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 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 a 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?

(coming soon)







Free Intro Membership

Activate your free, 90 day membership to British Fencing today. Membership insures you to fence at any British Fencing club.


Core Coach Offer

Does your organisation want to bring fencing to your community? Explore our core coach course, no experience required.


Calling All Teachers

Start your journey to becoming a community fencing coach. Introduce fencing to pupils for as little as £25. Find out more today.

Join the conversation. Share your stories using #BritishFencing on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram

Our Partners

  • Our Partners