|Frequently Asked Questions
WHAT CAN FENCING DO FOR MY CHILDREN?
In addition to offering the benefits of any physical activity — including balance, flexibility and quickness — fencing provides an
exceptional tactical and mental challenge, which is why many have called it “physical chess” or “chess at the speed of light.”
As an individual sport, fencing allows every child, not only those with the most natural athletic talent, the chance to enjoy
recreational or competitive bouts. And because quickness and agility can be just as important as physical size, children who
are small for their age can be as successful as larger, more developed peers. Likewise, children who may not be as quick or
agile can often find success through a more cerebral or tactical approach.
Although true team competition is rare in youth fencing, the atmosphere of encouragement and camaraderie within the club
creates an environment where everyone’s success is cheered.
But perhaps the most important benefit for children is participating in a sport where success is determined by their own efforts,
rather than the ability of a few gifted teammates. And because there is a large variety of tournaments, some limited to fencers
of roughly the same ability level, most children will find some success.
This is even true for those entering the sport later in childhood. While it may be almost impossible for many children to enjoy
success if they don’t begin playing baseball or basketball until age 12 or 13, that’s not the case with fencing.
HOW OLD MUST YOU BE TO FENCE AND HOW CAN I GET STARTED?
Though very young children may not be ready to fence safely — and the exact
age any particular child may be ready to participate will vary — competitive fencing
is a safe sport offered in age groups as young as 9 and under.
Based in Chapel Hill, the North Carolina Fencing Development Program (NCFDP)
is a club drawing fencers, young and old, from the university and surrounding
communities. It offers weekly group lessons for beginning and intermediate
fencers, as well as individual lessons for fencers of all levels.
Fencers may decide to learn the sport and fence recreationally within the club
once or twice a week; others enjoy competitive fencing in a wide range of
tournaments across the state and throughout the nation. The club occasionally
hosts tournaments in Chapel Hill and offers several summer fencing camps.
If you’re interested, you may want to come by the club one evening to see all that
takes place, and we often allow new fencers to try the first class before committing
to an entire seven-week session.
I’M INTERESTED, BUT HOW DOES THE CLUB WORK?
The North Carolina Fencing Development Program provides a place for people of
all ages and abilities to study and practice fencing. Though it began to develop elite
junior fencers, it now welcomes beginning through advanced fencers.
Sessions are held twice a week — on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning at 7 pm.
and offer a variety of activities. Some enjoy “free fencing,” or recreational
competition with other club members, while others participate in group lessons or
one-on-one instruction with coaches drawn from the Carolina varsity squad and
other top fencers in the area.
All fencers pay a floor fee of $25 a month (for once per week) or $50 a month (for twice a week). Group lessons cost an
additional $50 a month for one lesson per week, and private lessons cost an additional $10 per lesson (paid on a monthly or
semester basis). Costs are higher if you pay on a night by night basis, although the first time you visit and fence is always free.
Due to changes in access to the gym, there is a new fee of $10 per month per night for an access card. See CLUB FEES.
In recent years, beginner lessons have been held on Thursday
nights, with intermediate lessons scheduled for Tuesdays. Classes
are held most weeks from September through May, but only when
the university is in session (including summer session classes)
WHAT EQUIPMENT MUST I HAVE FOR THE BEGINNER CLASS?
No personal equipment is required for beginner classes; the club
maintains jackets, masks and weapons (foils) for use in class.
Participants should wear comfortable sports clothing and tennis
shoes. When using real weapons, it’s best if your clothing has no
pockets or belt loops that could catch the weapon tip.
HOW DO I GET TO THE FIRST CLASS AND WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
Classes are held in the fencing room at 07 Fetzer Gym; for
directions, click here. Parking can be tricky, particularly at the
beginning of each semester. Spaces generally become available
regularly on Stadium Drive, but you may need to drive slowly, looking
for cars backing up to leave the lot. We suggest allowing a little extra
time to park until you get the hang of it.
When you get to the fencing room, you’ll see a registration table with a couple of smiling young people behind it; they’re
members of the Carolina varsity team and managers of the fencing club. They’ll process your registration and explain what to
do. There’s no doubt the first night will be a little chaotic, so bear with us. In fact, the 30-minute warm up on the first evening
can be more like registration chaos.
Each night, classes begin with warm-ups from about 7 to 7:30 p.m., and continue with roughly an hour of instructional time.
Parents are welcome to stay and watch; the room has folding chairs on one side, where you can wait, read, chat and watch the
fencing. A club leader is usually available the first evening of instruction to explain how the club operates and answer any
Students actually begin by learning a little footwork and fencing jargon. Their first “bladework” will be learned with foam “whacky
whacker” weapons; however, they do move quickly to the actual weapons — usually by the second or third week.
