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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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Fencing Tournament Report – The Achiko Sabre Cup New Years Day 2019

This tournament was hosted by the Tim Morehouse Fencing Club at its newer facility in Port Chester, New York. I had decided to compete in this event because it was part of the Tri-State Veteran Sabre Cup for this season. I was also able to arrange my work schedule in a way that allowed me to fence on the holiday, and was only an hour’s drive from home.

Registration and Events

The Achiko Sabre Cup featured a variety of events (all sabre, go figure): Y12, Y14, D and under, Unrated, Open, and Vet Combined, with all but the youth events split for men and women. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for more than the Veteran event.

Registration was run through askfred.net and you can see the results of all the events here.

Location

The Tim Morehouse Fencing Club has expanded and this location is one of the newer sites. It was easy to reach, and I didn’t hit any traffic because of the New Year’s holiday. There appeared to be a lot associated with the club, but it was roped off as full. I was able to easily find a spot to park along the road behind the club, and had a relatively short walk to the entrance.

The club itself was clean and bright. Check-in and the bout committee were directly to the left, with an area for bags and warmup on the right, and the tournament held in the larger space on the left.

One downside of this event was that I only found two bathrooms in the club. An additional closet was marked as a changing room, but there was a wait for the bathroom at times.

We weren’t required to have our equipment checked for this tournament and no vendors were on hand.

Format and Tournament

I fenced in the Vet Combined Women’s Sabre event, and unfortunately there was not a very large showing of local fencers, with only five people competing. We fenced a single pool, followed by direct elimination bouts.

We had a single referee for our event, and I didn’t disagree with the calls. I felt stiff at the beginning of the pool bouts as I hadn’t fenced at all since the Cincinnati NAC. But in the end, I fenced well enough, ending up 4-0 in the pool, then taking first place overall after two DE bouts.

Overall Experience

Despite the small field, it was an enjoyable event. I was able to chat with friends, watch some of the men’s event, and get some fencing in on a day where I wouldn’t normally have had the opportunity.

Downsides of this tournament were that there were limited strips free for warming up (at least at the time that I was there). Lack of equipment check could arguably introduce some safety issues or put the fairness of the event into question (I don’t feel like it did on this day, but in theory, it could).

I’d definitely go back to this club for another tournament. The most important aspects for an event for me are proximity, day and time (to arrange around my non-traditional work schedule), and solid and consistent referees.

Did you fence at this event? How did your event go? Let me know in the comments below.

Fencing Tournament Report – Cincinnati NAC (December 2018)

I had hoped to write this up earlier, but have been delayed by illness and holidays. This event was about 2 weeks ago and is one of several North American Cups (NAC) held every year by the US Fencing Association.

Description of the Event

What is a NAC? This is basically a series of national-level events that is run by US Fencing, with one held about once a month (October, November, December, January, March, April) during the main part of the fencing season. Each event encompasses different levels and age groups for the competition. The specific NACs for this season can be found here.

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Facing down the strip.

The location for these events rotates through different cities across the U.S. (and at least once in Canada that I remember). Ohio seems to be a favorite state this year, with events in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. The December NAC this year was open for Division I, Division II, Vet Open, Vet Age, and Senior Team events.

I went to fence in both the Vet Open and Vet Age Group events, although technically I could have also fenced in Division I and II. Division I is for fencers who are rated as A, B, or C, and those who finish high enough earn points which count toward a national ranking. Division II is for fencers who are rated C and below.

Registration

The NAC registrations are done through the USFA’s site. The deadline for entry for a NAC is more than a month ahead of the event. The site also lists who is registered, so you can agonize about your competitors for weeks ahead of time.

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A general view of the venue.

I have a C rating and am usually comfortable in Division II, but my event for Div II was on the first day of competition and the Vet events were more important for me this year so I decided to sit out Div II and stay fresh for the other events. I have fenced dozens of Division I events in the past, but decided against the extra expense of this entry for what would probably be five 5-touch bouts.

Each NAC event features an Athlete Packet which gives all the details for the venue, tournament format, and other rules.

