Art of Fencing, Art of Life

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Why Your New Rating Isn’t Updated in USA Fencing Yet?

Why Your New Rating Isn’t Updated in USA Fencing Yet?

You’re at a fencing competition and you’ve had an amazing day. After training really hard, you are just sweeping the floor with your opponents, gliding through the pools and blasting your way through the DE. It’s been an incredible day, and you’re so excited about the progress you’ve made.  Did you earn a new rating? Yes?! You did! That’s amazing.

As soon as you get home, you pull out your computer and log onto USA Fencing’s website to excitedly see your new rating there in black and white. You can’t wait. But now comes the waiting game – when will your rating be updated in the system? Probably not as soon as you want it to be.

To earn a new rating from USA Fencing, fencers must participate in USFA tournaments and meet specific criteria. It can be a bit of a confusing process, and many new and developing fencers take a while to get their feet under them regarding what the rating system is and how they can navigate it. The rating system categorizes fencers based on their skill level and performance in sanctioned competitions, but sometimes it can take a while for it to hit the system. 

Let’s go through the topline of what a rating is, then work through why it can sometimes seem like it takes FOREVER for your rating to come through. 

Junior Olympics (JO’s) – The Last Stretch to Qualify

Junior Olympics (JO’s) - The Last Stretch to Qualify

In just three months, the fencing community will gather for the highly anticipated Junior Olympics (JO’s) during the Presidents’ Weekend in Charlotte, NC (2/16-19/2024). Beyond being the pinnacle of Cadet and Juniors National Championships, JO’s serve as the ultimate proving ground for athletes vying to secure their place in the national teams bound for the 2024 Cadet and Junior Fencing World Championships.

A lot of parents and fencers, especially those who are new to the JO’s, such as those who just aged into the cadet and junior categories, are still confused somewhat about the JO’s and what options they still have to make it there. The following post is a quick summary of major points you need to know about how to still qualify. Take a look at these, get acquainted with different options, and of course, talk to your coach about what makes sense for you.

To participate in JO’s, fencers fall into two age categories: Cadet (born from 2007 to 2010) and Junior (born from 2004 to 2010). Now, let’s delve into the paths leading to qualification.

There are three distinct qualification paths for any fencer to secure a coveted spot at the JO’s. These paths include the national, regional, and divisional routes, each offering a unique trajectory toward the Junior Olympics (BTW, it is pretty similar to most of the nationals, so once you get the idea how qualification works for any of the national championships, you will quickly understand any other).

Fencing vs. Other Combat Sports – Which One is Right for You?

Fencing vs. Other Combat Sports - Which One is Right for You?

Though we as a society, in general, have moved away from coming to blows to solve our interpersonal problems the way that people used to duel in the old days, combat sports are more popular than ever. 

Combat sports have actually captivated people throughout history, giving us the chance to channel our physicality, to expand our strategic thinking, and to grow our competitive spirit. Kids and adults alike find themselves drawn to the world of combat sports, in no small part because we see them play out in our favorite movies. Whether it’s Mulan or Lord of the Rings, Star Wars or Raging Bull, Pulp Fiction or Nacho Libre, Karate Kid or Over the Top (yes, the one about arm wrestling), we have a love affair with combat sports and how cool they look. But they don’t just look cool onscreen, they are cool to do in real life as well. 

Finding out which combat sport is right for you is all about personality, access, and you may be faced with the question of which discipline to try out. Let’s look at the distinct qualities of fencing compared to other combat sports, helping you determine which one is the right fit for you.

The Art of Fencing

Fencing stands out as a unique and elegant combat sport that combines speed, agility, precision, and tactical thinking. This is, notable, the only modern combat sport that uses weapons (archery doesn’t count as there is no actual combat in archery, just targets). Fencing of course traces its origins back to centuries-old dueling traditions and has evolved into a sport that emphasizes skillful swordplay. 

There are three different weapons in modern sport fencing that utilize different scoring techniques and different rules. Foil, epee, and sabre are each individual sports but at the same time are extremely similar. Fencer generally specialize in one, though they do switch occasionally for a variety of reasons. 

One of the key aspects that sets fencing apart is its emphasis on technique and finesse. Fencers must display grace, footwork, and accurate blade control while engaging in lightning-fast exchanges with opponents. The speed of this sport is faster than most other combat sports, thanks in part to electronic scoring, which is unique among combat sports. We have referees who play an important role in fencing, but scoring machines are the first line of indication here. 

The weaponized aspect is important here, as a fencer’s blade becomes an extension of their body. Because of this, mental dexterity is central, as fencers must anticipate our opponent’s moves, strategically choose our attacks and defenses so that we can adapt swiftly to changing situations. The weapon also means that fencers have to wear gear to protect themselves from the blade. While fencing weapons are not sharp, they are still capable of hurting someone if they aren’t protected. 

Injuries in fencing are less common than in any other combat sport, and in fact are less common than in a lot of non-combat sports like soccer or gymnastics. 

