Seventeen-year-old Aaron Lee Yat-Long has become the best young fencer in Hong Kong, despite his short stature. Aaron stands at 165cm in a sport where height matters – there are no weight classes, so Aaron sometimes has to compete against taller competitors with a longer reach. When asked how he has accomplished so much, Aaron was quick to say that “it’s all in the mind”.
“I believe that in fencing, as well as for many other sports, [how you think] is more important than the physical,” he said. “In elite competitions, it’s not really about skill level; everyone is really skilled. What separates the winners from the losers is who is able to stay calm in high-pressure situations.”
The Diocesan Boys’ School student started fencing when he was nine, which he said is very late compared to most other elite fencers. “But I trained really hard – harder than they did. When I first started I couldn’t beat any of the top guys, but a few years later I started getting the better of my peers.
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“By last year, I was the number one ranked U17 foil fencer in all of Hong Kong.”
And his success has only grown since then.
Aaron fences with a foil – the lightest of the three fencing weapons. The other two are the épée and the sabre. Once he turned 17, he became Hong Kong’s top-ranked U20 foil fencer. He has won the U23 Men’s Foil Championship, despite being one of the youngest competitors in the tournament, and he was also the 2017 A-grade interschool fencing champion. Aaron has a whole host of international accomplishments under his belt, including winning the 2017 Asian Junior Fencing Championships, placing third in the 2017 Asian Cadet Fencing Championships, and – at the age of 16 – helping Hong Kong win in the Junior catagory of the 2016 Asian Junior and Cadet Fencing Championships.
“[The 2016 Asian Junior and Cadet Fencing Championships] was the proudest moment of my fencing career,” Aaron recalled. “Hong Kong was playing against South Korea in the final, and I was going up against a really tall fencer, who was left-handed like me. Our team was losing 10-5 so there was a lot of pressure and the margin for error was very slim. I just focused on getting one hit at a time. I didn’t focus on winning – I just wanted to stay calm and do the best I could.” Aaron ended up winning 8-2, leading the Hong Kong team to a final score of 13-12 in the third bout.
Despite incredible moments like this, Aaron thinks the best is yet to come. “I think I am only going to keep getting better,” he said.
Aaron has been fencing on the Hong Kong team and training at the Hong Kong Sports Institute for three years. As the city’s top young male fencer, he said he definitely has the Olympics in his sights.
“I’m really looking forward to finishing my IB Diploma and [getting to] train full-time,” he said. Balancing his studies and his fencing has been tricky, especially during exam periods.
“It’s been extremely difficult. I get so many assignments. I have to stay disciplined and make sure I get everything done.
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“Once I’m done studying, I plan to take my fencing to the next level.”
Despite the difficulties, Aaron said he hopes his story will help inspire more Hongkongers to try fencing – or any other sport they want.
“Don’t listen to words of discouragement. I’m very short when compared to [the average] fencer, which is a huge disadvantage, but I managed to climb to the top. It’s more important that you put your heart into trying to make yourself better, and in staying mentally strong.”