Location and Venue

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View of the ice rink from the Westin.

Airfare for this event ended up being fairly inexpensive, so I booked a flight. My travel was uneventful and I made it to Cincinnati in the evening on Friday. The airport for the Cincinnati area is actually in northern Kentucky. I booked a shuttle service from the airport to the hotel and back.

A NAC is typically held in a convention center, where there is plenty of room for dozens of fencing strips, a finals strip, vendors, and the bout committee. The December NAC was held at the Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati. As far as I could tell, it was a pretty standard convention center. I didn’t see that any other events shared the venue with us that weekend.

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Bruschetta with honey and goat cheese.

Cincinnati offered several large hotels within walking distance to the venue. I stayed with friends at the Westin and we scored a suite after some confusion and phone calls.

I was pleasantly surprised by downtown Cincinnati. We found plenty of places to eat (although most require reservations to get in), and there was a cute downtown square with a Christmas tree and small ice rink.

Check-In and Ticketing

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Downtown Cincinnati

US Fencing has instituted a new ticketing system for attendance at national events for this season. This was my first chance to see how it worked. Anyone with a valid USFA membership just has to show their membership card. Others pay a small fee of $5 per day or $15 for the whole event.

The typical check-in booth was located outside the event hall. I swiped my membership card when I arrived, and a staff member gave me one of those stick on wrist bands. She didn’t even put it on my wrist and just handed it to me. I ended up wearing it on my wrist, but could easily have handed it off to someone else and then gone back for another one.

I did see the person at the door ask to see the wrist bands so the ticketing was at least enforced. We were also told that we could put the band on a bag. But again, what’s to stop someone from obtaining one band, placing it on a throwaway bag, and then proceeding to hand that off to anyone who wants to enter later on that weekend?

Format and Fencing

The format for the veteran events is a round of pools followed by reseeding into a direct elimination (DE) tableau. No one is eliminated until you lose a DE bout. There is no fence-off for third place. Top 8 make the podium and receive medals. Points are awarded as well and these contribute to a fencer’s national ranking.

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The raised finals strip.

Pools are fenced to 5 touches and DE bouts are fenced to 10 (15 for non-veteran events). Video replay is allowed at a certain point in the event. I believe in my events it started in the semi-finals. The gold medal bout is fenced on the raised finals strip.

My events took place on Saturday (Vet Open WS) and Sunday (Vet 40 WS). I also purchased new blades since I had broken my last one in practice shortly before this event.

My Fencing

I started out pretty jittery in the first few bouts of the Vet Open event. I decided to do an experiment by drinking coffee and eating a bigger breakfast than I usually would have. My stomach felt uncomfortably full during my warm-up, and I’m not sure if the jitters were from the coffee or just nerves.

After the first three bouts in my pool, I settled down and began to fence better. I ended up with a 4-2 record and an indicator of +9. That ended up putting me 12th of 41 for the DE round. I fenced progressively better as the day went on and soon found myself in the gold medal bout. I ended up losing a close match to a friend and took 2nd place.

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Vet Open WS Podium (photo by Kate Sierra)

About an hour after the Vet Open concluded, I started to feel progressively more congested and soon decided that I was coming down with a cold. I stayed at the venue to watch the MS event, had a nice dinner with another club’s fencers and coaches, and then went to sleep.

Day 2 of my fencing found me well-rested but definitely sick. I didn’t feel too bad if I moved slowly, so I worked on some writing in my hotel room before the afternoon Vet 40 event. I stuck with the same nutrition plan – good breakfast plus coffee.

My warm-up was very minimal because I felt like I had a very tiny amount of energy to use for the day. The Vet 40 event was significant smaller than the Vet Open, with only eleven fencers. I tried to fence without moving much, because whenever I exerted myself, my heart rate skyrocketed and I was winded in just seconds.

Given my illness, I didn’t do half badly, ending up with a 3-2 record and an indicator of +6. That put me into 4th place going into the DE round. I managed to put myself into the semi-finals where I lost to a strong fencer 10-7, ultimately finishing in 3rd place. The day ended with a trip to a brewery for a burger and beer, and then bed.

