Fencing is about brains, not brawn

Fencing is about brains, not brawn

Fencing is less about a show of strength than outsmarting your opponent, as Young Post learns from a champion athlete


The sabre is not about slashing wildly at each other like they do in movie swordfights.
Photos: HKIS


Calvin knows what he's doing when it comes to swordplay.
Photos: HKIS

For Calvin Ray Zau Jia-jin, being an athlete isn't about being the strongest. It's not about being the biggest either, or even about being the fastest. Real athleticism, for Calvin, is all about being the smartest.

And when your sport involves swords, you'd better be smart about it. Calvin, 14, a student at Hong Kong International School, is a fencer, and knows what he's doing when it comes to swordplay.

Fencing may not be the first thing that jumps to mind when it comes to sports, but Calvin got involved for the same reasons most teenagers get into sport. "I started when I was 10, because I thought it was very cool," he says. "Once I realised that it requires both body and mind, I started to like it more and more because I could defeat opponents by outplaying them and it was very fun."

There are three different swords used in fencing, and different rules for each one. With an epee, you can target any part of your opponent's body but you only get points for touching with the tip of the blade. A foil is a lighter sword than the epee, with a more flexible blade. Just like with the epee, you have to use the tip of the foil to score points, but you can't hit your opponent's arms, legs or head. With a sabre, you can slash as well as thrust - which means you can use the side of the blade and not just the tip like with an epee or a foil. But you can only hit your opponent's upper body - that is, anything above the hips.

Calvin competes with the sabre. But it's not about slashing wildly at each other like they do in movie swordfights.

"My favourite thing about my sport is that you don't need to be stronger or faster than your opponent to beat them," Calvin says. "Fencing requires a lot of strategy to outsmart your adversary."

And Calvin has proven he has the smarts it takes to fight his way to the top. In September, he came second out of 43 competitors in the Hong Kong Fencing Association Under-14 Fencing Championships in men's sabre. Calvin says getting that silver medal was one of his greatest moments. "Another was when I placed first in the Hong Kong C-Grade Interschool Competition [2014-2015]."

As he continues to improve on both his technique and strategy, Calvin says he already has a plan for the future. "My ultimate goal is to be able to participate in the world championships," he says, "and try to do well in it."

Calvin says you need to be smart to fence.
Photos: HKIS

Bench Notes 

What song/movie title best describes you when you're playing your sport?

The Mask of Zorro; it's about a blade master and the combat style resembles fencing.

You can have any superpower you choose for 24 hours. What do you choose and how do you use this power?

If I could choose any superpower, I would choose the ability to see the future, to prepare for things that would happen weeks ahead. I could also use this ability to sense what my opponent is going to do before he or she does it in fencing.

If you could have an unlimited supply of anything, what would it be and why?

I would probably choose to have an unlimited supply of time, since I have a heavy schedule with up to 20 hours of training a week and schoolwork, I need time to cope with other things.

Ten years in the future, you are a famous athlete. What company do you sign-on as spokesperson for, and what product do you promote?

I wouldn't promote a commercial company, but rather a charity. Fencing is an expensive sport; however, it is [a lot of] fun. I'd probably promote a company that provides free fencing classes and equipment for the unprivileged to try it out. This way we can also [find] some new talent for Hong Kong.


This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Build brains, not brawn


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