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Ten Essential Tips for Navigating USA Fencing National Tournaments

02/22/2024, 8:30am CST
By Bryan Wendell & Michael Aiken

This guide is designed to help fencers and their supporters maximize their national tournament experience.

When it comes to domestic fencing events, you won’t find a better-run competition than a USA Fencing national tournament. 

But we know that the prospect of attending one of these signature competitions can be a little daunting, so we put together this guide designed to help fencers and their families make the most of their experience. From equipment checks to live results, here's everything you need to know:

Bringing your membership card will reduce your wait time at check-in (Photo by Serge Timacheff)

1. Bring Your Membership Card

Before heading to the tournament, download and print your membership card from the USA Fencing member portal. This card is your ticket to a swift check-in process at the venue, allowing you more time to prepare for your matches. Don't forget, you can also save the card on your phone for convenience.

This membership card is easily accessible from the main page. Simply click “download my membership card” on the right side of the main page located under “My Account” and “My Dashboard.” This membership card can then be used to scan and check yourself in at the registration desk at the venue. 

Although you have the option of manually checking in with one of our staff members at registration, scanning your membership card takes just 5 seconds and will give you more time to find your strip assignment, warm up and check your equipment. 

Pro tip: During the membership renewal period, every fencer also has the opportunity to order their own physical membership card for an additional $9.99. Many fencers like this option as an analog failsafe that remains in their wallet or fencing bag.

Getting your equipment checked the day before your competition will make your life easier. (Photo by Serge Timacheff)

2. Know the Equipment Check Protocol

Equipment check — where trained armorers ensure the fencer’s equipment meets safety and competition standards — is available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on competition days and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. the day before the tournament starts. Ensure your gear meets all requirements to avoid any last-minute stress. 

Remember, the armory's hours are strict to ensure our armorers are well-rested and ready to assist you. If your travel schedule allows, show up the day before you compete to get your equipment checked — especially if you have a morning event the next day.

Here are the items the Armory inspects when checking equipment at national tournaments:

  • Mask

  • Glove (Saber gloves must be FIE certified)

  • Up to three body cords

  • Up to three mask cords

  • Lame (Foil and Saber fencers only) 

Pro tips

  • Although they are not required to be checked during equipment check, fencers will still need to have an underarm protector, chest protector (mandatory for all women and for recommended for boys competing in Y10), and at least two weapons. All of these items will be checked on the strip by the referee officiating. 

  • All athletes are required to have their last name on their uniform, either on the back of the jacket or lame (if you are a foil fencer) or on the front or side of the thigh of the “rear leg”. Most fencers choose to get their name stenciled on the jacket or lame.

Forget something? Need a new blade? Our vendors have you covered. (Photo by Serge Timacheff)

3. Visit Our Vendors

Our vendors, including trusted suppliers like Absolute Fencing, Leon Paul and Blue Gauntlet, are open during equipment check hours. This is the perfect opportunity to purchase new gear or get your uniform stenciled for the event. Fencing equipment vendors also usually have an armorer or two with them for repairs, so if you have some equipment that needs a quick tune up, bring it!

Pro tip: USA Fencing includes the list of vendors in the Athlete E-Blast sent to registered attendees a few days before the tournament. Check out the email to see which vendors will be at your next tournament!

Bring lightly used gear by the Absolute booth to donate it. (Photo by Serge Timacheff)

4. Bring Lightly Used Gear to Donate

When you’re ready to upgrade or replace your fencing gear, don’t toss out that gently used or too-small equipment. Pay it forward! 

USA Fencing has partnered with Absolute Fencing to create the Equipment Refurbishment Program. Attendees at national tournaments can donate their lightly used fencing gear at the Absolute booth. 

Once these items are collected and inventoried, Absolute Fencing will take the donations, make any repairs needed, and offer it to fencers in under-resourced communities.

What to Donate:

  • Fencing Bags

  • Blades

  • Chest protector/guard

  • Electrical cords (body, face)

  • Gloves

  • Jackets

  • Lames (electrical vests)

  • Masks

  • Underarm protectors

  • Weapons

  • Pants

  • Scoring Equipment

Pro tip: If you have an item you’re considering donating that isn’t in the list above, stop by the Absolute booth to ask whether they’ll take it. And whatever you bring, make sure you do so before noon on the last day of the competition.

