Playing with swords is so much fun, the ancient sport of fencing is attracting new practitioners in Hawaii, some of whom have Olympic dreams

Friday - September 23, 2005
By Lisa Asato
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Ethan Okura (left) gets a touch on Junior Oakley
Ethan Okura (left) gets a touch on Junior Oakley

En garde! Ready! Fence! To the delight of Hawaii’s growing fencing community, swordplay isn’t just for Hollywood. Local fencers lunged, parried and counterparried at Saturday’s fencing season opener - an Open Foil Tournament which pitted young against old, and males against females.

“I enjoy doing it,” says Lauren Chinn, a member of the newly formed Oahu Fencing Center and a sophomore at Punahou School who beat two men to finish tied for third place. “There’s just an appeal to be able to play with swords.”

The next fencing tournament will be held Oct. 1 at the Ala Wai Clubhouse. Open Sabre starts at 9 a.m., and Open Epee starts at 11 a.m. Participants need to bring their own equipment and be members of the U.S. Fencing Association. Registration may be done at the door. And there’s no limit to the number of entrants. “We will let play as many as will show up - we had 30 at the Aloha State Games,” says Robert Farrow, vice president of the United States Fencing Association Hawaii Division.

In this sport of quadrille masks and electronic scoring, the fencer is literally wired from the sensitive button tip of the blade, through the protective clothing, and to a machine that buzzes and flashes when a hit is detected.

Sixteen fencers ranging in age from 10 to 91 competed in the season opener, representing each of the four Oahu clubs (a fifth club in the state, Silverswords Fencing Academy, is based on the Big Island). After a half-day of play, Ethan Okura of Salle Honolulu Fencing Club had outwitted four opponents and won first place, beating Darin Padula of YWCA Fencing Club 15-10 in the championship bout.

“I did a lot more straight attacks today than I usually do,” Okura says. “Generally there’s a lot of blade work - parries, counterparries, ripostes, counterparry-ripostes - and yet today I found that the fast, straight attack that caught my opponent by surprise before he was ready to parry was very effective for me.”

As Lauren Chinn (left) sticks it to him, Keith Lau must be grateful their swords have rubber tips and that he’s wearing a vest
As Lauren Chinn (left) sticks it to him, Keith Lau
must be grateful their swords have rubber tips and
that he’s wearing a vest

Okura is one of about 50 members of the U.S.F.A. Hawaii Division who actively competes. That number has been steadily increasing, with 10 new members joining last year. Nationally, the U.S.F.A. boasts a membership of more than 20,000, an increase of around 2,000 since 2003.

Fencing’s history predates the birth of Christ - bas-relief carvings in a 12th century B.C. Egyptian temple hint at the sport - complete with masks and button-tipped weapons. And modern fencing, with roots in 14th or 15th century Europe, is one of four sports that has been featured in every modern Olympic Games. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, American Mariel Zagunis gave her teammates extra reason to be proud. She won the gold in fencing - a feat that hadn’t been accomplished by Team U.S.A. for a century.

Hawaii fencers can also be proud. In July, six Hawaii fencers qualified for and competed in the Summer National Championships in Sacramento, Calif. Colin Chock, a Hawaii Baptist Academy graduate and one-time Olympic hopeful, placed 15th in the veterans’ 40- to 49-year-old foil competition, earning him the 29th national ranking. Chock, U.S.F.A. Hawaii Division president and head coach at Salle Honolulu, has the further distinction of being the “only person from Hawaii to have been paid to fence.”

In 1998, he explains, he joined a startup professional fencing league in hopes of becoming a prize fighter. “I was going to move to New York and be a professional fencer ... but after only one tournament the organization went under,” he says. “So that’s one of my claims to fame. I actually fenced in a tournament in New York, and I got money based on my placing, so it’s all very cool.”

Nowadays, Chock focuses his energies on making his vision for the sport a reality.

“Everything I want to do is to improve local fencing,” he says. “I think fencing is the best sport in the world, and I just want more and more people locally to take it up ... I would like to bring peo

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