you might think. The specifics can change from year to year, but generally they require participating in a local tournament or two, and getting a few regional or national points.
Youth Nationals is pretty much the same tournament as a youth NAC, except the winners of each event can claim the title of national champion, so tensions can be a little higher. The qualification paths are also a little more strict - but if you’ve been to a youth NAC, you should pretty much know what to expect at Nationals.
Qualifying for youth Nationals is usually a little harder than a youth NAC. Competitors might have to go to specific qualification events or already have national points in order to compete. Additionally, a fencer must be a US citizen or permanent resident to compete at National Championships.
These tournaments are restricted by age. Cadets are under 17 and Juniors is 20 and under. The specific age rules are in the USFA Athlete Handbook. Again, people ‘age out’ of an event after a fencing season ends rather than the calendar year.
Below is a rundown of the various tournaments throughout the year so you have a sense for your options in terms of competing. For specifics on how to qualify, it’s best to check the Athletes Handbook.
Cadet and Junior tournaments usually have slightly higher stakes than youth events. The best fencers in each of these events will start traveling internationally to world cups and competing for the chance to participate at World Championships. You’ll start to see fewer parents at these events (although many parents still travel), and the tournaments start to become a little more intense.
The specifics can change from year to year, but if a fencer is considered too young (see USFA athlete Handbook), they often need to demonstrate that they are capable of competing by being on the national points standings for the category below the one they would like to compete in.
Junior Olympics (JO):
This is essentially the National Championship event for the Cadet and Junior team points. It’s also the tournament that can make or break a fencer’s chance to qualify for World Championships. For these reasons, it is usually the most competitive and intense tournament of the year for a Cadet or Junior fencer.
Qualifying for JOs is a little tougher than qualifying for a NAC. You’ll need some national points from one of the various NACs you’ve gone to, or a number of regional points to qualify. There are also various qualifying events that you can attend in your division. Asking your coach or club official is a good way of finding these qualifying events.
This is the first event of the Cadet/Junior National Team qualifying season. Since most serious fencers will be winding down from last season, the July Challenge is probably one of the more relaxed tournaments of the year. It’s not unusual for a top fencer or two to skip this tournament entirely.
Note that birth year qualification has changed to one year younger than it was at JO’s so many fencers are “rolled” or “aged out” after JOs.
Just like JOs, qualifying for the July Challenge is a little tougher than qualifying for a NAC. You’ll need some national points from one of the various NACs you’ve gone to, or a number of regional points to qualify. There are also various qualifying events that you can attend in your division. Asking your coach or club official is a good way of finding these qualifying events.
Cadet and Junior World Championships:
The USFA participates in the Cadet and Junior World Championships and sends a team every year. This tournament occurs in the Spring, where the US sends the best of the best to compete.
Division 1 tournaments are for the best fencers in the US. The highest ranking fencers in these competitions compete at World Championships, the most competitive event in the world. Every four years, these fencers also fight to compete in the Olympics (which takes the place of World Championships).
Division 1 tournament points do count towards Cadet and Junior National rolling and team point standings, which means many top Cadets and Juniors will be fighting for scores in Division 1 as well.
Below is a rundown of the various tournaments throughout the year so you have a sense for your options in terms of competing. For specifics on how to qualify, it’s best to check the Athletes Handbook.
Division 1 NACs are the highest echelon of US fencing. The best fencers in the country in each weapon will come and compete. There will be fewer parents at these events than others, since many fencers will be in college or graduated and working.
Fencers often qualify for NACs by achieving a specific rating at local or regional events. At the time of writing this article, a fencer must be 13 years or older, and have a ‘C’ rating.
It’s also possible for younger fencers to qualify if they have enough points, but it’s extremely rare.
Division 1 National Championships:
Division 1 National Championships, for most events, is pretty much just another NAC. World Championships at this level is determined more by international results than national results, so it’s less common that fencers will be fighting for their spot on the World Championship team during National Championships.
The best way to qualify for this event is to get Division 1 points at a NAC. There are a couple other ways to qualify for fencers who excel in younger events, as well as specific tournaments that will qualify a fencer for Nationals, but it is rare that those fencers will not also have Division 1 points.
This is the first event of the year for Division 1 fencers. Since most serious fencers will be winding down from last season, the July Challenge is probably one of the more relaxed tournaments of the year. The July Challenge Division 1 tournament counts as rolling only for many weapons. It’s not unusual for a number of top fencers to skip this tournament entirely.
This is the first event of the Senior National Team qualifying season. The qualification for the July Challenge is similar to Division 1 Nationals: points from a NAC is the best way to qualify. However, the July challenge is a little bit more lenient on how many Cadets, Juniors, and so on can qualify than Nationals.
How to qualify for NCAA’s is outside the scope of this article. If you’re interested in learning more about NCAA fencing, check out our complete guide to NCAA fencing. NCAA championships often pits National Team members against each other and provides top flight competition.
This concludes our article on how to qualify for national tournaments and start earning those national points. Hopefully this helps clarify how to jump into the world of competing in fencing at a national level!
We didn’t go over how to get on the regional points standings, the Division II point standings, how to qualify for Division 1a at Nationals, or how to get national ratings (A-E) for the sake of brevity. Keep an eye out for that in a subsequent article!
Header Image by Serge Timacheff / FIE | Modified by Better Fencer
*USA Fencing maintains Wheelchair National Point Standings. These points determine who is the best fencer in the country for the wheelchair event. These points can also qualify a fencer to participate in the IWAS World Championships.
Chances are the you noticed fencers wearing national team warm ups at various fencing competitions, but have you ever wondered how those fencers actually qualify to be on the national team?
This is a continuation of our series covering how to follow fencing. In this article, we will go over how a fencing season works at the US national level as well as how fencers are ranked nationally, how tournaments contribute to national rankings, and how long the fencing seasons go. At the end of this article, you should know everything you need to know to follow fencing standings and the qualification paths for the various National Teams.
Do be aware that the rules are all spelled out in the Athlete’s Handbook which is published every year by the USFA. If you are serious about qualifying for National or World Championships, you need to make sure you check this Handbook every year as the rules change. Additionally, sometimes the USFA makes changes in the middle of the season, and, while the USFA will post the changes that have been made on its website, it will not always send notifications to all affected fencers individually. It is your responsibility to know the rules.
If you plan to fence in college you will need to comply with all of the NCAA rules; best practice is to ask university compliance officers or the NCAA directly as to whether anything you are doing with respect to USFA qualification paths is a violation of its rules. To learn more about NCAA fencing, check out our guide to NCAA fencing.
In this article we are focusing on the National and World Championships for the Cadet, Junior and Senior categories. This article is written with the assumption that, if you’re interested in qualifying for a world championship event, you will be ranked highly enough to be able to compete at all national events. If you’re interested in how national and regional qualifications work, you should keep an eye out for our follow-up article in the coming weeks.
How do you get points?
Cadet, Junior and Senior National rankings are each determined using points earned from the NACs, World Cups and World Championships from each respective category. In the case of Cadet and Junior, points for competitions in the older categories also count (i.e. Cadet rankings include junior and senior results; Junior rankings include senior results).
The number of points you receive is determined by the USFA based on how many competitors attended as well as the strength of the competitive field.
