Competing as an IW Member

To answer some questions from members about competing we’ve put together a quick guide below in a Q&A format!

What do you need to compete?

  • In order to enter a USFA (United states Fencing Association) fencing tournament you need some basic equipment, a lot of which you can borrow! Every fencer needs a glove, a mask, a mans jacket, a lame (the metallic vest that plugs into the electric equipment,) 2 body cords (These connect your foil to your lame, 2 bib cords (these attach the bib to the lame, and the scoring box. You need two in case one breaks. If you don’t have a second on strip with you, you can be carded.), a plasteron (This is another layer of canvas that protects your underarm and chest,) knickers (don’t tell anyone, but baseball pants work fine too!), a chest protector if you’re female, 2 electric foils (Or whatever weapon you’re entered in. You need two for the same reason you need two body cords.), a pair of knee high socks and a pair of sneakers. The socks and gloves are your responsibility, but everything else you can talk to Coach Arthur about borrowing. The only restriction to borrowing is that the club may not have your size.

How do I register and what do I need to register?

  • The first thing you need to do is sort out your USFA membership. This means you can compete in any USFA sanctioned event and earn letters (We’ll talk about those later!) A year long basic membership is all you need and it runs $60. With that comes a free window decal, a year long subscription to The American Fencing Magazine, secondary medical/accident insurance, voting privileges for members over 18, discounts on equipment and a member ship card. You can also buy a one-day membership that’s valid for local events (essentially anything lower level) online and print out a card that shows you can fence on that day.  After squaring away your USFA dues you need to register for the tournament, and you do that on Just follow the steps on the website to register.

How do I know what to register for and what letter am I?

  • Tournaments are divided into different events and have names like Y12, Cadet, Senior all sorts of confusing technical bits. Anything with a Y in the title, Y12, Y14, Y17, etc, indicates a youth event. The number indicates the highest age allowed to compete in the event. Cadet is another name for Y17, and Junior is anyone under 20. Veteran is for the more seasoned fencer and only people born in 1971 or earlier are allowed to fence, unless a higher age is specified. Anyone can enter a ‘senior’ event, and mixed simply means that fencers of different levels are allowed to fence together. You’ll also see things like C and Under events. Fencers are ranked by letters to show their proficiency. All fencers begin as a U – unrated and progress to an E after winning a sanctioned tournament. After that they move forward until they reach an A. C and Under events are common and only allow fencers ranked C and lower to compete in order to give less experienced fencers a better shot.

It’s tournament day and I’m freaking out!

  • Don’t freak out, fencers usually get all their aggression out on the strip and are therefore pretty friendly people! On the morning of your tournament you’re going to want to pack some snacks and drinks to keep you going through the day. You may not have time to run out for lunch and events have a tendency to run long, especially if you do well. You should arrive a half hour before your event is slated to begin, even if you have heard that tournaments have a tendency to start late. Trust us, the one time you get there late will be the day they start on time. At the front of the room there should be a check in table. Find a place to stash your stuff then take your mask, your body cords and your USFA card to the check in table with you. After you check in the Armorer will check your equipment. All tournaments MUST check each fencers mask to make sure it doesn’t have weak spots or defects. The armorer will use a tool that looks like a spring loaded window punch to test your mask. Be warned, if your mask does have a weak spot and it breaks under the pressure of the punch the armorer is required to break your mask so you can’t use it anymore. If the mask belongs to you and you’ve just bought it then you should be fine. If, however, your brand new mask has a defect call the company you bought it from, they should replace it at no charge. When your mask passes you’ll get a stamp on the side.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     After you check in you should get suited up, stretch and be ready to be called. Soon ‘seeding’ will be announced and posted somewhere central. Here you’ll see which pool you were put into, what strip you’re on and which fencers you’ll be fencing. Pay attention, because you should hear your name called soon. When you are called to the strip your referee will check your equipment again and make sure you have on a plasteron and chest protector. Some judges will also check your foil to make sure you’re not cheating. When they call you you’ll either be put ‘on deck’ or ‘on strip.’ On strip means you’re fencing immediately, on deck means you’re up next. these initial bouts don’t matter as much as the later bouts will. How well you do in these bouts will affect where you’re placed in the brackets. It’s possible to do horribly in your pool, then fight your way up to the top and win the tournament, however you should try your hardest and try for the best placement you can get. After you get to the bracket stage the tournament become Direct Elimination. Once you lose a match you’re out for good. That’s how most tournaments will work, with a little variation depending on who’s running the events and little details that will change with every tournament.


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