"Choose yer weapon, Laddie!"
(or: Dude, where's my foil?)
A guide to beginner competition in the USFA
Sam Signorelli

Last updated: 10-14-01

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Welcome to the world of official USFA competition in the Southern California Division. This package is designed to allow you to navigate through your first tournament without looking like a total newbie (and, to paraphrase George C. Scott in "Patton", make someone ELSE look like a total newbie).

USFA tourneys in the SoCal Division are usually held at Chaminade High School, located at 7500 Chaminade Ave. in West Hills, either in the main gym, or in the cafeteria (also known as the Bob Hope Center). There are occasionally tournaments in other locations in our division, such as Monroe High School and USC, and of course other divisions run their own tournaments at places like CSULB - OCD (Cal State Univ. Long Beach - Orange Coast Division), so be sure to check the schedule carefully.

Fencing starts at various times depending on the weapon scheduled, but the first event of the day begins at 9:00, after the close of check-in. Check-in for each individual event opens 30 to 60 minutes before the scheduled close for that event, depending on the anticipated size of the event. It is the fencer's responsibility to be present and checked in by that time and to have any necessary safety/weapons checks performed, such as the mask, body cord and/or lame check. It's usually a good idea to arrive at the event by the opening of check-in at the latest so you can check in, stretch and warm up. In addition, this allows you time to do emergency field repairs if, for example, the collar on your sabre lame fails the conductivity test and you have to spend your planned warm-up time feverishly sewing lame material on the collar so it'll pass, as I can well attest!

Some important things to remember:

1) Membership in the USFA is mandatory. If you haven't already joined, you can do so at the event. A blank membership form can be found here. The fee is $40.00, payable to the USFA. If you have already joined, you MUST bring proof of your membership and present it to the bout committee when you sign in for an event. This can be either your membership card or a receipt from the bout committee if you joined at an event and your card hasn't arrived yet.

2) Event entry fees are $10.00 per event, payable to the USFA. (Note: team fees are $36.00 per team, or $12.00 per person for a 3 person team, $9.00 per person for a 4 person team). Be advised that some events such as club sponsored fund-raising events, Pacific Coast Section circuit events, and, of course large national events run directly under USFA's auspices (such as North American Cup events) charge higher entry fees. If you plan to attend any of these larger events, be VERY aware of the application deadline. North American Cups are very strict; if your application is not in the hands of the entry clerk by the specified deadline, you'll pay triple fees just to get in the door...and NACs run $25 per event in addition to the $30.00 registration fee. IMPORTANT NOTE: All payments for SoCal Division events MUST be made via check ONLY, made out to USFA. CASH AND/OR CREDIT CARDS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED. Please also note that entry fees and USFA membership fees must be on separate checks. However, multiple event entry fees may be on one check (i.e. $20.00 to fence in both an epee and foil event on the same day). Note: The USFA national office will accept credit card payments for national event entry fees and memberships.

3) Effective with the 2000-2001 season, There will be a $2 cash set-up/tear down fee in addition to the entry fee. This fee is payable once each competitive day (regardless of how many events entered) for tear down at the end of the day. The money will be collected, then around noon the bout committee, or designee, will ask for volunteers to do tear-down (the number needed to be determined each day). That number of names will be drawn by lot from the volunteers. When the tear down/clean up is complete, they will split the cash!

In order to compete in USFA competitions, you must have the following:

1) 1 regulation fencing jacket with crotch strap (for all three weapons. The old-style sabre jacket that stopped at the waist is no longer allowed)

2) 1 regulation underarm protector

3) 1 fencing glove for your weapon hand (some people wear an additional glove on their off-hand, just in case it drifts forward during actual fencing, but this is not required). The cuff must extend at least halfway up the forearm and be sewn into the glove. Since the arm is part of the target area in sabre, those fencers have an additional partial lame glove called a manchette that fits over the fencing glove up to the bony protuberance of the wrist. Note for sabre fencers: Even enough the back of the hand is no longer target, there must still be a piece of material covering the back of the hand, sewn into the manchette and with a finger loop to secure it in place. This is to prevent the possibility of the blade sliding up under the manchette and catching the arm, much like the cuff on the glove does re the sleeve. After the rules changed, some companies sold manchettes that did not have this null back piece. These are no longer legal for fencing in the USFA, unless a back piece has been sewn on. If in doubt, check with your local committee.