What is the difference between rolling points and team points standings?
For categories where the National Team is determined by points, the USFA keeps a rolling and a team points list. The main difference is that the team points list determines who qualifies for national teams at the end of the fencing season.
Rolling points: These rank fencers on an ongoing basis. The national points a fencer gets at a tournament is saved until a full year later. Rolling points can qualify you to go to world cups - see world cup qualifications for details
Team points: These rank fencers for one season only and are reset at the beginning of every competitive season. The next season actually begins at World Championships as it is possible to get points there that count as both Team and Rolling points the next qualifying season.
These are the points that count for qualification to World Championships and the Olympics. These points are a combination of NACs and World Cup points; not all of a fencer’s points will count toward team qualification. Each weapon and each age group limit the total number of tournament results a fencer can use towards their national ranking. This way, a fencer does not have to go to every competition and doesn’t have to score big points at every competition attended. Highly ranked fencers like Mariel Zagunis do not usually go to NACs as their World Cup results are sufficient to keep them at the top of the points lists.
Note: there are also some world cups that are not designated - meaning that they do not give you points for team qualification. Most times, but not always, these will contain the word “satellite” in their title on the FIE website. This means that many of the top fencers will not compete at the events. If you’re looking for world cup experience, this is one of the best ways to get it before you get to the top level.
World Championships QualificationsNational Fencing Team Selection:
Team points are reset at the beginning of the season. Everyone starts at 0, except for those cadet, junior and senior national team members that earned points at the previous season’s world championships. Those points are included in the tally.
There are a couple of differences for world championship qualifications.
For Cadet World Championships (under 17), the top three ranked fencers on the Cadet team points standings (for each weapon) at the end of the season are selected for the team and will compete individually at the tournament.
For Junior World Championships (under 20), the top four ranked fencers on the Junior team points standings (for each weapon) at the end of the season are selected for the team and will compete individually at the tournament. A an additional alternate fencer can (but is not required to) be selected for the team event based on the discretion of the national coach; the limits are spelled out in the Athlete Handbook.
It’s important that Cadet and Junior World Championships are hosted together, and it is common to have athletes qualified to compete in both Cadet and Junior events.
For Senior World Championships, the top four ranked fencers on the Senior team points standings (for each weapon) at the end of the season are selected for the team and will compete individually at the tournament. Again, the coach has discretion over the alternate for the team event as spelled out in the Athlete Handbook.
For the Olympic Games, the top three ranked fencers on the Senior team points standings (for each weapon) at the end of the season are selected for the team and will compete individually at the tournament (if the US qualifies a full team, which is not always the case). The fourth ranked fencer is also selected for the team competition.
Which points are counted towards national fencing team selection
The Team Points standings are used to determine team selection at the end of the season. When you look at a points list, you will notice that the results are categorized as either “Group I” results or “Group II” results. The points listed in “Group I” are a fencer’s results from designated national tournaments. The points listed in “Group II” are a fencer’s results from designated international tournaments. The national coach for each weapon decides annually which competitions will be eligible for for both Group I & II points.
The overall quantity of Group I and Group II results that are counted in a fencer's overall point total (and thus determine their ranking) are also specific to each weapon and are also determined annually by each National Team Coach.
For example, this year (2017-2018 season) in Cadet Men's Sabre, 3 Group I results (National Events) and 4 Group II results (International Events) results are counted in the total, whereas in Cadet Women's Epée 4 Group I results (National Events) and only 2 Group II results (International Events) are counted.
For the Junior teams, between 3 to 4 Group I results and 3 to 4 Group II results are counted, depending on weapon.
For the Senior teams, between 2 to 3 Group I results and 4 to 5 Group II results are counted, depending on weapon.
Here's a quick example of the current (Dec 2018) points standings for Div1 Men's Sabre:
How many points are earned at fencing competitions
The points awarded for NACs are set before the tournament by the USFA and are dependent on the age group designation. Cadet events provide fewer points than Junior events which are fewer than Division 1 events. For example, winning a Cadet NAC is worth 400 points whereas winning a Division 1 NAC is 1000 points. Sometimes the National Coach may determine that a particular NAC might be worth more or fewer points than the standard for each type. These will be posted in the Athlete’s Handbook and can change from year to year.
In contrast, the USFA determines points for a World Cup only after cataloguing who actually competed and what their results were. The number of points depends not just on the result achieved but the ‘strength factor,” which is a number from 0 to 2 that is calculated based on the skill level of the competitive field. This number is then multiplied by the standard number of points that are given for a the fencer’s placement. For example, a 9th place finish at a Grand Prix World Cup (which generally includes more top competitors, and almost always has a strength factor of 2) would be worth 1284 points whereas a regular world cup that has a strength factor of 1, would be worth half that, only 642 points.
To get national points for world cups, they must be designated by the USFA as point-awarding tournaments. There are also undesignated tournaments which can attract good fencers from other countries (since they may be designated in countries other than the US) but they are not included as part of the National Team qualifying path. The designated world cups are posted on the USFA website, and you must register with the USFA to go to them.
A fencer must be a United States citizen with a United States passport. The registration fee to attend a World Cup is $30. If you are selected you must go unless you have a very good reason not to (serious illness or injury etc.). There are fines up to $1000 if a fencer does not go without such a reason. For Cadet and Junior World Cups the USFA adds a $250 squad fee for fencers that are selected to go which are collected to defray the costs of sending referees to international events.
The USFA chooses the “squad” for each tournament based on National Point Standings.
For a Cadet World Cup
Maximum 12 fencers are chosen from the Cadet National Points List in order of ranking.
For a Junior World Cup
Maximum 12 fencers are chosen from the top 24 Juniors. If not all twelve slots are filled then the remaining slots are filled from the top 12 cadets (there are further criteria in the Athlete Handbook for criteria beyond that, but it’s important to note that it is theoretically possible to compete at Junior World Cups even if not on the points list or near the top).
Early in the season, rolling points are used for selection. Later in the season, team points are used. The dates that these changes occur are listed in the handbook.
For a Senior World Cup
The USFA sends 12 fencers to Senior World Cups and 8 fencers to the Senior Grand Prix events. The top 12 (unless it’s a grand prix, in which case only 8 fencers are selected) of the top 24 fencers who signed up, in order of rolling points, will be selected to compete at a world cup. If there are not enough registered fencers (or some decline to attend), then the remaining fencers are chosen by ranking from the top 12 in the Junior Rankings and top 8 in the Cadet rankings respectively (there are further criteria in the Athlete Handbook for selection beyond that).
At some point in the season the rankings switch to “team points.” This date changes and is not necessarily the same for every weapon. At that time, only points a fencer received in the current season count. For example, if a fencer got points at last year’s National Championships those count in the rolling points at the beginning of the season. But once the USFA switches to team points for qualification - that date will be posted in the Athlete’s Handbook - then that result no longer counts towards qualification for World Cups.
If you are a lower-ranked fencer trying to compete at one of these events, it can be a good idea for you to wait until near the registration deadline to see how many other fencers have registered that are ranked above you because the USFA does not refund your $30 if you are not selected.
