Going to Tournaments? Here’s What You Need to Know

Coach Dan explains the format to the Y8 fencers.

Gather round and learn what you need to know about tournaments!

We had a tournament information meeting last Saturday, and discussed the ins and outs of attending your first tournament, plus useful information for those who’ve been to a few. Read on to learn more!

We’ve got a tournament coming up soon – register today and you can put all of the following information to good use!

Houston Sword Sports St. Patrick’s Day Tournament, March 17-18

Signing Up

To participate in a tournament, you must be a member of USA Fencing. Memberships last until July 31st each year. Many novice and Y8 events only require the non-competitive membership; most require the competitive membership. To sign up, visit Be sure to list Houston Sword Sports as your primary club and the Gulf Coast Division for your division.

To see upcoming tournaments, sign up, and check your results, go to Currently most small, local tournaments use this system. Larger tournaments like ROCs, RYCs, RJCCs and NACs are handled through

When you sign up for a tournament, email the coaches to let them know. If a coach is available for a local tournament, they will attend to support our fencers. For out-of-town tournaments, sending a coach will depend on some other factors, and all fencers will need to pay a coaching fee.

Tournament Classifications

Tournaments are divided by four categories: weapon, age, gender, and rating.

Weapon is foil, epee, or saber. Each has its own rules and scoring areas, so you won’t see an event with foil vs epee, saber vs foil, etc. All of our classes start fencers with foil, but each weapon has its own personality, so try them all over time.

Age is broadly youth (Y-8, Y-10, Y-12, Y-14), teen (Cadet or Junior), open (13+), or veteran (40+). All ages are based on birth year, check out our post here for more info on this

Gender is male or female, usually not too tricky. Mixed means the tournament is open to all.

Rating is a letter, E through A, that’s earned by placing high enough at a tournament of a certain strength. Tournaments can be restricted to fencers who are unrated, E and Under, Div 3 (D and Under), Div 2 (C and Under), Div 1A (open or any rating), or Div 1 (C and above). Most tournaments are Div 1A, aka open, by default. There’s also a novice classification that applies to people who’ve been fencing for less than 1 year.

What do you need for a tournament?

All Fencers Foil Epee Saber
Knee socks

Fencing pants

Chest protector (for girls)

Underarm protector



2+ working foils

2+ working body cords

2+ working head cords

Foil lame

Foil mask

2+ working epees

2+ working epee cords

Epee mask

2+ working sabers

2+ working body cords

2+ working head cords

Saber lame

Saber mask

FIE saber glove with conductive cuff OR

FIE glove and manchette

*Foil and epee fencers do not need FIE gloves, but saber fencers do.

Where can I get all this stuff?

For novice events and HSS’s in-house tournaments, you can borrow items from the club (first come, first served). For other tournaments, you will need your own equipment. We recommend for entry-level fencing gear. If you need more information about product recommendations and sizing, ask the coaches.

What else do I need to know about the stuff?

Michael Mergens has a great booklet called The Care and Feeding of All Things Fencing: A Parent’s Guide. It’s a great starting point for taking care of your equipment and available free at the club. If you want to outsource your equipment maintenance, Michael is at the club most Tuesdays and Thursdays and can check your gear for you. All gear needs to be checked for function and holes before a tournament. Try to check it at least a week in advance to give you a chance to get items with issues fixed.

How do I know what tournaments to go to?

The coaches will highlight local tournaments that we think would be good for our fencers on the club whiteboard and in the monthly newsletters. A good number of tournaments to start with is four per season (August-July), so you aren’t too busy or overwhelmed.

When you start competing more regularly and at higher levels, it’s still a good idea to pick a handful of tournaments (three to six) to really focus on, and treat any other tournaments you attend as practices.

Your Day at a Fencing Tournament

When to arrive: AskFred will list the close of registration for your event. That is the absolute latest that you could sprint into the venue, out of breath, and yell “I’m here!” and then check in for your event (don’t do this). You should plan to be at the venue at least a half hour before your event starts. This will give you time to do the following:

  1. Check in, pay, sign waivers, etc.
  2. Take your equipment to the armorer to have it checked. You will always have your mask, glove, body cords, and lames checked. Some tournaments will also check weapons. Lames should be zipped, body cords should be presented neatly and one at a time, rather than as a tangled mass.
  3. Warm up with jogging or other cardio and footwork.
  4. Suit up (5-10 minutes before close of registration)
  5. Warm up by fencing other people in your event. Don’t fence your hardest here – you are trying to focus and get ready.

