story Xie Yihao

Willie Khoo Fencing

Khoo (left) representing Singapore in the Commonwealth Fencing Championships 2014. (Willie Khoo)

You might have watched fencing at The Olympic Games on TV. You might also have tried figure-skating for fun. But have you ever played these sports alongside professional and semi-professional athletes?

Now it’s possible. Former (and current) competitive figure-skaters and fencers at Yale-NUS College are more than willing to showcase their talent and passion with more students.

Three competitive fencers from the Class of 2017—Sean Saito, Jon Ho and Willie Khoo—are keen to share their experience and fencing techniques. Both Ho and Khoo have worked as professional coaches. They also have experience in conducting lessons for beginners.

Jane Zhang ’18, a former competitive figure-skater, is also happy to teach some figure-skating moves to more students. She invited eight classmates to skate at The Rink in JCube last semester. “[I] helped them get their bearings on the ice and got to know them better,” said Zhang. Although Zhang does not plan to skate competitively anymore, she looks forward to skating with her friends for fun.

While Ho, Saito and Khoo are willing to share their passion and skills in fencing with a broader student population, they have yet to register as an official club. Instead, Ho and Saito attended sessions in NUS Fencing in their freshman year. Other students who are interested are encouraged to do the same, at least for now.

The fencers said that their plan to start Yale-NUS’s own fencing club is still “in the works”. There are high barriers to entry to fencing, and a significant hurdle is the high cost. As Ho explained, “there is a really high start-up cost because of the sheer number of different pieces of equipment. There are a lot of pieces, [and] they are also very expensive.”

The commitment the sport requires is another source of hesitation in starting the club. According to Saito, fencing is a sport that requires sustained and disciplined training. Khoo added that given the diverse student organizations already present in Yale-NUS, it will be uncertain how willing people are to devote energy and time to routine fencing trainings. Similar cost and commitment constraints prevent the formation of a figure-skating club. The commitment problem is even more pronounced—if Yale-NUS’s figure-skaters were to represent the college to compete in tournaments, they will have to sacrifice other aspects of college life.

Zachary Mahon ’17 used to train alongside Olympic medalists Patrick Chan and Yuna Kim. However, advancing to the next level of figure-skating would have come at the expense of other things in life. “Everything was starting to require much more commitment [in high school], it forced me to choose—I guess I sided on not giving everything up [for skating],” explained Mahon.

Unlike the figure-skaters, the fencing trio have plans to participate in tournaments as independent Yale-NUS teams. They are optimistic that the increase of student population and athletic facilities in the near future will enable minority sports groups such as fencing to form regular clubs and teams. The ultimate goal is for the fencing club to “provide better, more rigorous trainings and [to] actually compete in competitions”, said Ho.

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