This may seem complicated at first, but over time you we be able to read points lists like a pro. It’s incredibly important that you know the rules because it can affect which competitions you attend, and therefore, how you structure your training for the season. If you are still getting into the groove of fencing in competitions, keep an eye out in the coming weeks for our article covering Youth, Veteran, and Wheelchair events as well as the Regional, Division II and Division 1a events. Thanks for reading!
Image excerpted (and modified by BF) from short film "NZINGHA" by Anderson Wright.
One of the unfortunate realities of fencing is that you can do everything right and STILL get hit. That is, you can select a good action and execute it with the right distance and timing, but if your opponent guesses correctly, you can still lose the touch!
It is natural to feel frustration in these moments, but when we let it get the best of us, our fencing suffers. In this article, we will talk about some of the negative effects frustration has on our fencing and how we can improve our tolerance for this emotion when it arises.
First, take a few deep breaths
When we feel frustration, our instinct in those moments is often to speed up and “get it right the next time.” Then, when the next touch doesn’t go well, we get increasingly frustrated and the cycle continues as our thoughts and feelings spiral out of control.
To move forward you must break that cycle, and one of the best places to start is to turn your attention to your breath. Take a few long, deep breaths, drawing air into your stomach and exhaling slowly.
There is no “should” in fencing
Frustration is often exacerbated by our expectations. If you find yourself losing 0-3 to someone who you, or your coach, feels is inferior, it’s natural to become frustrated. But when you find yourself thinking something like, “This person sucks! I shouldn’t be losing to them!” you only intensify this frustration.
Try to remove the word “should” from your fencing vocabulary. The touches, the victories and the results are earned, not given. Sport is made for upsets, otherwise, tournament organizers could just hand the trophy to the number 1 seed and save everyone the trouble.
Every fencer holding a weapon is someone who must be considered dangerous!
Sports only happen in the present. If someone lunges at you, that is happening RIGHT NOW! Not 5 minutes ago; not 5 minutes from now. The better you can become at focusing on the present, the better you will be able to handle what happens in that moment.
When we become frustrated, our attention moves away from right now because, instead, we focus on our emotions. We get stuck thinking about that blown call the referee made and how angry we are. Or how annoying it was that the opponent got that lucky touch. These events are part of our sport, and you cannot avoid them. However, instead of focusing on what has already happened, you can choose to let it go and focus on the now.
When frustration occurs, we must remind ourselves over and over that we always have the choice to refocus our energy towards something productive, rather than on feelings that may cause us to give the bout away.
Curiosity can quell frustration
When are we upset we often ask “why am I frustrated?” which can lead us to focus on our emotions, something that is unhelpful in the heat of the moment. A better question to ask is “What am I going to do about this, right now?”
Invoking curiosity about what is happening in the match is a great way to navigate back towards a helpful response. Were you too close or too far away to execute your action? Did you start too soon or too late? Was your game plan appropriate for this opponent and situation? Was there something missing technically in your execution of the action? Did your opponent change their strategy, causing the action to fail?
These are just some of the possibilities that can explain why something did not work. Also, being analytical can prevent you from changing a strategy that is working simply because it didn’t work in one scenario.
So don’t get frustrated; get interested.
Dealing with frustration in the long-term
It is easy to feel good about ourselves, as athletes, when things are going well. During these times, we can comfortably find the energy to show up early to practice, train hard, and deepen our understanding of fencing as a sport. When things are not going as well and we consistently experience frustration, it can be difficult to find the motivation to continue to push ourselves as fencers.
However, we cannot rely solely on positive emotions to fuel our development. Becoming a great fencer is about working hard consistently and getting through those difficult periods.
But when they do arrive (and they will!), it is helpful to remind yourself of the commitment you have made to the sport, because it is honoring that commitment that can keep our momentum moving forward.
So, write down in a few words why you love the sport and why you have committed yourself to it. Then post it on your bathroom mirror, or in your locker, or anywhere to help remind you that smoother seas are ahead if you just keep going!
Training your tolerance for frustration at fencing practice
Have you ever had a lesson where you did everything perfectly? Then I suggest one of two things: find a new coach who will push you more, or retire because you are the best fencer in the world! All joking aside, frustration will occur at practice and, as part of your training, you must work on better preparing yourself to deal with it.
Situational bouting is a great way to work on frustration management. For example, if you get frustrated when the score is mounting against you, spend a few practices creating ONLY those types of scenarios. This will help desensitize you to the perceived newness of the situation and you will get a better handle on soothing frustration and focusing back on your fencing.
Or try making bouting more difficult. Do you have a favorite action? Force yourself to find another way to score touches, especially when the pressure mounts. Refuse to use your habitual action or action sets, and find other ways to be effective.
It is important to remember that getting frustrated does not make you weak; it makes you human. Every person feels frustration, but it’s how we deal with it that makes the difference in our lives and our fencing. The more that we can train ourselves to shift our attention back to productive areas to focus on, the better equipped we are to fence our best when it really matters.
Dr. Justin Tausig is a World Cup Medalist, former 6-time member of the U.S. National Fencing Team and has a Doctorate in Sport & Performance Psychology. He trained in Paris at the Racing Club de France for 11 years and currently, he helps facilitate the development of competitive athletes.
Fencing has a lot of misconceptions associated with it. The number of times that someone has brought up Zorro when they find out I fence is too many to count. This isn’t anyone’s fault. Swordfighting is in mainstream culture - it’s in movies, tv shows, and plays. However, the sport of modern fencing is less familiar to many than its Hollywood counterpart, and is as different from Zorro as Mad Max is from Formula One.
This article is an attempt to clearly lay out what fencing is and isn’t as a sport in the modern Olympics. Through this article, we’ll cover what makes fencing - well, fencing - why we love it, and why you might or might not. Throughout, we will draw analogies with other, more common sports in America to give you a sense of the larger picture of the sport. After reading this article, you should have a better understanding of the modern sport of fencing, as well as what it’s like when done at a high level.
Despite having roots based in swordsmanship, fencing is a modern Olympic sport that has grown from its historical genesis. Fencing takes place between two competitors, and is largely based on striking your opponent with a blunt weapon while avoiding being hit yourself. There is a significant breadth of rules that govern when and how hitting an opponent scores a point that varies between the three weapons: Foil, Sabre, and Épée. This creates unique strategies for each weapon and little crossover of style between the three disciplines.
What makes fencing unique from other sports?
Below we will lay out the qualities of high-level fencing that, together, make it exciting and different from many other sports.
Fencing is a sprint, not a marathon. Fencing demands explosive acceleration and even long individual touches and exchanges do not usually last longer than 30 seconds. Being able to maintain complete focus during short periods of explosive movement is key to success.
Additionally, in terms of the length of the events, the most fencing time you can have for a bout is 10 minutes, assuming that the bout goes to full time. Those 10 minutes are broken up by two 1 minute breaks. Compare this to an Olympic triathlon, where competitors average about 3 hours without any breaks.
Topline: Fencing requires shorts bursts of explosive acceleration.
Fencing has a long traditional history as an Olympic sport. It was one of only nine sports to be featured in the first modern Olympics in 1896. Fencing is as deep-seated in the Olympic tradition as is wrestling or gymnastics. As young fencers begin to fence and become more competitive, the Olympics is the final dream of each young competitive fencer; it’s the highest level of achievement in the sport.