4) 1 pair WHITE fencing pants. Baseball pants may be acceptable as long as 1) they pass the 10cm test, i.e. the bottom of the jacket must overlap the top of the pants by at least 10cm (about 4") when in the en garde position (This is generally referred to as the "10 centimeter rule"), and 2) the material is robust enough not to tear if it catches the point. Many baseball pants are made with material that will rip easily, and therefore not afford the protection fencing knickers do. In a pinch, white marching band pants (the kind that are one piece, going over the shoulder will do. They're designed for use with short-waisted uniform tops) can be converted to be used as knickers. My first pair when I got back into the sport were done that way. Because marching band uniforms are designed to last 10 season of heavy use, they're fairly strong. Sweat pants are NOT acceptable (they're too loose and may catch the point); whatever pants you wear must fit close enough to the body to prevent your opponent's point from catching the material. If in doubt, ask the bout committee or officers in the division prior to the tournament, as they are the final authority. Shorts are NOT allowed.

5) 1 pair socks. Solid-colored socks are permissible (witness my infamous purple ones!), but regardless of color, they must cover the entire shin so no exposed skin is showing. Although this is probably the least enforced rule anywhere at the local level, for the sake of your skin, follow it; any padding is better than none. But please don't wear anything like a neon yellow...burning out the eyes of your competitors isn't very sporting.

6) 1 pair shoes. Fencing must be done in tennis or other sport shoes. Street shoes and sandals are not allowed.

7) If you're a man, a cup is optional. If you're a woman, breast protectors are mandatory. They can be the "hubcap" kind (the look like metal or plastic yarmulkes that slip into pockets inside the jacket) or what I like to call the "Joan of Arc," (and which others call "Barbie Boobs") which is a plastic breastplate that fits under the jacket and covers the upper half of the torso.

8) 1 (at least) fencing mask, appropriate for the weapon (i.e. no electric sabre masks for epee or foil, and no foil/epee masks for electric sabre). VERY IMPORTANT! The mask MUST have a sewn-in bib and be able to withstand the 12kg safety punch test. Masks with snap-in bibs are NOT acceptable. Some masks sold are designed for beginners during lessons, but are not built to withstand the rigors of actual competition, let alone the punch test. If you buy your own mask, make sure it will pass the punch and bib tests. Be warned: Even if it's fresh from the box and is rated as an FIE mask (meaning it meets the minimum requirements to be used at the highest levels, i.e. World Cup events), it can still fail the punch test before it's ever used in competition (I've seen it happen). On the other hand, I've seen some masks that have clearly seen better days pass with flying colors.

9) 1 (at least) foil lame (or sabre if that's what you're fencing. There is no lame for epee), and manchette (for sabre). Be sure you don't bring one with a lot of dead spots (see above comment re checking in early).

10) 2 (at least) working body cords (at least 2 mask cords as well, for sabre). A note on body cords. The bayonet type cords do not have a retaining clip to hold the cord in place; the cord has a small round flange that twists into the socket to secure the cord. Two-prong cords have either a built-in spring-loaded retaining clip (Uhlmann/Allstar type) or a separate plastic clip attached to the socket (Prieur type). These retaining clips must be present when you hook up. The Uhlmann/Allstar-type can sometimes be used with a Prieur-type socket because the spring-loaded clip hooks over the socket. The Prieur type clip is attached to the socket and goes over the head of the body cord. These clips have a habit of coming off the weapon, and you cannot use one of them on a Uhlmann/Allstar type socket because the designs are a little different and the retaining clip won't fit on the socket. If you use the Prieur type, make sure you have extra retaining clips. The lack of a retaining clip is a penalty.

Epee cords must also be secured, and have much the same differances, except that the Uhlmann/Allstar epee sockets have a clip built into the socket. The Prieur types are the same type design as their foil sockets.

11) 2 (at least) working weapons. Remember: It is YOUR responsibility that the weapons and cords be in working order when you arrive at the strip, so check them out before the competition. Be further warned: weapons and cords have a habit of failing at the worst time, i.e. when you're on a scoring binge in D.E. Really throws the momentum off if you have to change a cord several times, not to mention the penalty points you can get.

