Fencing is a sport that often does not get much attention, except during the Olympic years. For Vyn Le, however, it’s a passion.
Considers fencing to be a game of chess; a test of his physical skills and mental acuity against those of his opponent.
Langhorne resident and senior at Holy Ghost Prep, Le took his first fencing lesson six years ago (he’ll be 17 later this fall) at the Bucks County Academy of Fencing in Lambertville, NJ, just across the street of the Delaware River from New Hope. . While competing in Tae Kwan Do when he was in elementary school, he lacked an affinity for team sports. The individual nature of fencing appealed to him.
âI think it teaches you a lot,â he said, âbecause it’s definitely an individual sport. If you lose, there is really no one else to blame, there is no one else to watch but yourself. The same goes when you win too.
âI think it taught me a lot, especially that the wins are really satisfying and the losses really hard. I think that’s really what attracted me the most to the sport when I started competing. . “
Gain miles, time to perfect your sport
Le’s favorite event is foil, one of the three fencing disciplines (the other two are Ã©pÃ©e and saber). Each has different rules and protocols.
The foil features a weapon with a maximum length of 110 cm (43.3 inches, slightly longer than a baseball bat) and a maximum weight of 500 grams (10.58 ounces), although most are lighter.
A point is scored by making a valid hit with the tip of the blade on the legal target area, which in foil is the opponent’s torso and part of the bib which is attached to the mask of each competitor.
Combat takes place over a strip 14 meters long and 1.5 meters wide, excluding adjacent security zones. Fights are normally contested at 15 points.
Gifted pianist and accomplished debater as well as athlete, Le changed clubs over the summer and now trains at Gutkovskiy Fencing Academy in Fairlawn NJ, about 25 miles northwest of New York City. He does a four-hour round trip two or three days a week for a two-hour lesson, followed by a private lesson.
He also trains at home in his basement, using a dummy for target practice, and works with a personal trainer to improve his speed and conditioning. Le uses the four-hour round-trip trip to North Jersey to complete homework he didn’t complete earlier today.
âI have the whole drive, two hours there, two hours back,â he said. âIn addition, Holy Ghost Prep offers a lot of free periods and I have free periods built into my schedule.
“As soon as I have homework, I write it down in my diary, and I do it right away, as much as possible during the free period, and whatever time I can have during lunch, during the break, it’s always doing homework, homework, homework and studying. Then I come home; often before training I take a nap or something. And then during the drive I can study again. “
Le’s competition schedule keeps it busy most weekends (most of the competitive season runs roughly from fall through spring). He can participate in a local or regional tournament lasting two or sometimes three days within an hour or two of his home. On other occasions, he might find himself making a five to six hour trip to New England to compete.
âI have an easy life here compared to other fencers,â he said. âThe shooters from the north have to come down here. “
Admittedly, it took Le a while to get comfortable on the Strip, both physically and mentally.
âI think maybe in the first year I really got used to moving,â he said. âFencing (has) a very difficult learning curve. It’s very different from other sports. At a very basic level, you engage muscles that you would never use or (use) so much in other sports. a little bit, maybe a year or two just to get used to being hit and competing and things like that.
âBut mentally I think it’s an ongoing process, getting me comfortable on the track and learning to control my nerves. I think it’s a process that happens with everyone.
“Every fencer has doubts in their mind that they have to overcome, and I think being mentally tough is one thing, but mentally perfect is something very, very difficult and it takes a lot of work to get there.”
“Everyone loses more than he wins”
Part of the learning curve for a fencer is understanding that at the start he is going to lose a lot of fights.
âI waste all the time,â Le said. âEveryone loses a lot more than they win. This is a very common thing in all sports, but especially in fencing. You lose so, so many fights, and I feel like I’m really into it. Used to now Losing isn’t a bad thing as long as I can get something out of it, it’s a win, as long as I can learn to counter it next time around.
âSo when I’m facing (a more experienced opponent) I just think about all the times I’ve faced someone like that before; ‘What do I have to do to beat someone who is better than me? ‘
âIf I can hit them, then I can beat them. This is my opinion on it. It’s not like they’re untouchable. It’s not that they are unbeatable. Anyone in fencing can beat anyone, and I know it can be me. I can beat this person. All I have to do is find their weakness and maybe find the action I’m doing well with today.
Watching the recent Olympics, Le was impressed with how the world’s top fencers execute the fundamentals of the sport.
âThey are Olympians,â he said. âBut they’re not really doing anything amazing special. They have the basics, and they don’t follow a different set of rules. Everyone is playing the same game, it’s just how they see it, a lot of very simple actions. They are constantly their strategies to adapt to their (opponent).
Fencing can truly be a lifelong sport for those like Le who are passionate about it. For now, he’s thinking about his more immediate future; more specifically, college fencing.
He’s considering the University of Pennsylvania, which has a men’s college program, and Brown, which doesn’t. In any case, he does not anticipate laying down his weapon in the foreseeable future.
“I would love to play with a team,” he said. âCertainly, it influences my decisions quite a bit. Fencing is very difficult these days, it’s mostly just me and my teammates in the club, but if I’m part of a team I think it would be a whole different experience and I would love to make it part.