What time do you start and where? The Bout Committee aims to post pools by 7 p.m. the night before each competition day. (Photo by Serge Timacheff)

5. Stay Updated With Live Results

Check Fencing Time Live for pool assignments and bout schedules the night before your event. This platform is your go-to for staying informed about the tournament's progress, including strip assignments, start times and the name of your next opponent.

Pro tip: Pools are posted by approximately 7 p.m., local time, the night before each competition day.

Pools are carefully constructed to ensure competitive balance. (Photo by Serge Timacheff)

6. Understand the Pool Rounds

National tournament seeding is based on national rankings and ratings. 

Pools are made up of all of the fencers entered in the event who have not withdrawn before the 5 p.m. deadline the day before the start of the event. Top-seeded fencers typically each get their own pool.

Seeding works like this: 

  • Imagine an event with 168 fencers, divided into 24 pools of seven fencers each. The top seed is placed in the first pool, the second seed in the second pool, and so on, until each pool has one fencer. Once the 24th-seeded fencer is placed in the 24th pool, the process goes in reverse, meaning the 25th-seeded fencer is placed with the 24th seed, the 26th with the 23rd, and so on. This “snake” or zig-zag pattern continues until all the pools are filled.

  • At national tournaments, pre-tournament seeding is determined by the fencer’s national ranking, followed by their classification (A, B, C, D, E, or U/unrated).  If there are a number of fencers who are rated C23 (C is the classification, 23 is the year they earned that classification — 2023), but none of those fencers has national points, the seeding of these fencers will be randomly assigned, placed below those with B classifications but above those with D, E, or U classifications. These C23 fencers would also be seeded above C fencers with classifications earned in earlier years (like C22 or C21).

  • USA Fencing makes every effort to avoid placing fencers in pools with other fencers from the same clubs and/or division. The priority for avoiding conflicts is first to avoid club conflicts based on the fencers’ primary club and second to avoid conflicts with fencers from the same division. 

Pro tip: The classification deadline — the last day we accept new ratings — is 5 p.m. the day before the competition starts. That means, for example, that if the organizer of a regional event from the week prior has not provided the national office with the proper documentation before this deadline, the results and new ratings earned in that regional tournament will not be eligible to be used for the national tournament. Also, if a fencer earns a new rating during a national tournament, that rating will not be applied to the fencer’s profile until after the tournament ends, even if they have another event they are fencing later in the weekend. 

More about pool play: 

  • In pool play, a fencer competes against every fencer in their pool in a bout to five touches or three minutes — whichever happens first. 

  • Once the bouts in the pool are finished, fencers are ranked first by their winning percentage (which ensures fairness for fencers in pools of different sizes), next by how many victories they achieved in that pool and then by their indicator — touches scored minus touches received. (Learn more about how to read the pools screen on Fencing Time Live in this video.)

  • In some age categories, every fencer advances to the direct elimination rounds, or DEs. In others, a cut is made and only the top percentage of fencers will advance. Speaking of…

As with any sport, it's impossible to predict exactly when the competition will end for your fencer. (Photo by Serge Timacheff)

7. Prepare for DEs — and Potentially a Long Day

In youth categories — Y8, Y10, Y12 and Y14, all fencers advance to Direct Eliminations (DEs) during NACs. For National Championships, the promotion rates change, so be sure to check the Athlete Handbook for those!

In older divisions — Cadet, Junior and Division I at national events, a cut is made after pools, with the exact size varying based on a number of factors. 

Pro tip: One of the biggest questions that new fencing parents have is: how long will my kid’s event take? The answer is, it really depends — on pace of play, injury delays, referee numbers, strip availability and the number of competitors. Because national tournaments tend to attract large numbers, you can expect to be in the venue anywhere from five hours to all day, especially if you’re talking about epee or foil. It is for that reason why we always recommend flying out the day after your event so that you do not have to worry about missing your flights due to competition delays. We see it every tournament — a fencer who wasn’t expecting to earn a medal has to miss their medal ceremony to catch a flight!

Flighted pools means the pools will be divided into two separate start times. Pay careful attention to Fencing Time Live to see your exact start time. (Photo by Serge Timacheff)

8. Know About Flighted Events

Large tournaments might implement flighted pools or a two-pool format for certain events, depending on the number of competitors and availability of referees and strips.

