Tournament Guide

As always, we invite all club members to participate in our tournaments. This includes middle and high school team fencers as well as those who attend our evening and weekend club practices.

We know that tournaments can seem a little mysterious at first. We want every family to feel welcome and informed at our tournaments so we have put together some answers to common questions.

Please remember that, although we run our tournaments like most local clubs, our way might be slightly different from other clubs. So please be sure to familiarize yourself with the guidelines of other clubs where your fencer may compete.

Below are some typical questions: 

1. How does my fencer choose events?

Fencers register for the events in which they want to compete. During the practices leading up to the tournament, your fencer’s coaches can help them choose events.

Events for kids are organized by type of weapon and age. There are three weapon events are our tournaments: foil, epee and saber.

Figuring out whether your fencer is the right age to fence a particular event can be a little trickier. Your fencer’s coach will always be able to tell your fencer (and you) if they are eligible for any given event, but here is an example of how it works:

If an event is called “Y12 foil” it means that is it a Youth foil event for those who are 12 years old (and younger). But here is the interesting part: it includes fencers who, as of January 1 of the fencing year in question. So, in other words, your fencer can actually be older than 12 and still be eligible to fence in Y12 events. 

Again, if you have any questions, check with your fencer’s coach. They will always be the best person to help your fencer choose an age and skill-appropriate event.

Some fencers are ready to fence in more than one event at an AFC tournament. For example, a ten-year-old Y10 fencer may be ready to also fence in Y12. Have your fencer check with their coach before signing up for more than one event. Sometimes events will likely overlap and this can be stressful for a new fencer or cause big delays for later events that must wait for earlier events to release fencers. 

2. Where can I find a list of tournaments?

You can find local tournaments on the AskFred website. Regional and National tournaments can be found at the USA Fencing website (login required). AFC has also compiled a list of tournaments from these two websites.

3. How does my fencer register for events?

There are two ways to register for events: online or on the day of the tournament. Please note that Regional and National tournaments have registration cut-off dates. You should bring cash, check or credit card to pay any necessary tournament fees and be prepared to fill out waivers.

Registering online:

AskFred is a website where you can search for and register for local tournaments. Start by creating an AskFred online account (it’s free). This will allow you to browse tournaments and register your fencer for events within a tournament. Once we announce a tournament – and its name – you will be able to search for it on AskFred and register for events. If you have any trouble finding or registering on the site, please ask a coach for assistance.

The USA Fencing website (login required) s where you can search and register for Regional and National tournaments. Sometimes our tournament is an USFA sanctioned event. These are more formal events that follow stricter rules. If your fencer wants to enter a sanctioned event, they will need a USFA membership card with a status of “Competitive.” You can create and account with the USA Fencing website to check on your status. If you have a “Non-Competitive” status you can use the USA Fencing website to upgrade your status to “Competitive.” 

Please also note that for Regional and National tournaments you will need to verify your age (this is to ensure that fencers are registered in the correct age group – e.g., Y10, Y12, Y14, Cadet). You can determine if your age is verified by looking at your USFA card (see example USFA card showing “DOB Verified: Y,” which means that the age was verified).

If your card reads – “DOB Verified: N,” then you will need to bring an official government document (e.g., passport, birth certificate) showing the date of birth of the fencer. If your age is not verified and you don’t bring an official government document, you may not be able to fence in that Regional or National tournament.

Registering at the Tournament:

For local tournaments, you might be able to register the day of the tournament. However, this is a risky option as sometimes the number of fencers in an event is limited. It always a safer bet to preregister.  If you do register on the day of the event, look for the registration table when you enter the tournament location. Please note that the times for each event listed in the tournament schedule and on AskFred are the times when registration closes, not when the event begins.

4. When should we get there?

Please remember that your fencer must register before registration closes to participate in an event. The event itself will usually begin about 10-15 minutes after registration for the event closes. It may start immediately after closure if there are only a small number of fencers participating in the event.

For this reason, plan to arrive in plenty of time to get your fencer registered.

