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Fencing Ratings

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Fencing Ratings

You may have heard of rated fencers, but what does it all mean? In this article, we’ll discuss what ratings are, how you earn them, and what their use is. Please note that for purposes of this discussion, we are setting aside the intricacies of fencing eligibility determined by age, sex, country, or qualification paths in order to focus just on ratings.

What are the ratings?

All fencers start out unrated, which is shortened to a “rating” of U. The lowest rating is E, then D, C, B, and finally A. Youth fencers largely do not earn ratings because most youth events cannot generate ratings, and most youth fencers do not (and cannot) fence events that confer ratings. Even very skilled athletes with a lot of competition experience usually remain unrated until they’re teens and fencing the events that produce ratings.

How do you get a rating

Earning a rating in fencing happens when a fencer places high enough in a sanctioned event with enough strength to produce a rating. These requirements concern the number of athletes, the ratings of those athletes, the ratings of the refs, and where everyone – not just hopeful fencer trying to earn a rating – finishes (see the USA Fencing Rating Classification Reference Chart). The strength of the event and thus its ability to generate ratings is determined by this metric. An example that fairly leaps off the chart is the classic unrated event, where a local club, like the Fencing Academy of Philadelphia, will host an “unclassified” tournament for unrated fencers only. With sufficient rated refs and the participation of six or more athletes, the first place fencer will earn an E, an exciting milestone in any fencing career!

What happens when you’re rated

In addition to having external validation of all the hard work you’ve invested in learning the sport and the admiration of your teammates, a fencing rating determines:

  • What events you may fence

  • How you’re seeded at event

What events you may (and may not) fence

You’ve probably already checked out the USA Fencing Age/Classification Eligibility chart to figure out what events you may fence based on your age. There are also rules about who may fence a given event based on ratings. An unrated fencer (age 13+) may fence:

  • Opens (open regardless of rating; any exclusions are age- and/or sex-based; this term is usually used for local events)

  • Division III (includes Us, Es, and Ds; excludes Cs, Bs, and As)

  • Division II (includes Us, Es, Ds, and Cs; excludes Bs and As)

  • Division IA (equivalent to opens, i.e., all ratings may fence; this term is usually used for regionals & nationals) An unrated fencer (13+) may not fence:

  • Division I (includes As and Bs; excludes Cs, Ds, Es, and Us)

Ratings and seeding

In addition to the undeniable honor of earning a rating, ratings have a deeply practical effect on a fencer’s future competition, since ratings (as well as the overall win/loss record, and, if applicable, national points and rankings) determine a fencer’s initial seeding and how difficult a pool the athlete will fence. At national or even the larger regional events with plenty of fencers of all ratings, it’s quite common for the pools to have one fencer of each rating: A, B, C, D, E, U. Of course, real-world performance does not have a 1:1 correlation with rating, but consider what a different experience the U will have, fencing all rated fencers, versus that of the A: every other fencer in the pool has a lower rating than them. Not only are the higher rated fencers more experienced and accomplished, they’re assigned a different, and usually easier, array of opponents than the unrated fencers. This uneven portfolio of matchups is why ratings matter.

Who should think about ratings and who should not

Youth fencers and fencers in their first year of learning to fence or just starting to compete don’t need to consider ratings except as part of the far-off future. Recreational fencers committed to other sports or activities, only coming to class once or twice a week, taking private lessons infrequently, and not pursuing a rigorous competition roster don’t need to think about ratings

In contrast, highly motivated teen and adult fencers who are competing regularly at the regional and national levels and training seriously should make sure they build a competition schedule that includes events with a decent shot at earning a rating to help accelerate their progress. Ratings don’t need to drive your entire competition or training plan, but an unrated athlete who’s going for it should include some local, unrated, D2, and/or D3 events where you have a realistic chance of finishing high or winning overall.

How do you apply all this information to your own fencing? 

Your coach is the best source of knowledge about you as an individual, what events you should be fencing, and how to approach ratings. Get guidance from your coach regularly, since as you develop, you may outgrow the guidance your coach gave you previously. Factors like birthdays, changing weapons, earning a rating, college recruitment goals, a change in your training regime – all of these elements might lead an athlete to alter their consideration of ratings.

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