To the novice fencer, competition can be overwhelming. Besides there being three different weapons, each with their own unique rules and conventions, there are also two different formats to the competition – team and individual. I bet that the first image when many novice people heard about fencing team competition was that it involved five fencers all fighting each other Avengers style, Iron Man and his crew versus Captain America and his team with everyone trying to get points all at once. And while it might sound really fun to have a large group of fencers all whipping their way to the winning point, in reality team competition still involves one-on-one fights between fencers. Sorry guys, no melee here.
So then what is the difference between individual and team competition? How does it all work? It’s actually not that complicated at all! Do keep in mind that these same structures are present no matter what the weapon is, though there are some few variations along the way which we will explain. Also keep in mind that every competition is slightly different, so this is really meant to be a general guideline that will help you to make sense of it all.
Individual events are just that – athletes compete on their own. The competition goes in two rounds, pools and direct eliminations. You can read this post to learn more about individual fencing competition.
Now that you understand individual competition, we can move on to team competition.
While there isn’t a melee, all fencers during team competition do fence all other fencers from an opposing team (just not all at once). In this way it’s similar to the pools from individual competition. Fencing teams fill out one side of a score sheet prior to the match, giving the order they plan to fence in. This is a blind thing, so no one knows who will be fencing each other.
Team matches start off just as they were in the pools in terms of length as well – three minutes long and to five points. The difference is that match scores carry over to the next round, which can be a challenge to understand at first. This is one of the big game changers for team competition, and what makes it so interesting. Here’s how it works:
- Round one: Fencer 1 from Team A fences Fencer 1 from Team B, going to five points
- Round 2: Fencer 2 from Team A fences Fencer 2 from Team B, this time going to ten points.
- Round 3: Fencer 3 from Team A fences Fencer 3 from Team B, going to fifteen points.
The points are added together as you go, the scoreboard being for the team and not for the individual. So that ten points for Round 2 is actually ten points that are for Fencers 1 & 2. The fifteen points in Round 3 are for Fencers 1, 2, & 3. That means that if the first fencer does well, he or she is setting up for an easier run for the remaining teammates. On the other side, if the first fencer doesn’t do so well, then he or she is setting the rest of the team up to have to make those points up.
These points don’t stop at 15 though – the whole thing keeps going for all nine matches as each fencer faces all of the opponents from the other team. So the total team score can go as high as 45 in theory at the end of the ninth match, something that happens often in sabre but not so much in epee or foil. There are tie breaking rules here just as in individual competition.
Sometimes team competition has pools and elimination rounds, but the length of a team match is just so hefty that more often it jumps to just other kinds of seeding for the elimination round. It can be based on prior performance at tournaments if it’s part of something like a national team, or even results from that tournament if there was an individual competition portion, or seeding could just be random.
Essential points of team competition:
- Teams of three, with a fourth as an alternate
- Similar to pool round in that everyone fights each other (from opposing teams)
- Scores are cumulative, with each fencer building on the score of his or her teammates
Keep it simple
Hopefully this helps those who were confused about how team competition works. Truly, once you get the basics competition, it’s pretty easy to understand how the team competition works.
The main thing is to keep it all simple – it’s not nearly as complex as we might like to make it out to be. And truly the best way to really understand it is to experience it – going to a competition and being a part of it to learn as you go, or watching it on YouTube.
There are really merits to both. Individual competition allows fencers to really push themselves and go all out. However team competition, though fencers might not be throwing a ball to each other, still provides a real sense of togetherness and unity as fencers build upon the work of their teammates.
However you compete, you still get to experience both the sportsmanship and drive that comes from competitive fencing.