For a local event such as our tournament: plan to arrive at least 45 minutes before the event registration closes. This will allow time for dressing (and – if it is our tournament – borrowing any equipment your fencer might need), warming up with stretches, participating in practice bouts with other fencers, and dealing with any equipment issues. Plan to register first and then dress and warm-up afterwards.

For larger, regional, national or division tournaments and USFA sanctioned events at any tournament: plan to arrive at least an hour and a half before registration closes. At bigger and more formal events such as these, you and your fencer will need additional time. Parking can take extra time at a large venue. Your fencer will also need time to familiarize themselves with the layout of the tournament room(s).

At larger tournaments, fencers will need to have masks, weapons, body and mask cords and lames formally checked and marked at a specific location at the tournament site (for info on equipment, see below). Please note that at these tournaments, fencers can only use equipment that has been checked and marked during their event. If your fencer needs to buy new equipment at the tournament (at larger venues there may be a sales table), it must also be checked and marked before the event.

Bear in mind that at larger tournaments, the lines for equipment checks and for event registration can be long. Your fencer will also need time to scope out a good place to store their belongings. As with any tournament, your fencer will need time to dress, warm-up, and fence practice bouts before their event.

Big events such as the Capitol Clash allow fencers to have their equipment checked the afternoon before the tournament begins. Consider arriving at the tournament venue a day early to take advantage of such opportunities.    

Whether it’s a small or big tournament, if your fencer fails to register before their event registration closes, they will not be able participate in the event.

5. What if my fencer needs to borrow clothes or gear?

If your fencer has everything they need to fence, great. If not, at our tournaments, we’ll lend your fencer fencing clothes and equipment for the tournament. 

Please note that other clubs and bigger tournaments will not loan equipment. However, newer AFC members can sometimes borrow equipment for outside tournaments, with their coach’s permission. More experienced AFC members will be expected to own their own equipment. If your fencer is not sure if they are eligible to borrow, please have them check with their coach.

At our tournaments, there will be a designated area where loaner equipment will be available. Please feel free to help your fencer find what they need and dress. Often, experienced parents and older fencers are available to help your fencer find what they need to dress. Don’t hesitate to ask someone who looks like they know what they are doing for help dressing your fencer. If a volunteer is helping fencers dress, please defer to the order in which they are dressing fencers; there is plenty of equipment to go around and they will help you if there is a shortage.

Please help your fencer remember to return what they borrow after their event – others will need it!

6. How does my fencer know when his/her event is going to start?

Once registered, your fencer should dress, organize their equipment, and warm up without delay. Events usually begin 10-15 minutes after registration for that event closes but may start immediately.

In our tournaments, the Referees (sometimes called Directors) will stand by the “strip” where the event will be held. Strips are a long, flat rubber mat or oblongs the same length marked out on the floor in blue tape. When an event is starting, the Referee will make an announcement. For example, “Y12 foil! Everyone for Y12 foil over here!”

When your fencer’s event is due to start, make sure your fencer is in the gym and paying attention to what is going on near the strips so they don’t miss their event or their name being called. If you are not sure where to go, you are welcome to ask for help at the registration table.

7. So how do events work?

Events are broken into two parts: the initial bouts and then the direct elimination stage.

The Pool – initial bouts:

At the start of the event, the Referee will have a list of who is registered and a randomly-assigned list of bouts between pairs of fencers. The list of fencers is called “the pool.”

The bouts will be ordered so that every fencer will get a chance to fence every other fencer in the pool (multiple pools are explained below). Bouts are fenced until one opponent scores five points.

Always encourage your fencer to do their best in these bouts as every point scored helps them in the next stage (direct elimination – explained below). This is true even if they lose the bout.

When bouts are about to begin, the Referee will announce the names of the two opponents about to fence and also the next two in line so they can be ready (they are “on deck”). Referees will sometimes assign every fencer a number instead of using names. 

Please note that at smaller tournaments, Referees will check fencer’s equipment on the strip before they fence. You may see some Referees do this as each pair of fencers comes onto the strip for their bout or it may be done in a group before the first bout begins. Referees will check that foils and cords are correct and will often ask each fencer to open their jacket to show that their chest protector (the plastic shield) and underarm protector (the one-armed cloth sleeve) are in place. 

