This page walks you through what happens at a tournament with emphasis on what each fencer needs to do. For a basic view of the rules of fencing, read Introduction to Fencing. For a more detailed explanation of how scoring works go to the Scoring page or follow the links in several of the sections below.

Where and when is the tournament?

Tournaments are held on Saturdays about once or twice a month from September through February. For a full schedule, go to the League section and click on the current season. Directions to each tournament (and start times once they have been announced) are on the tournament page in the Calendar section.

Tournaments start first thing in the morning and usually last until late afternoon, so pack a lunch or money to buy lunch at the concessions stand, and plan on spending the day.

The practices before the tournament

At the last two practices before a tournament, the sign in sheet will have extra columns for you to write a check mark (if you are able to fence) or an “X” (if you are not able to fence). Be sure to mark one of these columns, this is what we use to build the roster for the tournament.

At the practice before the tournament, test your épée (including making sure you have two tip screws) and body cord. The armorers have testing equipment if you don’t have your own.

Packing for the tournament

The night before the tournament, completely unpack your fencing bag. Then repack it with

  • Mask
  • Fencing jacket
  • Plastron (underarm protector)
  • Chest protector (women)
  • Fencing glove
  • Electric épée (and spare if you have one)
  • Body cord (and spare if you have one)
  • Fencing notebook and pen/pencil


Either the night before or on the morning of the tournament make sure you pack

  • Water or sports drink in a container that will not leak
  • Snack
  • Either a nutritious lunch or money to buy whatever is on sale at the concessions stand
  • If you have a music player, pack it, and make sure you have a “relax” playlist and a “get fired up” playlist.


Arrive at the tournament already dressed in:

  • T-shirt (team t-shirt or Pope t-shirt if you have one)
  • Knickers (fencing pants)
  • Athletic supporter (men)
  • Team socks
  • Athletic shoes


Arriving at the tournament

The host school will announce when sign in will close. Typically it is 8:30 for men, and 9:30 for women, but this can change so look for the announcement.  Make sure you arrive at least 30 minutes before sign in closes. When you arrive, you should:

  • Find the sign in table and sign in. If you don’t do this before sign in closes, you can’t fence.
  • Find the equipment check table (it may be the same as the sign in table) and have your mask and glove checked (to make sure they are safe) and stamped (so the referees will know they have been checked).
  • Look around and see which strip numbers are where.  There may be a few strips not in the main room (they may be in an aux gym, the cafeteria or even in the hallways); find them now so you will know where to go when you are called to strip number 13 (for example).
  • Find the Pope armorer if you need to have your weapons checked. The armorers usually have a table in (or just outside) the room with most of the strips.
  • If you don’t have a spare weapon and body cord, check with the armorer to find out where the team’s spares are so that you can quickly get a replacement if you need one.
  • Find a place to put your fencing bag. The host will provide space for fencing bags and often sets aside an area for each school, so look for a sign saying “Pope”. There is usually not much space available, put your bag neatly within the allotted area.
  • Warm up.
  • When sign in closes, put on your chest protector (women), plastron and jacket.


Initial seeding

Shortly after sign in closes, the organisers will post the initial seeding (usually on a wall near the scoring table).

  • Everyone who is fencing should be on the list.  If you don’t see your name, go to the scoring table and tell the organisers and ask a teammate to tell Coach or Statsman.
  • Fencers are seeded based on their league ranking, unranked fencers are seeded at random after the ranked fencers.



The next thing to happen is that the organisers will split the fencers into pools of about 6 or 7 fencers. They should post the pool assignment sheet showing which fencers are in which pool. They may also announce the names over the PA system; sometimes, they just have the scorekeepers shout out the names of the fencers in their pool.

  • Check the pool assignment sheet to see which pool number you are in and which strip number your pool is on.
    • Sometimes the pool number and the strip number are the same, but not always.
    • Sometimes the strip number will be blank. That means the strip has not yet been assigned – wait for an announcement to find out which strip your pool number should go to.
  • Go to your strip. Make sure you take everything you need (mask, glove, epee(s), body cord(s), water and notebook).
  • At the strip, the referee will check that each fencer’s uniform is complete and safe. That includes checking that your mask and glove have the correct stamp.  You will also need to show that you are wearing a plastron and (in the case of women) a chest protector, so don’t zip your jacket all the way up until you have been checked.

You will fence one 3-minute, 5-touch bout against each fencer in your pool.  There will usually be one to three other bouts between each of your bouts.  Stay close to the strip and listen for your name to be called.  Never leave the area around the strip without asking the referee first.

The strip

We don’t have strips laid out at practice, so your first tournament will be the first time you fence on a strip that has been taped. The diagram below shows what a strip looks like. The measurements are all in metres; if it’s been a while since you had to use metric measurements, remember that a metre is about 3’ 3” so 1.5 m is almost 5’ and 14 m is almost 46’

Strip diagram

You will start fencing with your front foot just behind the en garde line and you must stay within strip while fencing (the relevant rules are summarised in Introduction to Fencing)

Starting and ending a bout

When your name is called:

  • Do not put on your mask yet.
  • Hook up to the reel.  The fencer whose name is called first is normally on the referee’s right, but if a left-hander is fencing a right-hander, the left-hander will be on the referee’s left regardless of whose name was called first.  If you are not sure, ask the scorekeeper before you hook up.
  • Go to your en garde line and hold out your epee, tip upwards, for the referee to check.
  • After checking both epees, the referee will ask the fencers to touch bell guards. Extend your blade until the tip is touching your opponent’s bell guard and push gently. If your opponent’s scoring light comes on, that means your bell guard is not properly grounded (this can usually be corrected by switching to another body cord).
  • Go your en guard line, salute your opponent and the referee, then put on your mask and be ready to fence.


At the end of the bout

  • Return to your en guard line, take off your mask and salute your opponent.  Be sure not to throw your mask; if you do that and the referee believes you did it in anger, you will receive a black card (disqualification) for bad sportsmanship.
  • Advance and shake your opponent’s hand with your unarmed hand.
  • Unhook from the reel.  Do not let go of the cord part way down the strip and let the spring whip it back; this is bad for the reel (and bad for you if the armorer catches you doing it).


Pool results

When the last bout of your pool has been fenced, you must check your scores on the score sheet and sign the sheet if you agree with them.  Do not sign if your scores are incorrect.

When all pools have finished, the pool results will be posted and the top 80% of the fencers advance to the next round.  Find your name on the results and see if it says you “Advance” or are “Eliminated”.  If you advance, the number to the left of your name is your seed for the next round. Most fencers will compete in several tournaments before they advance to the second round.

Direct Elimination

The next round is Direct Elimination (usually called DEs).

DE bouts are three 3-minute periods with a 1-minute break between periods.  The first to 15 touches is the winner. During the 1-minute break, you can (and should) drink something to stay hydrated. When the minute is up, the scorekeeper will call “Time” and you should touch bell guards again, return to your en garde line, salute and then put on your mask.

After each bout, you must sign the score sheet (but only if it is correct).  The scorekeeper will give the score sheet to the winner who then takes it to the scorer (the person with the laptop and printer). When fencers win their first ever DE bout, they sometimes forget and keep the score sheet as a souvenir; don’t do that, a missing score sheet can cause the whole tournament to grind to a halt.

The Direct Elimination page describes the DE bracket and how the final places and points are decided. The DE bracket should be posted near the other results. Sometimes the strips for each bout are listed on the bracket, other times the bouts will be announced on the PA system.

When you are eliminated, you are expected to stay and cheer on your teammates.


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