WE’RE THINKING ABOUT BUYING EQUIPMENT. WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
There is one supplier in North Carolina we can recommend highly: Triplette Competition Arms. They have good quality
gear. As you can imagine, there are plenty of other suppliers, and many are listed on the United States Fencing
Association web site. Unfortunately, no retail outlets exist in the Triangle area. If you want to actually see and try on gear, you
can do so if you travel to Elkin (Triplette) or come to one of the two or three occasions during the year when vendors set up at
large statewide tournaments. Note: Staff is very helpful over the phone.
If you want to start with something inexpensive, that’s also useful and “the real deal,” you might begin with a glove. They range
from about $12 to $20, and are not easily shared with others. In fact, the club does not have any gloves to loan.
To free fence in the gym using your own gear, you need a mask, jacket and weapon.
If you want to hook into the electronic scoring system, things become just a little more complicated. The weapon needs to be an
“electric” weapon, meaning it’s wired for the scoring system, and you’d also need a body cord to hook the weapon into the
system, and a lamé (electric vest) for foil and sabre.
Other requirements depend on what weapon your fencer has chosen to learn. For foil, fencers will need a foil lame, which is a
jacket made of metal thread that covers the legal target area for foil fencing. For saber, fencers need a saber lame and a
special mask that comes with a cord, since the saber target area also includes the head. For epee, no lame or special mask is
Some equipment is available, but not necessary. For example, fencing shoes are not necessary for competition. Many families
choose not to spend $100 or more for an item young fencers will quickly outgrow. Tennis shoes are just fine for both practice
If you browse the Triplette or FencePBT web sites, you’ll get a sense of what is available. Triplette has some reasonably-priced
starter sets for those new to the sport. But to make any final selections, you’ll need to know which weapon your fencer will be
learning — most, but not all, begin with the foil — and whether you’ll need electric gear for competition.
OK, SO WHICH WEAPON SHOULD MY CHILD LEARN?
Traditionally, most fencers begin learning the foil, because many coaches believe it provides a solid foundation for learning the
other weapons. Others believe children can learn the epee or saber without studying the foil first.
Our club provides instruction in all three weapons, but starts fencers taking group lessons in the foil. It’s as much a pragmatic
approach as a philosophical one; it’s easier to arrange group instruction for fencers who have no previous experience if they
learn the basics together.
After developing some fencing fundamentals and learning about the various weapons, fencers are in a better position to select
a weapon. That choice is based on many factors — even the fencer’s personality! (Differences among foil, epee and saber
fencers are the source of endless “inside jokes” within the sport.)
Though many fencers eventually develop some expertise in more than one weapon, they tend to specialize in one of the three.
Which one to emphasize is not too important until you decide to purchase equipment, and the coaches will be happy to help
you find the best option. Note that fencers can add or change weapons over time (however, more and different gear may be
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO GET STARTED IN COMPETITION?
As a parent, the best approach is to encourage participation in tournaments and don’t focus too much on results. By focusing
on having fun and making friends with the other competitors, youth fencers begin to grow a network across the state of boys
and girls they look forward to seeing. Yes… they fence each other, sometimes winning and sometimes losing. But, fencers are
a collegial group, a source of wonderful friends and experiences, and participation offers a great motivation for conditioning.
Parents who focus on results end up burning out young fencers. That’s not to say your beginner won’t get “results,” but by
keeping focused on participation, learning and having fun, they will enjoy the long-term rewards fencing can offer.
Begin with events in the state. There are excellent, regular tournaments nearby in Raleigh. Other good events are held in
Wilmington, by the Cape Fear Fencing Academy and Wilmington Fencing Club; Greensboro, particularly the Delta H Dry
Tournament each fall; Greensboro Fencers Club and Charlotte, by the Charlotte Fencing Academy, Charlotte Fencing Center
and Touche. New Bern has one or two tournaments a year, some tournaments are beginning to emerge in Fayetteville, and a
new club is forming in Sanford. In the mountains, several tournaments each year are held at Appalachian State University. All
events are described on the statewide fencing website, www.ncfencing.org.
Oh, and one more thing …. Fencers must be a member of the United States Fencing Association to enter most tournaments,
even the local events. Membership is about $50 per year and includes a subscription to American Fencing magazine along with
other benefits. For a membership form, click here.
WHAT EVENTS MAY A BEGINNING YOUTH FENCER ENTER?
Tournaments can have events with two different types of limits: age and rating. They can also have open events — unrestricted
by age or rating. Events can be mixed gender, or only for women or men.
A Y10 event, for example, is age limited — in this case, limited to children 10 and under, as of a cutoff date set by the United
States Fencing Association. All fencers may enter events in their own age group and in the next higher one. Age groups
include Y10 (10 & under), Y12 (12 & under), Y14 (14 & under), Cadet (under 17) and Junior (under 20).
Fencers earn ratings through competition, and some events. Ratings range from “A” for elite fencers to “E” and can be earned
by finishing well in larger tournaments. Beginning fencers are all unrated, so they may enter any event allowing unrated (“U”)
fencers. An E&U tournament, for example, is rating limited — to fencers with an “E” rating or those who are unrated.
