Japanese fencers join international trend to train in Issaquah

September 4, 2012

By Christina Corrales-Toy

A delegation of young fencers and their three coaches came from Japan to Issaquah to train with saber coach Wang Yung (center, standing) at the Washington Fencing Academy the week of Aug. 27. By Christina Corrales-Toy

Issaquah has become quite the destination for elite fencers looking to improve their game.

Fencers from all over the world travel to the Washington Fencing Academy, just to train with saber coach Wang Yung.

Yung has coached national and world champions. In July, the coach hosted Mannad Zeid, an Egyptian fencer who spent time training at the Washington Fencing Academy before he traveled to London for the 2012 Olympic Games.

The parade of international competitors hoping to learn from Yung continued the week of Aug. 27, as eight junior fencers from Japan traveled to Issaquah to train with the coach for a week.

“I’m flattered,” Yung said. “I don’t know quite why they chose me but there are a lot of places where there are good coaches, so I’m just flattered that they’ve chosen to come here.”

The fencers, four boys and four girls ranging in age from 13 to 15, came to work with Yung as part of a developmental program to improve their skills.

The three coaches who accompanied the fencers from Japan said through interpreter Kayoko Hunter that they hoped the students would learn more about the American style of saber fencing in their week with Yung.

“For the sport of saber, the Americans are more advanced than Japan,” said Satoshi Ogawa, one of the coaches. “So the main reason we are here is to be exposed to different styles.”

A saber is one of three weapons commonly used in fencing. Saber fencing is unique in that points can be scored by hitting the opponent with the side of the blade, as well as the point of the blade. Fencing with a saber requires great body control and quick movements.

During their stay Yung focused on the fundamentals of the sport.

“I’ve been working on improving their basic technique,” he said. “One of the most important things about fencing is to know what your mistakes are because saber is so fast, if you make a mistake, you are just going to lose. So I focus a lot on basics but I also throw in some pretty advanced footwork and bladework.”

Yung said the Japanese fencers’ technique was not as advanced as the American fencers he coaches, but their discipline and focus was much better.

“I think the Japanese fencers are overall much more focused,” he said. “They are very coachable. The degree of focus is very different. Japanese fencers really try to learn things well. Their attention span is better.”

The Japanese coaches would not directly say it, but Yung believed the fencers were sent here by the Japanese Fencing Federation to prepare for the 2020 Olympic Games.

“Most Asian countries are very subtle about how they express things but I don’t think they would spend the kind of money that they spent to come over here unless there is a master plan,” he said.

Tokyo is one of three cities in the running to host the 2020 Olympic Games. The winner will not be announced until 2013, but Yung said this was probably the motivation for the country’s early preparation.

“I think they’re preparing for 2020, but that’s what a country should be doing if they’re potentially hosting the Olympics,” he said.

Mieko Saito, one of the coaches, said that while some of the students may have Olympic aspirations, the goal of the trip was mainly to expose the group to saber fencing and improve their technique.

“It’s a direction towards developing the students to an elite level,” she said. “It’s not specifically targeted toward the Olympics, but more encouraging our students to develop their skills.”

The students spent the week training with practice sessions twice a day. Still, they had the opportunity to experience some of Issaquah when they visited Triple XXX Rootbeer Drive-in and Lake Sammamish.

Saito said the students enjoyed their time in Issaquah and appreciated the support from the local fencing community.

“We just love it here,” she said. “The experience as a whole, seeing the American fencers and everything, has been great.”

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