You’ve practiced, you’ve competed, and you qualified for Summer Nationals. Great! Now what to do when you get there? If you arrive the afternoon or evening before, Step 1 can always be the armory table. If you arrive the day of, Step 1 is scanning your registration card, closely followed by a visit to the armorers. Here is a guide for how to survive.
Part 1: Before you reach the table
There are a few things you can do to make your 2 minutes with the armorers much more pleasurable for all of us.
Before you leave home: Make sure nothing stinks or is disgusting to touch. If you don’t want to be around it, what makes you think we will want to touch it, let alone be in the same room?
If it failed at a previous competition, don’t bother bringing it unless it has been repaired (note: safety failed masks can’t be repaired. The only acceptable uses for those are wall art, spaghetti strainer, or planter)
Remove your old inspection tapes from your body cords. A seam ripper is a great tool to use for that.
When you get to the venue/while in line:
Remove all items from your mask
Uncoil your body cords. If you’re looking for a way to store them without them tangling or dragging, try draping them around your neck
Zip up that lame right side out!
Now you’re ready for that visit!
What we are looking for during your visit:
Masks: Does it have any cracks in the welding or frame? Are there any rips in the fabric portion that could catch a point? Is the mesh strong enough to withstand getting hit with a broken blade?
Lames: Does the zipper and Velcro work? Does it have any holes that could catch a point?
Gloves: Does it have any rips or holes? Does the Velcro stay shut? For sabre, does it have the FIE 800N label?
A brief physics lesson: conductivity is a measure of how easy it is for electricity to move through an item. Something metal conducts electricity very well, while rubber does not conduct at all. How well a material conducts electricity is measured in ohms.
The specs for conductivity in your equipment:
Body cords/mask cords: 1 ohm
Lame material (lames, conductive parts of masks, cuff on sabre gloves): 5 ohms
The 1 ohm and 5 ohm specs are maximums. Your equipment should have less than that amount of resistance
Part 2: At the armory table
Ask the armorer what they would like to test first. And follow their directions! Many of us have routines that we follow to prevent skipping any equipment.
Some armorers may ask you to daisy chain your mask cords to save time. That is because resistance is cumulative. It’s actually a pretty neat trick.
Keep in mind some Head Techs are more strict than others. I have worked for a Head Tech who thinks that passing a lame at 7 ohms (5 is the official spec) or not checking body cords at a regional is letting people “get away with murder.” The tolerance in the scoring equipment is 250 ohms. If your reels, floor cords, and body cords together get to over 200 ohms, you got bigger problems. A lame reading at 7, even at national events, shouldn’t cause an issue with the scoring system. Also, the most common ways for body cords to break will harm you rather than your opponent. Don’t count on a Head Tech being lenient with the specification, though. Always assume they will be holding you to a tight 1 ohm and 5 ohm.
Don’t touch their test equipment. That is a huge no-no. We have to provide all our test equipment ourselves. Anything that risks damaging it could cost us a minimum of $80 if something goes wrong. The commercially available body cord testers we use start at $300 and can cost as much as $1200. An old armorer hazing ritual, before there were testers available to buy, was to build your own tester. I was fiercely protective of the first one I built, with good reason. If that went down, I would have to invest a lot of time and energy to either fix it or build a new one.
Here’s how I go about checking in someone’s gear
Safety check the mask. I begin by giving the mask a visual inspection for any rips, tears, missing rivets, or obvious broken mesh. I then check for cracked frames and welds by squeezing the sides. If I hear squeaking or cracking, or if something doesn’t feel right, I will inspect the inside of the mask frame. Next, I make sure the tongue is in one piece- meaning the metal itself is in one piece and the weld isn’t cracked. Then I use a mask punch to make sure the mesh itself is appropriately strong. It consists of a probe connected to a 12kg spring that must be compressed a certain amount to simulate getting hit with a broken blade. I usually punch 6-7 times minimum. If there is a dent or spot where the mesh looks misshapen, I will pay extra attention to that area. The “official” rule is you get 2 tries. If nothing happens after those two, leave it alone.
Conductivity check the mask. Conductivity of lame material is tested using a 500g weight in a cone shape with a prescribed size of the rounded tip. The weight (sometimes also called a probe) is connected to an ohmmeter. I also have a metal or copper pad taped down to my table which is also connected to my ohmmeter. I place the mask on the pad and run my weight over all the conductive areas. I will get a reading somewhere between 0 and infinite ohms. The goal is to have it read less than five.
Conductivity check the lame. Following the same procedure as for a conductive mask, run my probe over the lame material, looking for a reading between 0 and 5 ohms.
Safety check the glove. If it is a sabre glove, check for the FIE 800N label. For all gloves, make sure there are no inappropriate holes or tears. Make sure the velcro stays closed. Note: Tape is not an acceptable repair on anything. If you have a hole in your glove it has to be permanently stitched and/or glued shut. If we see tape on your glove, we will ask you to remove it.
Conductivity check the glove (sabre only). Following the same procedure as for a mask or lame, make sure the cuff appropriately conducts electricity.
Conductivity of body cords and mask cords. Most armorers’ body cord testers consist of two sets of sockets. We plug one end of the body cord into each socket, and get a reading on all 3 lines before determining if it passes or fails. Each line of the body cord should read less than 1 ohm. We wiggle each of the ends to make sure there isn’t a break that is causing intermittent problems. We also make sure the lines are connected properly. If your cord is cross wired, that could cause a lot of problems when you’re trying (and failing) to score!
A trip to the armorer does not have to be stressful. We just want you to be able to compete safely, with an emphasis on giving everyone a fair chance to score. Like any USA Fencing official, we are in it for the love of the sport. If you ever want to learn more about fixing gear, come by the table when we don’t have a line. We are happy to share our knowledge and start bringing in the next generation of armorers. Be careful, though. Armory is a slippery slope. One moment you’re learning how to clean your foil points and fix your own body cords. Then you blink, and you’re doing it for a living and asking to be fast tracked to National Head Tech.
We look forward to meeting all of you at Summer Nationals.
Celie Moniz is a USA Fencing certified tournament and club armorer currently based in New York. She began her armory journey in 2010 by volunteering at the Cherry Blossom Open, an annual event hosted by the Capitol Division. The next year she found out she could make money doing armory and the rest is history. She received her national tournament certification in 2019. Since then she has worked as many tournaments as she possibly could. In the 2021-2022 season, she worked 17 regional tournaments and two national tournaments. Of those 19 tournaments, she was Head Tech for 6 regionals and was relief head tech during the second half of summer nationals that year. She is not settling for less than armory world domination.