Part 1: Pools. On average, pools start about a half hour after close of registration. The entire group of fencers will be divided into smaller groups, usually of 5-7 fencers. Fence everyone in your pool to five touches. The results of pools are used to sort you into the next round, the direct eliminations.

Part 2: Direct Eliminations. In most tournaments – especially small local ones – everyone advances to DEs. Some larger tournaments will not have 100% advancement. DEs are a bracket, just like March Madness. If you are in a Y8, Y10, or veteran event, you fence DEs to ten touches. In epee and foil, it’s two three-minute periods with a one-minute break in between. In saber, which is not timed, the break comes after one fencer has five points. For all other events, DEs are fifteen touches, with three three-minute periods or (in saber) a break after one fencer has eight points.

As the name implies, if you lose a DE you are directly eliminated from the tournament. If you win, you get to fence another DE. This continues until someone has won the final bout and earned the gold medal. Some tournaments will require the two people who lost semifinal bouts to fence off for third and fourth place, but most don’t. Most tournaments will have awards for the top four, possibly the top eight, so if you have done well, stick around until the medal ceremony.

If you’re doing multiple events: Sometimes, your events will overlap. You’ll have less break time, and will spend your break for one event fencing in the other event.  If there’s two hours or less between registration times, expect some overlap. If the registration times are farther apart than that, overlap is still possible depending on how the event goes. Get ready for a long (but fun) day full of fencing.

Best practices for fencers

Be polite, be friendly, ask questions after the bout. Keep a fencing journal where you can write down your questions, how you are doing in your bouts, things you want to work on later, and so on. If you suspect your equipment isn’t working, ask the ref to test it (but don’t test it yourself). Watch other fencers fence – get ideas of actions to try and develop some questions to ask your coaches when you get back to the club.

Best practices for parents/friends/spectators

Cheer for your fencer after the ref makes the call, and stop when the ref says on guard. Keep the advice you give your fencer simple and positive (Nice touch! Keep trying! Slow down and take your time!) and only shout it between touches, not during the action. Bring your fencer water during their breaks and in between bouts. Take videos of bouts when you can to show the coach when you get back to practice. Never walk in between the ref and the bout they’re watching.

Tournament fees for out-of-town tournaments

The following expenses must be met for a coach to travel out of town for a tournament:

  • Coach’s travel expenses
  • Coach’s hotel expenses (in the hosting hotel)
  • Per diem (for coaching, travel and in-between days)
  • Daily coaching fee (for coaching days only)

If you are traveling to an out-of-town tournament and want coaching, contact the coaches at least 45 days before the tournament begins. When we have the full numbers, we will divide the total expenses by the number of fencers. This amount will be due from each fencer one week before the coach leaves for the tournament.


Houston Sword Sports: Year Three

We held our first classes in January of 2015, which makes this month our third anniversary. Happy birthday to us! Check out our 2017 Year in Review.

January 31: Benoit Signs On

On January 31, Benoit Bouysset joined Dan and Liz and became an owner of Houston Sword Sports. Since then, he’s been at the helm of our epee program, our competitive fencing program, and our coach development program.

February 11: The Second Brash

Brash 2017

On February 11, we hosted the second annual Brash Invitational. We’d hoped to find cooler weather in February but were thwarted by record highs. Fingers crossed that, with this winter being colder in general, Brash 2018 will have nice cool temperatures.

March 3: Lease Signed

The batting cages shortly before they became a fencing club

On March 3, we signed a lease for our own space inside The Zone, a facility where we’d been having Saturday classes for about a year. We took over the back two pitching tunnels and the last batting cage.

March 7: Buildout Begins

Buildout for a fencing club means you haul both gear and lumber

A few days later, we got started turning batting cages into a fencing club. Here’s our first load of lumber. Since we were still running classes, we had to haul a lot of fencing gear too. Good thing we had a bunch of extra cargo room.

April 15: First Classes in the New Space

Fencing in our new location for the first time

On April 17, while we weren’t totally done with the buildout, we were ready to start having classes in the new space. I can’t actually find a date where we declared ourselves “done” with the buildout, because we are still adding and changing things little by little.

May 5: School Championships

May 2017 School championship fencing

Our first big event in the new space was our School Championship tournament. Fencers from our afterschool and evening classes came to see the new space and try their hand at competitive fencing. It was a great debut for the new space!

May 12: Grand Opening

Adult beginners prepare to fence

Our next big event was our Grand Opening. We celebrated the new space the only way we know how – with a fencing party!

June/July/August: Summer Camps

Campers at Bellaire salute

Our camps grew this year, and we met a lot of new people! We offered full-day camps for the first time, to make things more convenient for busy working parents.

