Art of Fencing, Art of Life

A Comprehensive Guide to USA Fencing Tournaments

A Comprehensive Guide to USA Fencing TournamentsFor the uninitiated, the world of USA fencing tournaments can seem complex and honestly confusing. Just as with anything however, once you get the basics down it all seems simple!

This comprehensive guide to fencing tournaments in America will show you what types of fencing competitions exist, the reasons that each one is important, and how the network of tournaments are connected to one another.

The first thing to know if you don’t already is that fencing in America is governed by the USFA – United States Fencing Association. This non-profit governing body sets forward the rules and regulations for sport fencing in the U.S., as well as sponsoring and structuring the competition circuit.  

Keep in mind that if you are relatively new to competitive fencing, it might take you more than one reading of this post to really “get” the information. We encourage you to bookmark this post and read it again until you’ve got it all clear!

The basic structure

Every sport has its peculiarities and unique competition structure. To explain the fencing competitive structure, we’re going to start at the top and work our way down.

Fencing competitions are broken down into four major types:

  • National
  • Regional
  • Divisional
  • Local

Where people get confused is where these competitions feed into one another. First off, local fencing competitions are out of the loop – they do not feed into the other levels of competition. Regional and divisional competitions feed into the national competitions.

For now, you just need to know that regional and divisional create a path to national and that local competitions aren’t in that loop.  If you want to learn more about how that process works in terms of how a fencer can qualify, you’ll find everything you need to know about qualification in our infographic.

It’s important to note that the USFA makes periodic changes to both the structure of the fencing tournament system in the United States and the way that these tournaments are connected (i.e. qualification paths). The basic structure is not going to go anywhere, but the particulars within that structure are malleable.

Understanding the levels of fencing competition

Now onto the explanation of how each level of competition works.

National level

The highest level of competition are the national level. This is the big one in America, where the best fencers in the U.S. come together to test their skill.

Which competitions are national?

USA Fencing Nationals – take place once per year

  • Division 1 – April each year, as last qualifying event for Senior World Championship
  • Cadets/Junior – aka Junior Olympics or JO’s happens in February each year, as last qualifying event for Cadet and Junior World Championship (see below)
  • All other age groups and divisions – Fencing Summer Nationals in June/July each year
  • Qualification needed through regional tournaments, divisional tournaments, or NACs
  • You MUST be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in order to compete in USA Fencing Nationals.

July Challenge – takes place once per year

  • Qualification needed through regional tournaments, divisional tournaments, or NACs
  • Takes place in July
  • Categories – Division 1, Cadets, and Juniors
  • You do not have to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in order to compete.

North America Cup (NAC)

  • No qualification needed
  • Series of national level competitions throughout the season
  • October thru April
  • Once each month (except February, when there are JO’s)
  • Each NAC aims at a different age group or skill level
  • You do not have to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in order to compete.

Junior Olympics Championship

  • Takes place in February during the Presidents weekend
  • Qualification needed through national points, regional points, or division qualifier
  • Completely separate national championship
  • Aligned agewise with international cadet/junior cycle
  • Last qualifying event for a team of cadets and juniors to go to the Junior and Cadet World Championship that’s held every April

Why nationals are important

National level fencing competitions challenge fencers to become the best they possibly can be. These fencing tournaments bring together athletes from across the country, offering them the opportunity to see what fencers everywhere in the United States are doing in terms of technique, training, and style. This level of competition is palpably different than anything else you’ll find in tournaments in the United States, and they truly are something worth pursuing.

Fencers walk out of national level competitions with a sense of pride, no matter how they placed or what their performance was on the strip. Being a part of a national level tournament is  powerful, and incredibly worthwhile.

How nationals are connected to other tournaments

NAC’s are the only national level competitions that do not require qualification, only age eligibility.

For the other national level fencing competitions (i.e., championships and July Challenge), ONLY fencers who QUALIFY for national tournaments can compete. Unlike most of the other tournaments below, a fencer cannot attend USA Fencing Nationals, the July Challenge, or the Junior Olympics unless they have qualified for them via one of the qualification paths. You’ll find everything that you need to know about how to do that in our infographic! Qualification happens through regional tournaments, divisional tournaments, or NAC’s via either a straight qualification or a point system.

The Junior Olympics are connected to international competitions – the Junior and Cadet World Championship, Division 1 Championships are connected to Senior World Fencing Championship and Veteran age championships are connected to Veteran World Fencing Championships. That means that each of these championships serve as a last qualifying event to earn points and get to the respective world team.

Regional level

The next level of competition is the regional level. Regional competitions take place in cities across the United States. There are six regions into which the country is divided, and each region has its own tournaments that cover the entire area. However, fencers do not have to live in a specific region in order to compete in its tournaments.

