You’ve done it! After months upon months of hard work and diligent progress, listening to your coach and spending plenty of time at the club, you’ve finally done it! You finally reached that goal and got the fencing rating you were looking for.
Often fencers think that when they get that rating for the first time, they’re done. They’ve reached their goal. They feel like this is a huge accomplishment, one that can carry them forward for a while and maybe they can coast without so much focus and attention on their fencing. At least for a little while. It feels great, a big thing to have accomplished! Which is true, it is a big thing to have accomplished.
But just like everything else in life, it’s important that this kind of accomplishment be put into context. Fencers, especially young fencers, can get into the habit of stopping there, of thinking that because they got that rating that it’s time to sit still for a while. It’s not!
Quick note: We know that those of you who are sticklers for the details would call this not a rating but a fencing classification, and you’d be right that it’s the right term! Technically. However everyone generally calls the letter classification as a “rating”, so for the purposes of mass adaptation we continue to use this unofficial term. Just so you know that we know so you can know.
The strange realities of the fencing rating
A lot of fencers when they receive their new rating first time start thinking that they reached their goal, and now they are really achieved the level of their rating. That’s a limited and potentially damaging way to think about a rating. A rating is not like a diploma when you graduate from university, it’s not like passing a test to get your driver’s license either. Though the system is somewhat standardized, it’s considerably fluid.
Of course getting a new rating is a great thing and many young fencers aspire to get a new “shiny” letter. But getting this new rating does not necessary makes you this level fencer, at least not instanteneously.
Here’s why. A rating is generally based on a fencer’s performance on a single day and at a single competition. Though that competition and that day might be the culmination of a long series of trainings and lots of hard work, it remains that you are rated based on what you achieve at the tournament you get your rating at.
Let’s walk through an example or two to illustrate how ratings come about, which will show why they aren’t always easy to decode.
The lucky rating.
One real way that fencers get that new rating is through simple luck. The pools were favorable, you’ve got a big spurt of energy, your opponents forgot to eat a good breakfast and had a bad day, and maybe the path through the DE was unexpectedly easy because an opponent withdrew for some reason. This kind of day in a fencing tournament isn’t so much a lightning strike – it happens. We all know someone who’s had just a great fencing day at a tournament. A one time rating means nothing. It can simply be a stroke of luck on a single day. There’s nothing wrong with it! Take the luck! But know that you’ve got to keep at it.
These big rating progressions feel so good to the fencer because they are a big boost! A fencer might wonder if they aren’t much better than they thought they were. A giant leap is usually not indicative of a true reading of your place as a fencer! Mastery comes over time in a steady progression.
The delayed rating.
Sometimes the rating seems to be taking forever to change for a fencer. They push hard and keep on pushing, but for whatever reason that rating just doesn’t happen. Another tournament, another solid but not spectacular performance, another month with the same rating. Sometimes you can see this in a fencer who has this C2016 rating for a long time, despite participating in many C-, B-, or A- level competitions. There might be a lot of reasons why this happened of course, but more often than not it’s because that C came too early. When she received her C rating that first time she was quite lucky, but unfortunately did not have consistency in her performance to re-enforce her rating again and again and repeat her achievements. So she had to keep at it for a long time before advancing, even though it might seem that she’s just stopped progressing. Her ability is catching up to her rating!
The delayed rating can be the best, even if it’s frustrating, because the fencer is growing and then truly and solidly in the new rating when it finally comes along.
The perfect rating
There are other instances where the rating really does seem to be the culmination of quality, consistent work from a fencer. This is obviously what the rating system is really for, and we hope that it happens this way. The fencer does well and has done well over the course of the last few competitions, and at last they are getting exactly the rating that their level is! There’s no lag behind, and there’s no jump ahead. That B is really a B, that E is really an E.
Once again we emphasize here that with consistent work and participating in competitions, a fencer should progress through their ratings with regularity. No big jumps ahead and no long spells without a rating change either.
Note that none of these outcomes for a rating are very much in the control of a fencer. Fate and chance if you want to think of it that way, or simply the unpredictability of life. The point is that fencing is not an exact science and neither are ratings!
Solidify your fencing rating
If you received a new rating, and then consistently find yourself having to “re-earn” the same rating several times, that is not luck but the level of your fencing. In that case of course you are naturally not really re-earning anything, but showing your fencing rating is really where you are!
What you want is to solidify that fencing rating. When you get a lucky rating and are then stuck in the same level for a long time, it’s really a blessing! You get the chance now to solidify that fencing rating, to hone your skills and take your focus off of the letter and back onto your fencing skill. Right after you get that rating, it’s not the time to sit back and take a break!
The most important thing to keep in mind is that your rating is not defining of your fencing. It’s a nice thing to have, it’s a very approximate gauge of your progress, but it’s not meant to be a guideline for your training. Take pride in earning it, get that good feeling, then let that feeling add to your fire to continue to work hard for your fencing!