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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.

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Inside the World of Longsword Fighting

This video from the New York Times has been making the rounds on Facebook, but I thought that it also may be of interest here.

Inside the World of Longsword Fighting

If you are writing a story with this style of fighting, this group may be able to give you some invaluable practical tips about what it is like to practice this style of sword fighting. I didn’t know that this existed, and while the clothing and armor are not intended to be historically accurate, it sounds like they are trying to faithfully recreate the techniques out of the fencing manuals that we still have.

Video

Haitian machete fencing.

No mask, no padding, sharpened machete.

How is the old master still alive?

Link

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?

Swords, Swords, Swords

One of the activities that I participate in regularly is fencing. Since a lot of fantasy literature is either set in a pseudo-medieval setting, or at least involves some swords, I thought that I would write a series of short articles on modern fencing, and how that can be applied to crafting those fight scenes.

This first article is just going to cover the basics – the different weapons, rules, and a little about the equipment. I don’t intend this to apply to all different weapons and styles of sword-fighting, just what my fencing has taught me. I’ll have articles on strategy, mind-set, competition, and injuries. There isn’t a lot in this article about how to apply this to fiction, but I think this will outline the basics so that the later posts will be easier to understand.

So to start with, there are three weapons in modern fencing: foil, epee, and sabre. Most of the time, an athlete will train and compete in only one of those. There is some crossover, but each weapon requires different equipment and has its own style. Some fencing clubs focus on one weapon more than the others, but any large enough club will have all three. When I started fencing (almost 18 years ago), I began with foil because the members in that club fenced foil. The equipment also dictated this to some extent. The scoring boxes (more on these later) were expensive and many at that time did not allow for sabre. This was also a college club, so there was a limited budget to purchase equipment. In some traditional schools of thought on training, foil is always taught first. Once a fencer develops the basic footwork and coordination, then the fencer can transition to a different weapon. This isn’t always the case, and I think it is becoming even less common now. Once sabre equipment and training became available to me, I switched – I think sabre is just more fun.

In regular conversation, fencers do sometimes refer to their equipment as their weapons. As in, “Yes I’d like to fence. I just have to get my weapon.” OR “I’m in the line at weapons check.” OR “I need to put together some more weapons.” Just beware at the airport. When the baggage security personnel ask, “So, what’s in this bag?” Don’t tell them, “Oh, those are my weapons.”

In practice, fencing can be done either “dry” or “electric”. Competitions are essentially all electric now. What this means, is that for any of the weapons, the fencer has a “body cord” that attaches to the inside of the guard on the weapon. This cord runs under the glove, beneath the protective jacket, and plugs into a socket on a “reel”. More wires run to the end of the long and narrow fencing strip, and then back along the side of the strip to a central scoring box. Lights go off when someone gets hit. Dry fencing is just fencing without being hooked up to the electronic scoring system. A lot of practice is done dry because there may be limited scoring boxes at the club. A fencer (particularly someone new to the sport) may have the basic protective equipment, but may not have invested in the additional pieces needed to fence electric. Or, a fencer’s equipment, or pieces of the electric set up may be broken. And a few more examples of how fencers talk about this: “Do you have your electric stuff today?” OR “Let’s just fence dry. I don’t have a body cord.”

So, here is the breakdown on each weapon, as far as basic rules:

FOIL

Foil is a point weapon. If you hit your opponent with the flat of the blade, it will not count. If you hit your opponent with the point, then it might count. The target area for foil is the torso, not including the arms, and maybe including the bib on the mask (the rules keep changing on this). There is a nice illustration of the target area from wikipedia here. If you hit your opponent off-target, it will not count. If you hit the target and your opponent does not hit you, then you get the point. If you both hit on-target, then there are more detailed rules about “right-of-way” which determine who scores a point. The referee will decide this.

Here is an example of a foil bout from the 2011 World Championships. The bout starts about 2:20 into the video.

Each weapon looks a little different. This is a foil.

EPEE

Epee is also a point weapon. The difference between foil and epee is in the target area and the rules that follow from that. The epee target area is the entire body. If you hit anything, it counts! There is also no “right-of-way” for epee. Whoever hits first scores the point. If both fencers hit within a certain small time period, then both fencers score a point.

Here is an example of an epee bout from the 2011 World Championships. The bout starts about 1:15 into the video.

This is an epee. The guard on the epee is larger because your hand is part of the target. The blade on an epee is also heavier and stiffer than the foil.

SABRE

Sabre is a cutting weapon. This means that you can hit your opponent with the point or the flat of the blade. The target area is from the waist on up. The entire head counts, as well as both arms. The hands do not count. Wikipedia again has a helpful illustration here. Having the option to hit with the flat of the blade makes it much easier to hit your opponent in sabre, so the style of sabre fencing is generally faster and more aggressive than the other weapons. Sabre has a “right-of-way” rule like foil, so when both fencers hit, the referee makes the call on how to award a point.

Here is an example of a saber bout from the 2011 World Championships. The bout starts about 1:25 into the video.

Here is a sabre photo. The fencing sabre resembles a cavalry sabre, with the curved guard to help protect the fingers and to make it possible to parry (block) an opponent’s slashing attack.

Well, I think that’s enough for this post. Look for the next one in 2 weeks. Everything you ever wanted to know about the practical side of fencing equipment – what will wear out and fail, how blades break, and what is that smell?

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