Results for the entire NAC can be found here.

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One silver, one bronze!

I’m happy with my fencing on this trip, although I wish I hadn’t been sick for the second day. Now I’m taking a short break and then it’s back to practice. Coming up – several smaller events in January and February and then another NAC in April!

Did you fence this December in Cincinnati? How was your event? Would you return to another NAC in Cincinnati? Do you travel nationally for fencing or just locally? Let me know in the comments!

See my other fencing articles and event reports here.

Fencing Tournament Report – Thrust Fall Div IA/Div II Regional Open Circuit Event (December 2018)

I have been writing race reports for triathlons, but never thought to write up a summary of any of my fencing competitions. I think that is partly because my experience at a tournament is more of a personal story involving my specific opponents and how I felt on that given day. That story will be different for each person in the event, and so it seems somehow less important to report on that.

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Venue for the Thrust ROC.

In comparison, triathlon is also an individual sport, but everyone in the race follows the same path. A race report still relates an individual’s experience on a given day, but I believe there is more value in hearing about how each athlete handled the course and other challenges of that day.

In thinking about this though, there are some aspects of a fencing tournament that can certainly be helpful to know about if you’re considering which events to enter for your season. So while I will write a brief section of my personal fencing in the event, my fencing tournament reports will focus on aspects such as location, venue, and how the tournament was run. So here is my first tournament report–I hope it is helpful!

Description of the Event

The Regional Open Circuit (ROC) events have been a relatively recent addition to the U.S. fencing world. As the sport has grown, it has been more important to have local events of higher levels, as well as to create a structure for qualification for national events that have become more popular and crowded. The ROC tournaments are offered throughout the country and are designated either Division IA or II.

Fencers who finish high enough in these events will qualify for Summer Nationals in either Div. IA or II, accordingly. Regional points can also be earned. If a tournament has been designated as a ROC, there is a greater chance for it to attract a large number of rated fencers, making it a tougher event with greater ratings awarded to the top finishers.

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Ready to fence.

In general, fencers have ratings of A through E, or U (unrated) in each weapon. A Div. IA ROC event is open to fencers of any rating, while a Div. II ROC is restricted to those with a C, D, E, or U rating. The Thrust ROC offered both Div. IA and Div. II events.

For more general information on fencing tournaments, ratings, and formats, you can look at my article here. It is a bit old, but I think the information still applies to a lot of today’s events.

Registration

The registration for ROC events was done through the USFA’s online system this year. I heard that a lot of people did not like this, but I haven’t have much trouble finding events and registering.

I received an informational email a few days prior to the event that contained important information. While askfred.net was not used for registration this year, the event was still listed there, which made it easy to find the necessary information.

I fenced both the Division IA and Division II Women’s Sabre events.

Location and Venue

The tournament was held at Rockland Community College in Suffern, NY. I chose to compete in this event because it was about an hour away from where I live, so it was relatively convenient to get to. The location was only a short distance off major highways and I had no trouble finding it. The parking lot was right outside the venue and was a gravel lot with plenty of room. That being said, my events were pretty early in the morning. I’m not sure if others had trouble finding places to park or not.

The venue was a large fieldhouse and offered plenty of space for the fencing strips, with room for warming up and bag storage as well. Bathrooms and water fountains were just down the hall. The flooring was a rubberized surface. It was a little slippery off the strips for warm-up purposes, but I also had no trouble finding an open strip for some practice footwork. For some reason, fencers all congregated under the bleachers.

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Fencers under the bleachers.

The fieldhouse did have concessions and I had a cup of coffee on both days. The food looked like what you’d expect – breakfasts of muffins, pastries, fruit, or breakfast sandwiches, and lunches of hot dogs and pizza. I saw Gatorade and soda as well.

Check-In

The event offered automatic check-in where you swipe your membership card. This worked fine. Weapons check went quickly, but I did see a line at other times for the larger events.

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Weapons check line on Sunday.