Topline: Fencing has a seasoned history as one of the original nine sports in the modern Olympics.
Your success or failure in fencing will depend on your ability to overcome your opponent both physically and mentally. The quality of your decisions always depends on what your opponent is doing, and so being a good fencer means being extremely observant and good at recognizing patterns in your opponent’s tactics. This is made even more difficult because how your opponent responds to you will also depend on what you’ve been doing earlier in the match (as both fencers are always trying to adjust to the other’s style and strategy). This is the reason that fencing is often called “physical chess.” It is, at times, a deep mental battle between two fencers.
With this said, success in fencing requires immense mental fortitude because being even a little off your game mentally (whether because of nerves or lack of focus) can affect your ability to adjust to the current state of the match and have a huge negative impact on your performance.
Topline: Fencing is ‘physical chess’ and having a strong mind and mental fortitude is very important.
Fencing is often referred to as a “niche sport,” because it is popular among a relatively small, but passionate community. This gives it some unique advantages. Most people in the community are eager for fencing to grow and to share their love for the sport, so are very welcoming of newcomers. Also, because of the size of the community, it’s not uncommon to start recognizing many familiar faces after attending only a few competitions. As a result, most fencers and coaches are quite happy to help each other out, whether it be sharing tips or lending equipment.
Topline: The fencing community is very friendly and welcoming, towards newcomers and veterans of the sport alike.
Not a pure combat sport
While fencing shares many qualities with martial arts, the sport is not about who can hit the hardest or who can take a punch. Strategy in fencing is more important than strength. It’s also one of the safest sports in the world. The equipment is set to strict safety regulations. Masks must pass ‘punch’ tests to ensure they will protect athletes from injuries, and at the international level, the jackets have kevlar woven into them. Fewer injuries occur in fencing than in table tennis or badminton, according to one study. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t get bruised every once in awhile, so be aware that while you won’t get injured very often, you might get poked a few times.
Topline: Despite hitting each other with swords, fencing has one of the lowest injury rates among Olympic Sports.
This one is obvious but it’s worth saying. There are never more than two fencers on the strip, so success is always about one fencer beating another. And while you also represent your coach, club and your country, it’s still only you that takes home the medal.
Even during team events, failure and success rest entirely on the shoulders of the sole athlete who is fencing (the format for fencing team events is best described as a relay race, sort of like in swimming).
If you’re individually minded, this might work for you. It is one of fencing’s greatest attributes to a lot of fencers. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that you will undertake the journey as an individual.
Topline: Your success or failure depends on you.
In most films, sword fighters clash their weapons together over and over. But unlike in the movies, fencing touches are usually very quick and efficient. A fencer’s blade will rarely touch his opponent’s more than two or three times before a hit is scored.
Additionally, fencing is a modern sport that uses modern equipment and technology that is distinct from the various practices that gave birth to it. You won’t find dueling or horses anywhere near a fencing piste.
Topline: Fencing is a modern sport that is distinct from the movies or from dueling traditions.
Elite College Sport
Fencing is a sport with a very intense college scene. While in some other sports, the NCAA amateur rules prevent the highest level of play in college (as athletes that are paid for the sport are not allowed to compete in the NCAA), the lack of a true professional scene in fencing means that the absolute highest level of competition showcases itself at the NCAA college championships.
Additionally, unlike some sports, the best fencers in the country will go to top universities such as Harvard, Columbia, and Northwestern. These schools are very strong in competition at the NCAAs - 3 out of the last 5 team championships were won by Ivy League schools. If you’re interesting in learning more about NCAA fencing, check out our complete guide to NCAA fencing just below.
Topline: Fencing is a top sport among some of the best universities in the United States.
Here, we lay out some of the challenges of fencing.
Steep Learning Curve
Fencing is harder to pick up and start doing than many other sports. While you can pick up a ball and (more or less) start shooting baskets, learning the basic movements required to fence against another beginner can take a lot of practice.
Additionally, the rules of fencing, while not necessarily more complicated than other sports, must be learned in detail before it is clear how you score touches.
Topline: Fencing takes a good deal of practice to get into and actually start fencing
Fencing can cost significant amounts of money to get into. Many clubs will be able to offer you equipment as you’re starting out, but as you get more serious, you’ll need your own equipment. A full set of fencing gear will cost you hundreds of dollars, at the least. This equipment does not last that long, and you’ll find yourself replacing it pretty frequently.
Coaching fees are also very expensive: since fencing is such an individual sport, to get better faster you need to work with a coach one on one on a fairly regular basis. This adds up over time, much more than group classes can.
Additionally, since fencing is a less common sport in the US, often there isn’t a strong local tournament scene. This means you’ll have to travel to compete to continue to improve.
Topline: Fencing demands pricey equipment, coaching fees and travel
Any long time fencer will tell you that they’ve had times when they disagreed with what a referee has called, whether in their own bouts or others. This is part of the sport. While there are clear rules, each time you fence, you must be prepared to adjust to how those rules are being implemented in your match. Fencing referees have much more power to determine the outcome of the match than in many other sports. And these referees do not all interpret the rules in the same way. So, as a fencer you have to be willing to adapt to your referee and accept that it’s not always going to be as clear cut as other sports (e.g. the ball is in the basket, the football is in the end-zone, etc).
This is not to say that most referees, especially at national and international levels, do not do an excellent job (the key characteristic of high-level referees is their consistency), but it's extremely important to keep in mind that even the best referees are human, and their ability to see and determine what is happening is a major factor in any match.
Topline: Fencing requires a referee to correctly interpret which athlete has scored, a requirement that often leads to immense subjectivity in the sport.
We hope this clarifies some of the unique aspects of the sport for those that are just getting into it, or for those that are merely interested but aren’t sure if it’s right for them. Here’s a quick recap of the most important topics we covered:
Fencing is for you if you:
Enjoy sports that require short bursts of strength and speed
Like mental challenges or games
Harbor hopes of competing in college or the Olympics
Prefer that your success is defined only by you
Are looking for a community that is as friendly as it is competitive
Want to ‘fight’ your opponent without much risk of injury
Don’t mind that the sport can be a little subjective
Are willing to invest a good amount of time and resources to improve
Watching a fencing bout can be confusing. For a new spectator, it’s often just a flurry of swords, flashing lights, and the director making arcane hand signals. This can make it extremely difficult to get your footing and actually understand what is going on during a bout. The fencing community is very open and willing to help. But oftentimes it can be difficult to translate the lingo of an experienced fencer as someone new to the sport.
This guide is the second in our series “how to follow fencing”. It will cover everything you need to know to go to a tournament and actually spectate a bout. We will cover scoring and periods, how touches are determined and awarded, when the bouts end, what the director is doing, and some of the more common penalties.
What this guide will not cover is the structure of a fencing tournament or how to know who will compete against whom and when. That is covered in our “how to follow fencing” part 1. This guide will also not cover how to calculate points, rankings, or fencing seasons. That will all be covered in another article.
It is useful if you are familiar with the terms of fencing before reading this article. For your reference, here’s the link to our glossary of fencing terms.
If you’ve read our “how to follow fencing” part 1 guide, this section will be partially familiar to you. However, it is recommended that you still read through this section, as we go into greater detail in this article.