Multiple times each year, regional circuits are held. How often they happen can vary from year to year, and the timing also differs from region to region. As in national championships, there are three levels – Seniors, Juniors/Cadet, and Youth. Fencers of any nationality may compete in regional circuits.

You do not need to be USA citizen or permanent resident to compete at the Regional level.

Which competitions are regional?

Regional Open Circuit (ROC)

  • Senior category (Division 1A, Divisions 2/3, Veterans)
  • Spread across regions with several opportunities in the same region for each category
  • Earn regional tournament awards regional points towards qualification for national competitions
  • Points are ONLY awarded for participants in whose region the competition is held for Division 2. Division 1A points are awarded to every participant in the tournament regardless of their region
  • Only top 40% receive regional points

Regional Juniors and Cadets Circuit (RJCC)

  • Junior and Cadet categories
  • Spread evenly across regions
  • Earn regional points towards qualification for Junior Olympics or July Challenge
  • Qualification paths for both the Junior Olympics and for the July Challenge
  • Points are ONLY awarded for participants in whose region the competition is held
  • Points are awarded to all participants proportionally to their final placement, with maximum of 100 points going to a winner

Regional Youth Circuit (RYC)

  • Youth fencers (Y10, Y12, Y14)
  • Spread evenly across regions
  • Multiple RYC’s in a season in each region
  • Earn regional points towards qualification for Summer Nationals
  • Points are ONLY awarded for participants in whose region the competition is held
  • Points are awarded to all participants proportionally to their final placement, with maximum of 100 points going to a winner

Super Junior and Cadet Circuit (SJCC)

  • Junior and cadet categories
  • New for the 2018-2019 season – experimental
  • Only 1 SJCC in 2018-2019 season due to its experimental nature
  • Attracts fencers from all over the country
  • Awards national points, similar to national tournaments but with less weight
  • Fencers from any region can compete
  • The only national points tournament in which newly aged in cadet/juniors can compete. Prior to SJCC, it was impossible for juniors and cadets to get any national points due to the lack of NAC’s after the Junior Olympics. This new set of tournaments will change that.

Super Youth Circuit (SYC)

  • Youth fencers (Y10, Y12, Y14)
  • Spread more or less evenly across regions
  • Held about once every month through the season
  • Attracts fencers from all over the country
  • Some offer competition at almost the level of a Youth NAC
  • Awards national points
  • Fencers from any region can compete and earn national points

Open Regional or Sectional Competitions

  • Held by sectional committees (e.g, Pacific Coast Championship)
  • Typically sanctioned by the USFA
  • Generally age-based instead of ranking-based and usually open senior events
  • Great opportunity for fencers to compete at high level without traveling too far

Why regionals are important

Regional tournaments offer fencers the chance to compete in mid level competition between the local and national levels. This is by far the biggest competitive circuit in American fencing, and it’s where fencers learn how to compete well. In many ways this is the training ground of our fencing champions.

The regional nature of these tournaments means that fencers learn how to navigate performing while they travel. Because they are in the general area of the country that a fencer lives, they aren’t as expensive to get to or as difficult to travel to as national competitions. When a fencer wants to take it to the next level, regional competition is where they go to do it.

How regionals are connected to other tournaments

Regionals are point awarding tournaments that propel fencers further towards national tournaments. Super Circuit regionals award national points while other regional tournaments award regional points.  Each fencer, regardless of their rank or qualifying age, can participate in these tournaments and earn points.

Qualification point requirements depend on the level and age categories that tournaments are divided into.

Divisional level

The next level of competition is the divisional level. Divisional competitions take place in cities across the United States in every division. Division is the primary governing body for the local fencing community. Divisions sanction fencing tournaments, create set of specific regulations for that fencing community, and run divisional qualifying events for several championship types. lThere are many divisions into which the country is divided, and each division has its own tournaments that cover the entire area of divisional jurisdiction. Fencers must belong to that division in order to compete in its qualifying tournaments.

Which competitions are divisional?

Divisional qualifiers

  • One-off events
  • Exist to qualify fencers for national level competitions
  • Held all over the United States throughout the fencing season
  • Only fencers that belong to that division can compete
  • Belonging to division can be either via your place of residency or your club divisional affiliation
  • Only top 25% of fencers qualify for their respective championship from the divisional qualifier

Why divisionals are important

Divisionals offer fencers the opportunity to fence on a high level while also potentially leading them to national championships. It’s the one time nature of these competitions that makes them something truly extraordinary, because fencers at this level are then able to get into a national level competition without having to chase points across a season. And with that comes a flip side of the divisional qualifier – only top 25% would qualify. For many fencers, divisional qualifiers are the best way to get into a national tournament.

