What are Ratings?
Competitive ratings, also called classifications, are USA Fencing’s way of ranking the skill level of fencers. All fencers start out unrated and have the ability to earn ratings E, D, C, B, and A, with A being the highest. Ratings are always written along with the year they were last earned (e.g. E21, A19, etc.); the more recent the year, the better.
Ratings aren’t easy to get, with less than half of fencers having any kind of rating at all. Just over 500 epee fencers—roughly 8%—currently have an A. Each rating can take years to earn, and it’s not unheard of for an A to take 10 years or more.
In addition to bragging rights, having a rating can give you a leg up in tournaments. Pool matchups are based on your “initial seeding,” or how you’re ranked in relation to the other fencers. The higher your initial seed, the more favorable your pool matchups will be. Ratings also determine what kinds of tournaments you’re eligible for. Some tournaments restrict fencers to a certain rating and below (e.g. E and under, C and under, etc.), while certain national events are only open to fencers rated C and higher.
Ratings are won like prizes at tournaments. There’s no minimum experience required and no test that has to be passed; if you go to a tournament and place well enough, you get a rating. The more difficult the tournament, the more ratings there are on the table. A small event might only give out an E to the winner, while a much larger event could give A’s to the top eight places and E’s all the way down through 48th place.
Three factors go into deciding what ratings can be earned: the total number of fencers, the number of already rated fencers, and how well those rated fencers place.
For example, a “C2” type tournament requires a minimum of 25 fencers, including at least four D’s. As long as all four D’s finish in the top 8, then the tournament can give a C to 1st place, a D to 2nd-4th place, an E to 5th-8th place.
Ratings do not have to be earned in order. You can jump from a U to a D, a C to an A, or anything else in between. Jumping more than one or two ratings is rare but entirely possible.
Fortunately, there’s only one way to lose a rating: time. If four years pass without renewing your rating, it gets downgraded to the next rating (e.g. an A22 would get downgraded to a B in 2026).