What is a Fencing Competition?

Fencing competitions in all three weapons (epee, sabre, foil) usually consist of two rounds of bouting. In the first round of “pools,” six to eight fencers compete in a round-robin of 5-touch/3 minute bouts. Pool results inform the seeding of the next round, Direct Elimination or “DE.” For epee, direct elimination bouts are 15 touches, with one-minute breaks at three-minute intervals. The bouts end when one fencer scores 15 touches or when three, three-minute periods elapse. If the bout is tied at this point, one fencer is awarded “advantage” by a coin toss. The bout then continues until a touch is scored or one minute elapses. If no touch is scored after a minute, the bout goes to the “advantage” fencer. Sabre direct elimination bouts also go to 15 touches, with a one-minute break when either fencer reaches eight touches. DE brackets (like NCAA basketball) allow for a maximum 128 fencers. Winners of each DE round advance to the tables of 64, 32, 16, 8, semi-finals, and final.

What Are The Different Kinds Of Competitions?

Now that you’ve learned the basics of fencing, it’s time to start competing. MFC runs competitions for our fencers on a regular basis; they are open to fencers outside the club and do award ratings. For these in-club competitions it is necessary to be a member of the United States Fencing Association (USFA). Outside the club, competitions can be restricted by age, gender, or rating. To compete in these competitions, one must join the USFA.
Tournaments in the USA fall in the categories of local, regional, and national. Local competitions are sponsored by the clubs themselves or the governing Division. Regional competitions include Super Youth Circuit (SYC), Regional Youth Circuit (RYC), Regional Open Circuit (ROC), and Sectionals. The last category of domestic tournaments is those run by the USFA. These include the North American Cups (NAC) which typically combine several different events in a tournament and are held around the country throughout the season. The championship tournaments for US fencing are the Junior Olympics in February and the Summer Nationals in July.

How Do I Search For Tournaments?

Search for local and regional tournaments through AskFRED, the Fencing Results and Events Database. This excellent site lists tournaments from all over the country and has a very good search function that includes the ability to specify on location, date, weapon, age, and rating.
To find nearby tournaments, you can search by Division (we are in the Capitol Division) or by Section (we are in the Mid-Atlantic Section).Because of the proximity of the Virginia and Maryland Divisions, you may also wish to search for tournaments in these divisions. A listing of all Capitol Division competitions can also be found on the website for the Capitol Division. Both on FRED and the Capitol Division there are links to preregister for tournaments and see who else is coming. Registration policies differ from tournament to tournament so please read the information carefully.

What Does Division 1, 1A, 2, And 3 Mean?

At the national level, participation in Senior NACs is based on rating. Division 1 NACs (typically two or three per season) are restricted to fencers with a rating of a C or higher. Division 2 is restricted to C and under; in 2010-11 two national events were held. Division 3 is restricted to D and under; in 2010-11 one national event was held. National Championships are held in all three categories as well as an additional category, Division 1-A. For details about the qualification pathways for these events, please consult this page on the USA Fencing National Championships at usfencing.org.

There Are A Lot Of Age Categories, What Do They Mean?


Youth means fencers who are 14 years old or under. Youth fencing is further divided into Youth 10 (Y10), Youth 12 (Y12), and Youth 14 (Y14). A fencer’s age on January 1 of the current season determines eligibility. There is a helpful chart in table 2.5.1 of the Athlete Handbook, a downloadable PDF can be found on the USFA web site.
An example would be a fencer born in February of 2000 fencing in the 2010-2011 season will fence Y-10 until the end of the season in July, even though he or she will be 11 for the second half of the season. The oldest fencer in each category can “fence up” an age group; that means in the 2010-2011 season an 11-year-old fencing Y-12 may also fence in Y-14 competitions. Under special circumstances, fencers even younger may compete in older categories. You can see these circumstances in the Athlete Handbook.
There are several clubs that offer youth tournaments in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area. Because numbers are small, these typically are “mixed” with boys and girls competing together. To find these tournaments, you can use AskFRED.
On the regional level Youth fencers are also eligible to compete in RYC and SYC events. These typically require preregistration. RYC events are held all over the country and are listed on both the USFA web site and on AskFRED, For Y10 and Y12 fencers, participation in an RYC automatically qualifies the fencer to fence at the Youth NAC event– typically held in April– as well as at Summer Nationals. RYCs do not award points for the National Points List. SYC events (also found on AskFRED) are fewer and larger; and fencers who finish in the top 40% will be on the National Points List. Y10 and Y12 participants are again automatically qualified for the Youth NAC and Summer Nationals. In this area we are fortunate in having an outstanding SYC, the Capitol Clash. It is held in late January or early February.
Youth fencers can also compete in two national level events: the Youth NAC (typically held in April) and Summer Nationals. For Y10 and Y12 fencers participation in an SYC or RYC qualifies them. Y14 fencers do not need to qualify for the Youth NAC. However, for National Championships, the qualification criteria are stricter. Please refer to Section 2.11.6 of the Athlete Handbook for the qualification pathways.

