This article explains the letter classification system that the USFA uses to rank fencers going into tournaments.
The classification system
USA Fencing ranks fencers with letters, “A” through “E”. These classifications (sometimes called “ratings”) are earned in tournaments. In general, the higher the level of fencers already in the tournament, the higher the classifications that get awarded.
“A” is the highest letter classification that a fencer can earn; “E” is the lowest. Fencers who have not yet earned an “E” are considered Unclassified (“U”). Fencers can earn classifications independently in each of the three weapons.
Letter classifications can be used as a measure of a fencer’s progress in the sport. They are also used for the initial seeding in tournaments. For seeding purposes, the fencer’s classification is used, along with the year it was earned. For example, a B13 would be ranked above a B12, who would be ranked above a C13.
Your classification drops one letter if it’s not renewed within four years. For example, at the end of the 2013-2014 season, a C10 would become a D14.
The classification chart
The classification chart is visible here, courtesy of AskFRED.Net:
Each category has several criteria: a minimum number of fencers in the event, a minimum number of fencers who already have certain classifications, and how many of those must finish near the top. Each category then awards classifications to the top finishers.
Classifications for kids
For events in the Youth and Cadet age groups, categories E1 and D1 do not exist. If a Youth or Cadet competition is not at least a C1 event, then no classifications are awarded. C1 or higher events are common in Y14 or Cadet foil in Western Washington, but rare in the other weapons or the younger age groups.
Classification restrictions in competitions
Almost always, if a tournament restricts entry based on the fencers’ classifications, the restriction is designed to make the event developmental by keeping out the higher-level fencers. Typical tournament categories include:
- Unrated or Novice – no rated fencers allowed
- E & Under – no D’s or higher allowed
- D & Under (also called Division III) – no C’s or higher allowed
- C & Under (also called Division II) – no B’s or higher allowed.
The main exception to this general rule is Division I national tournaments, which are only open to fencers classified “C” or higher.
How long does it take?
Since fencers progress at different rates, there is no set timeline for earning new classifications. Some fencers will earn an “E” or “D” within a year of starting competition; others may take longer. The higher levels (“A” and “B”) require much more technical and tactical ability, as well as competition experience. Because a classification represents a “high water mark”, fencing more competitions means more opportunities to earn a new classification. The age group rule described above means that youth fencers often don’t have the opportunity to earn any classification at all until they start fencing Youth-14 and older events.
Once fencers reach higher levels of national competition, they start earning points toward the US national rankings. These are earned by placing in the top 40% of Super Youth Circuits or the top 32 or 64 of National tournaments. The top fencers also earn additional points at international events. These national rankings are eventually used to select teams to represent the US at the World Championships and Olympic Games.