August 24-28: Hurricane Harvey

The week after Harvey, we had free open fencing

The end of August was not kind to anyone in the Houston area. Once the storm passed, while the city was still starting to get back to normal, we had free open fencing a couple times to let everyone get their frustrations out.

September 15: Wieck Memorial

Over the summer, Stewart Wieck passed away. Stewart was one of our founding club members and a close friend of many years. In September we had a memorial with open fencing and a memory book.

October 7: Armory Clinic

Armory Clinic

We’re very fortunate to have a world-class armorer in our club. In October, Michael gave a clinic to help us better troubleshoot and repair our weapons.

December 2: School Championship

Y8 Fencers at School Championship

In December we hosted our Fall School Championship. Attendance was much higher: in Y8 alone, we had 23 kids! We also introduced a traveling trophy, the Golden Mask, for the school with the best overall result. Lycee International de Houston won the Golden Mask; who will win in May?

December 9: Light Saber Class

To celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we did a light saber stage combat class of our own. Participants learned the fundamentals of stage combat and then created their own fight scenes.

(Sad you missed it? We’re doing another on Feb. 9!)

December 29-30: Winter Camps

Winter Camp fun

We wrapped up the year with winter camps. Our youth camp was a full day, with fencing in the morning and stage combat in the evening. The adult camp was an afternoon full of tactics and techniques for competitive fencers.

And on to 2018!

It’s been a very full, and generally good year. We’ve added new classes and a lot of new fencers. We’ve added afterschool programs in two new schools and started working more closely with our college programs. There’s still a lot of room to grow, and that’s what we’re looking forward to in 2018. We hope you’ll be part of making 2018 bigger and better than 2017!

Light Saber Combat: Houston’s Jedi in Training

Fencers, by and large, are a nerdy bunch. We all have our own theories about why this is, some of which are flattering (you have to be clever!) and some less so. Whatever the reason, it’s definitely true at Houston Sword Sports. Our members include the owners of a local gaming shop, the head of a Cosplay company, and gamers of various stripes.

You could say that we are pretty into Star Wars, too.

Coach Liz did Rey hair for the Light Saber class. It fits under a mask better than Leia buns.

We really wanted to celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. We know that these movies in particular have brought a lot of people to fencing – it’s about as close as you can get to being a Jedi in this galaxy. So, we decided to let people fully unleash their inner padawan learners and create their own light saber fights. On the Friday before Episode VIII’s release, we hosted a Light Saber Combat class!

Episode 1: The Younglings

Master Dan works with the younglings, teaching them to move like Jedi.

Our first class was open to kids ages 6-12, or more appropriately, the Younglings. About half of the kids in the group had never tried fencing of any kind before, so we started out with some movement exercises. A big difference between fencing and stage combat is that in fencing we rarely move side-to-side, but in stage combat we move in many different directions. In the picture above, the group works on moving side-to-side and forward and backward smoothly.

The younglings receive their training weapons.

We don’t have welding helmets and little bots that shoot blasters at you, but we do have fencing masks. While our training sabers are a) not lasers and b) soft and padded, it still isn’t great to get hit in the face with one, so we made the kids wear masks. When we first handed out the sabers, we had them all work while spread out so they could swing the weapons around without worrying about hitting or being hit.

Next step: learning to fight

Next, we taught the kids how to attack each other and defend themselves. In stage combat, practicality isn’t as much of an issue as it is in sport fencing, so we could teach some of the less-used parries like the one above, the saber version of parry 6, also known as “the coaches’ parry” (because only coaches use it).

The younglings begin putting together their fight scenes.

Once we’d given them the basic building blocks of the scene, it was time to start writing their own fight sequences. Here, we divided them into pairs and they began working on their fights together.

We had a nice little stage for the fights, even if the scenery was a bit anachronistic.

At the end of the class, the kids put on little skits with the choreography they’d worked on. Here’s one of our favorites:

Episode 2: Padawan Learners

Our teen/adult class was smaller than the youth class, and some of the students were a little old to be called padawans, but then so were Anakin and Luke. We followed a similar format, but were able to go more in-depth because the participants had more fencing experience.

First, they learned to move.


Then, Dan showed them how to hit him.


Then, they practiced hitting each other.

Two of the guys had a head start, in that they’d studied several of the fights in the movies ahead of time to get an idea of what they wanted to do. They were able to put together this fight, which was definitely the highlight of the evening.

In all, we had a great time running this class, and the participants had a great time too. If you missed out, we’ll be doing stage combat for the afternoon session of our youth winter camp on December 29. Click here to learn more and sign up!