For the most part, fencing categories are easily identifiable and distinguishable. It’s clear from the name what they are and what groups comprise their ranks.
Youth categories are labeled with age-specific titles – Y8 through Y14 are clearly moving up through specific ages. It’s right there in the title. Veterans are mature fencers, which again makes sense because a veteran indicates someone who has been around for a long time. Cadet, Junior, and Senior all sound like military ranks as well, and they all give the idea of someone who is training or coming of age in the sport.
Where it’s easy to get confused when we move to the divisional categories. This is all the more confusing because there are also divisional competitions within the structure of qualification for the Junior Olympics and Fencing Summer Nationals. Those competitions aren’t related to Divisions 1, 1A, 2, and 3, but rather they just share a name. There are many, many divisional competitions that cover a specific region or even down to a specific city. These hyper regionally focused tournaments cover a wide range of qualifying event classes, which are often tailored to the kind of fencing that is popular in that particular area.
For Divisions 1, 1A, 2 and 3, participation is actually fairly straightforward. These four categories have their own set of parameters, and they carry a specific weight in the fencing competition circuit. Like other fencing categories, they are separated by age, but there are other extraordinary things about the divisional level of competition. It’s not just another place that fencers progress to when they have a birthday!
Basics of Divisional Categories in Fencing
Fencing categories are structured based on age to begin with. How fencing age is measured is its own thing, and you can read about that in our previous blog about what a “fencing birthday” is if you need a better grasp on it. Here for ease, we’re going to simplify by using ages only.
Youth through Junior categories have detailed age requirements that are focused on a set age group. The Senior category flips the switch to being about something else in addition to the age requirement. All four divisions include the same age – thirteen and higher. This is what makes the Senior category unique in the United States. In addition to age requirements, there are stipulations of level in each Division.
Note that in all of the Youth categories, as well as in the Cadet and Junior categories, there is an “age out” timeframe in which fencers are no longer permitted to compete in these categories. Though there is a broad single Veteran category for everyone aged 40 and above, there are also more narrow age categories for each Veteran. This allows Veterans to compete with people who are of a similar physical ability level – on the whole, a forty year old and an eighty year old have very different physical capabilities. Keep in mind that, in theory, a person who is eighty years old could absolutely compete in at least two Senior Divisions. There is no age limit on either one. In fact, the only limit on the Senior category is that a fencer must be 13 or older.
Why is there no age cap in the Division categories? The main reason is that Fencing Divisions are less reliant on age than they are on the ability of each fencer to perform. Here, fencers are not tied to their chronological age in order to compete – it’s whoever is the best fencer once they are physically roughly adult sized, which is around 13. Fencing Divisions are then generally based on fencer rating and are the great way for fencer of any level compete in the event which is composed of the fencers of their or similar level. Below you will see why.
It’s worth reinforcing here that this is the way that this is done in the United States. International competition is a whole different ballgame, with rules and regulations that are different. Each country’s fencing body sets its own guidelines. Because these competitive levels are connected by fencers’ rating (or the correct term, used only by very few people -fencers classifications). This is an American fencing thing that doesn’t translate to international platforms.
What level does each Division compete at?
Each of the four separate divisional levels works at a different level of competition. Though they all have similar sounding names, they each have their own flair and flavor, which makes them all exciting and diverse. These are driven by the rank categories that each encompasses.
Here you’ll find a mix of a wide range of fencers, from Youth fencers who are at least 13 all the way up to Veteran fencers. This makes the Division categories extremely interesting because there is always room for surprises. It’s challenging to meet a fencer who is at such a disparate age even though they might be at a similar level. It brings variety and interest to the competition.
Division III is for D, E, or U (unrated) fencers. Div 3 is a great place for less experienced fencers to compete beyond their local and regional level. This is an entrance into divisional competition, and it’s a positive, broad category.
I personally like Division III and Division II because it gives less experienced fencers a “fair” battlefield. For a 15-year-old fencer with little experience competing nationally in Cadet or Junior categories is tough. There are many high-rated and ranked Cadets and Juniors who will be way above the reach of such fencers because there is no limit of the skill level in these age categories. These fencers can easily encounter a pool with a National and even a World Champion when they compete at a NAC.
However, Division II and III are a totally different ball game. The skill level of fencers is not that high and much more on par with these fencer ability, creating a more adequate and, as I said, “fair” competition.
Since there is no one above a D level, this category is especially great for observing fencers at various developmental levels. This category is mixed with fencers from Youth to Veteran, which brings it lots of energy and a surprising amount of strategic interest. It’s a wonderful category to learn in. My suggestion to all D and lower rated fencers is to go and experience this tournament at the National level, so try and qualify for it.
Another thing regarding Division III is that there are no competitions for it outside of the National Championship. Sometimes some clubs will organize Division III tournaments, but they are rare. So if you are a Division III fencer (i.e., D and lower rated) my recommendation is to try and qualify for the national championship and definitely attend. You will have one of the best competitive experiences there. On one side, it is a national championship with a lot of good fencers, on the other side, all of them present a just right competitive field, with many challenging, but not impossible to beat fencers.
Division II is for C, D, E, or U categories. Again, because unrated fencers can compete here, there’s a good broad mix of fencers included in this category. Fencers who have been competing locally can push to Div 2 when they’ve become stronger and are ready to take on the next level of challenge. Thanks to the inclusion of C-rated fencers but the exclusion of A- and B-rated fencers, Division II is a great place for fencers to push themselves harder, as the competition level is significantly higher than for Division III. Similar to Division III, I strongly recommend eligible fencers compete in these tournaments.
Unlike Division III, there are many competitions for Division II. First of all, there are plenty of Division II ROC’s in different regions of the country. Since points for ROC’s count for any fencer regardless of their region, fencers can really explore these ROC’s anywhere.
Division IA,, often called an Open Division, is the only divisional category without a rating requirement. Though there is not a strictly defined level for this category, it is generally made up of many A-, B-, and C-rated fencers. It’s easiest to think of it as its name implies – closely related to Division I. The beauty of fencing in Division 1A in my eyes, is because it gives a chance for fencers of all levels to compete. Some very strong A-rated and nationally ranked fencers will find it very challenging in advanced rounds of competition, making this tournament fun for them. Less advanced fencers will have an opportunity to fence with similar level fencers as well as experience very high level fencing as well, when facing these A- and B-rated opponents. This breakout gives those who are striving to become elite fencers a way to get their foot in the door and start to challenge themselves on that level.
Division I is for the highest rated fencers – those rated A, B, or C. This is the elite level, and it’s comprised of fencers who are working hard to compete at the top. Many of these fencers are competing internationally already or have aspirations to compete internationally. You’ll find the top rankings of US fencers here, including World Championship competitors and Olympians. The U.S. National Team is created from the top 4 fencers in Div 1, making it the highest level.
There is, however, one disadvantage for Division I, and it is that most of the Division I competitions happen only in the context of National level tournaments, such as NACs, Division I Championship and July Challenge. I rarely saw a local tournament that is limited for Division I only, since usually it makes less sense for the organizers to create such a tournament.
This creates a problem for those A- and B-rated fencers who aged out of Juniors and thus cannot compete in any other competition. So Division IA tournaments, often called just Senior Tournaments or Senior Open Tournaments, are popular competitive vehicles for these A- and B- rated fencers.
How do Divisional categories fit into tournament structure?
Summer Nationals will have all four divisions, but not every competition will. Different tournaments will offer different categories, depending on what the target of the competition is and what level it’s at – local, regional, or national.
ROCs are going to heavily favor Div 1A, because it doesn’t require a rating and many fencers can compete at this level. This makes it attractive for the organizers of the competition, who need to appeal to as broad a range of potential competitors as possible for economic reasons. Div 2 ROC’s are rarer since it’s more restrictive and thus attracts fewer fencers, making it less viable economically for the organizers. When there is a Div 2 ROC, eligible fencers should go if possible. These are fantastic tournaments for C and lower fencers, especially for D, E, U rated fencers because they stand a much better chance of succeeding in this ROC than in Div IA ROC.
Division 2 and 3 are excellent precisely because they give less experienced fencers a place to compete on not just a level playing ground, but a playing ground where there is a good chance to find a challenge.
And as I wrote above, Division IA is a fantastic competition for all fencers, especially for rated ones, since it provides the best of all worlds.
Why Division categories are important
Divisional categories offer fencers an incredible opportunity to push themselves while also finding attainable goals. The wider scope gives fencers the opportunity to compete against fencers who are potentially a better match than just competing by age.
For fencers who are not yet at the highest level of divisional competition, it’s worthwhile to observe these competitions when you have the opportunity. Division I fencing in person is wonderful to see and a fantastic chance to learn. High level Division IA offers a similar opportunity for learning by watching.
If you are able to qualify in any of the divisional categories, absolutely go for it! Whether you are working to compete at the elite level, or if you are just striving for more fun in your competitive experience, jumping into a divisional category will help to develop fencing skills and improve the overall quality of your fencing.
Though this division of fencing can seem like it’s a lot to make sense of at first, it’s one of the hearts of long-term fencers. These categories are both challenging and exciting, and fencers can enjoy them for many years for many different reasons! Divisional categories, in particular, are a great way to grow!