As the event proceeds, the routine will stay the same with the Referee continuing to call the opponents for each bout. When your fencer is not in a bout, they can relax (and have some water, a snack or a quick bathroom break, if they need it). However, fencers should stay near the strip as they may be called to fence at any time until they have fenced everyone.

Multiple Pools:

If there are more than 8 fencers registered for an event, the tournament Registrar will divide the fencers into more than one pool. Each fencer in a pool will fence the others in their own pool until everybody has fenced everybody in their own pool (but not the other pools). Your fencer should listen for instructions if pools have been created. Often the pools will fence at the same time on two (or even three) different strips (with more Referees drafted in to help). In our tournaments, the Referees will make sure the fencers know where to go.

Direct Eliminations:

After everyone has fenced everyone else (or everyone in their pool), there will be a break before the second part of the event takes place. The second part is called Direct Elimination (DE).    

During the break, the tournament Registrar enters data from the pool (or pools) into a computer program that arranges the next set of bouts based on how everyone did in the initial bouts. This scoring is based on victories, touches scored, and touches received. “Touches” refer to when a fencer’s weapon touches an opponent and scores a point. Understanding and following a fencing bout – and making sense of the hand signals you will see the Referee using – needs a primer if its own. Suffice it to say that what counts as a touch differs depending on the type of event (foil versus epee, for example) and the Referee’s judgment.

The break after initial bouts and pools usually lasts about 15 minutes but can take longer when there have been multiple pools.

Before DE starts, the Registrar will post a piece of paper (called a tableau) on the wall that shows who will fence who in the DE bouts. As the DEs progress, this paper may be replaced with an updated list depending on who has been eliminated.

The Referees will continue to call for fencers by name as their matches occur. In events with many fencers there may be several DEs going on at the same time on multiple strips. 

DE bouts are fenced to 15 points with short timed breaks where the fencers stay on the strip but can have some water (which you can deliver to them). Whoever loses the DE bout is eliminated.

If your fencer is eliminated, it is important to stay until the end of the event for several reasons: first, it is helpful for your fencer to watch the other fencers and learn from them, second, they should be supportive of their club and friends who are still fencing, and third, depending on how many fencers there are, your fencer may still earn a medal or recognition. You can ask at registration how many places will earn recognition.  The number of fencers receiving a medal or ribbon varies by tournament; generally it is between 4 and 8 fencers.

8. What else should I know about events?

Before they can fence a bout, fencers on the strip must be “hooked up” to the electrical boxes (also called reels) that sit on the floor at either end of the strip. These boxes contain a spool of wire that unreels so that it can clip to the fencer’s lame. A lame is a shiny metallic-looking vest that a fencer wears over their white jacket in foil and sabre competitions (see below for epee hook-ups). Once the wire is clipped to the lame, any touches by an opponent’s weapon will be transmitted via the wire and the reel box to the score box that is located near the Referee. Once clipped to the lame, the wire moves with the fencer.

In order to get hooked up, fencers in foil (and sabre?) must be wearing a “body cord” under their fencing jacket. These cords have a small two-prong plug at one end and a metal clip at the other. In the middle of the cord is a bigger three-pronged plug. When worn correctly under the jacket, the smaller plug end hangs out of the fencer’s sleeve while the clip and the bigger prong hang out of the bottom of the fencer’s jacket at the back.

To get hooked up, the fencer (1) clips their small body cord clip to the bottom edge of their lame, and (2) plugs their big three-pronged plug into the plug at the end of the wire from the reel box. They then (3) plug the small body cord prong hanging out of their sleeve into their weapon. It is much easier to understand when you see it done versus read about it!  

Foil and saber fencers must also use a shorter cord to clip their helmet to the collar of their lame.

Epee fencers also wear a body cord under their jacket, but it has the same three-pronged plug on each end. The prong comes out of the bottom of the jacket and plugs into the plug on the end of the reel-box wire. The other plug coming out of their sleeve plugs into their weapon. They do not need any other plugs or clips because they do not wear a lame. 

It is very helpful if parents can learn how to help fencers hook up. Many parents help their own fencer and other fencers clip and unclip throughout the bouts. It’s easy to learn how to do this by watching others do it a few times. It’s a big help to the Referees.