I was lucky that all my equipment passed. My All-Star lamé has really held up well, but I fear that its lifespan is almost over. My glove has needed replacement since the summer. I’m out of blades also and just haven’t had time to get more. I do have three intact weapons (you have to have a minimum of two), so I was okay for the day.

At the end of my Saturday event, I stopped by the Blue Gauntlet table and purchased a new sabre glove from PBT. This is the one I got here. I didn’t use it on Sunday because I need to break it in first. That will be something I work on this week.

Like most tournaments lately, the event used Fencing Time for real-time scoring. The page for this event can be found here.

Not everyone who had registered showed up. We had 7 of the 9 for Division IA and 16 of the 19 for Division II.

Format and Fencing

For the Division IA event, the organizers decided to have us fence two rounds of pools instead of one because we had so few people in the event. My main goal in competing in this event was to get a lot of fencing in before the NAC next weekend, so I like that we did the extra round of pools. More fencing meant more practice in a tournament format!

After that, we went into a standard direct elimination tableau. The gold medal bout was fenced on the finals strip. This wasn’t an elevated strip but was set up in a roped off area in front of the bleachers with some nice banners.

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Div IA WS Gold Medal bout – Palmer, K. (left – gold) vs. Sathyanath, K. (right – silver).

For the Division II event, the 16 fencers were divided into two pools of 8, so again the bout committee was allowing us a lot of fencing. On both days, the pools were double-stripped so that everything ran faster. That meant that we didn’t get much of a break between bouts, but I didn’t mind this.

I thought that the officials for the event were consistent and overall very good. I only had a few calls that I questioned, and sometimes I do that because I’m curious about what they’re seeing me do (because I couldn’t feel what happened) rather than because I actually thought they were wrong.

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Awards for Div. II WS – left to right: Garibian, E. (gold), Koo, S. (silver), Turnof, K. (bronze), Lettieri, S. (bronze), Sathyanath, K (5th). Places 6 – 8 not present.

My Fencing

My goal in fencing this event was to practice fencing people that I didn’t know in a tournament environment. For that purpose, I think I was successful.

My fencing on the first day, in Division IA was okay, but not great in the first round of pools. In the second round of pools, I did better, with a record of 4-2. I was moving better, making some nice actions, and kept to my strategic plan. I lost my first DE bout, but this was Div. IA so that was okay.

On the second day, Division was tougher for me. I was sore from the previous day and tired from lack of sleep. I never felt like I was moving well and I had trouble making actions when I was on the retreat. My record was pretty good at 5-2, but I didn’t feel like I fenced as well. I lost my first DE bout again when my legs stopped listening to me. I would have plan, but then my body just didn’t execute it quite right. I was standing up too much on the retreat and not reacting in time.

Overall I liked this event. I’d go back next year if the dates worked with my schedule. Did you fence in this event? Have you fenced in other ROC’s this year? Let me know in the comments!

See my other fencing articles and reports here.

Want to avoid fencing injuries? Don’t be lax about the safety rules. Here are some true stories of what can happen.

Link

Summer Nationals – Day 3

I’ve actually arrived back at home by now, but I didn’t want to let more time go by before I finished up my posts on the 2014 Summer Nationals.

This final day of competition for me saw me in Division I-A. This was a tough event, and my opponents were at a level that I’m not usually used to fencing. 100MEDIA$IMAG1365

Unfortunately my legs had had enough of all the lunging and jumping back and forth and my fencing prowess went rapidly downhill from my first bout. The ideas were there, but I couldn’t execute them. At least I didn’t finish last.

I wanted to go back now to show some photos and video of the event. Here is a general view of the convention center from where I’m standing at the side of one of the instant replay strips.

If anyone would like to see the full results for any event in the tournament, you can look at this link on the US Fencing Association’s page.100MEDIA$IMAG1368

This next photo shows one of the equipment vendors. They have everything from blades to shoes.

The USFA also posts videos of the finals on their youtube account. These are great to watch to see some nice fencing, but also are useful to learn from.

Lastly, here is a video that I made with one of the club’s men’s sabre fencers (on the left) in a first round bout in Division I.

