These are some of the things you should know in order to be an experienced competitor. Helping the tournament run smoothly will help you avoid surprises, and will make the referee a lot happier with you.

Before the competition

Flying with fencing gear

If possible, pack weapons and street clothes in your fencing bag, and put your entire fencing uniform in a carry-on bag. That way, if the airline should misplace your checked baggage, you only have to buy or borrow foils, which is a lot easier than buying or borrowing an entire uniform (or having to scratch from the tournament because you have no equipment).

Place PVC tubes around fencing blades to protect them, and pad them with clothes.

Things to remember to pack, to take to the competition venue: complete uniform (T-shirt, underarm protector, jacket, pants, mask, glove, shoes, long socks); electric gear (lamé, body cords, mask cords, foils); spare T-shirt to change into after competition; water bottle; snacks for during the competition.

When checking in at the airport, do not refer to “weapons”. Call it “sports equipment” or “fencing foils”. Do not make any kind of jokes at security checkpoints!

Equipment check

If you arrive the day before you fence, and there will be equipment inspection, go to the venue the day before you fence and get your gear inspected then. Then you don’t have to stand in line with 200 other fencers the morning of the competition.

It’s a good idea to check out your weapons before the tournament – use a test weight and test box if you have them, inspect the tape on the end of the foil and replace it if necessary, etc. Your coaches will help you, but it’s your responsibility to make sure your equipment is in good working order.

Day of the competition

Get up and eat

Plan to be at the competition venue at least 30 minutes before the close of registration time; 45 minutes if you will need to get your equipment inspected. How much time you need before that to wake up, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, etc. is up to you.

Most competition venues don’t have locker rooms or large bathrooms, so you will probably need to change into your knickers and long socks at your hotel.


When you get to the venue, the first thing to do is check in at the registration desk. You’ve sent in an entry form, so they’re expecting you, but you still need to let them know that you actually showed up. If you’re fencing more than one event on the same day, you may have to check in separately for each one – ask when you check in for your first event. You should have your USA Fencing membership card with you just in case.

Base camp

Next, find a place around the perimeter of the venue where you can park your bag. We will typically have all of our fencers in the same area so we can keep track of you. Try to keep a reasonable distance away from the fencing strips, and try not to obstruct walkways.

Initial seeding

At most (though not all) large tournaments, a list of who’s pre-registered will be posted on large video monitors somewhere, as well as the online live results website. Go look and find yourself in the list, and see if they have your club affiliation and rating correct. If anything is wrong, let a coach know and we’ll go to the bout committee to get things straightened out.

Equipment check

If you haven’t already had it done, go get your equipment inspected. The armorers will check your mask to be sure it’s safe, and your lamé and body cords to make sure they’re working. Masks and lamés get stamped with an ink stamp; body cords get marked with a colored plastic cable-tie or a piece of colored tape. Watch the armorer test each piece of equipment and mark it. If they forget to mark something and you don’t notice, it’s your problem. If tape is used to mark your body cord, check if it’s still there when you’re done warming up to make sure it hasn’t fallen off.

Warm up

You should warm up and stretch a bit, and then you should get dressed, hook up and fence several warmup bouts. Remember that you are warming up your brain as well as your body, so practice strategy and tactics as well as technique. Do not warm up with just one person the whole time, and don’t warm up with just your teammates. Look around for any other fencer who is looking for an opponent, and offer to warm up with them. If somebody asks you to warm up with them, say “yes”. You should fence at least 3 or 4 warm-up bouts, for a total of at least 15 or 20 minutes.

Pools are posted

At some time after the close of registration, the bout committee will announce that the pools and strip assignments have been posted, again on the monitors and online. Finish your warm-up bouts and go see which strip you’re supposed to be on. Then, take all your gear, including all your weapons and body cords, to that strip and await your referee.

The bout committee always attempts to keep club conflicts in the pools to a minimum, so all of our fencers will be on different strips. We will do our best to watch as many of your bouts as we can, but inevitably there will be more of you fencing at once than there are coaches.

During the actual competition

Referee takes attendance

When your referee shows up at your strip, he or she will take attendance. When the referee calls your name or asks who you are, they will ask to see the inspection marks on your equipment, and your underarm protector and chest protector. Experienced fencers show up to their pool with their lamé and jacket partially unzipped so the referee can see the underarm protector. You can have your spare body cords inside your mask and a bundle of foils in your hand, or you can place them beside the strip and point them out when the referee asks.

Take note of which number you are in the pool. Typically the referee will call the on-strip and on-deck bouts by names and numbers, so if you know your number, you have two things to listen for. You can also look in the bout order to see when you’re fencing next.

It’s a good idea to see who else is in your pool – are they tall or short, are they left handed, etc.

Look to see when your first bout will be. If you’re in the first bout, start to hook up.

Initial reconnaissance

Usually you have to approach your first pool bout without any advance information. However, all your other bouts will be against fencers who fence other bouts before yours. If you watch their earlier bouts, you can learn things about how they fence. Are they aggressive or defensive? Do they have a particular parry they always use? Are there any patterns in their footwork or other movements that give away when they’re about to attack, or when they’re off balance? How are they scoring, and how are their opponents scoring on them? Any information you can learn before you have to fence an opponent helps you know what to do first.

On deck and on strip

At the beginning of each bout, the referee will call who is fencing now, and who is on deck. Be listening for each one of these calls. If you are on deck, pay attention to the current bout. When the score gets to 4-something, you should have your jacket and lamé zipped up, your glove on, and your foil connected. When the bout ends and the fencers are saluting, you should already be headed toward the correct end of the strip to hook up.