Flighted pools: This means the pools will be divided into two separate start times. The first group will begin at the originally announced time — as outlined in the time schedule released about six weeks before the tournament. The second flight will “take off” an hour or two after the first flight begins. For example, a Junior Men’s Saber event scheduled to start at 8 a.m. may have two flights — one at 8 a.m. and one at 9 a.m. Watch Fencing Time Live to see which one you or your fencer is in when pools are posted the night before!.

Pro tip: Although all weapons and age categories have the potential to be flighted, it is very common for saber events to be flighted.

Click to enlarge

Two-Pool Format: Division I Epee and Foil 

Not to be confused with flighted pools, there’s another variation — and this one applies only to Division I Epee and Division I Foil (in both gender categories).

Here’s how it works: If a Division I Epee or Foil event reaches a threshold of 203 fencers or more at a national tournament, the event will become a two-pool event.

  • The event will remain a one-day event with the entire competition happening in a single day.

  • The top 34 fencers will receive a bye into the second round of pools. Byes will be awarded based on the USA Fencing National Rolling Points Standings as of the regular seeding deadline (10 days before the start of the tournament).

  • The top 75% of all fencers will be promoted from the first round of pools to a direct-elimination tableau. That first direct elimination tableau will be fenced to 64.

  • Those 64 fencers will join the 34 fencers who had byes and compete in a second round of pools featuring 98 fencers.

  • The top 75 fencers in the second round of pools will be promoted to the final direct-elimination rounds (DEs).

  • That final direct elimination tableau will be fenced to a gold medal!

Pro tips:

  • The top 34 athletes in two-pool events will receive byes and will not need to report until 1 p.m. (although we recommend you arrive at noon so you have enough time to properly warm up). The list of athletes who qualify for byes are the top 34 fencers in the respective rankings, as of the Wednesday prior to each national tournament. You should double check Fencing Time Live the night before to see if you are one of the 34 fencers awarded a bye past the morning pools.

  • We determine whether an event will use the two-pool format at the regular fee deadline and will let you know the following few days when the times are released if, in fact, there will be two rounds of pools. Once that decision is made, it is never reversed. In other words, you don’t have to worry about fencers withdrawing and dropping an event below that 203-fencer threshold. 

Missing something? All is not necessarily lost.

9. Don’t Stress About Lost Items

Misplaced items? Check first with the lost and found services at the venue. If you’ve already headed home, know that electronics, wallets, and highly valuable items are brought back to the national office. So contact us for those items. For fencing-related gear, that is handled by Absolute Fencing. If you’re missing something, contact to see if they have your gear. Absolute holds onto found items for 60 days before donating them to clubs in need.

Standings are updated a few days after the tournament ends. (Photo by Serge Timacheff)

10. Get Rankings After You Get Home

Results and standings are typically updated within two to three days of the tournament's conclusion. We appreciate your patience as our team takes a well-deserved break before finalizing the standings.

Bonus: More Important Tips

  • The competition hall opens at 7 a.m. on competition days. If we’re able to open a few minutes early, we will always try to do so. 

  • If you need to withdraw from an event, please email by 5 p.m. the night before. If you do not withdraw by the deadline, you will be issued a $250 no-show fee and your account will be locked, preventing you from registering for regional or national events until the fine is paid. We know this might sound extreme, but pool configuration and pool fairness are a very important part of the competitive experience. When fencers don’t let us know they are not attending, it leads to inaccurate pools that have a direct effect on the results of the competition.

  • Admission is free for all spectators, so make sure you invite friends and family members to watch.

  • USA Fencing does not validate parking at the convention center during competitions. 

  • Each convention center has its own policies regarding outside food being brought inside the exhibit halls. We will always try to notify you in advance via the athlete e-blast if a convention center has strict rules on outside food. With that said, most buildings are lenient in regards to items such as coffee, sports drinks, fruit and small snacks. We always try to work with our convention center partners to put together a menu that has at least some healthy options available to purchase as we understand the importance of proper refueling in between bouts.

Further Reading

USA Fencing has put together a series of articles, like the one you just read, to help fencers navigate our sport. Here are some more worth reading:


Tag(s): Updates