A pool bout consists of a single period that is three minutes long. The fencer with the highest score at the end of those three minutes is the winner. A fencer will also win the bout immediately if they score 5 touches.
In Foil and Épée, a DE bout consists of three periods, each three minutes long. Fencers get a one minute break between each period, where they can rest, hydrate, and speak with their coach. The fencer with the highest score at the end of the three periods is the winner. A fencer will also win the bout immediately if they score 15 touches, regardless of the period.
In the case of a tie after the periods are over, the fencers move into a sudden death overtime round. The first fencer to score a touch during this time wins. There is no one-minute break between the end of the last round of fencing and overtime. Additionally, before overtime starts, the referee flips a coin and randomly assigns one of the two fencers with priority. If the sudden death overtime runs out with neither fencer scoring, the fencer with priority wins the bout.
However, in Sabre, DE bouts are fenced over two periods. Because scoring occurs much more quickly, the bouts are rarely timed and fencers will take a one-minute break once one fencer scores 8 touches. The second period lasts until a fencer scores 15 touches and wins the bout.
How touches are scored in fencing can be the most difficult aspect for a new spectator or fencer to get the hang of. To ease ourselves into it, let’s start with the easiest weapon to understand: Épée.
To score a point in Épée, a fencer must squarely hit their opponent with their point before they get hit. The point can land anywhere on the opponent’s body, from their head to their toes. When a fencer scores a valid hit (not on the bell guard or somewhere on the floor), the colored (red or green) light on that fencer’s side of the machine lights up. This colored light indicates that fencer hit their opponent. If the machine shows a white light instead of a colored light, it means there is a malfunction in the wiring. A referee’s job in Épée is to make sure that a fencer actually hits the other fencer, and not the floor or anything else, as well as make sure that both fencers are competing by the rules of the sport.
When two Épée fencers hit at the same time, a touch is awarded to both fencers. You can tell fencers hit at the same time when both the red and green lights turn on. If the fencers don’t hit at the same time, the machine will lock the lights, so only one light will turn on.
Sabre and Foil: Right of Way
Right of way is the term that describes which fencer scores a point if both fencers land a valid hit on valid target. We’ll get into what that means in a bit, but first let’s cover valid target and a valid hit for Foil and Sabre.
A fencer must score a hit with the tip of their weapon in Foil. The tip must land on valid target. Valid target includes the torso and groin. It does not include the legs, face, or arms. In competitions, a fencer’s valid target will be covered with a shiny material, called a lamé. When a valid hit is scored in Foil, a colored light will turn on for the fencer that scored the hit. If you score a hit with the point in Foil on invalid target (like the leg), the white light on that fencer’s side will turn on instead.
It is not necessary to hit with the tip of your weapon in Sabre. Any part of the blade (excluding the guard) can land on valid target. Valid target in Sabre includes the torso, arms, and head. It does not include the legs, groin, or either hand. When a valid hit is scored in Sabre, a colored light will turn on for the fencer that scored the hit. Nothing will happen if you hit an opponent on invalid target in Sabre. If you see a white light, it means there is a malfunction in the equipment.
Right of way is perhaps the most difficult concept in fencing to learn and master. For the purposes of this article, we are going to grossly oversimplify it so you can get out there and start watching and learning.
There are two basic situations you’re going to encounter when watching fencing. The first is when both fencers are trying to hit each other at the same time. The second is when one fencer is trying to hit, while the other fencer is trying to defend.
Right of way describes which fencer is awarded the touch when both fencers hit. A fencer gains right of way by initiating an attack before their opponent. This is how you determine who gets the point in that first situation.
According to the rulebook, an attack is made by threatening their opponent’s target area while their arm is extending. In practice, Sabre attacks and Foil attacks will look quite different. In Foil, more emphasis is put on the initial extension of the arm as the origins of the attack. In Sabre, more emphasis is placed on the initial motion forward of the feet when determining right of way. Remember, it’s not about who hits first, it’s about who starts their final sequence of aggressive actions first.
Whoever initiated their attack first has right of way, and if nothing else happens and both fencers score valid hits, the point goes to the person who is determined by the referee to have the right of way. For example, in Sabre, if fencer A starts an advance while fencer B does nothing or retreats, and then both fencer A and fencer B lunge at the same time, then fencer A is awarded the point because they started their final sequence of actions first, with the advance.
However, an experienced fencer without right of way will not attempt to merely hit their opponent. They know they will lose the touch. For this reason, you will often see fencers trying to defend themselves instead. This is the second basic situation mentioned above.
A fencer can lose right of way if their attack fails. If a fencer’s attack fails, either because they simply missed valid target or through their opponent’s deft defense, right of way is temporarily given to their opponent as if they had started an attack (when a fencer scores a touch with this temporary right of way, it is called a ‘riposte’). That means that even if both fencers start their attacks and score valid hits at the same time, the person who recently deflected (called a ‘parry’ in fencing terminology) an attack will have right of way, and thus score the point.
Remember, it does not matter how many how many times right of way has been exchanged during the course of the touch. Right of way is given to the fencer who initiates the attack first, or had recently stopped an attack. As you watch more, you’ll start to get a sense for the time that a fencer has to initiate their riposte after a parry and still retain right-of-way.
In Foil, when a fencer hits off-target (a white-light hit), the referee will stop the bout to determine who would have scored the point, even though no valid hit has been registered. After this occurrence, no fencer is awarded a point and they simply begin again where they left off.
This is in contrast to Sabre, where even if a fencer hits off-target, no white light will register. The point will continue until at least one fencer hits on valid target.
If neither fencer clearly has right of way - which happens when fencers start their attacks at similar times and there wasn’t a recent parry - then the referee calls simultaneous, and fencing begins again where the fencers left off. This is true for both Foil and Sabre.
Below is a simple diagram designed to help understand the thought process needed to determine who scores a point for the second situation - when one fencer is trying to hit and the other is trying to defend.
Director hand signals
Okay, so now you have a general idea of how a touch is scored in fencing. You watch the action, and the referee performs interpretive dance, and adds a point to one of the fencer’s scores. Here’s how to translate the most common hand signals that referees make.
Beginning and ending a touch
To begin a touch, the referee holds their hands out to the side and parallel to the floor, and then brings them together in front of them while saying “fence!”. This signals to the fencers to begin fencing.
When the touch has concluded, a referee holds up their hand, and says “halt!”, which indicates that fencing must stop. A referee might not call halt if the halt is obvious - when both fencers clearly hit each other, for example.
Judging the action
After the touch has ended, the referee will describe what took place. The referee is looking for all the same things that we discussed in the right of way section above. The first thing you’ll see a referee gesture will be the “attack” gesture, which indicates that the attack came from that side.
Now the referee will say whether that attack lands. This is shown in a couple of gestures. They will either indicate that the attack lands, the attack was parried, the attack completely missed, or in the case of Foil, if the attack was off-target. These are indicated as follows:
Fencing hand gesture "touch against" left fencer
Fencing hand gesture "parry" against right fencer
Fencing hand gesture "attack no" for right fencer
Fencing hand gesture "attack not valid" for right fencer
Note that the hand signals are placed towards the fencer being attacked.