Cadet and Junior

The next two categories, Under 17 (U17) and Under 20 (U20) are more commonly referred to as Cadet and Junior respectively. There are not typically any local club events for these age groups. There are three NACs open to fencers in these age groups and those schedules can be found on the USFA web site. Registration for these events is through the USFA and preregistration deadlines may be as much as 8 weeks before the event.
In the current schedule the first Cadet and Junior events take place in July, concurrent with the National Championships. However, it is not considered to be a championship event. The proposed dates for other Cadet and Junior events during the 2011-2012 season are October and January. The US Championship tournament for Cadet and Junior fencers is known as the Junior Olympics, or JOs. Qualification for JOs is by having national points (from a NAC) or by placing in the top 3 or the top 25% (whichever is greater) of participants in the qualifying tournament. Running the qualifying tournament is the responsibility of the Divisions within the USFA. The Capitol Division typically holds this important tournament at DCFC.


The senior category includes everyone age 13 and up. Club tournaments referred to as “opens” are open to any USFA member 13 or older regardless of rating. In epee, DCFC runs a series of tournaments called “Champagne Challenges” throughout the season. These are typically mixed (i.e., men and women compete together) and self-refereed. Preregistration for the Champagne Challenge on AskFRED is encouraged but not required.
Our region also hosts a number of excellent tournaments throughout the year. The Virginia Division hosts the Kickoff in September and the Hangover in early January. Maryland Division hosts Charm City in early winter and the Capitol Division hosts the Cherry Blossom in April. Preregistration (through AskFRED) is required for some of these but typically deadlines are fairly close to the time of competition. These larger events may include both mixed and women’s events. In addition, some clubs host “ratings restricted” events in which participants are restricted to those at or below a certain rating (C and Under, D and Under. and so forth). These can be found by using the search function on AskFRED.
In the last two years, we have also seen the growth of Regional Open Circuits (ROCs). These are typically large tournaments with fairly strong competition. They are held with the approval of the USFA but are not run by the national office. These are listed on both the USFA web site and on AskFRED. ROC tournaments also serve as a qualifying pathway for Division IA, one of the events at Summer National Championship. In 2010-2011 Maryland Division’s Charm City Open was a ROC.


Veteran fencers are those aged 40 and up. The Capitol Division currently hosts one Veterans’ tournament, the Tom Wright Memorial. Veterans’ tournaments in other divisions can be found by searching on AskFRED. There are two Veterans’ NACs during the season. Events held during these competitions include: Veteran Combined (40+); Veteran 50-59, Veteran 60-69, and Veteran 70+. Veterans’ events are also held at Summer Nationals. Participation in any NAC; any ROC; Sectional Championships; or the Division 2/3 qualifying competition makes the fencer eligible for National Championships in this category.

This Is So Confusing! How Do I Decide Which Tournaments To Compete In?

You can compete in as many tournaments as you like. When deciding on your competitive schedule you should talk to your coach about which tournaments will help you meet your goals for the upcoming season. You should also be honest with yourself about your budget. While going to national tournaments is a lot of fun, it can also be expensive. National tournament fees are considerably higher than those for locals and one must typically include airfare, hotel, and dining expenses.

Okay. I’m A Little Nervous, But I’m Ready To Get Out There And Compete. What Do I Need To Know?

Fencing.net has published an excellent guide (albeit ungrammatically titled) A Beginners Guide to Their First Tournament
Fencing.net has also published A Parents Guide to Fencing
And don’t forget the most important thing – have fun!