Long hair must be tucked under the mask or into the lame/jacket, as it cannot cover the lame in sabre and foil.

I will assume you've had some experience with the electric gear at the salle, but there are some procedures - such as the weight test - that we don't normally do at SwordPlay and you need to be aware of them so you don't get unnecessary penalty cards due to lack of knowledge.

Competition format

The usual format you'll see at local competition is "pools then DE." Here's how it works:

Assume there are 28 fencers in the field (doesn't matter what weapon, the format's the same). There will be 4 pool of 7 fencers each. You will fence everyone in your pool once in 5-touch bouts. You will not be fencing people in the other pools during the pool round. For purposes of this example, assume it's a really small turnout -- 7 people total, all in one pool.

Here's the way the pool sheet looks at the end of the pool round:

Since Sulu fenced on TV (Classic "Trek", episode "The Naked Time" for those interested), he kicked some serious butt and beat everyone in the pool and had 6 victories. Lt. Worf had 4 victories and is in 2nd place. Seven of Nine, Capt. Kirk and YOU all had 3 victories, which makes the indicators ((Ind) the difference between touches scored (TS) and received (TR)) the determining factor for placement. Seven of Nine scored 26 touches and was scored on 22 times. Her indicator is +4. YOU recorded 23 touches and received the same, so your indicator is 0. Capt. Kirk scored 19 times, but was hit 22 times, thus making his indicator a -3. The higher indicator is the higher placement, so Seven of Nine is in 3rd place, YOU 4th and Capt. Kirk 5th. If indicators had been tied, whoever scored more would get the higher placement. (If there is an absolute tie in indicators, touches scored and touches received, the bout committee flips a coin) Going on, Cmdr. Spock is starting Pon-Farr and is not paying attention, so he only gets two wins and tales 6th place. Finally - as befits someone in Starfleet Security - Ens. Expendable gets killed and takes 7th place with no wins at all.

Now the tournament can go several ways. 1) It could be by pools, which means the pool results are the finals results for the tournament, if it's only one pool of fencers. 2) The pool results could be used to calculate a Direct Elimination table with everyone going to DE, or 3) (and the usual format for larger tournaments) the pool results are used to calculate a DE table with only the top 80% of the overall field going to DE. (80% of 7 is 5.6. Since the percentages are rounded up, 6 of the pool go to DE and Ens. Expendable would be through for the day). For this example, everyone goes to DE.

Here's what the DE chart looks like after the pool round. Table A is the first one posted and shows the seedings and pairings going into DE. The rest of the chart shows the end results of the tournament.


As you can see, every touch counts; one touch can make the difference between a relatively easy DE path and the path of doom. Do not give away touches, not even to make someone else feel good if they haven't scored all day. It will hurt your seedings in the long run.

Direct Elimination bout are 15 exhausting touches. Win and you keep going. Lose and you go home (unless you're in the round of 4, in which case you might be fencing for third place)

Length of fencing periods in pool and direct elimination

Pool bouts are one 4 minute long period. DE bouts are 3 periods of 3 minutes each, with a one minute break in between. Time is only counted when fencing is occurring. After the director calls "halt," time stops running and does not begin again until the director calls "fence." The one minute break between DE periods, however, is real-time.

Team format

Team competitions are fun, but the format is slightly different. Each team consists of three members (sometimes including a 4th as an alternate). Teams fence each other in a three part relay for a total of 9 bouts, so each team member fences each member of the opposing team...somewhat like individual pool bouts. The period lengths are the same...it's the scoring that's different. Team matches end with the first team to score 45 touches. Here's an example:

The NorCal Foil Bunnies are fencing the War Dogs (don't laugh...I've seen teams with BOTH of those names). After the 1st bout the Foil Bunnies are ahead 5-3. The next bout (and all successive bouts) end when the next higher multiplier of 5 is reached. In this case, the Foil Bunnies only need to score 5 touches to win the next bout (raising their score to 10), but the War Dogs must score 7. Coming from way behind happens often. In my first sectional tournament, I scored 11 times to my last opponent's 3 to even the score at 40. My teammate, Freewind, who was in the anchor slot, finished it off and we won the match.