How divisionals are connected to other tournaments

Divisionals connect to national level competitions as qualifying path for those competitions. Aside from that, they exist on their own and apart from the rest of the tournament system.

Local level

Local competitions are where we all begin! These tournaments happen all over the place, near fencers everywhere. Any fencing club, school, section, or sponsoring organization can host a local fencing competition.

These tournaments may or may not adhere to the strict fencing regulations of the USFA. Unsanctioned local events do not provide fencing ratings for those who compete, but even unsanctioned fencing competitions allow fencers to grow through the sport.

Which competitions are local?

Internal fencing competitions

  • Run within a fencing club
  • Usually include fencers only from that club
  • Primarily for fencers to get more practice or try out competing
  • Held at the hosting club

Area tournaments

  • May or may not be sanctioned by the USFA for ranking
  • Organized by a local club or non-profit
  • Open to fencers from many clubs
  • Small in size (fewer events)
  • Typically only last one day

Why locals are important

These events are very important developmental events since they provide a great level of competitive experience to local fencers. Some local tournaments are organized in the series of events over the course of the season and together they provide a fantastic opportunity for fencers to grow.

Every fencer starts with local competitions! They are perfect for fencers who want to compete but don’t know yet if they are interested in the commitment of the bigger competitions. And that’s ok! We want to see fencers getting the good progress that comes with challenging themselves, no matter what level they fence at. That first competition is an amazing feeling for a fencer.

How local are connected to other tournaments

Local competitions aren’t connected to other tournaments at other levels, but they are networked together in some respects. For instance The Bay Cup in our area is a circuit of local competitions. The Bay Cup is a non-profit organization that coordinates a series of fencing tournaments within the larger San Francisco Bay Area. They vary widely in terms of size, and are hosted by local fencing clubs. 

The final word on fencing tournaments

This table is a final way for you to see how the network of fencing tournaments in the United States works. There are so many competitions that it can be hard to visualize how they all fit together. Of course there are lots of details, but this is the basic overview!


USA Fencing Nationals (Division 1 and Summer Nationals ) July Challenge North America Cup (NAC) Junior Olympics


Regional Open Circuit (ROC) Regional Juniors and Cadets Circuit (RJCC) Regional Youth Circuit (RYC) Open regional or sectional competitions
Super Youth Circuit (SYC) Super Junior and Cadet Circuit (SJCC)


Divisional qualifiers


Internal fencing tournaments Open local tournaments

Even though you’ve read this post, you might not fully understand everything yet because there is so much to it! Please check out our additional posts on fencing competitions to learn more, as well as our fencing qualification infographic.

We do want to point out that any fencing competition, whether it feeds into another higher level or not, gives the competitors who participate a sense of pride and accomplishment. As fencers, it’s important for us to balance ambition with healthy goal fulfillment. What we’re looking for isn’t a shelf of trophies – it’s a sense of pride in the progress that we have made as fencers through our self discipline and hard work. The tournament system is not designed to crown winners, but to give fencers the opportunity to challenge themselves and grow through the sport.

It’s important to always remember that fencing tournaments are at their heart about camaraderie and becoming a better fencer, and a better person!


The Opposite of Helicopter Parenting – How Fencing Helps Kids Break Free


Millennials Would Rather Lose a Finger Than Part With Their Smart Phone


  1. R

    You wrote “fencing in America is governed by the USFA – United States Fencing Association.” We’re USA Fencing. You wrote “Unsanctioned local events do not provide fencing ratings for those who compete…” Fencers receive classifications. Refs are rated.

    • Igor Chirashnya

      Hi R,
      Thanks again for the detailed review of the post. “Fencing rating” term is a common term and everyone uses is, including the USA Fencing itself. In the 2018-2019 Athlete handbook, pp. 18 has one example (bold is mine):
      “Eligibility for national classification restricted tournament requiring qualification is determined at the start
      of the tournament at which the qualification was earned. For example, a D rated fencer may potentially
      earn a C rating at a division qualifier, but National Championship eligibility will be determined based on
      the D rating the fencer began the qualification tournament with.”
      I have never heard somebody says “C-classified fencer”, it is always “C-rated fencer”.

  2. Wesley Marshall

    What is an unsanctioned event? Can you earn a ranking at an unsanctioned event?

    • Igor Chirashnya

      Unsanctioned event is any fencing event not approved and not sanctioned by USA Fencing via their respective division. You can make any rule in this event per your need and there are no rankings or ratings earned in it. Mostly these events are locally organized to serve a purpose of training in competitive environment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d bloggers like this: