Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Why Fencing Birthday is Different than Regular Birthdays

Why Fencing Birthday is Different than Regular Birthdays

Making sense of fencing age classification is important for all fencers, and it can be a bit of a mind bend initially.

The fencing season runs from August to July, so it runs over two years like a school year. There are both minimum ages for fencing and also maximum ages in fencing categories, so fencers can compete in different categories depending on what a fencer choses to do. A youth fencer can fence in both their age category and in the age category directly above them. There are lots of reasons that you would choose one category over another, but that’s something that you should discuss with your fencing coach as it’s dependent upon your goals

We want to note here that USA Fencing does sometimes change their rules, but age classification has been a constant for a very long time.

Now, on to the meat and potatoes of fencing birthday and classification!

Age divisions in fencing

There are three big buckets of fencing tournament classification: Youth, Cadet/Junior, Senior, and Veteran.

Fencing has three different age divisions for youth. 

  • Youth 10
  • Youth 12
  • Youth 14

You will sometimes see Youth 8 at local tournaments, which usually follows the same rules as the other categories. Note that Youth 8 isn’t officially recognized by USA Fencing, but if it’s available and your fencer qualifies, it’s a fun place to get started. 

Junior and Cadet fencers are slightly different because their season revolves around the Junior Olympics in February and the Cadet and Junior World Championships in April. Age eligibility for these is based on the rules for the World Championships, and there is a quirk where fencers are actually at a different age category between the Junior Olympics and Fencing Summer Nationals. The difference between this season and the season for the rest of competitive fencers can be a bit confusing, but it’s this way to accommodate the international nature of Cade and Junior competitive fencing. 

For 2021-2022 season the age categories are following:

  • Y10 – 2011-2014
  • Y12 – 2009-2012
  • Y14 – 2007-2010
  • Cadet: 2005-2008 (until Junior Olympics), 2006-2009 (after Junior Olympics)
  • Junior: 2002-2008 (until Junior Olympics), 2003-2009 (after Junior Olympics)

As you see, many ages overlap different categories. For example, a fencer born in 2011 can fence both Y10 and Y12 age categories, and a fencer born in 2008 has a lot of more overlapping age categories, which we will explore below.

Senior fencing is any fencing that doesn’t have an age upper limit, only lower, being available for anyone older than 13 (born on or before 2008 for 2021-2022 season). There are lots of these kinds of competitions at lots of levels, including:

  • Division I – for fencers whose ratings are A, B, C (also known as C and higher)
  • Division II – for fencers whose ratings are C, D, E, U (also known as C and lower)
  • Division III – for fencers whose ratings are D, E, U (also known as D and lower)
  • Division IA – for fencers with any rating (also known as Open tournaments)

Eligibility for Senior events starts at age 13, based on the calendar year. The wide open nature of this competitive level is a hallmark of the Senior classification. 

Those above the age of 40 are considered Veteran fencers. Here is the age breakdown for veterans.

  • Combined 40+
  • 50-59
  • 60-69
  • 70-79
  • 80+

Veteran fencing is highly competitive and highly fun, and it’s also an area of fencing that is constantly growing. 

One of the really wonderful aspects of fencing is that fencers progress through these age divisions without ever aging out of the sport. There’s never a point that you won’t be welcomed into a fencing competition! This really is a sport that you can grow with and keep on growing with.

This link on the USA Fencing website provides a quick reference to the age/classification requirements for a current season.

Celebrating your fencing birthday

Fencing age classification has a magic twist – everyone celebrates their birthday at the start of the year! That means all fencers are the same age from January 1 to December 31, no matter when their birthday might be. Rather than categorizing fencers by how old they actually are, USA Fencing categorizes fencers based on what year they were born in, and it flips over at the start of the next fencing season. 

For instance, if someone was born on September 17, 2011, they would be categorized as being ten years old starting on August 1st, 2021, even though they haven’t had a birthday yet, but they will age out and become fencers in Y12 category on August 1, 2022, even they are still 10 years old, and not even 11 year old! 

This birth year method simplifies the process, even though it can be a bit frustrating at times for young fencers who are used to celebrating their birthdays. The youth divisions each go across four years and are two years apart. For instance, fencers born in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 can all fence in the Youth-10 age category for the 2021-22 season.

Once a fencer ages out of Y12, for the next two seasons they are able to fence in every category of Y14, Cadet, Junior and Senior all the way to Veteran thanks to the rules that allow fencers to jump to the category ahead. That means that in addition to Y14, Cadet, Junior and they can fence in at least two of the Senior Divisions. For example, a 13 years old A- or B-rated fencer can fence Division I and Division IA, a 13-years old C-rated fencer can fence in Division I, Division II and Division IA, and a 13-years old D-, E-, or unrated fencer can fence in Division II, Division III and Division IA. And of course on top of these Senior Divisions, this fencer is eligible to fence any Cadet and Junior event! That’s how you can see many Y14 fencers fencing 4, 5, 6 and even 7 events at the Summer Nationals, when all these events are competing! Talk about the stamina!

If you’re ever unsure of what you qualify for, you should check with the USA Fencing Athlete Handbook to discover what you qualify for. Note that the current issue of the handbook is the final word on all classification questions. Keep in mind that your fencing age-eligibility doesn’t change all season long – whatever a fencer is at the beginning of the season based on their birth year, that’s what they’ll be all season long. Just remember that for all but Cadet and Junior age groups the season is August thru July, and for Cadet and Juniors it starts and ends in mid February with Junior Olympics Championships.

Celebrating your fencing birthday means you get to move forward to the next level in competition and that you get to grow on your fencing journey! 

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5 Comments

  1. R

    Fencers are classified. Refs and tournaments are rated. See the “Athletic Handbook”, 2.1 Classifications, 2.1.1. What are classifications?: “Fencers are classified into the follower letter classifications: A (highest), B, C, D, E and U (unclassified, lowest) as well as by national ranking.”

    • Igor Chirashnya

      We had this discussion already 🙂 Yes, I agree, classification is the correct term. Yet the de-facto usage is rating. There are A-rated fencers, but I never heard a term “A-classified fencer”. Most of the people, fencers, parents and refs, including the USA Fencing officials, ask “What’s your rating?” and never “What’s your classification?” And the tournaments are called an A4-rated tournament, not A4-classification level tournament. Maybe the better way to approach it is to switch between referees and fencers? So refs would have classifications, and since rarely anyone is interested in refs ratings they can ask for classifications instead when it’s really important, and not have us debating online about what’s right and wrong 🙂

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