Most team competitions are a straight DE format. Every so often there are pools, but it's only happened once to me. There are several different formats for the bout committee to choose from.

In team play, as in individual, it's always important to remember the words of Yogi Berra...it ain't over 'til it's over!

Equipment check, hooking up & getting down to business

Equipment check

Equipment checks vary from event to event. Some events only check the mask (which, to my mind, is by far the most important one), while larger sectional or national events check the mask, body cords, lames, and even the weapons themselves. 90% of the time in local competition, it's just the mask.

The mask is tested by way of a spring loaded punch. The probe's diameter is slightly larger that the width of the mask mesh. It is placed perpendicular to the mask surface and depressed all the way down. If the probe does not punch through the mask, it passes. If the probe punches through the mask anywhere -- it doesn't matter if it's on the backside behind your ear -- it fails and cannot be used again in competition because the failure indicates the mesh is starting to get weak. In many cases, the mask is destroyed right then and there. If you think this is overly severe, ask any fencer who's been around awhile about what happened to a Russian World and 1980 Olympic champion named Vladimir Smirnov in 1982...you'll appreciate the mask test then. The Reader's Digest version: during the World Championships, his opponent's broken blade punched through the mask and thorugh his eye. He died 9 days later. Rather quickly thereafter, stronger equipment was mandated...the mask had to withstand 12kg of pressure instead of the 7kg mandatory at the time, and the way was paved for the inclusions of Kevlar and other ballistic fabrics in the uniforms and maraging steel in blades.

It should be noted that this type of accident is extremely rare. Bruises, other soft tissue injuries and the occasional repetitive stress-type injury are more the norm.

Hooking up

It sounds like such a simple thing...hook up to the strip. But there are a few things you do need to know.

1) Fencers are called to the strip in a particular order, depending on how many are in the pool. For each bout, the first called fencer hooks up to the director's right, unless that fencer is a left-hander, in which case he'll hook up to the director's left. If it's two lefties, it won't matter; 1st called to the director's right. The reason for this is so the director can see the chest area of the competitors...the most likely area for touches to arrive. it also allows the director to more easily see covering actions or grabbing of the blade.

2) The alligator clip on your body cord (for foil/sabre) must be attached to your lame at the back on the weapon side. This is to ensure it cannot be removed by the non-weapon hand during the bout (thus interrupting the circuit and rendering any touch landed by your opponent an off target). Most people clip it right next to the center line on the back. There is no such clip for epee.

3) The floor reels can run as high as $500.00 per unit. Under NO circumstances should you let the plug go if you're more than a foot or two away from the reel. The force of the plug slamming into the reel housing after being retracted at high speed for 30 feet can seriously damage the reel...and I guarantee that EVERY experienced fencer will look directly at you if you do this, even accidentally. Some divisions have in-house rules about this that allow for penalty cards -- or even monitary penalties -- if such an action is deemed deliberate. ALWAYS either hand the plug to the next fencer or walk it all the way back to the reel.

4) The clip on the plug that goes over your body cord is there to keep the reel cable from coming apart from your body cord and slamming back into the reel housing. Make sure you use it, if it's there and will stay on in the first place.

5) In sabre there is an additional cord that goes from a tab on the back of the lame to the mask to allow the box to register hits to the head area. There is no specific place on the mask to clip it to, but most people clip it to the mask frame near their ear on the off-weapon side, to the lame near the cheek on the same side, or to the frame right above the top of the head. This cable has a habit of coming off during the action, so check to make sure it's there after particularly energetic exchanges.

