A fencing primer (of sorts)

The following list of "terms" was created in an effort to help translate some of the slang used by fencers and their friends and families. 

FIE - Federacion Internationale d'Escrime - French for International Federation of Fencing under which the USFA is governed.  Their website is  Select English or French.

DEADLINES - National tournaments run by the USFA have registration deadlines which mean THEY MUST RECEIVE the form by the stated date as opposed to being postmarked by the date.  If you are a week away from the deadline, we suggest you fax it to them along with a cover sheet showing the event, your name and fax number.  Very soon you should receive a return fax with a confirmation stamp; if not please contact the national office.  For all national events, it is imperative you have confirmation of your registration before the deadline passes.  Take this confirmation with you to the event.

NAC - North American Cup - a series of tournaments held all around the U.S.  It is divided  into competitions by age and/or classification of fencer.  All North American residents may enter, but only U.S. residents may earn points. This and all national tournaments have a registration cut off of six weeks prior to the event. 

Points- Each NAC awards points to those who finish at the top.  It is not always, but many times the top 32.  Division II/III do not receive points, as they are considered developmental events.   You may earn points in the Veteran, Senior, Junior, Cadet or Youth categories.  Points are also earned in some international events.  These points determine who will be on the national team each year.  Cadet, Junior, and Division 1 events all have repÍchage (described later).

Division- 1) an area of the country which consists of at least 2 clubs and 10 members, but usually much more.  The Ark-La-Miss Division currently has approximately 150 members including 10 USFA clubs.
                2) level of a national tournament, each level having different parameters.  Div 1 may only be fenced by those classified as A, B, or C.  Div II may only be fenced by those with a C, D, E, or U.  Div III may only be fenced by those classified as D, E, or U. 

Registration - Giving information to the tournament organizer to prepare them for your arrival.  National tournaments always have a deadline a month or so before the event which can be found on the USFA website (, under the heading of domestic schedule.  Some tournaments allow a reduced price for early registration.

Check -In - Every fencer is required to check in at the registration table on the day of their event. This is true regardless of the fact that the fencer may have fenced the day before.  This is an extremely important part of the beginning of the fencing day.  At the national level, check in times are assigned to each event of the day (like 7:00-8:00 a.m.) and fencers are required to check in DURING that time.  At the local level, the times posted for check in are usually the time that check in/registration CLOSES for that event. 

Seeding - A way of arranging registered fencers for a specific event by classification/year.  The #1 seed would be the fencer with the highest (or best) ranking in the event.  This enables tournament officials to fairly place individuals into pools.  Each fencer must check the initial seeding once it is announced to be posted to make sure their name is listed.  If the fencer finds that their name has been left off the seeding the fencer must immediately report the error to the bout committee table.  Failure to do so occasionally  results in an excluded fencer.

Classification - (a.k.a. 'rating') a method of ranking fencers, with an "A" fencer being among the best, followed by "B", "C", "D", "E" and "U" (or unrated).  These letter ratings are followed by the year they were earned..... for example "B04" means a particular fencer earned their "B" in the year 2004.  It is important to note that a B04 is higher ranked than a B03.  The rank is used as one of the factors in initial seedings.  A classification is earned in each weapon individually.

World Cup - an event requiring qualification.  Usually the host country is allowed unlimited participants while the other countries are limited to their national points holders or a certain percentage of their points holders.

Qualifiers/qualification - Some tournaments, for example Junior Olympics and Summer Nationals, require the fencer to "qualify" for their event or events.  Qualification tournaments are held at the local level.  Fencers must meet some kind of criterion in order to advance to the actual event held at a later date.  The usual path used of qualification for the fencer is to place in the top 25% of their event at the qualifiers.  If you hold nationals points, you are an automatic qualifier for both of those events.

Pools -  groups of fencers arranged in a pre-defined way according to USFA rules.  Each pool should have a diversity of abilities and clubs represented.  Each person in the pool fences each fencer. At the end of all the pool bouts, the scores are added and turned in to the bout committee for verification and tally for the entire event.  Pool bouts usually conclude at the end of 3 fencing minutes or a fencer scoring 5 touches which ever is first.

Bout - a singular fencing match

D.E. - Direct Elimination.  After pool tallies are turned in to the bout committee, there is a short recess during which all fencers are reseeded according to how well they fenced in their pools.  The #1 seeded fencer after pools would have turned in the best results of all pools.  Classification information is irrelevant from this point forward.  The table will be posted awarding byes to the highest seeded fencers.   The remaining fencers will then fence off on assigned strips in order to begin eliminating fencers from the competition.  Direct eliminations are usually 3 periods of 3 fencing minutes separated by 1 minute breaks. The exception is sabre which fences 3 minutes or to a score of 8 at which time there is a forced break.   The first to reach 15 or the highest score when time is called wins.  The defeated opponent is usually eliminated from further bouts.

Bye - moving directly from the pool to the second round of direct elimination.  This is determined mostly by the table of fencers.  If the table is 16 and there are 10 fencers, the top 6 fencers skip their first bout (automatically win) and move to the next.  This means the highest seeded fencers advance to the second round of the competition without having to fence in the first round of d.e.'s. 

Table- the table (a.k.a. tableau, tree, bracket) is the mechanism used to orderly fence off direct elimination bouts.  Tables start at 4 and double each time.  Tables are 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 and 256.  Usually we don't need more than 256, although we have used the 512 table at Summer Nationals.  You may view the USFA tables online under "info for fencers" and then "forms."

RepÍchage  - (often mispronounced as 'repacharge') an extremely complicated method of double elimination which is only used nationally in Junior, Cadet, and Division I events.  Bottom line is - if you are in the top 32 (points) - DO NOT LEAVE THE VENUE until you are sure you have no more bouts to fence (i.e. you have lost two bouts.)  If you do not show up on strip - the referee will award a black card and your results will be null.  You will appear in the final results as "fencer excluded." 

Indicators - a tally of the number of touches (points) you made, minus the number of touches (points) against you.  Indicators are the second factor in d.e. seeding - the first is percentage of wins in pools. 

TS - Touches Scored - the number of points you made

TR - Touches Received - the number of points made against you

Coin Toss - the way a tie is broken (randomization), giving priority to the winner of the toss for 1 minute of extended fencing.

Priority - the one who wins the coin toss receives priority which means they do not have to score a touch, but just prevent one from being scored against them.  If at the end of one minute of fencing there is no tie-breaking touch, the fencer with priority wins.

La Belle - commonly used to mean a tied score with the next touch being the winner.  It's roots are from the days when the referee called "la belle" ("the pretty" or "the beautiful") then only the clean and most beautiful form would be considered.