If your fencer is delayed in finding equipment or has an equipment problem before the event starts, you can help your fencer by letting Head Coach Rick Orli or the Referee know. They will, within reason, try to help your fencer. Please know that not every issue can be resolved without causing a significant delay to the event (and the events coming after).

At national or more formal tournaments, as mentioned above, all equipment must be checked, tested and be in full work order before the event starts. Fencers should not expect to get assistance from Referees or organizers. However, many large events do sell essential equipment. Remember that your fencer will have to have any new or replacement equipment formally checked and marked by the designated tournament officials before they can use it in an event.      

9. Where should parents stand and can we cheer?

At tournaments, parents are asked to enjoy the seating provided or keep to the edges of the gym. Parents should avoid walking or standing in the competition area as it is very easy to trip over competition equipment or accidentally get in the way of fencers, Referees or coaches. The strips are long and a lot is going on: it’s easy to find yourself in the way of two fencers in a heated bout rushing towards your end of the strip!

Please listen to the Referees if they ask you to step back from the strip or give any other instructions. They are doing their best to make it a great day for the fencers by keeping things running smoothly. They are in charge of their event in much the same way as a pilot is in charge of his/her plane once it’s airborne.    

Cheering and clapping is welcome at fencing tournaments but should take place between touches. As with any sport, please use common sense: some fencers will be young, new to competition or emotionally invested; try to be understanding. If it’s a team event (such a middle or high school team event), cheer loud and cheer lots!

Some parents like to video their fencer. This is fine as long as you are not too close to the strip or become a distraction to the fencers (yours or anyone else’s).     

10. What should we bring?

Bring cash, checkbook or credit card to pay for registration fees. At our tournaments, there may also be a small selection of things to buy, such as socks, which your fencer may need or want to own.

At bigger tournaments there may be equipment for sale and fencing souvenirs.

For the purposes of our tournaments, we suggest bringing power bars, sandwiches that are light but energy-giving (such as peanut butter and jelly), fruits and veggies that are easy to cut and put into baggies, water bottles and sports drinks.

Competing takes a lot of energy and kids can get hot in their fencing gear. They can lose not only water but also salt and other electrolytes. Keep them hydrated and offer food that provides energy. Having said that; help them pace themselves so they don’t get weighted down with water or food right before a match.

For larger and more formal events, fencers may need to think more seriously about what they bring to eat and drink. Speak to a coach about your fencer’s needs.

There can be some long waits during events. Expect to spend on average three hours at a tournament, longer if the event is very full. Consider bringing something to read or do, especially if a younger brother or sister is coming along.

11. I know the coaches will tell my fencer, but just so I know, what does my fencer need in the way of clothes and equipment?

During practice the coach will teach your fencer about the equipment to be used at a tournament. They may lend your fencer what they need at a practice or – at our tournaments – your fencer can borrow what they need on the day (see above).

Here is a general idea of what fencers need to compete:

Two electric weapons for whatever event they are doing (for example, two foils or two sabers), two body cords (cords are the same for foil and sabre but different for epee), two mask cords (for saber and foil only), one mask (foil, saber and epee each have a separate type), an underarm protector, a plastic chest protector, a fencing glove, a lame (for foil and sabre), a jacket, knickers, long socks (socks should be high enough to cover any leg below the knickers) and sneakers. Hair should be above the jacket collar (at AFC we are not overly strict about this requirement, though other clubs are very strict. Extra rubber bands are always a good idea).

12. How can I get involved?

Wow, glad you asked! The first thing to know about volunteering at an AFC tournament is that you really don’t need to know much about fencing to be a big help. In fact, if you’ve read this far, you know more than enough!

We always need help with setting up for the tournament, clearing up after it’s done, selling socks, among lots of other little and larger jobs. We always need people willing to act as gofers and go-betweens for the Referees and the tournament Registrar. If you would like to volunteer, please check out our Signup Genius, which will arrive by email shortly.

That’s it for the big questions.

If you have any other concerns or questions, please don’t hesitate to email Coach Rick at

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoy the tournament!