1st Tournament Guide


After your first semester of fencing classes, you will want to compete in a fencing tournament. There are a wide variety of tournaments in the local fencing area (the “Division”). They vary in size, strength and restrictions on who can enter. Some local tournaments are restricted by classification. Some are restricted by gender or age group. Your first tournament should be age or classification restricted. Many areas have “novice” or beginner tournaments for those fencers who have not been fencing very long, or have yet to earn their first classification. Tournaments require an entry fee somewhere between $55-70 depending on the club and region.

In all cases, your coach is the best reference to determine when you are ready to compete. Some people are mentally ready for competition much sooner than others, so if this guide is for your child, make sure that it’s also something they want to do.

Where to Begin

  • If you haven’t already, sign up for a membership with the United States Fencing Association (USFA). This allows you to compete in USFA sanctioned events as well as some other benefits like a subscription to American Fencing, the official magazine of the USFA.
  • You don’t want to wait until the last minute to get your gear for your competition. If you need to buy parts of your uniform or weapons, you should get them early enough to possibly make any exchanges or returns.
  • Register for your event (www.askfred.net)
  • Be aware of registration deadlines for your tournament. Some tournaments may require you to preregister for the event. For North American Cups, Junior Olympics, and Summer Nationals, the deadline for registration is more than a month before the tournament. Most local USFA sanctioned events are having their registration managed by an online system called AskFRED.
  • Don’t forget to speak to your coach about getting coaching at the event ahead of time. It is very important to have your coach at the tournament with you especially in the first couple of events. Most students request coaching at all events if scheduling allows. Speak to your coach ahead of time to find out about availability, coaching fees and other options if your coach can not attend.

Day of the Tournament

  • Check in
  • Don’t be late! Some larger tournaments will also require that you check your fencing equipment.
  • Before the tournament starts, you want to warm up. This would be the time you follow the warm up routine that you’ve been following every day at practice leading up to the event. The best way to prepare for the tournament is to bout with someone you don’t know or have rarely, if ever, fenced before. Most experienced fencers have the most trouble with their first bout in the tournament. Fencing strangers during your warm up time eliminates the awkwardness of having to fence someone new once the event actually begins.

During pools

  • Getting started-An announcement should be made informing participants that pools have been posted. This is the beginning of the first round in a standard competition. Fencers are spread out into fairly even groups, each group being assigned its own strip. Check the sheet to see which strip your group is assigned to and hurry to that location to meet the referee. The referee officiating your pool will be checking to see that your gear has passed inspection, and that you are at the strip and ready to fence.
  • Know how to hook up to the strip
  • Every fencer in the pool will fence every other fencer in the pool to 5 touches or to 3 minutes of fencing time. The referee will be calling fencers to the strip either by name or by an assigned number. It is better for everyone involved if you know when you’re going to be called to the strip before the referee has to come looking for you. Be aware of the order of bouts and be ready to hook up to the strip when the bout before yours is finished.

When you’re not fencing

  • Scout the other fencers in the pool. Take notice of important elements of their fencing. Don’t just watch it, study it. Some common things to look for include an opponent’s favorite attack, their favorite parry, where on the strip they score most of their touches, and how other fencers prepared the actions that worked against them. This is all information that you would do well to record in a fencing journal. Besides this scouting information about opponents, you can document how your bout went with them and how it related back to your scouting info. You can also track elements about yourself: your bout scores, your favorite touches, what you thought worked well, and what you feel you most need to improve on for your next event. A fencing journal from your tournament experience is an invaluable tool to take back to practice.

After a bout

  • Check your bout scores
  • Shake the referee’s hand-This is an important habit to start building at your first event. No matter what, no matter who, shake the referee’s hand and thank them for their time.
  • Rest-Try to conserve energy between pools and the direct elimination round. Sit down whenever possible. Snack if you need it, especially if it has been a long time since you ate and as always, try to stay hydrated.
  • Now would be a good time to go to the restroom.
  • Besides this, wait for the other fencers to finish their pool round, relax, stay calm and mentally prepare yourself for the next round.
  • Check seeding & tableux-An announcement will be made once all the pools have finished, and the bout committee has tabulated the results. Fencers will be seeded by their pool results from the best to worst finish. This seeding will be used to place fencers into brackets. Check that your scores from your pool have been totaled correctly, and then make your way to the strip that the bracket says your bout will be fenced on. Report to the referee there just like you did for pools.
  • Fencing direct elimination bouts (DE’s) should be done somewhat differently than your pool bouts. The first difference is that DE’s are fenced to 15 touches instead of 5. There are also 3 periods to each bout. In sabre, the first period ends when one fencer scores 8 touches. In foil and epee, a period ends when 3 minutes of fencing time has elapsed. Between periods, 1 minute rest is given to the fencers. During this time, a fencer must stay on the strip, but a coach may come and talk to them and bring them water if they need it. Because of the difference in format, the strategy and progression of the bout also differs. Five touch bouts can often be won with 1 or 2 tricks, while a 15 touch bout really tests the consistent skill of the competitors.

After your DE bout

  • Winning a DE bout is often one of the first goals of beginning competitive fencers. Don’t be discouraged if you did not win yours in your first tournament. It’s far from impossible though, so, if you did manage to accomplish this, congratulations! Either way, sign your score sheet after making sure it correctly indicates the score of the bout and which fencer won.
  • If you won your bout, take the score sheet to the bout committee table. They might hand you a new slip to return to the referee. You will then fence another opponent. This process continues until only one fencer remains. Once you have lost a DE bout, your first tournament might be complete, but your experience isn’t over yet. Too many fencers make the mistake of packing up and going home as soon as they are eliminated. You’re missing out on watching all the fencers that are still competing and winning. It costs only your time to watch the rest of the tournament and learn what the winners are doing.
  • Be sure to stretch! You want to be able to return to practice as quickly as possible without being too sore from the competition.
  • Check your fencing bag again to make sure you’ve gathered all your fencing belongings.
  • If possible, thank the tournament organizer for hosting the event.


  • It’s important to keep the fun of fencing in mind during the competitive season. With so many clubs running tournaments, it’s easy to load up on tournaments and that can lead to over training and frustration when you hit “the wall”. It’s perfectly normal to take a week or two off here or there, especially after a big competition or series of tournaments.
  • The competitive season for US Fencing runs from September through July. Each local fencing organization (called a “division”) runs a series of tournaments of various skill levels. These culminate into two qualifying events for the Junior Olympics (held in February) and the Summer National Championships (held at the beginning of July). Most fencers focus on competing at the division and region levels before spending the extra time and money to go to the larger national competitions. In the summer you’ll also find a host of fencing camps where your kids can meet new friends and learn from coaches in other parts of the country.

Have fun and good luck fencing!