The weight & lame/bell guard test

After you have hooked up to the scoring reels, you will present your weapon to the director for the weight and/or shim test (this applies only to foil and epee; there is no weight test for sabre). A weight will be placed over the tip while it is held vertically (500 grams for foil, 750 grams for epee). The spring in the tip must lift the appropriate weight. This is indicated by the scoring box. When the weight is placed on the weapon, the appropriate side of the scoring box will light up. If the light goes off and stays off, the weapon passes. If it stays on, the weapon fails and may not be used for that bout unless it has been repaired in the meantime. This also gets you a yellow penalty card (which will be discussed later). This is why you have to bring at least 2 working weapons to the strip. In foil, once the weight test is done for both sides, you can touch each other's lames to make sure touches will register and then get ready to do combat. In epee there is an additional two part shim test. There must be at least 1.5 mm between the bottom of the point and the top of the barrel, and at least .5 mm distance of travel in the point before the light goes off. The space shim is simply placed in the tip. If it can be inserted, it's good. The travel shim is likewise inserted into the tip, then the point itself is depressed. If the light goes on, it fails. If the light stays off, you're good to go. After then, the director will look to ensure the point has both screws in place and that a retaining clip is on the body cord socket in the guard. Missing screws or retaining clip is a yellow card offense.

There is no lame test in epee. Instead, each fencer in turn will touch his tip to his opponent's bell guard and push to depress his point. If the light stays off, the circuit is properly grounded and no hits on the guard will register. If a light goes on, something's wrong, usually either the guard's not properly grounded or there's some rust on the guard, which would insulate the ground. In higher level competitions (like North American Cups) the strips are covered by a copper mesh strip, which also grounds out any floor hits in foil and epee.

In sabre you can test by simple touching your opponent's lame or mask with your blade; no pressure is necessary. Most people touch the mask.

Proper etiquette (salutes & decorum on the piste)

After you have hooked up, been tested by the director and tested lames/bell guards, you'll return to your on guard line, salute your opponent and the director (and in some cases, the audience), put your mask on, come on guard and wait for the command to fence. Stay still when the director asks if you're ready; they hate a bouncy fencer and will get testy if they have to wait for you to settle down.

Safety note: Learn to put your mask on with your non-weapon hand. People who use both hands to put on the mask tend to send their points flying all over the place, usually towards someone's face. Use your unarmed hand and keep the weapon point down toward the ground. It's easy...just put your chin in first and pul the mask back over your face. it has the added advantage of pulling long hair back away from your face...if, unlike myself, you HAVE hair!

VERY IMPORTANT: When the director ask if you are ready - by asking "Fencers ready?" (Or some variation thereof) "Etes-vous prets?" ("Are you ready" in French) or in some other fashion, you MUST respond verbally if you are not ready to go, and loudly enough so the director can hear you over the other noises in the area. If you say nothing, that is deemed as an affirmative response and the director may start the fencing before you're actually ready. If you get scored on in that situation, it's your own fault for not letting the director know.

When the director is satisfied that everyone's ready to go (it may only be a second long of a wait), the command to fence will be given by the director saying "Fence," "Begin," "Allez," ("Begin" in French) or some variation thereof. Once fencing begins, don't stop until you hear your director call the halt. Even if you KNOW you hit your opponent, that doesn't mean the light went off, and it's a sure way to get hit yourself. If you need to, you can remove your mask to wipe sweat out of your eyes, scratch your nose, etc. only AFTER the director has halted the action.

At SwordPlay - and at most informal encounters between friends - there's a lot of talking, jibing and "smack talk" `between the fencers as they go at each other. You can't do that in official competition. Nor can you crook a finger in a "bring it on" gesture. This is defined as taunting, and it's a cardable offense.

If you see a potentially dangerous situation - i.e. a weapon with a very sharp bend beyond a normal curve, an untied shoelace, a broken blade, some doofus walking across the strip right behind your opponent, etc. -- you cannot just stop fencing and call halt yourself. Back up a few steps, raise your non-weapon hand and stomp you foot a bit to get the director's attention. He'll stop the bout and you can have the problem taken care of.

Penalties - what's gonna get you nailed

This is a goodie. The penalty chart is here. It's at the bottom of the page. Most of the infractions are self-explanatory. A yellow card stays with you for the entire bout, so if you have yellow card because a weapon failed the weight test, it stays with you until the bout is over. Earning a second yellow card for any reason, such as turning your back, equals a red card, with is a point against you. It is entirely possible to lose a bout on penalties.

Some examples of card offenses are: turning your back, covering target, touching your weapon or body cord with your non-weapon hand after the command to fence, throwing/swinging your equipment or otherwise displaying anger that might get someone hurt, unhooking and/or stepping off the strip without asking the director first; stepping off the strip with one foot during fencing (except during a fleche), fleche or crossing of the feet during a forward motion (in sabre only), etc.