If the referee indicated the attack did not land, then the referee further indicate whether the riposte landed, missed, was parried, or landed off-target. The referee does this in exactly the same way as for the initial attack. Note again that the referee performs the hand gesture on the side of the fencer being attacked. Once the referee indicates that the attack lands, the referee then holds up their hand on the side of the fencer that scored the touch.
The score for that fencer is then increased by one point, and then play starts again.
This guide was designed to help you understand the majority of touches that occur in fencing. There are a few variations on these simple rules that you will start to pick up as you watch and observe more, such as point-en-line and attack in preparation, but it can be hard to pick up on these actions without first understanding the fundamentals as outlined here.
Without getting too much in detail, here’s the basics of what you need to know about these touches:
Attack in Preparation: This touch is called when Fencer B is able to take right of way from the Fencer A when Fencer B hits while Fencer A is hesitating.
Point in Line: Point in line is a very specific blade technique that enables a fencer to gain right of way while not attacking. It involves extending the point of the weapon directly at an opponent.
Again, don’t worry too much about these touches when you’re just starting out. As you become more experienced you will start to understand when both of these touches will be called.
In addition to awarding points, a referee will also give out penalties when fencers violate the rules of the sport. It can be difficult to know exactly what a referee is penalizing without first knowing the entire set of rules for fencing. However, we will cover some of the most common rule infractions that you’ll see, as well as what the various penalties mean when you see them come in a tournament.
This isn’t as official as the other penalties you’ll see. It’s essentially a refereeing saying “Hey, I don’t like what you’re doing. Do it again and I’ll give you a card”. Many referees opt to give verbal warnings instead of cards on the first offense for minor infractions, such as jumping the gun and starting the touch before the referee says fence, or taking too long to come back to the En Garde lines to start the next touch.
A yellow card is a penalty given for the smallest infractions in fencing. A yellow card does not give any additional punishment by itself, but if a fencer accrues more than one yellow card during the course of a bout, each yellow card after the first is converted into a red card. Yellow card counts are reset at the start of every bout. An example of common yellow cards you’ll see are for delay of bout and bringing equipment that doesn’t work to the start of a bout (equipment breaking during fencing doesn’t count).
Red cards are given for moderate infractions in fencing. If a fencer receives a red card, their opponent receives a single point in the bout they are fencing. Red cards are most commonly given for repeated yellow cards. However, a few actions will give red cards immediately, such as not having inspection marks on your equipment that verifies that all your equipment is compliant with the rules of the tournament, or falsifying an injury to receive an injury timeout.
Black cards are reserved for the more severe infractions. A black cards expels a person from the tournament (a fencer, spectator, or even referee can be expelled this way). Depending on the severity, a black card can expel people for multiple tournaments or even an entire season. These are usually given for cheating, extreme unsportsmanlike conduct (aggressively cursing at a referee or athlete.), or violent actions (throwing equipment, chairs, physically attacking someone).
Exceptions and Footnotes
Time is Sabre is still in the rulebook, so theoretically it could go for 3 periods. However, Sabre fencing usually is finished way before 3 minutes is up. Due to this, even high level tournaments often do not enforce time for Sabre bouts.
The rules for right-of-way in Sabre and Foil do not technically differ. However, in practice, right of way is interpreted in different ways.
Let’s face it. Fencing tournaments are confusing. They can be especially overwhelming for someone attending one for the first time, a parent trying to organize a child, or even a friend going to visit and spectate at a fencer’s competition.
This guide is designed to tell you everything you need to know to understand how the format of a tournament works. We will cover the format of most USFA events (and explain a few of the caveats along the way), as well as how they determine seeding, brackets, and how placement is determined.
What this guide will not cover is the seasonal structure of tournaments, how to qualify for tournaments, what tournaments mean for rankings, or how to watch individual bouts. Those topics will be covered in follow up guides in the next few weeks.
The format of a tournament is broken down into two main sections of bouting. The preliminary round (also called the ‘pools’) divides fencers up into different groups. All fencers in each group fence against each other (also called ‘round robin’ format) and based on their results, the tournament organizer can determine how to rank (also called ‘seeding’) those fencers for the direct elimination round.
The direct elimination round (also called the ‘DEs’), consists of a bracket of fencers competing against each other. A standard DE bout lasts for 3 periods of 3 minutes each, or a maximum of 15 touches*. The reason this round is referred to as the ‘direct elimination’ round is that after only one loss, a fencer is out of the tournament, and their final placement is determined by the round in which they were defeated. The last fencer standing wins the entire tournament.
Round of Pools
The purpose of the preliminary rounds is to rank (aka ‘seed’) fencers for the DEs. The total number of starting fencers in the competition are broken down into smaller groups, usually 7 people, called ‘pools.’ Each athlete fences everyone in their pool for a total of 6 bouts. How well a fencer does in their pool is then compared to how everyone else in the tournament did in their respective pools. Note that pools do not have to contain 7 people, and due to the fact that tournaments often do not have an exact multiple of 7 participants, many tournaments will run pools of both 7 and 6* fencers at the same tournament. In the pools of 6 fencers, each fencer would then fence only 5 total bouts.
How to read a pool sheet
One of the most important parts of successful attendance to a tournament is learning how to read a pool sheet. A pool sheet will show a fencer when they're fencing, who they’re fencing, as well as all of the previous results in the pool. As a fencer, it is very important that you know when you’re going to fence. Being called by the referee a few times can rattle your confidence, annoy the referee, and sometimes result in a card for delaying the bout.
On the left side of the sheet, you can see a fencer’s names listed, with a number next alongside. This number is the shorthand for determining when each fencer has to fence, and many referees will call fencers to the strip only with their numbers (and some prefer not to call fencers to the strip at all).
Some pool sheets will have multiple sets of bout orders on it, as they are designed to be used with any number of fencers in the pool. Each fencer can reference their number with the bout order on the bottom of the page that corresponds to size of the pool to determine when they will fence.
The bouts progress in ordered rows from top to bottom, with each new row starting after the last one finishes. The number and bout order will usually be circled, or the referee will have some other way of showing which bout order is being used. Here is an example of a pool sheet and the first two bouts for a pool of 7 fencers:
When each bout concludes, the referee will record the final result. The score is recorded in the box grid to the right hand side of the fencer’s names. The rows indicate the number of touches that fencer scored in each bout they fenced. Sometimes the referee might write a ‘V’, for victory, instead of a number when a fencer wins a bout (or in addition to a number) depending on what they are accustomed to doing. The columns indicate the number of touches that fencer received in each bout. To see a specific bout, simply follow a specific fencer's row to the column of the opponent you're looking for, and vice versa. Here's an example below:
After a round of pools is over, each fencer should be asked to sign the score sheet to show that they have checked it for accuracy. As a fencer, it is critical that you check all of your scores after a full round of pools before you sign. There are several key data points that you will want to look at before it is submitted.
Number of Victories:
This is the total number of victories achieved by the fencer (shown as 'V' on the scoresheet, it is the number of 'Vs' in the fencer's row).
This is the total number of touches scored by the fencer in all of their bouts (shown as 'TS' on the scoresheet, it is the sum of all of the total points in their row).