 

 

Summer Nationals – Days 1 and 2

It’s been a whirlwind of fencing here in Columbus, Ohio. I had planned to write a post each day, but time got away from me yesterday. Too many bouts to watch, too much equipment to buy, and too many friends to see.

That’s one thing that isn’t obvious to a newcomer to such an event. For those of us who have attended, oh, more than a dozen of these, you will run into teammates, friends, and competitors that you haven’t seen in days, months, or years. It’s an opportunity to catch up, cheer each other on, and grab dinner and maybe a few drinks.

So the end result of that was that by the time I made it back to the hotel, I was overcome by sleep before I could blog.

Yesterday I fenced Division III – 12th of 100. Today I fenced Division II – 24th of 96. One more event to go. I’ll get some photos of the venue for tomorrow’s post.

I have to add that the sports medicine staff has been great. My back was stiff and sore after the 8+ hour drive to Columbus, before I ever fenced. I was afraid that after day 1 of competition, my back muscles would stiffen up worse than ever and I’d be ruined for the rest of my events. One short trip to Jeremy (who has worked on my back before), and I was as good as new.

Here is a video of the gold medal bout for the men’s sabre Division I-A event. This bout happened a few days ago, but it takes them a little time to get the videos edited and posted. A few tips for watching:

  • Yes, the referee is speaking French
  • There is a strange pause at 3-7. This is because the fencer on the left asked for video review. There is a second referee sitting in front of a computer that can show an instant replay of the action.
  • Once one fencer reaches 8 points, there is a one minute break.
  • On the last touch, there is another video review request.

I bought two more pairs of socks today. They’re the best fencing socks that I’ve found.

Who else fenced today? When you’re not there fencing, do you watch other events, shop, socialize, or head back to the hotel’s jacuzzi?

Summer Nationals – Day 0

It’s finally here! Summer Nationals started on June 22nd, and hordes of fencers will be converging on the Columbus Convention Center in central Ohio through July 3rd. If you missed my earlier post, you can catch up on the basic facts of the event here.

This year I decided to drive because I’m fencing on three separate days and the airfare was rather unfriendly. I packed my tournament equipment, which doesn’t differ much from my everyday practice equipment at this point. I threw an extra lamé in the car, double-checked that my competition mask was in my bag, and tossed a lot of extra socks in my suitcase. About nine hours later, I have arrived!

Dinner or fire?

Dinner or fire?

I have checked in at an Extended Stay America for the week, which features a kitchen. I unpacked my cooler, and since it was too late to order dinner anywhere, set to work cooking myself a carb-heavy meal. I searched out a plate, spatula, knife, fork, and colander, only to discover that I lacked a pot to boil water. With a quick trip to the lobby, I obtained two pots. The woman working at the front desk seemed surprised that I really wanted to cook. Wasn’t that one of their advertising points? She warned me to be careful not to set off the smoke alarms.

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Dessert – Nutella with strawberries

Well everyone should be happy to know that I managed to boil water without setting off the sprinklers. I don’t fence until the afternoon tomorrow, so I hope that this meal will stay with me through the day. I don’t like to eat much immediately before or during a tournament. Most importantly though, I remembered dessert!

Each event in a tournament is given a check-in window an hour in length. The first round of fencing typically starts thirty minutes after the check-in ends, although with the increased prevalence of computerized tournament software, sometimes this happens faster. I used to plan on arriving at the beginning of that window, but for tomorrow I’ll probably arrive earlier than that. I need to allow enough time for my warmup.

For the first day of competition, I’ll have to take my equipment to be tested and approved by the armorers. They will evaluate it for safety and conductivity. Once each piece passes for the first event, it doesn’t need to be retested on the following days.

I don’t have any particular rituals or routines that I need to perform before my event. I’ll bring an iPod with some music for my warmup. If I’m at the venue early enough, I’ll watch some of the other events. I might scan the vendors for interesting new gear, although I rarely buy anything until later in the day.

For other fencers, how do you prepare on the day before a tournament? Do you have a unique routine? Does it differ for a local event when compared to one where you need to travel?