Going off the side of the strip with one foot is a warning, and will stop the fencing. Going off the very end with both feet is an automatic red card. Being off with both feet is defined as both feet crossing the vertical plane of the end of the strip, so if you're doing epee and you've got one foot off the end, your opponent goes for your front foot and you pull it out of the way, it's gonna be a red card if that foot crosses the plane of the end of the strip.

If you need to leave the venue for a bathroom break, make sure the director knows about it. If you get called to the strip several times and aren't present, you'll lose the bout. Most directors will let this slide if they know you're in the bathroom.

On the other hand, if, before you get knocked out of the tournament, you leave the venue to go home, back to work, or just because you're pissed off at something, you MUST advise the bout committe that you're leaving and why. Failure to do so can result in the dreaded black card, which may affect you at future competitions. The black card's a nasty one. Avoid it at all costs. There are several ramifications to earning a black card. 1) It gets reported to the National office. A fencer can be banned for a time if deemed necessary. 2) It doesn't matter if you've just taken 2nd place, earned your "A" rating, and qualify to compete at the National Championships...get a black card and you don't get jack. No medal, no rating, no qualifying status. All you'll get are the words "Fencer Excluded" where your name should be on the results sheet.

Covering target/turning back on opponent (one word: DON'T)

Turning your back is self-explanatory. It's a safety issue, since you don't want the back of your head exposed. Covering target is a bit more complicated but it boils down to this: if your non-weapon arm is covering your lame in foil in any way during an exchange of action, it's a penalty. Don't do it; keep that arm back and out of the way. Covering can be as seemingly minor as having the non-weapon arm running straight down your side if it's not away from the body; it's still covering target if it touches your side.

Addressing the director

Only the fencers have the right to address the director in reference to an action, although most directors at the local level will answer a question from a coach. If you need to ask a question, especially if you think you did a parry-riposte and the director says your opponent did a beat-attack, don't yell at the director; be polite about it. My general rule of thumb is to ask once and let it go if it doesn't go my way. For example: Me - "That wasn't a parry-riposte, Sir?" Director - "No. Your opponent landed mal parre, then your riposte landed." After that, I let it go because arguing never changes the call. Keep in mind, if you're relatively inexperienced, that the director and fencer will see different things on the same action. Also, in many cases the directors have been directing far longer than you've been fencing, so they know what they're talking about. For good or ill, that person is the director, and he or she is the boss. If you don't like a call, shake it off and get back to fencing.

Also keep in mind this: if the director states the action as "The attack is from my right, parry riposte from my left," it cannot be argued because the director's saying he saw a specific action. If the director says, however, The attack is from my right, and I think it was a parry riposte from my left," you have the right to argue it if you think it was yours, because he wasn't sure. Don't do it too often.

Asking for time & score/sandbagging

Now we get to the fun subject of time management in a bout. If you're ahead even by one touch in a bout - pool or DE - and time runs out, you win, period. The director will not offer time remaining in the period or score unless one of the fencers asks.

Knowing the score is good, but knowing the time remaining is better. There is NO RULE against sandbagging it if you're ahead. You can get ahead by one point and stall all day if you want to. Not that many fencers will let you pull it off, but I've seen it happen.

By the same token, if you're behind by one point in the 1st or 2nd period of DE and there are two seconds left in the period, don't fleche on the command to fence; any experienced opponent will expect it and you'll probably find yourself two points down instead of one. Run the time out. It's safer that way.

Requesting hand/lame/floor judges

If you feel your opponent is covering target or his lame is not working (you nail him right in the center of the chest and the off-target light comes on), ask the director if you could have a hand or lame judge. He'll pick two people who will each watch one fencer for covering or off-target hits on the lame. In epee you may request a foot judge if your opponent likes to go for your foot and you're not fencing on a grounded strip.


Problems with your tip

If you keep hitting your opponent and the light just ain't going off, you are either not hitting with sufficient pressure to trigger the light (remember the weight test), are hitting plaque' (flat) and not depressing the tip, are hitting later that 40 milliseconds after your opponent hits you (in epee), or the tip has gone bad.

