It’s another one of those intricacies of fencing in the US and you can add that to knowing your SYCs/RYCs/RJCCs/ROCs (by the way, we’ve done a post on that here) and the various pathways to qualification. What are ratings? Well, the short answer is that they reflect a fencer and competition level to a degree.

 But here’s the long answer.
There are 5 categories of ratings in the US Fencing system: A, B, C, D, E and U. U is for Unrated, which is the first rating that everyone starts off with when they start competing. So how then do you progress to higher rating? “By joining sanctioned competitions and placing high enough for them” is not even the full statement. We told you it’s complicated.
There are a number of elements that must be considered in totality to determine if there is even potential to be awarded a rating when you join a competition:

  1. The competition must be sanctioned. This means that the organizers of the competition must comply to certain standards set about by USFA (read: how to sanction an event) So yes, you could win at an MFA-organized event with strong fencers and not get a rating.
  2. Total number of competing fencers; of which
  3. There are rated fencers present; and
  4. These rated fencers must finish at a certain placing.

he table above, taken from AskFred, explains the ratings (also called classifications) awarded in various scenarios. The full table can be found here:

What does joining a Group C1 event mean? Assuming you (an Unrated fencer) join a sanctioned competition with say 20 competing fencers, of which there are 2 C-rated, 2 D-rated and 2 E-rated fencers, and that of these rated fencers, 2 of them who are C-rated and 2 of them who are D-rated end up placed in the Top 8 positions of the event, you will be awarded a rating as long as you are placed in the Top 8 too. Specifically, if your placing is between 5th to 8th, you will obtain an E rating. If between 2nd to 4th, you get a D. If you are first, you get a C.
Therefore, the competition level and the rating that you could get from it is dependent on who turns up and where they eventually place. But if you take a look at a listed event on AskFred, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what the level of the event is, along what the ratings that you could potentially earn:

While we do agree that ratings reflect a fencer’s capability, we say that it does so only to a certain degree. The reason is because ratings are not constantly updated after each sanctioned competition and they only reflect a fencer’s highest achievement in the given season.

Ratings do not reflect the consistency of performance.
So don't be quick to decide on the outcome of a bout based on your opponent's rating; judge their current fencing on the strip.

So what are the practical implications of ratings? There are a few:

  1. Ratings qualify fencers for events. For example, Division 1 only includes fencers who are rated A, B, or C.
  2. Ratings are used for seeding at competitions.
  3. College applications do consider ratings and rankings for student intakes.

The importance of ratings versus rankings is comparable to that of the result of one examination versus the overall grade point average (GPA). The GPA is a better reflection of the overall standard of the student, isn’t it? But that said, it is unnecessary to focus on ratings and rankings as these are indications that are not within your direct control. Focus on your craft, your skills and techniques- they are the ones that get you there.

And have fun while you're at it.