Summer Nationals – US Fencing’s Super Event

On occasion, someone will ask me how long the fencing season runs. This isn’t really a fair question – as fencing has grown in popularity in the last decade, the season has expanded to the extent that you can find somewhere to fence any time through the year. You can look at several different aspects of fencing in this regard – the NCAA season, local events, national events, club practices, or training camps. Even with this variety, a lot of fencers still conclude their season by competing in the US Fencing Association’s largest event – the super-sized tournament known as Summer Nationals.

Summer Nationals has events for everyone – with all three weapons included, men’s and women’s divisions, and age groups stretching from under 10 years to over 70 years of age. The event is held at the end of June/beginning of July, and rotates through different locations across the country. This year, it will be in Columbus, Ohio and runs from June 22 to July 3.

Unfortunately, not every fencer can compete in Summer Nationals. The tournament has grown so large that, for most of the events, an athlete must qualify by competing in local competitions earlier in the year. The main events are divided into four divisions – I, IA, II, and III. Division I is restricted to the most elite athletes and can only be entered by those with a rating of A, B, or C. For more information on the rating system, see my post here. For Divisions IA, II, and III, the fencer must have finished within a certain percentage of the field in a local qualifier or a designated regional event. Divisions II and III also restrict the entrants to only those fencers of lower ratings.

After Summer Nationals concludes, many fencers may take some time off over the summer. Others will head to training camps held in a variety of locations either in the US or abroad. Local competitions typically start up again in September, with the first North American Cup (national event) held in October.

After my ankle injury last spring, I had to withdraw from the 2013 Summer Nationals. This year, I’ll be fencing in Division IA, II, and III, as long as I don’t have any other accidents before then!

 

Stabbity, Stabbity, Whack – Weapons

Oh gosh, I just love sharp things. I have a collection – from a classic medieval long sword to a short Zulu spear. However, in fencing I have limited myself to a single weapon (event). The three weapons are foil, epee, and sabre, and each one has different rules, target area, and equipment. Today I’m going to talk about fencing equipment from the weapon side of things.

I have fenced sabre for almost fifteen years, and before that I fenced foil for three. I have picked up an epee on occasion, but it’s not my style. So this discussion of fencing weapons will be needfully slanted toward sabre. Perhaps I’ll interview a foil or epee fencer and get their take on weapons in a later post.

An electric sabre, in pieces.

As far as fiction goes, this post would be most applicable if you’re writing about a character that is a fencer. Fencing weapons could be used as a primary weapon in a story, but only in a limited fashion. The edges and points are not sharp. Sport fencing weapons are made to be modular, whereas a real sword is forged to withstand battle. Fencing weapons break but can be taken apart and reassembled.

There are two types of sabres – dry and electric – but the differences are minor. A dry sabre consists of a blade, guard, grip, pad within the guard, and pommel. The dry weapons are also sometimes referred to as practice weapons. The electric sabre is outfitted for the electric scoring systems. It will have a socket where the body cord plugs in, and there are extra precautions taken to insulate the inside of the guard and the pommel. For foil and epee, the electric versions of the weapons have a tiny wire that runs down the length of the blade. This ends in a miniscule button assembly, so that when the fencer hits the opponent with the point, the tip is depressed and the scoring box lights up. For my purposes, I don’t even own any dry sabres. All of my weapons are electric because the differences are minor and all competitions are scored with the electric equipment. For a beginner, the dry equipment may make more sense, but most clubs even have the electric scoring systems available to use during practice.

The S-2000 blades are stamped at the base. You can also see that this is a Y-blade because the edge on the left is scalloped.

The blade on a sabre is flexible, but prior to a rule change in 2000, they used to be more flexible. If you search online for sabre blades, many of them specify that they are S-2000 blades. This means that they meet those new regulations. Most sabre blades that I see being used are Y-blades, meaning that the lower two-thirds of the blade is Y-shaped in cross-section. This makes the blade lighter. The other type of blade is just rectangular in cross-section. The tip on a sabre is curled over and blunt. Some blades look like steel. Others have been treated to give them a blue or gold sheen. Historically, I saw claims that these were more durable, and these were more expensive blades. Now it looks like they’re just fashionable, and the prices are similar to the plain blades.

