It is a combat sport, a war game … and yet … so civilized. Fencing, a centuries-old European martial art, is much more than "Men in Tights," said Mike Turina.
"When I first saw it, that’s what I thought," Turina said, referencing the 1993 comedy that spoofed Robin Hood.
"But once you start doing it, you quickly get an appreciation for it. And the really good guys are really fast."
Turina belongs to Salle Honolulu, one of five fencing clubs in the state. He took up the sport after watching his daughter Nicole.
"I started bringing her to fencing and decided that instead of just watching, I’d try it," he said. "I’ve played a lot of basketball and this is more two-dimensional, very aerobic."
And with very cool weapons.
Modern fencing, one of four sports contested at every Olympic Games, features foil, a light, thrusting weapon with a valid target area restricted to the torso; sabre, a light cutting and thrusting weapon with everything above the waist a valid target; and epee, a heavy thrusting weapon with the entire body a target.
Scoring varies according to weapon. The protocol is archaic, harkening to a time when honor was settled by duels.
White uniforms. Salutes to the opponent and referee. Handshakes after the bout. Penalties for not saluting or shaking hands.
» Hawaii Fencer’s Club Pacific Buddhist Academy firstname.lastname@example.org
» Hawaii Island Fencing Association
» Oahu Fencing Center Palama Settlement
» Salle Honolulu Various sites email@example.com
» Swordfight Club Hawaii Kapunahala Elementary School firstname.lastname@example.org
On the web: USFAHawaii.org
There’s a discipline that is instilled, Christine Hammer said. Her husband, B.K., and two sons — Pace, 12, and Kole, 10 — fence and "I thought it would be a good thing for the boys," she said. "They were always sword fighting.
"It has taught them that it’s not just about hitting, they have to get their footwork down. They’ve learned discipline and that it’s not just brute force that makes you successful."
"I used to do soccer, some football, but this is more mentally challenging," Pace Hammer said. "I like the action. My friends think it’s pretty cool. Some don’t think it’s a sport, but I tell them you don’t see football in the Olympics."
Hawaii fencers have found success at the national and international levels. Colin Chock, founder of Salle Honolulu, competed in five national championships and was Hawaii’s first pro fencer, taking ninth in foil and 25th in epee at the inaugural Professional Fencing League Tournament in 1998.
Lauren Chinn (Punahou ’08), a junior at Johns Hopkins, has finished in the top 10 in the NCAA regional the past two seasons and just missed out on the NCAA championships. Last month, she won the epee title in helping the Blue Jays to the NIWFA Christmas Invitational.
"A few years ago, we were probably at our peak with 70 fencers and she was part of a core group of kids who came up through our clubs and then went away to college," Timothy Scanson said of Chinn. "She’s dominated tournaments. She grew up fencing with guys and I think it has helped her."
Scanson, the treasurer for USFA Hawaii, first saw the sport at a renaissance faire in the 1970s in California.
"I was fascinated," he said. "I took lessons for a couple of months, went on a fitness kick, lost 60 pounds.
"I’d recommend it. It’s a discipline very much like martial arts. They call fencing physical chess. It’s a very mental game. I’d compare it to boxing, with short periods of high intensity."
Michael Aiau, USFA Hawaii president, has been involved with fencing for more than 30 years. The sport has taken him to the Olympics, where he was the armorer (weapon repairer) at the 1984, 1996 and 2000 Games.
"It’s mentally and physically challenging," Aiau said. "Each (weapon) has its own uniqueness.
"Epee is very tactical. Foil is the best workout, with very specific solutions to every problem. And sabre is lightning fast."
Cody Pascual, one of the rising local stars, prefers foil.
"I like the rules of right-of-way, that you only hit the torso," said the 13-year-old, who won last month’s USFAH Y14 championship. "I used to do judo, but ever since I’ve been fencing, I decided that this is the sport I want to do."
Jacob Falls has fenced for six years, growing up in one of the national hotbeds in Escondido, Calif. He originally saw the sport on Nickelodeon and the Kapiolani Community College freshman said, "It has the flashiness of a video game, but you’re doing the fighting.
"Some people don’t want to do traditional sports. It’s not dangerous. You’re wearing padding, you have a mask, and you check everything before you start."