How Equipment Checks Can Screw Up Your Fencing Tournament - and What To Do About It

Speed and accuracy are notoriously tough things to mix. It’s something that we experience with our fencing, and it’s a thing that can push us far behind. No one wants to get caught on the wrong side of making a mistake, but it happens all the time. In particular it can happen with equipment checks at fencing tournaments.

We saw this first hand with many of our fencers at the recent November NAC in Milwaukee and this experience prompted me to write this blog.

Timing is Tough

Many of our fencers arrived late at night before the following day’s competition. They didn’t want to miss an extra day of school, because of course they were concerned with their academic performance as well as their fencing performance. That’s understandable. However, this meant that they could not participate in the equipment check the night before as armorers already left. They had nothing left to do but to come in the morning, just an hour before the event registration was done and the venue was open. 

The line was huge, wrapping around and moving slowly. Some of them waited themselves, and some of them had parents who waited for them. Either way, the whole process took the entire hour. That hour is time without the ability to do anything else that’s really productive, even with parents waiting in line. All of this is just to get the equipment – mask, body cords, and glove, back just a few moments before the pools got started.

The result is that they didn’t get to fence in the warm up bouts before the pools. Some of the fencers were barely even able to warm up and stretch. This means that when they went into the pools, their warm up was literally the first few pool bouts. 

This is a brutal way to go about fencing. Forget about precision or mastery of the actions, forget about timing or distance control. Their fingers were hardly able to follow the target. This left many of the initial bouts just doomed to failure. At best, they were unnecessarily difficult and ineffective. Points that should have been scored were not scored, and many points were scored against these fencers. 

Of course it’s painful to see it go down this way. These fencers got all the way to the NAC, only to perform in this mediocre way. Once you do a poor job in the pools, you then have an unnecessarily difficult time in the Direct Elimination rounds. That seeding follows through the tournament. Not to mention the mental push down that also follows these fencers. It makes things very tough, for no really good reason. 

Combating lack of warmup time

In a perfect world, fencers would get there the night before and be able to do equipment checks prior to a major tournament. In a perfect world, the alarm clock also always goes off right on time and there is no traffic to slow you down before getting to the venue. Fencers would always have plenty of space and plenty of time to warm up before the pools begin.

There are times, like this, when there is not going to be that warm up time. There are times when things just aren’t going to go the right way. How can you be malleable and innovative, making up for the lack of time so that you can still perform at the level that you are able to?

Here are some methods that will help. You don’t have to wait without warming up!

Arrive earlier

Yes, this is kind of a cop out, but in another way it’s just reality. For this major competitions, like the NAC, just make the decision to get there earlier. Arriving one day before will let you check your weapon, get a good meal, and get a good night’s sleep. This goes if you’re not fencing on the first day too, always try to arrive the day before you compete. 

If you are fencing on the second day, chances are that the weapon check is still open until late if the first day events aren’t done. The armory is actually required to stay open until the last bout of the day. Get to the venue early and get that weapon check done the night before, which is always going to give you the best outcome. Do this before you head to get dinner and before you even check into your hotel. It’s worth it, worth whatever sacrifice you may have to make. 

It’s not always possible to get there the day before. It could be because of school, parental obligations, delayed or overly expensive flights. Whatever the reason might be, the truth is that it happens and life isn’t perfect. Not being able to get there the night before doesn’t mean that you can’t still get that warm up in before the pools! Even if you have to check your weapon the day of. 

Bring a spare

Hold onto your old glove, lame, body cords, and a mask. Don’t throw out the failed or just dirty lame or mask! Keep them around for just this occasion, and they don’t even need to be fully working (for example, lame or mask bib can have some dead spots). They don’t take up too much room in the luggage either. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t compliant, because you aren’t planning to use them in competition. Use this equipment to warm up, just like that. This solution completely solves the problem! 

Borrow warm up equipment

If this isn’t feasible,  you can always borrow some warm up equipment from your friends or teammates who have already checked and cleared theirs. This works for things like the body cord, but it doesn’t always work for the mask and the glove as these are hygienic pieces. Try to have extras for both of those. 

Get a little help from a friend

If you have a friend who is coming in the night before, it’s always possible for you to ask them to take your equipment and get it checked. This is a bit of a responsibility you’re putting on someone else for such an important thing, and of course quite a hassle, but if you have someone that you can trust, well this can work really well. You don’t have to ask them to take all of your gear, maybe just something essential like the mask for example. And of course be willing to repay them back in the next competition!

Get a waiter

You can of course get someone to wait for you in line (a waiter, if you will). This needs to be a sibling or a parent, even a friend. Not a fencing teammate who is fencing that day! If you’ve brought some spare equipment with you, this works out very well!

Remember that, if you are using some spare equipment, then you want to be sure to get your fencing equipment back and warm up with it as soon as possible. One reason for doing this is that you will warm up best with the real equipment you’re going to use. The other reason to do this is that you won’t forget and accidentally get a penalty. That’s something that you definitely don’t want to happen after all of this trouble you’ve gone too!

Think about the logistics of this as well. 

  • Body cord. Say you have three body cords. Right now, check two and warm up with the spare. You can then check that later, asking someone to do that for you in fact. 
  • Glove. The glove is an inexpensive item. You can buy one for twelve dollars, at the venue if you need to, just for the warm up. 
  • Lame. After a while, almost every fencer has an old lame that has failed a weapon check. Take this with you and fence with it while your good lame stands in equipment check line.
  • Mask. This is the most difficult item, since carrying it is heavier and more cumbersome than anything else. However you can use an old failed mask to warm up. Just remember that it can have failed equipment check for electricity, but it still needs to pass for safety. Don’t use an old mask that has failed for safety! Another option is to buy an inexpensive mask that is not even electrical like the foil mask. This is good enough for warm up bouts. You can also borrow an old mask from a friend who is not fencing at this competition.

Be the last one to do the equipment checks

This sounds terrible for many, but actually it can work just fine! Don’t go to the weapon check if the line is too long. Instead, warm up and fence and come to the line 10 minutes prior to the end of registration. At the nationals, and oftentimes, at regionals, they will restrict equipment check only to the events that start and they will not start until all fencers are checked. So why to stay in the line and waste time, while you can complete your pre-competition warm up routine and check your equipment when you are done. 

This all might sound like a bit of overkill, but it really isn’t when you consider that these are major competitions. You put so, so much into these competitions! After all, you’ve spent all of this money on high event and registration fees, on travel tickets and hotel expenses. This whole process is a budget intensive one. If you fail to perform over a glove that costs ten dollars or not wanting to carry an extra mask, well in context that seems pretty silly. It’s a pity to miss out on a great performance because the equipment line is too long!

We encourage you to follow this advice. Go for it! You will not regret it when you arrive at the venue and look at the discouragingly long weapon check line. Make the most of your fencing adventure!