This is total number of touches that opponents scored on the fencer during their bouts (shown as 'TR' on the scoresheet, it is the sum of all the total points in the column number corresponding to the fencer).
This is the number of touches scored (TS) by a fencer scored over all their bouts minus the number of touches received (TR) by that fencer in those bouts (shown as 'Ind' on the scoresheet, the formula is TS-TR=Ind).
This is the rank of the fencer compared to others in the pool. It should be checked for accuracy, but is not as essential as the four previous data points. Fencers are seeded after the pools in comparison to all of the competitors in the competition, not just those in their pool. We will explain more about that below.
If you discover mistakes after you sign the sheet, you will not be able to correct those mistakes, and your seeding will be affected*. Here's an example of a what a pool sheet looks like for a fencer who had 4 victories, scored 26 touches, received 16 touches, had an indicator or +10, and finished 2nd overall in the pool.
After all of the pools are completed the results are sent to the bout committee to determine the overall ranking (aka ‘seeding’) of all fencers in the competition.
That seeding is determined by four criteria, ranked in order of priority:
Fencers are first grouped by their win percentage (This is equal to the fencer’s number of bouts won divided by the fencer’s total number of bouts)
Any ties in ranking based on win percentage are broken by each fencer’s indicator
And remaining ties in ranking are broken by the total number of touches scored (i.e. the same number used in part to calculate indicator)
If all of the above are tied, then fencers tie out of the pools and seeding for the DEs isdetermined randomly
Let’s break this down with an example. Consider this group of five fencers who have performed well in their respective pools:
Here, both fencer 1 and fencer 4 have an equal win percentage (ie., 1.00 or 100%). Who comes out first is determined by their indicator. Fencer 1’s indicator is +18 (meaning that fencer 1 scored 18 more points than were scored on them - good job fencer 1!), while fencer 4’s indicator is +4. Fencer 1 takes first out of this group, and fencer 4 takes second. Note that fencer 4 only had a total of 5 bouts, which means they came out of a six person pool.
The other three fencers all have the same win percentage. Fencer 5 has a higher indicator than either fencers 2 or 3. Fencer 5 takes third place out of this entire group. Finally, between fencer 2 and 3, fencer 2 has more touches scored. Therefore, the final order of fencers is as follows:
Note that you determine results for fencers as an entire group out of the round of pools. As we mentioned before, pool rankings are determined amongst themselves individually, but those numbers are not used for the actual seeding of the rest of the tournament. There are a few exceptions to the rules laid out above, which we’ve included in the footnotes section at the bottom*.
How pools are determined
For those who are curious, this brief section explains how the original pools were determined in the first place at the beginning of the tournament. If you’re more interested in what happens next during the direct elimination rounds, skip ahead.
The grouping of pools is determined by putting fencers in each pool based on their starting rank. For example, in a ten-pool tournament, pool 1-10 will contain fencers ranked 1-10, respectively. When those pools all have one fencer each, the pools are all filled again in reverse order, so pool 10 will get fencer ranked 11th, and pool 1 will get the fencer ranked 20th. This is done to try to balance out the pools across the field, to promote fair play. Below is a simple diagram of how pools are filled.
Direct Elimination RoundBout length
Epee and Foil bouts are fenced in a set of three periods. Each period lasts for three minutes of fencing time. Fencing time is the time between when the referee says ‘fence!’ and when a light on the machine is turned on. The timer is paused between touches. After each period, fencers get a 1 minute break, during which they can rest, drink water, and speak with their coach. The score is not reset between periods. Fencing concludes after the 3rd period, or when a fencer scores 15 touches, whichever comes first.
Competitive Saber is fenced in only two periods. The first period ends when one fencer scores 8 touches. The score is not reset between periods. Time for Saber is still technically in the official rulebook, but bouts almost never go to the full 3 minute time, so most tournaments do not time Saber bouts. A Saber bout ends when one fencer scores 15 touches.
The direct elimination rounds are composed of a single bracket of all the fencers that were promoted from the round of pools (in many cases, all fencers that participated in pools). These fencers then compete head to head to determine their final ranking. The bracket is often referred to in the fencing community as the ‘tableau.’ Each time a bout occurs, the winning fencer advances to the next round, and the losing fencer is eliminated*. For this reason, the rounds are composed of a number of fencers equal to exponents of two: there is a round of 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, and 256 (most tournaments will not be larger than this).
Within each round, the format is set so that the lowest ranking fencer competes with the highest ranking fencer in that round. For example, in the round of 128, the fencer ranked 1st will be matched up against the fencer ranked 128th. The fencer 2nd will be matched up against the fencer ranked 127th (this is not pictured in the diagram because the entire tableau is not shown), and so on all the way up to the fencer ranked 64th facing off against the fencer ranked 65th.
This format ensures that, given no upsets (where a lower ranked fencer defeats a higher ranked fencer), each person will finish the tournament according to their rank. If there are not enough fencers to fill up a round, then the highest ranking fencers will receive free passes into the next round (known as ‘byes’).
Here's an example of that with both fencers ranked 1st and 16th obtaining a 'bye' (note that the diagram does not show the whole tableau and there will be many other highly ranked fencers also receiving a 'bye'):
At club tournaments and US national events, there are no designated times for when fencers compete. You can, however, determine the order of DE bouts. From this, you can get a sense for when you will compete because you will be able to see the bouts before you take place. The order of DE bouts is simple. The tournament will run the bouts each round from top to bottom on the tableau. They will finish all of the previous round before they start the next round, so even if two fencers have a bye (a pass) into the round of 64, for example, all of the round of 128 will be completed before moving on to the next stage.
The complicated part of this comes when the DEs are split into multiple sections, called ‘pods’. This often happens at larger tournaments. When tournaments are split into multiple pods, the bouts are run from top to bottom as normal, except each pod operates independently of each other. If you’re competing in a tournament and ever confused about when you might fence, officials will be happy to help you*.
This sounds confusing, but it is very straightforward once you see an example. Here’s a visual example of how the bout order would be conducted in one pod for the round of 128 fencers:
After a full round is completed, and one fencer advances from each match, the next round will have half as many competitors as the previous (because one fencer was knocked out of each individual match of two fencers). So if a fencer consistently wins several matches in a row after beginning in the round of 128, they will enter (respectively) the top 64, then the top 32, then the top 16, then the top 8, etc. Note that when an 'upset' occurs (a lower ranked fencer defeating a higher ranked fencer), the winner 'takes over' that spot on the tableau and continues fencing along that path. Here's an example of one fencer defeating the top seed and continuing on to enter the top 8:
final placement in a competition
After a fencer loses a DE bout, their final ranking will be somewhere within the range of the round. For example, if Levy loses his next bout in the round of 8, his placement will be somewhere between 5th and 8th (because he made it into the round of 8, but didn’t quite make the round of 4). Final rankings of fencers within the same round are determined by their seeding after the round of pools. The one exception to this rule is in the round of 4. At most tournaments, fencers will simply tie for 3rd place*. Note that even if a fencer has ‘taken over’* a tableau slot from a higher-seeded fencer, final tournament rankings are determined by a fencer’s initial seeding out of pools. Here's an example with the same fencer who was originally ranked 65th out of pools, but then defeated the top seed taking over the top spot. Because he loses in the top 8, he finishes 8th place, behind everyone else due to his poor seeding:
We hope this helped clarify the structure of a fencing tournament, so you’re able to attend or spectate with confidence. Keep an eye out for future articles in this series, which will explain how to watch fencing bouts, including referee hand signals and rules for determining who scored, and how a fencing season progresses over the course of a year.
