Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Fencer Ratings Made Simple: What they are and how to earn them

Fencing rating made simple

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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. Ratings are used for seeding at competitions.
  4. 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

Classifications Awarded

(Place – Rating)

Group E1


NONE N/A                   1 – E
Group D1


4 Es (or higher) 2 Es (or higher) in top 8                   1 – D

2-4 – E

Group C1


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:

1st: B

2nd: D

3rd: C & C (no bout for 3rd place)

5th – 7th: U

8th: E

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!


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  1. Siobhan

    Great article! I’ve been looking for over a year for away to understand this. Thanks so much!

  2. Christian

    I just have one question say for instance a U rated fencer took first in this event? Would that fencer skip a rating letter?

    • Igor Chirashnya

      Hi Christian,
      Yes, if a fencer earns a rating that is higher than his/her current one (either by letter or by year) then he/she will be awarded this rating regardless how many letters/years skipped.

  3. Mochi

    Hi there,
    I’m new to fencing. I’m trying to understand how to get your rating up. From what I understand it, you get better chance to get your ranking up when you attend tournament with higher ranking and you win. That will help you to get your ranking up, am I right?


    • Igor Chirashnya

      Hi Mochi,
      At the high level yes, higher ranked tournament (for example A4 tournament) have more opportunities to award rankings. However, on other side, such tournament is also tough to get high due to many good fencers participating. But I think the goal of chasing a ranking is a not as good as a goal to improve your fencing and invest in your training. The ranking will follow after your improved fencing.

      • Anonymous

        Thank you for your reply.
        Is it too late to start fencing in 9th grade to get to C ranking?

        Thank you

        • Igor Chirashnya

          Not at all! We have many fencers that started around that age and got their ratings. It’s about the progress, so with right work attitude and a good coach you will reach your goals. Good luck!

  4. Paula

    can you get a rating at a mixed event?

    • Igor Chirashnya

      Yes Paula, you definitely can. It does not matter whether an event is gender specific or co-ed, as long as it meets classification requirements (for example a C1 event), it it a rated event.

  5. Don John

    Hi great article! Thanks for the information. My kid is doing sabre and recently got a D rating. I’m wondering which minimum rating level will be helpful for college admission officers to recruit? Kid is in 8th grade right now.

    • Igor Chirashnya

      Hi Don,
      Thanks for reading the blog! The most important is not the rating but a combination of many different factors, such as performance at the national levels, overall fencer’s attitude in competition, community aspect (such as participation in fencing team competitions), and many other things that make a fencer be attractive for a college coach. College fencing is a team sport and colleges look at their recruits not only from the perspective of fencing skills but how the fencer will work in their team. I recommend reading the following interview we did a while ago to learn more:
      Hope this helps!

  6. Yuk

    Thank you for creating this informative website. My daughter started learning fencing last year and she is in her high school fencing varsity team. She participated a few tournaments during the season. Now season is over. I want to check with you if she needs to registered to USFA in order to do some individual competitions. However I am not quite sure which membership I should register for her. Could you give me some advise? Many thanks.

    • Igor Chirashnya

      Hi Yuk,
      Yes, she needs to register for USA Fencing Competitive Membership to be able to compete.

    • Igor Chirashnya

      Hi Yuk,
      to participate in official USA Fencing competitions one must be a competitive member of the USA Fencing. This is the level you should choose when you register her.
      Good luck and hope she enjoys it a lot!

  7. Anonymous

    Thank you so much for the quick response.

  8. Ron Wilson

    Occasionally a couple of Clubs in my Division will include an event in their sanctioned tournaments that is limited to only unrated “U” fencers. It is my understanding that the first place winner of such events, with only “U” fencers competing, will be granted an individual “E” rating by USAF.

    1. Are such events classified as a Group E1 event and sanctioned by the Division just like all the other sanctioned events in the tournament? Or is the event classified as “NR”, and therefore not sanctioned by the Division, even though the winner is awarded an individual “E” rating?

    2. May the coaches or other organizers of the tournament request an “NR” event classification for such events, and thus forego sanctioning by the Division, but also forego the winner of the event being awarded an individual “E” rating? Thanks.

    • Igor Chirashnya

      Hi Ron,
      If an event with all U-rated fencers is a Senior event with at least 6 participants and it is Sanctioned by the USFA, the winner receives an E rating. The Division is the one that sanctions such events on behalf of the USFA. Without Divisional sanctioning, an event wouldn’t be sanctioned by the USFA. However, some Divisions can grant blank sanctioning to the clubs they trust that will follow all necessary requirements for running sanctioned tournaments. This should answer your #1. For #2 – if a tournament is unsanctioned a club can do whatever they want with a tournament and in whatever format it is. Of course, no ratings will be awarded.

  9. Ron Wilson

    Igor, thank you for such a quick and straightforward response to my somewhat technical administrative questions.

    You have confirmed what I had expected. For an individual “E” rating to be awarded to the winner of such an event as I have described above, the event must be sanctioned by the Division (acting on behalf of USAF). The Division may sanction the specific event or may rely on a “blanket” sanctioning understanding as you have described.

    It’s that simple. Without some form of Division/USAF sanctioning, “no ratings will be awarded” to any of the fencers participating in the event. Thanks again, Ron

  10. Yuk

    Good morning Igor,
    My daughter is 14 years old, she recently started participating local tournaments. So far she only do adult age group. Do you know if the rating system in Y14 tournaments is the same as adult ago group?

    Thank you

    • Igor Chirashnya

      Hi Yuk,
      The rating system is the same but with the Youth, the rating is earned only if the tournament is at least a C1-rated tournament. That means that if by the end of the tournament it turned to be an E- or D-rated one, there are no ratings awarded, but if the tournament if C1 or higher then the ratings are awarded.
      With senior tournaments, all ratings are awarded based on the final tournament classification.
      Hope this helps.

      • Anonymous

        Hello Igor,
        Thank you so much for such quick responses.
        I have another question: there are two tournaments this weekend, one is Y14 but only 6 girls participated, and 15 boys ( not sure if they will combine or not) and there is another competition in adult group… Do you think i should have my daughter do the adult group instead?

        Thank you

        • Igor Chirashnya

          Hi Yuk,

          I don’t think you should choose the tournament based on its classification. First of all, it’s not guaranteed that she will earn any rating, but also the goal to earn a rating is the wrong one, in my opinion. It’s better to focus on which tournament makes more sense based on her level and the level of other girls. Frankly, since she is just a beginner I think participating in the Y14 girls’ event makes more sense, without any thinking about a rating. It will come in a due time but first, she really needs to get this competitive experience and learn from it.


      • Yuk

        Hello Igor,
        Thank you so much for such quick responses.
        I have another question: there are two tournaments this weekend, one is Y14 but only 6 girls participated, and 15 boys ( not sure if they will combine or not) and there is another competition in adult group… Do you think i should have my daughter do the adult group instead?

        Thank you

        • Anonymous

          Hello Igor,
          You are absolutely right. Thank you so much for your kind suggestion.

          Have a great evening

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