You may ask the director if you can test the tip by touching your opponent - like during the original lame test - or you may present the blade to the director for him to test. Be advised: if you think the tip itself has gone bad, you MUST ask the director to test it for you. If it turns out the tip's bad, you may get a break, because it may invalidate any touch you received in the action where your tip failed. Testing it yourself is not a valid test as far as the refs are concerned.

Even though there's no tip test in sabre, there is a nagging problem that may cost points. Most scoring boxes for sabre are set to they can tell the difference between a direct hit and a whip-over (where contact between the blades is made, but the attacking blade bends around the parry and still hits the target). In some cases, the direct hit spends such a short amount of time in contact with the conductive surface, the box thinks it's a whip-over and the hit does not register. It's happed to me and my opponents many times, usually to my benefit, since my counter-attacks usually register (that's how slow I am). Even if you hear and feel the contact, if the director says nothing, do not stop fencing. The rule is, in all three weapons, if the box doesn't light up, there IS no hit.

Injury time-outs

If you are injured on the strip (ankle pops, hit in the crotch, or otherwise actually hurt) you can ask for an injury time out of 10 minutes. If you're going to do it, though make sure you're actually hurt or can fake it real well. Asking for an injury time out because you're tired will get you a penalty card, not a rest! Don't try and fake it too often, though; the experienced directors will spot a fake a mile away.

Ratings, ratings, how do I get them ratings?

One thing that fencers are always concerned about is the potential for new ratings to be passed out at a tournament. Not all tournaments pass out ratings; the Tishman Prep Foil is a restricted event, so there are no ratings. In most open competitions, however, the ratings awarded depend on how many fencers are in the overall field, the number of rated fencers in the overall field, and the number of specific ratings of fencers in the top 8 or 12 (depending on how large the event it). Click here for the classification chart. Note that the SoCal Division ties for third place in all events except for qualifying tournaments for large sectional or national events, and some club sponsored events also fence off for third. If a tie for third is passed out, everyone who tied for third gets whatever rating third place earned.

Avoid this cliche' like the plague

It doesn't matter how good you are in your own salle...you might be undefeated in two years of in-house competitions against a club full of people, but it means nothing when you hit the strip against people you've never faced before. There's always someone better, so don't fall into the "Karate Kid Syndrome." Beginning fencers do NOT romp through a field of experienced competitors and win events. A bout or two maybe; everyone gets lucky now and again. But don't get bummed out if you get hammered by an "A" rated fencer, or even an unrated one with competitive USFA experience. It happens to everyone, and it's part of the learning experience.

Lastly, included here is a list of things to remember when fencing I've come up with over the last couple of years. Keep 'em in mind.

Good luck & see ya on the piste!


Sam Signorelli





21. Respect your opponent's skills...even if you don't particularly like him.
20. When arguing a call with the director, be polite and respectful; don't be an ass about it.
19. If a particular trick doesn't work the first couple of times, f'Pete's sake, try something different!
18. There's nothing wrong with beating your opponent 5-0 in the pool round.
17. In epee, check your tip screws after each bout.
16. In foil, ensure your tip is still there after each halt of action.
15. Don't be nasty to the people in your pool...you'll most likely have one of them in the DE round.
14. If things aren't going your way, don't get so upset that you lose your self-control & discipline; pissed off people make mistakes.
13. Show support for your salle mates when they're fencing and you're not. Just one "Go get 'im!" can make all the difference in the world.
12. Just as there's no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole, there are no friends on the piste.
11. Don't stop until the director calls "halt!"
10. Don't cheat or accuse others of doing so just so you can get another point, particularly when you're far ahead or vastly superior in skill to your opponent. You demean yourself and the sport when you do so.
9. Retreat, don't just run away...there's a difference.
8. Finish the attack!
7. You may be big, tall and strong, but remember that power means nothing without control.
6. Be gracious when you lose...more importantly, be gracious when you win.
5. Don't look at the %$#@& box!!
4. Don't let yourself get psyched out by a higher rated opponent...you never know when you're going to be hot.
3. Have fun...not many people can stab a total stranger with a long knife and get rewarded for it!
2. Never give up - even if you're down 14-0.
1. Never underestimate ANYONE!!