A DE bout is usually 15 touches with 3 periods, but there are variations for some senior and youth events, which go to 10 touches instead of 15.
While pools at large events usually contain 6 or 7 people, many local tournaments will have smaller pools due to the size of the tournament being much smaller.
Some tournaments will only promote a certain percentage of fencers out of pools. To see who is promoted, they simply take the top x% (usually around 70-80%) of fencers and promote them from pools. The rest are given a final tournament ranking, and do not advance to the direct elimination round. Whether there is only partial promotion from pools will be listed in the tournament info before you sign up. Most high-level events operate this way.
Some tournaments will have multiple rounds of pools (with partial promotion). These tournaments have the fencers compete in the first round of pools, and then use the new seeding to create another round of pools and cut additional fencers from the final round of DEs. This is most commonly done in epee tournaments.
In the Olympics, fencers do not compete in pools. They are simply put directly into DE bouts based on their world ranking.
Repechage is a different format from direct elimination. In repechage, a fencer will be put into a new bracket and compete with fencers in that bracket. The result of this is that fencers have to lose twice before they are eliminated from a tournament. Repechage was widely used in fencing for a while, but it is now mostly abandoned, so we will not cover it in detail in this guide.
At some tournaments (including the Olympics), fencers will be required to compete in a bout to determine who places third
At high level world cups, the tableau will be reseeded in the round of 64 based on pool results, so even if a fencer “takes over” a..
If you are practicing regularly, then there is no doubt that fencing drills are something that goes in your daily routine. However, it’s always good to spice up your game with new drills (and if you haven’t already, check out our article on fencing exercises for speed, strength and flexibility). This week at Better Fencer, we give you the favorite drills of Olympic fencers Eli Dershwitz (sabre) and Jason Pryor (épée). The two drills we get into are much more mental than physical and should give you ideas of your own on how to diversify your practice and train like the best.
Many fencers find it difficult to put forward their best fencing when they are cornered at the end of the strip. It creates a certain type of pressure which can lead to a lack of patience or unnecessary technical errors. However one of Eli’s favorite drills helps fencers practice dealing with this very situation so that they can develop the necessary patience to pick and execute the right action.
Who is this drill for?
This drill is for you if you find yourself often “giving up” on defense towards the end of the strip. This might mean you are leaning back and are off-balance, or your hand is haphazardly twitching between parries 3 and 4 (or 6 and 4 if you’re a folist). Conversely, it’s also incredibly useful if you find you have trouble “finishing” your opponent once you push them back all the way to the end of the strip. Use this drill to figure out how to use their limited distance to your advantage and to score the touch.
This drill is useful for both honing your defense when your back is against a wall, and for making sure you can secure the touch when you’ve already done the work to put your opponent in a disadvantaged situation. It’s equally important not to give up when you’re down and also to make sure you can finish an opponent off after you’ve limited their options by pushing them to the end of the strip.
The drill requires two fencers, one we’ll refer to as the “defender” and the other as the “attacker.”
The defender should stand with their back foot on the end line. Once the drill begins, the defender has the ability to use any defensive action, but cannot go off the strip (or else a point is scored for the attacker, just like a normal bout). This requires the fencer to pay extra attention to making the best use of the small amount of distance that is left before the end of the strip.
The attacker starts behind the warning line and can choose any offensive action he or she wants.
Rules of the drill
The drill begins when the attacker begins the action, on their own time. Thus, the defender reacts when the attacker starts moving. It is expected that the attacker will be more successful than the defender (as the defender is in a very disadvantaged position). If the attacker does not score 4 out of 5 attacks, they have to try again. After the round is over, the attacker and defenders switch sides and repeat the drill.
Best for épée fencers, but also good for foil and sabre fencers.
There’s nothing more exciting than watching a fencer comeback from a huge deficit to win the match. However, these are few and far between because the reality is that it’s really really difficult to do. It requires a certain type of mental focus and fortitude to get oneself out of tricky situations. However, Jason Pryor practices for this very situation with a drill that helps get more accustomed to coming from behind.
Who is this drill for?
This drill is for you if you struggle with comebacks. While it would be great to always be up, it’s frankly not that realistic. If you find yourself often struggling when you’re in this position, this drill can be a great help to practice stringing points together.
It is particularly helpful for épée fencers who must overcome a different kind of burden when they are down. Not only must they pick the right action and score, but they must also avoid double touches which does not help them overcome their deficit.
However, it also useful to for sabre and foil fencers because it can help practice a certain type of mentality when coming from behind.
The drill requires two fencers, however, a touch can only be scored by the fencer who has the “advantage.”
Rules of the drill (épée)
Neither fencer has the “advantage” when the drill begins.
The “advantage” is earned by the first fencer to score a touch. Then, once this fencer has the “advantage” they are able to score a touch which is added to their score.
However, if the opponent who does not have the “advantage” scores a point, they steal back the advantage, thus allowing them to get a point on the next touch.
A double touch resets the drill so no one has "advantage".
For example, if one fencer scored the first three touches (single) in the match they would have both the advantage and a point total of two (one touch earns the advantage and the other count towards their score). But then, if a double touch was scored, neither fencer would have the advantage, and thus neither could score on the next action. But then if the other fencer scored two touches in a row, then that fencer would have the advantage and a point total of one (one touch earning the advantage and one counting towards their score).
This drill forces you to score multiple touches in a row to score points and get to five. It also rewards long strings of touches - 4 points consecutively in this drill is worth more than 4 points in two or more separate instances.
The first fencer with five points wins.
The drill remains the same, however, a simultaneous action resets advantage (instead of a double touch).
As a quick note here: we didn’t ask Eli and Jason to give us their favorite “mental” or “situational” drills. We asked them to give us their favorite drills, period. They both picked drills that focus on getting you out of a disadvantaged position. In Eli’s drill, a defender must be able to stay strong and perform a defense even at the end of the strip. Jason’s drill encourages getting multiple points in a row, which helps immeasurably for comebacks.
It is clear that both fencers love the challenge of putting themselves at a disadvantage and seeing how they can get out of it. This constant challenging of themselves drives them to become better. It speaks to the mindset of them as fencers and competitors. It offers the statement: if you want to be truly good at something, ensure that you’re not only training for when things are good, but also prepare for when things start going south.
Bonus: Foot speed drills
Here’s a bonus series of drills that Jason Pryor does to improve his foot speed. Each drill should be done for 20 seconds, and your goal is to move your feet as quickly as possible without breaking good technique. Then take a 10 second break between exercises.
One foot in front of the en garde line, one foot behind (both feet should pointed forward)
Switch their positions by moving one foot at a time (rather than by hopping)
You should feel like you are stepping forwards and backwards over the line
We hope you enjoyed learning about the favorite drills of a few Olympic fencers. The key take away here is to focus on fencing from disadvantaged positions as well as free fencing or working on technique. What are your favorite drills? Let us know in the comments!
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