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A Newbie Guide to Fencing Tournaments (Part 1 – Basics)

I had been writing fencing tournament reports last year, detailing my experiences of the events where I competed and what I thought of them. I couldn’t keep up with the writing, partly because I was just busy, but also because the reports started to feel too repetitive.

This past weekend I competed in the Capitol Clash for the second time. This event was a regional youth and veteran age-group event just outside of Washington, D.C. I was excited to see some of the area’s newer fencers branching out to compete in this larger event, and I even spoke with two women who were curious about entering the event next year. (Read about the 2019 event here).

I was also having a rough week in general and had been sick (literally had a chest x-ray taken the day before the event), and realized that much of what I do during a tournament is automatic after competing for so many years (from packing, signing in, getting dressed, my warm-up, and other habits through the day). I thought it might be helpful to share some tips to newer fencers to help make the day of the event smoother when you get there.

So here is the first post in a series on A Newbie Guide to Fencing Tournaments!

This post will just touch upon a few basics, with no particular focus. I can go into more detail on topics in later posts (send me suggestions)!

  • The time listed for an event is the close of check in. You need to show up about an hour before that to get yourself ready.
  • There are a few things you need to do first when you arrive at a fencing tournament:
    1. Check in for the event.
    2. Find a place to put your bag.
    3. Get your equipment checked.
    4. Get dressed.
    5. Fill up water bottles.
    6. Get your phone out and find the appropriate page on https://www.fencingtimelive.com/ for the event. (Most events use this now.)
    7. Warm up.
    8. Breathe.
  • Tips on bag placement:
    • If you can find out which strips you will be using ahead of time, that is nice to know. Place your bag convenient to the strips.
    • If not, consider these other factors: bathroom placement, your fellow club members, water placement, crowds.
    • You can always move your bag once you learn where you will fence.
  • Events are fenced in two rounds: pools and then direct elimination.
  • Pools typically take an hour (for sabre).
  • During your pool, pay attention to when you’re up to fence. Know your number in the pool.
  • The referee will call out numbers or names. The first name called goes to the referee’s right on the strip. Unless there’s a left-handed fencer. She always goes on the referee’s left. If there are two lefties fencing, then go back to the original number/name rule.
  • After a bout, check the score sheet to make sure the result was recorded correctly. I find an error every year in one event or another. The best time to correct it is immediately after the bout when everyone clearly remembers what happened.
  • After the pool is over, sign the score sheet and shake the referee’s hand.
  • There is a break after pools where you should make use of the bathroom. You have at least 15 minutes.
  • Refill your water bottle between the pool and direct elimination rounds. Sometimes I also eat a snack like a granola bar.

Here are some specific items that I use on tournament day (paid links):

Don’t be afraid to ask if you aren’t clear on the process or on where you’re supposed to go and when. Most fencers will be very helpful because we all want more people fencing with us!

See the rest of the Newbie Guide to Fencing Tournaments:

Read more of my fencing posts here.

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Fencing Tournament Report – Capitol Clash 2019

The weekend before last, I traveled to compete in the 2019 Capitol Clash just outside of Washington, D.C. This fencing tournament has been held for ten years and has historically been a youth event. This year, they added a non-regional Veteran’s category, and several fencers in my club (youth and veteran) entered.

Event Schedule and Travel

For the Veteran events, the tournament was simply a local tournament, with no points or qualifications up for grabs. However, for sabre, it ended up being well-attended, with 16 women and 38 men. The youth tournament featured Y-8, Y-10, Y-12, Y-14, and Cadet events, and was designated a SYC, so fencers could win regional points.

With all of the events for age groups, all three weapons, and men’s and women’s divisions, the tournament stretched over 3 days. I woke up very early and drove to the tournament on Saturday morning to arrive by close of check-in for Vet WS at 12:00 p.m. The organizers had communicated minor changes in the check-in time in the weeks prior to the tournament.

Location and Venue

The tournament was held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, just south of Washington, D.C. The Gaylord chain of hotels are enormous self-contained resorts, with multiple restaurants, spa and fitness center facilities, pools, and convention spaces. I had actually been to a work conference at this same Gaylord a few years ago, so I knew what to expect.

The hotel offered a discounted rate for fencers, but I didn’t stay there. The parking was discounted for the event, and both self-park and valet options were available. The Gaylord is located within National Harbor, a larger development along the Potomac River featuring shopping, restaurants, and entertainment.

Vendors on-site.

The tournament was held in a large convention hall. It felt like a mini-NAC, having the same types of strips, scoring equipment, raised bout committee area, intercom announcements, and finals strip. Several vendors were on site for equipment needs, although I didn’t pay much attention to them, not needing to purchase anything.

The organizers did insist that all fencing bags were placed in a particular area, in delineated rows on tables and the floor. The strips for the Vet events were off to one side, near an empty part of the hall where no one seemed to mind the bags. I ended up arranging my bag near a column in a vacant area of the hall.

Format and Referees

The tournament was conducted in a standard manner, with one round of pools followed by 100% of fencers advancing to a direct elimination round and no fence-off for third place. For the women’s event, we ended up with two pools of 8. Larger pools mean more bouts of fencing, and I think most fencers prefer that to smaller pools.

We did end up delayed with the start of the event by about an hour. I’m not completely sure what led to the delay. I had warmed up, intending to be ready to start on time, but I didn’t feel that stiff or cold after sitting for an hour. I was sore going into the event, so more warm-up may have actually been detrimental.

Once we finally started, the rest of the event ran smoothly. The referees were consistent with their calls, although I had some trouble hearing one of them (and other fencers did too).

The gold medal bout was held on a raised strip and was delayed a short time because other events were also finishing up. Video replay was available for the gold medal bout.

The Capitol Clash also hosted a competition in Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). I had never seen this live before and had hoped to watch some. However, the HEMA events had concluded early in the day, so I missed them.

My Fencing

I had a good day! I had been fencing pretty well in practice and had been working on a few new things that had finally started to click. However, this tournament was also practice, with nothing in particular at stake.

I had been out late the night before my early-morning travel, so I wasn’t feeling great, being a bit dehydrated, sore from my triathlon training, and just tired.

Despite all that, my fencing was very consistent and stable all day. I stuck to my plan, took a few risks when needed, and managed to pull off some of the old/new maneuvers I had been practicing (sky hooks, mainly).

One goal of this tournament was to work on my attacks against people I don’t know. I’ve been trying to get faster while still being able to see the distance properly. It sort of worked, but I have more work to do. I also found that I was more patient when pursuing an opponent down the strip, which was something I had failed to do in my last event.

By the end of the day, I found myself in the gold medal bout where I kept my cool and won 10-4. This earned me a shiny new C19! You can watch a video of the final bout below. My bout starts at 1:30. The men’s gold medal bout is at 1:38.

The final results for all the events can be found here.

My teammates in the men’s event had a great day also, with 3rd place, 3rd place, and 7th place finishes.

To see more of my fencing tournament reports, look here.

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