Explore: Competitions

Whilst for many people they are perfectly happy enjoying fencing on a recreational basis in clubs,  others might want to start competing.

There are probably two to three questions you are asking:

  1. What is the structure of a competition?
  2. Which competitions should I fence in?
  3. Followed by what can I expect at a competition?


Before you start reading this page it’s a good idea to know something about the weapons (click here), and something about the rules (click here).


1. What is the structure of fencing competition

To understand how a competition is run, first we need to understand the basics about competitive fencing matches. There are typically two types of fight/bouts – Poule Bouts and Direct Elimination Bouts.


Poule Bouts

If you’ve been fencing in a local club, chances are already you have been practicing competitive fencing up to a different numbers of hits.

If a group of you get together and all fence each other once we call this a ‘poule’ or ‘pool’, the spelling doesn’t matter too much, just remember it’s got nothing to do with swimming or chicken!

Each fight (or ’bout’) within a poule is normally fenced first up to five hits over a maximum of three minutes. (Worth noting that sabre is so quick we don’t bother timing it).

If the scores are equal after 3 minutes there is an extra priority minute – first person to score (or get a single light in epee) wins. Just before that minute the referee will award priority based on a random generator (usually built into the box but coin tossing and pen spinning works too!)

The bout order that you fence in is dictated by the rules and often the ‘poule-sheet’ (the score sheet) will have these listed out.

Understanding a poule sheet (how and where to record victories and defeats) takes a bit of time – so we will cover than in a separate section (coming soon).


Direct Elimination (DE) Bouts

Direct Elimination (DE) bouts are longer fights. If you win a DE fight you move to the next stage of the competition. If you lose you are either out or into a secondary stage (placement playoffs or repecharge – see below).

Example of DE fight formats can be:

  • First to fifteen, over a maximum of three 3 minute periods, with a minute break in-between
  • First to ten, over a maximum of two 3 minute periods, with a minute break in-between. (This is the format used in Veteran competitions which are the age categories over 40)
  • Sometimes in younger age groups DE bouts can also be fought in two 2-minute periods

For all these bouts if the scores are equal after time runs out you go straight to the priority minute (see the section above for that). Worth noting you don’t get a minute’s rest before – so you need to be ready!

Because sabre isn’t timed there is a 1 minute break once the first person gets to 8 (for 15 hit matches) and 5 (for 10 hit matches).



Fencing competitions are typically made up of a combination of poules and DE matches. But not always. It’s a really good idea to make sure you know the format of the competition before you start – people do sometimes disappear early as they think it’s all over – and it’s not! The format should be on the entry form, and if not the information will be available on arrival. Some types of competitions give organisers some flexibility to change the format, which might be necessary depending on whether everyone turns up on the day.

Usually a competition will start with one or more poules. There are rules about how these are drawn up, normally based on a ‘seeding’ – which can be based on published ranking lists, or results in other tournaments.

Sometimes to make competitions go faster poules can be split across more than one piste so you should always keep an eye on who is fencing where.

To create a DE tableau competitors are listed (or ‘seeded’) by results from the poule(s). The order is based on 2 ‘indicators’. Firstly, your fight win ratio  (eg if I win one out of five matches my ratio will be one divided by five = 0.2) and then second by hit indicator – the total number of hits you have scored – the total number of hits you have received.

Sometimes there is a ‘cut’ – that means the people at the bottom of the list don’t go through to the DE tableau. Again, it’s good to check this before the poules, rather than assuming everyone will ‘go up’ to the DE.

Once this post poule seeding list has been created the fights are drawn – the tableau works in the multiples of 2 – so depending on how many competitors you might have a tableau of 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 etc. The draw will see fencer #1 fighting #128, #2 fighting #127 and so on (top tip if you want to find your opponent – the sum of your positions equals one more than the tableau round total). If there aren’t enough fencers to fill the tableau the top fencers will get a ‘bye’ to the next round, this means they don’t have to fence in that round.

Often when you lose a DE bout it means you are out of the tournament. Sometimes we use a system called ‘repecharge’ which essentially gives the losers another go – lose twice and you are definitely out!


Team Events

Team events also typically run using the Poules and DE format. A team in fencing is normally made up of 3 people. A team match typically consists of every fencer in the team fencing every other member of the opposing team in a pre-determined relay order to 45hits. Each relay has a maximum score and a maximum time . And there are some rules about reserves, and substitutions too.


2. Which competitions should I fence in?

It’s important to think about what you want out of a competition experience. What is right for you (or your child)? Do you want something where the focus is on fun, developing your skills (maximising what we call ‘time on task’) or are you desperate to launch into the world of ranking points and pit your skills against the very best? Whilst the latter can be tempting, it’s important to understand that the format of the top competitive events (1 round of poules and a DE) are typically designed so the very best will fence the very worst in the DE. This can create huge disparities in ability and not always the best experience for a fencer starting out.

The first person to ask will be the club coach. They will be best placed to help you navigate what competitions are available. All BF licensed recreational and competition events are listed here on the BF website, but your club may run inter club/school/uni matches which might also be a good friendly first experience.


3. What can I expect in my first competition?

When should I arrive? Competitions will normally publish a check-in time, which is a time by which all the participants must have arrived by. Organisers can be quite efficient and want to start the competition not long after the check-in closes so plan your arrival time around how long it takes you to a) find your bearings, b) get ‘settled’ c) get changed d) warm-up e) gather up your equipment  and get over to the poule.

What do I do on arrival? First thing is to get checked in with the organisers so they know you are there. This is a good time to also ask the person at the check-in desk (who may be a member of the organising committee) if there is any update on a likely start time.  If you are bringing kids to compete make sure you know who the event welfare officer is (there should be posters and signs up)

What do I do with my fencing bag? Some competitions might have a special room or storage area for your fencing bag and it is rare that you are allowed to bring a large fencing back right next to where you are fencing, in the ‘field of play’. Sometimes people bring smaller piste side bags (top bags). Either way you don’t want to be leaving valuables in your fencing bag if it’s out of your sight, and if you can’t avoid this think about locking your fencing bag with a small padlock.

What should I bring with me? equipment, food etc? You will need a full set of fencing equipment – shoes, socks (pulled up over the knee), breeches, jacket, underplastron, mask, glove and a minimum of 2 working weapons, 2 body wires and a lame jacket if you are doing sabre or foil.

in addition, you should bring a re-usable water bottle, face towel, snacks (easily digestable carbs) and changes of T-shirts. Venues can often be cold so bring a tracksuit top or jacket that you can put over your fencing jacket between bouts to keep warm.

If you are traveling abroad to fence checkout a full kit list here.

Who are the people in charge?  The Directoire Technique (DT) is the group of individuals (usually around 3 people) responsible for managing and and running the competition. They will make all the main decisions and are the highest authority on the day. There will also be Welfare Officers, Referees, Armourers and other officials. Many of the people who get involved in grass roots competition don;t get paid, they are volunteers who give up their weekends, often spending their time away from their family and friends to give other people the chance to compete. So always treat them with respect!

What happens if my weapons stop working? If you are lucky there will be an armourer present at the competition that can help. But often there isn’t so this is where you need to decide whether you can afford to have a lot of weapons with you or learn some basic weapon repair! In a weapon like epee fencers should be learning to test and fix their own weight and travel when they buy their first weapon







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