rating skipping in fencingWhat does it mean when a fencer jumps to a high rating at a local or regional competition?

Sometimes a fencer gets a high rating at a local or regional competition, suddenly going from a U or an E rating to a A or a B fencing rating. Does that mean that they’re suddenly a Division 1 fencer? The answer is no, even though that rating does feel really good at the moment. Getting this kind of rating jump doesn’t make them a real mature Division 1 fencer.

Progress takes time

There is nothing instant about this process. Progress in fencing takes time. There are no shortcuts to be had here, no amount of raw talent or specialized training will skip over the hours that need to be put in on the strip and with a coach to make the progress happen. This is true for any sport, but especially in fencing where just muscular performance isn’t enough. There are a lot of tactical and mental elements in the game, and those cannot be winked into fencing.

You cannot compensate for a lack of experience with anything else, even with sheer talent. It takes time to learn:

  • to master the game
  • all the tactical tricks
  • to read your opponent
  • to influence the outcome of a bout that’s going unfavorably
  • to impress the referee
  • to ignore opponent’s coach
  • to ignore people in the audience who are cheering against you
  • to steal time
  • to prevent your opponent from controlling the flow
  • and so much more.

Every hour of fencing training puts a fencer closer to their goal of mastering the skills of the sport, and it is true that fencers who put more time into their training will progress faster than those fencers who spend less time at their club and at competition. However that progress is still going to take time! Even if you trained the absolute most that you could train, in every free hour and during each class and private lesson available to you, there is a limit to the amount of growth that’s possible in a span of time.

It is not the fencing rating that makes a fencer a mature and accomplished fencer. Rather, it is the fencer’s skill level and ability to make things happen on the strip. It’s the skill and ability that make the rating – not the rating that makes the skill and ability level!

Getting Knocked Down for Skipping Up

We often see that some fencers who suddenly get an early glory with an inflated fencing rating start to feel that they are slowing down in their progress or even regressing when they change division/age category. They go onto the strip at NAC’s or Summer Nationals against some fencer who has the same rating and they lose. Oftentimes the reason for the loss is not because they regressed or had a tough day, it’s not because they trained poorly or didn’t follow their coach’s instructions. They lose because they skipped a level in their fencing rating, and so did not gain the adequate level of expertise for that level of competition. It’s an unfortunate situation because you see a fencer who should have performed much better in the standings than they did, but they don’t do well because they are fencers who are fencing in a category that’s not 100% right for them.

One way to look at this whole issue of rating skipping in fencing is to compare it to skipping one or two grade levels in school. Yes, a child might have the required knowledge or skills to solve the mathematical equations and to read the textbooks for an advanced grade, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready for the overall development of a child who is several grades ahead – i.e. social skills and adaptivity. Oftentimes those non-academic skills will not be on par with the skills of their peers in a higher grade, and they will generally feel uncomfortable or even anxious. This isn’t a perfect analogy, but the idea is very much the same.

The important part of all of this is that fencers can feel good about the ratings that they receive and that they are competing against the right kinds of fencers for their skill level. The point of the rating system in fencing is to ensure that fencers are competing against fencers whose skills are commensurate to their own in an overarching way. It’s not about one day or one competition – the rating system is meant to show a fencer’s progress over a long period of time. It’s not that local and regional competitions that offer those big ratings jumps are always in the wrong, but what fencers should know is that rating skipping might cause bigger problems and frustration down the line.

What we want to drive home here is not that fencers should feel frustrated with the lack of growth that they experience, but rather the opposite! Understanding that success is not instant helps you to learn to manage your expectations. Work hard, put in those hours, make the strides, but know that if you keep at it then those higher fencing ratings and better fencing performance will come.