If you’re new to fencing, you’ve probably heard about fencer ratings from coaches, other parents, or even on Facebook pages—and now you’re wondering how they apply to your child. Well, in short, if you’re brand new, they probably don’t apply just yet. If your child is competing or plans to start soon, it’s time to start learning.
First, I want to address something that I consider to be very important. A rating in and of itself is not an effective goal. Fencers who train consistently and compete often will earn their ratings in due time. Your goal should be to be a better fencer, not to chase a rating. If you keep fencing and competing, you will place in a tournament that gets you your first rating, and then the next one, and the next one. Focus on your craft because that is within your control.
At the same time, it’s important to understand ratings when the time is right. Why? Ratings affect the fencer in a few ways.
- At the Senior level, divisions are categorized by rating. For example, Division 1 only includes fencers rated A, B, or C (who are also 13 or older).
- Events at competition are often classified by division. For example, an event may be for C and Higher Rating, Women’s Epee. So your rating can qualify you for events.
- Ratings are used for seeding at competitions.
- Ratings can affect a fencer’s feelings of self-fulfillment and goal accomplishment.
The first three reasons are about the rules and guidelines for fencing, but the last is personal. While a rating shouldn’t be a goal, it does provide a sense of accomplishment when you get there. It’s a reward for working hard.
Okay, now that we’ve talked about why ratings matter, what is a rating exactly?
Every fencer who is registered with the USFA is either “unrated” or has earned a rating by competing in qualified, USFA-sanctioned events. Ratings go from A (best) to E, and U indicates an unrated fencer. So your child starts out with a U, as does every other USFA fencer. Even if an anonymous national champion from another country moved to the U.S., they would start with a U rating until earning a higher one!
The full rating also includes a year, which indicates when the fencer earned or “re-earned” that rating (sometimes called “upgrading” a rating). For example, a rating of A2014 means the fencer earned the highest letter rating in the current year (the best possible rating!). The year is important because it impacts seeding: A2014 will be seeded higher than A2013. The ratings are valid for four years, so a fencer right now could be rated A2010, which is a sign of excellent fencing in 2010, but ddoesn’timply any consistency or continued success since then.
So, ratings are valid for four years and then go down one letter each year after that. If you’re new to fencing, it’s probably hard to think four years down the road! The important thing for you to know now is that a fencer rating can go UP in one day. Let’s get to how the ratings are earned.
What is a qualified, USFA-sanctioned event? Basically this means that a competition has to be big enough and with fencers that are “good enough” to warrant awarding ratings to the top finishers. “Good enough” in this context means that enough fencers have a high enough rating going into the competition. For each level of event, USFA provides a chart that details how many total fencers need to compete and how many of those fencers need to hold certain ratings. If an event meets the requirements in the first two columns, the last two columns of the chart explain the required results and the ratings that will be awarded if the result requirements are met.
Here is a link to the current classification chart (note: ratings are sometimes also called “classifications”).
I’ve copied the first few rows below so we can talk through them:
Minimum # of
Rated Fencers Required
Rated Finishes Required
(Place – Rating)
|NONE||N/A||1 – E|
|4 Es (or higher)||2 Es (or higher) in top 8|| 1 – D
2-4 – E
|2 Cs &2 Ds &2 Es (or higher)||2 Cs &2 Ds (or higher) in top 8||
1 – C
2-4 – D
5-8 – E
For each type of event, the chart lists the minimum number of fencers, the requirements for rated fencers, and the requirements for how those rated fencers must finish the competition. Let’s talk through an example. Here is a sample event:
# of Fencers: 18
Ratings of Fencers: 1 B, 2 Cs, 1 D, 5 Es, 9 Us
Before we consider results, does this qualify for a C1 event? Well, we have enough fencers because only 15 are required. We have two Cs, but only one D. That’s okay because the B is higher and covers the requirement for a second D. You can also think of it as cascading down with the B covering one of the Cs and one of the Cs covering one of the Ds—whichever makes more sense to you! Then we have five Es, so we’re covered there.
So the answer is yes, before looking at results, this is a C1 event. When the event is over, here are the results by fencer rating:
3rd: C & C (no bout for 3rd place)
5th – 7th: U
Does the event still qualify? Yes, we have a B, two Cs, and a D in the top 8. Again, the B covers the second D. The event qualifies, so ratings are awarded.
1st: Awarded a C rating, but is already rated B. He will keep his B rating as long as it’s valid.
2nd: Awarded a D rating, which upgrades his year to current if it wasn’t already.
3rd: Awarded D ratings, but are already rated C. They will keep their C ratings as long as they’re valid.
5th – 7th: Awarded E rating! Great news for the previously unrated fencers.
8th: Awarded E rating, which upgrades his year to current if it wasn’t already.
Hopefully this example helped clear up your questions, but feel free to ask any additional questions in the comments.
Youth competitions have to be C1 or higher in order to award ratings. So if your fencer is competing in Y10, Y12, Y14, or Cadet events, the event must have 15 fencers including six rated fencers to make this competition at least C level, and some of those fencers must finish in the top eight per the chart above. The good news is that this is not uncommon, especially in large competitions, even for younger age groups.
So again, if you’re brand new, don’t worry if you’re not completely clear on fencer ratings just yet. Encourage your fencer to train hard and enjoy the sport. Help them get to competitions when they’re ready. Remember, ratings alone should not be a goal, but if you start learning now you’ll be able to keep up when your fencer starts moving up through the ranks!