So, a beginning, unrated, Y10 fencer would be eligible to enter any of these events:
Y10 (age limited)
Y12 (age limited)
Y14 (age limited)
Cadet (age limited)
Junior (age limited)
E&U (rating limited to all E or unrated fencers, regardless of age)
D&U (rating limited to D, E or unrated fencers, regardless of age)
Division III (rating limited to D, E or unrated fencers at the national level, regardless of age, though Y10 and Y12 fencers
typically do not enter Division III events at the national level)
Open (neither age nor rating limited) (No youth fencers allowed)
Unrated youth fencers are encouraged to enter the age-limited events — and E&U events, if they can enjoy participating in a
tournament where they’re likely to lose far more than win. Since there is no age requirement for E&U tournaments, youth
fencers will be facing adults. That can be a good experience; and, particularly with tournaments
DO BOYS AND GIRLS COMPETE TOGETHER?
The unequivocal answer is: yes … and no. Actually, it all depends on the tournament. National tournaments and larger regional
events, where plenty of fencers are participating, generally offer separate competition for boys and girls.
So, as many as six events could be held for children in the 12 and under age group: Y12 Men’s Foil, Y12 Women’s Foil, Y12
Men’s Epee, Y12 Women’s Epee, Y12 Men’s Saber and Y12 Women’s Saber.
But many tournaments will have boys and girls compete together, because girls can compete effectively with boys in fencing
and combining the two groups allows fencers to enjoy more bouts. This is particularly true in local events. You may see these
combined events listed, for example, as Y12 Mixed Foil, Y12 Mixed Epee or Y12 Mixed Saber. (Mixed events also are offered
for adult fencers.)
WHAT HAPPENS AT A TOURNAMENT?
Some fencers choose not to enter tournaments and many who do compete will fence with coaches for several months before
their first tournament. So, coaches can describe the process in more detail whenever your fencer is ready to give tournaments
a try. But, here’s the short version.
After registration closes, tournament organizers divide all participants into groups — called “pools” — of five to eight fencers
(depending on number of registrants). Then, the tournament opens with a round-robin format within each pool. In this phase of
the tournament, each fencer in a particular pool faces every other in one five-point bout.
When each pool has completed its round robin — they all begin and end at roughly the same time — all fencers from all of the
pools are placed into one single-elimination bracket, based on their win-loss percentage in pool competition and a number of
other factors that get a little too complicated to explain briefly. This final, “direct-elimination” round determines the tournament
winner and final standings.
Y10 and Y12 events advance fencers in the direct-elimination phase by winning two (of three) five-point bouts. If one fencer
beats an opponent 5-2 and 5-4, then the winner moves to the next round. If two fencers split the first two bouts, the one who
wins the third advances.
For Y14 and all older events, the direct-elimination winners are determined by one 15-point bout instead. But since younger
children can get discouraged and lose focus if they fall behind quickly, the direct-elimination format divides the one 15-point
bout into three shorter ones of five points each.
MY YOUTH FENCER IS RANKED IN THE STATE. HOW’D THAT HAPPEN?
The bad news is that all youth events — at least local youth tournaments and most Regional Youth Circuit events sponsored by
the United States Fencing Association — are “unrated” events. That means the “L” multiplier, which is based on the level of
fencers participating, is only “1″ and not too many points are awarded.
On the other hand, all fencers entered in youth events are in the same boat. So entering more tourneys always helps your
points standing! For youth, in particular, the point system is designed more to create an interest in fencing, not to crown some
Points = (L * ((N – R + 1)^C)) / N
N = # of participants
R = individual result
L = Level (L= 1 for unrated, 2 for “E”; 3 for “D”, 4 for “C”, 5 for “B”, and 6 for “A” events)
C = 1.6
I’VE SEEN NAMES ON SOME FENCERS’ UNIFORMS. DOES MY CHILD NEED THIS?
Fencers participating in high-level national or international competition must have their names applied (or “stenciled”) onto their
uniforms according to a specific set of rules. This is not required in local tournaments. And, according to the United States
Fencing Association, it also is not required for Regional Youth Circuit tournaments — an annual series of regional events for
youth fencers held across the United States. However, successful youth fencers who decide to participate in major national
events, such as the North American Cup or Summer National Championships, will need to have their uniform stenciled before
entering those tournaments.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT CAN HELP ME PREPARE FOR COMPETITION?
The United States Fencing Association has published a Parents’ Guide, which is helpful. Much of the guide is geared to upper-
level competition, but parts of it are helpful for any fencing parent.
WHAT CAN I DO TO LEARN MORE ABOUT FENCING?
There are plenty of fencing sites on the web. While we don’t make any endorsements — and there’s no way to include all of
them — go to our Links page for more information. Here's a good link: Fencing 101
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