Information for New Competitive Parents

   Preparing to Compete (Part I)

If you are a parent with children involved in fencing, you already know that the learning curve for fencers (and their parents) beginning to compete is extremely steep. Understanding everything from what equipment to purchase to how tournaments are organized can be very confusing. Two of my children have competed regularly over the last six years, and I'm still learning the ropes.
    I'm assuming that you are either training to compete yourself or you have one or more children training to compete. This time of beginnings is full of decisions involving new terminologies and jargon that are part of the world of fencing; most of us muddle through these until they begin to make sense. Hopefully, this article will make your transition into competitive fencing a little less confusing.
    The first thing you will have to do when getting ready to compete is to purchase the necessary equipment. Unfortunately, the equipment is very specialized and the audience for fencing is small compared to other sports; the upshot being that you can't just go out to your local WalMart and find what you need. You have to go to a fencing vendor.
    The trick is finding the right one. As little as 10 years ago it was very difficult; the only place to purchase equipment was at major tournaments. With the advent of the Internet, it has become much easier. There are around 20-30 small businesses in the United States that specialize in all things fencing, and most have websites where you can purchase your equipment online. Examples of these are:

  1. 1. Absolute Fencing Gear

  2. 2.Alliance Fencing Equipment

  3. 3.Blue Gauntlet

  4. 4.Leon Paul

  5. 5.American Fencers Supply

  6. 6.The Fencing Post


     …along with many others.

     Like most online stores, you will be bombarded by brand names and incomprehensible model numbers. No matter what product you choose, the important fact to consider is whether a piece of equipment is FIE or non-FIE. Simply put, FIE is expensive, non-FIE is more affordable. The difference is in the quality of the equipment. FIE equipment is manufactured to world-class specifications and will last much longer than non-FIE items, but you will pay for that quality. On the other hand, if you are buying for a beginning competitor fencing in local competitions or the club, choosing the more affordable models might be the best choice. For myself, I didn't buy the expensive stuff until I knew that my fencers were going to stick it out for a while.
     Whatever your decision, you will need to purchase the following equipment. Keep in mind that each is required by the rules that govern competitions. This is especially true of the underarm protector. Referees always check for them, for good reason.


  1. 1.Mask

  2. 2.Stretch Jacket

  3. 3.Electric Lame

  4. 4.Underarm Protector

  5. 5.Knickers

  6. 6.Socks

  7. 7.Shoes

  8. 8.2 Electric Foils (#2 length for ages 10 and under, #5 length for ages 11 and up).

  9. 9.2 Body Cords

As above except no Lame, and Electric Epees instead of Foils.

    Sizing differs with the manufacturer, but fencing vendors generally are very good about helping you make a good decision. They all have toll free numbers to call if you have any questions about their products.

     Now that your fencer is equipped, I'll talk in Part II about the process of going to a competition and helping your fencer be where he or she needs to be and how to know when they are supposed to be there.

Preparing to Compete (Part II)

     ..And so it begins.  You have decided to take your new competitor to their first Bay Cup competition, which you will have to drive two and a half hours to find, (Mapquest and GoogleEarth are absolute necessities if you've never been to a particular club before).  As you approach the venue, (usually a Bay area club), you are nervous about being on time, making sure your fencer's paperwork is taken care of, and of course that they do well.  It will help reduce your intake of Rolaids by considering the following:

Preparation for the Competition:

  1. 1.It is wise to feed your fencer as well as possible the night before the event; he or she will not be hungry before the competition for obvious reasons, although this is not always the case.  That said, it is best to bring along light snacks (fresh fruit, protein drinks) for your fencer and something more substantial for you.

  2. 2.Make a list of equipment and uniforming and follow it when packing.  There are no vendors at Bay Cup events, and if your fencer forgot their weapons or underarm protector, the only option is to go home.

  3. 3.Find your fencer's USFA card and keep it close.  He or she will need it to check in.  Of course, make sure the membership is current.

  4. 4.Take your check book.  Many clubs are not set up to take credit or debit cards, but you can always call the host club to find this out before you leave.

  5. 5.Allow "I'm Lost" time when traveling to an unknown venue of at least fifteen minutes.  Its fine to show up early to an event, but if you arrive after check-in/close, then your fencer will not be able to participate.

Fencing in the Competition:

  1. 1.    Competitions in most local venues take between one and a half to two and a half hours depending on the number of competitors.  If you are signing your fencer up for multiple competitions on the same day at the same venue, you can expect to be there for four to six hours, so plan accordingly. (Note that while the Bay Cup and RYC circuits allow multiple competitions on the same day, NAC (national) tournaments only allow a single competition per day; primarily because, while the former's competitions have one or two dozen competitors on average, national tournaments have hundreds of participants.

  2. 2.When you enter the venue, find the bout committee table; (sometimes it is an actual table, other times it is the club's customer service counter), and ask where your fencer signs in.  The person behind the table will ask which competitions your fencer is participating in, and if you are Bay Cup members. (Note: If you are planning to participate in the full season of Bay Cup competitions, it is strongly advised to pay the membership fee, as it will save you money over time).  After this, the host will ask for the total competition fee, which you will gladly hand over.

  3. 3.Now that your fencer has checked in (before the check-in/close time), find  yourself a spot where you can put the equipment and watch the show, then encourage your fencer to stretch and warm up.  Often, other fencers in the same competition are doing the same, and some will begin sparring.  Encourage your fencer to find a sparring partner once they have stretched, however if there are others from FFA in  the competition, this will not be a problem.

  4. 4.After check-in/close has passed, the organizers will determine the seeding for the tournament, and then make pool assignments.  The directors for each pool will call the names of the fencers in their pool, so make sure that your fencer has gone to the bathroom before this occurs, as once the pool has started, they may not leave the strip.

  5. 5.At the conclusion of the pool bouts, the results are tallied and the new seeding for Direct Elimination is posted.  In local competitions there is always 100% promotion to DE's, meaning that your fencer will always have at least one DE bout, so do not leave yet.

  6. 6.When your fencer loses a DE bout, the competition is over for him or her.  In the Bay Cup, medals are awarded to the top four competitors, so if your fencer is knocked out before then, your day is over, and there is no need to stick around. However if he or she made it to top four, good sportsmanship requires that you stay for the medal ceremony.

The Aftermath:

     Your fencer will be very tired (and likely very hungry), especially if he or she fenced in multiple competitions that day. He or she will be grumpy (especially if the event did not go well) and likely fall asleep in the car on the way home, but be sure to stop somewhere along the way for dinner.

     You too will be tired, hungry, and may be a little bit grumpy if all did not go well, and dinner with your young fencer will help both of you.  Make sure to not express your frustrations in the hearing of your fencer-it will only serve to discourage him; rather always try to be upbeat, possibly even avoiding the subject of fencing completely and just enjoy the special trip you are having with your child.