How USFA can Transform Team Fencing in the U.S. (And Why We Must)

How USFA can Transform Team Fencing in the U.S. (And Why We Must)

Right now, the everyday domestic vocabulary of American fencing is in the individual context. No one who thinks of fencing in any context thinks of it as being a multiple-player sport, at least not anyone in America. 

This is different in other places. In European fencing competitions, the team component is highlighted and embraced. The shorthand of fencing is that it’s an individual sport and a team sport. It’s just built into the way that sport is carried out in Europe. 

In America, on the other hand, we seem locked into the individual way of doing things. In fact, when we imagine folding team competition into American fencing, it seems like it’s a burden being placed on our system every time we add the team competition in. A square peg in a round hole. An extra thing that we do out of obligation instead of the enriching expansion that it really is. 

It shouldn’t be this way. Team fencing should be a great support to our fencing culture, for many reasons, including the way that it extends camaraderie and how it helps fencers better develop their skills. If our goal is to support the growth of fencers in skill and happiness, and if we also want to better position ourselves on the international stage, then how can we think of team fencing as a burden when it’s such a big part of international competition and when team fencing so beautifully supports personal and athletic development?

Team fencing needs to be expanded, and soon

We need to move on expanding team fencing in the United States, and we need to move on it soon. There’s every reason for us to have this kind of expansion in place next season, because our fencers deserve the kind of holistic development that team fencing gives them. 

Right now, we have almost no team events. When they do happen, they are a side note and people complain about them. That’s a tough mentality to push past, but I am saying here that it’s so worth getting past those limitations. 

It’s understandable that fencers prioritize the individual events over the team events, because I can see how you would extrapolate that team fencing is not a big deal because our fencers are not doing it now. If it isn’t broken, why would we want to fix it?

I think that this mentality is totally, totally wrong. 

Many of our most important events for giving fencers the skills they need for international competition, events like Div 1 and others, rarely offer the opportunity for team fencing. In any season, we have one Senior, one Junior, one Div1 team event, one Vateran, and this season there was one Cadet team event. One team event per age group. Because we don’t offer them, then fencers don’t train for them, and because they don’t train for them, no one participates in them. It’s a vicious cycle that keeps us locked out of one of the best fencing development paths we have. 

Fencing Referee Hand Signals (Infographic)

There are several essential components to a fencing match. One consists of the fencers themselves, who are vying for points. Another are the weapons, those things that make the points possible. And the final essential component to a fencing bout is the person who calls the points.

Fencing bouts are monitored by that same stalwart bastion of sport control that everyone has – the referee. Depending on the bout, the venue that it’s in and the purpose for which it’s being fought, the referee could be either an officially certified referee or another fencer. Either way, the ref is not part of the action. The more official the venue, the more official the referee must be. The more informal the venue, the less official the ref will be.

Why use hand signals?

Fencing refs use hand signals because there are often language barriers in fencing. Fencers often come from all over. That’s part of why we love this sport so much! It brings together people from everywhere. No matter what language you speak, you can learn to understand fencing referee hand signals fairly easily. It’s not that complicated!

Hand signals are also helpful because it can be loud in a fencing venue with lots of other bouts going on around you. Hand signals mean that you don’t have to be able to hear in order to understand what’s going on in the bout. That’s helpful for people watching the bout because they can just watch the big gestures of the refs without having to be close enough to hear what the referee is saying.

Hand signals give us a universal, simple language with which to communicate effectively about the fencing bout.

A simple primer to fencing referee hand signals

The good news is that hand signals are very, very easy to understand and we’ve created an infographic to help you to recognize and learn the hand signals. There is also a printable pdf version available to download (size 6’x2′) which might be a good tool for fencing coaches if it is hung in their fencing club. You can download it here.

You don’t have to feel overwhelmed by fencing referee hand signals! With just a bit of quick study, you’ll have this down in no time.

Fencing Referee Hand Signals

Why you need to understand fencing ref signals

While it might seem like you can just roll on without knowing the fencing ref’s signs (I mean they generally say things anyway right), it can actually make things MUCH more clear when you’re watching a match! Fencing matches run so quickly that there’s often not time to process the sound before the next thing happens. The better you know the fencing referee signals, the easier and more fun watching matches will be!

Keep in mind that every ref is going to be just a hair bit different. In general these signals are easy to recognize, but they can also be a bit confusing if you’re not exactly clear on what you’re looking at. That’s another reason it’s so important to learn those signals, because then you’ll have a better handle on what’s happening in the match, even if the ref’s signals are a bit unclear or vary slightly from the norm.

If you’re at a match with an electronic scoreboard, it’s incredibly informative to watch the scoreboard and the referee alternately to help you really learn the signals. This will allow you to make much more sense of the signals and to connect them with what’s happening in terms of the match winning or losing!

If you or your child is new to fencing, we highly recommend that you work to learn the hand signals of the fencing referee. Don’t just watch your child’s match – watch other matches to help you learn the signals and scoring!


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