If you are always ready to hook up as soon as it’s your turn to fence (before the referee even calls you), and you’re clearly doing your best to keep things running smoothly, the referee will be far more inclined to cut you some slack if you have an equipment problem or something else that might delay things. If you don’t realize that you’re supposed to be fencing until the referee calls your name for the second time, and you then work on zipping up your jacket and putting your glove on and finding your favorite foil, your referee will not be inclined to let you delay things any further. Remember the story about the four red cards and the untied shoe!

While you’re fencing

The referee will do the weapon check (the weight, etc.) before the bout starts. You should make sure your socks are pulled up and shoes are tied before you hook up. After the weight test, the referee will usually ask the fencers to test lamés. If the referee doesn’t ask, do it anyway. Then, salute your opponent and the referee. The referee doesn’t usually ask you to salute, it’s assumed. The salute can be modern and efficient, but should also be deliberate and respectful. If, after you test, the referee is busy resetting his clock or working on the score sheet, it’s a good idea to wait until the referee makes eye contact before you salute, so they know you’ve done it. Then, put your mask on and go on guard.

The referee will say three things: “On guard”, “Ready?”, and “Fence”. The second one is a question. If you’re not ready, say “No sir/ma’am” loud enough for them to hear. It’s best to be ready when they ask, though. For example, after a touch, sight along your blade as you walk back to the on guard line. If the bend in your blade isn’t right, start fixing it as you go back to the on guard line. It’s much less distracting to the referee that way than if you notice it just after they say “Fence”.

If you need to get the referee to call a halt while you’re fencing because your shoe is untied or you need to fix your glasses or something, first back up a couple of steps, then wave your back hand and stomp your back foot. Once they call halt, indicate why you asked and then tie your shoe or fix your glasses or whatever. The referee will let you request a halt if something needs fixing, but will not let you delay the bout needlessly. You can request a halt if there is something obviously wrong about your opponent, too – they have a big loop of body cord coming out of their glove, their shoe’s untied, etc.

You are allowed to check how much time is left in the bout at any regular halt in the action. You are not allowed to request a halt just to ask for the time. If the scoring machine doesn’t have a built-in clock and you want to know how much time is left, ask the referee, who will ask the timekeeper, who will tell the referee, who will tell both fencers.

If you are behind, and you feel that the bout has been going on a long time (or a long time since you last asked for time), it’s a good idea to check the time to make sure it’s not running out. If the score is tied, there’s not much point in asking about the time since the bout won’t end when it expires anyway (you’ll go into overtime). If you are ahead, don’t ask about the time at all. If your opponent is unaware that the clock is running down, you shouldn’t wake him up to the fact.

After each bout

When you finish a bout, you’ll be expected to return to your on-guard line to salute your opponent, the referee, and the audience before you shake hands. You can then quickly test your weapon with the weight if you want. Then unhook.

After you unhook, it’s a good idea to check the score sheet to make sure that the score for the last bout got written down correctly. If there’s a mistake, it’s a lot better to point it out right away, rather than wait until the end of the pool when the referee can’t remember what happened early on.

Also look at the bout order to see when your next bout will be. In a pool of 5, you can be on deck immediately after you finish a bout (only one bout to rest), so pay attention. In a larger pool, you may have to wait 3 or 4 bouts before your next one. If you have a long wait and you need to go to the bathroom or refill your water bottle, that’s a good time to ask the referee if you may leave the strip to do so. Never leave the strip area without the referee’s permission, and always come back as quickly as possible.

After the pool

After your pool is finished, your referee will total up the victories and indicators. Check your scores and indicators to make sure they’re all correct, and make sure the referee did the totals correctly. Then initial the score sheet, thank the referee, and shake their hand. Then you can collect all your gear and head back to base camp. Make sure you get all your spare weapons and body cords, including any that might have been confiscated during the pool.

After the pool is a good time for a snack. There will usually be a substantial delay before the direct elimination phase starts – at least 15 minutes after the last pool finishes. However, do not leave the venue until you have been eliminated from the competition. If you’re not in the room when they call you to fence, you get black carded if you don’t show up within two minutes.

Direct elimination

Eventually the bout committee will announce that the pool results and direct elimination tables have been posted. Go and see where you are in the results (you should have a rough idea from your victory ratio and indicators), and which strip you will fence your DE on. Collect all your gear and report to that strip. The referee will typically take attendance for all the bouts that will be fenced on that strip, just like for the pool.

For Youth-10 events, each direct elimination bout is to ten touches or two 3-minute periods. You get a one-minute rest after 3 minutes or when one fencer has scored 5 touches, whichever comes first.

All other age groups fence a 15-touch bout for direct elimination. You get three periods of 3 minutes each, with a one-minute rest in between.

At the end of the bout, you will need to check the score (make sure they wrote down the winner correctly!) and initial the score sheet.

If you win a DE bout, your next bout will usually be on the same strip, after the other bouts in the same round. At a national tournament, you will usually get to take the score sheet back to the bout committee platform. They may give you another slip to take back to the referee running your strips. If your next bout will be elsewhere, the bout committee or the referee will let you know.

When you get eliminated, again thank your referee and shake their hand. Then you can take your gear back to base camp and get undressed.

After the competition

After you’re eliminated

After you’re eliminated, stay around to watch the fencing. You should, of course, cheer on any of your teammates who are still fencing. Also stick around to watch the final bouts in your event. These are fencers who are better than you are, so you can learn a lot by watching how they fence.

Final standings

Final standings may be posted at the conclusion of the event, or you may have to wait until you get home to check the results when they’re posted on the Internet. We can get a rough estimate based on your initial seed out of the pools and what round you were eliminated in.

At a large tournament, we don’t assume you’re going to be winning medals. As long as you fence the way we know you’re capable of fencing, you will finish where you’re supposed to, and we’re happy.