The tip of a sabre.

The blades of all the weapons break after some time. The sabre blades most commonly break in the top one-third of the blade, where it is the most narrow. This area of the blade is stressed from making attacks and from certain blade actions. When the blade breaks the fencers almost always realize it – there is a characteristic pinging noise, and the broken tip goes flying across the room (or at least a few feet away). On a handful of occasions, I have seen a blade break into three pieces rather than two.

The broken end of a sabre blade.

Another common location for a blade to break is at the top of the guard. I have seen this happen when the fencer takes a parry (blocks an attack with the blade), or when they make an attack. When this part breaks, the weapon almost falls apart. The pommel is threaded onto the end of the tang of the blade, and the blade above the guard is wider than the opening in the guard. When the blade breaks in this manner, the tension between the guard and the blade is released, and sometimes the socket and the pad under the guard will fall out.

When a blade breaks, it is supposed to leave a flat surface that is less likely to injure an opponent. There could still be some sharp edges, but I have never seen any blade break off that was truly jagged.

Another odd fact – when I buy new blades, they have oil on them to protect the metal from rusting. This can be messy. As a blade ages, it will rust, but I don’t notice this building up as much on the weapon that I use the most frequently.

The guard of a sabre curves around the front of the weapon and attaches at the pommel. They are shiny when they’re new, but quickly become scraped up and dingy. I have seen guards eventually break at the point where they attach to the pommel, but this takes quite a while. The edges also become dented from making parries. Electric sabres have a plastic piece that covers the lower section of the guard near the pommel. If any part of the metal from the weapon comes in contact with the fencers target area (covered with conductive metallic material), this electrically connects the entire blade of the sabre to the target area. If an opponent happens to tap their blade to your blade, this will register as if the opponent actually touched the blade to the target area. To prevent this, the electric sabres have paint or plastic insulation on certain areas. Many fencers add tape to their weapons to also protect against this, especially as the weapon becomes more worn. Different guards are needed for right-handed and left-handed weapons and are not interchangeable.

Assembled electric sabre. The inside is painted red for insulation purposes. The black tape covers the pommel to make sure no metal there is exposed. The strip of tape on the inside of the guard covers up places where the paint has flaked off. You can also see how the edge of the guard is slightly deformed and the red grip is worn down to the underlying plastic.

There are several different grips in fencing. Sabres have the fewest options, with only the material for the grip varying. The options are usually leather or rubber. For foil and epee, there are French grips which are nearly straight, and many ergonomic grips that are fitted to the hand. They go by names like pistol (Visconti), Russian, Belgian, or Italian. The rubber sabre grips that I use develop definite wear patterns.

The pommel is a short piece that is threaded to attach to the tang of the blade and hold the entire weapon together. The electric pommels that I use are a plastic sleeve with a metal piece on the inside. Sometimes these pieces separate and I have to tape them together around the grip and the attachment point for the guard. Eventually, the threads on the inside can become stripped and the pommel needs to be replaced.

This pommel slides off of the underlying metal piece. I don’t use this sabre often and I probably need to add some tape so that this plastic piece doesn’t fly off during a bout. You can also see that this grip is not very worn.

Most pads under the guard are felt or plastic-covered padding, but I have fancy ones that are made out of patterned car upholstery material and are sold by one of the fencing equipment companies.

There are two types of sockets – Bayonet and 2-Prong. I used to use the Bayonet type, but I had repeated problems with those. Almost all sabre fencers that I see use the 2-Prong sockets. Whatever type you have, the body cord must match. Since I have been using the 2-Prong sockets, I don’t think I’ve had a single one break or develop problems. There was a rule change several years ago that required an insulating washer to be removed from the 2-Prong sockets, but this was an easy fix. The body cord plug sometimes requires minor maintenance, but the sockets are quite durable.

For next time, we’re going to play a game. It’s called: What’s In That Bag? Until then, does anyone have questions about sabres? Have you ever held one? Was it heavier or lighter than you expected?

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