On Point: Chens on Fencing for Ralph Lauren Magazine

My latest piece for Ralph Lauren Magazine is on the rise of American fencing. I spent about five years training up to five days a week and faced the national champion several times (the first time losing 5-0 in 45 seconds; the last time a more respectable 5-3).

At the time, US fencing was barely a blip on the international radar. But much has changed in the last 15 years, and now America routinely takes home medals in the sport.

While far more esoteric than squash, tennis, crew and sailing, fencing is nevertheless a recurring motif in WASPy books and films, and makes an appearance in “Catcher in the Rye,” “Dead Poets Society,” “The Great Gatsby,” and others.

Pictured above is my fencing master, Heizaburo Okawa, circa the mid-’60s, doing his signature counter-riposte in an impossible yoga-like contortion. The image was reproduced on t-shirts and posters that are familiar to many fencers. Okawa was the most famous fencer to come out of Japan, later immigrating to America, where he became national champion, and was recently inducted into the US Fencers Hall of Fame. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

11 Comments on "On Point: Chens on Fencing for Ralph Lauren Magazine"

  1. I’ve read that fencing is also a surprisingly excellent workout.

  2. A great sport, swordsmanship.

    The stylishly-executed extended fencing scene in Die Another Day is the is the one element in the film worthy of repeated viewing.

  3. Richard Meyer | August 31, 2011 at 4:47 pm |

    I like fencing, but the ultimate WASP sport is court tennis.

  4. I just showed this to my daughter who is in her second year of fencing at her magnet high school. She got a real kick out of it. Thanks for sharing!

  5. The first rule of swordsmanship. The man with bullets has a decided advantage.

  6. I’ve recently started fencing at my university, and I was wondering: are there are fencing uniforms that are also stylish/ flatter the figure? Most of my fencing comrades-in-arms have uniforms that are at least two sizes too big. I figure if I’m sword fighting, might as well look good while doing it.

  7. My fencing uniforms were always well fitted. The cotton, less expensive ones tend to be boxy and ill-fitting, while the better stretchy, poly/spandex kind should fit well.

  8. Most fencing equipment suppliers carry some kind of fitted jacket & lame. I noticed that my jacket and lame, ordered from Leon Paul and NOT described as fitted, still carried a “fitted” feel.

    Good luck in your search for gear.

  9. i had no idea fencing and fashion had anything to do with each other.. im a huge wing chun, jkd fan, so the foot work aspect of fencing keeps me interested… i wonder how huge it is here in houston??

  10. EVAN EVERHART | August 24, 2018 at 11:30 am |

    Hi Christian,

    Were you more into foil, epee, or saber, or a bit of each?

    I always favored saber, but actually started branching into the broad-sword later (along with other medieval forms of sword fighting), might I recommend the Talhoffer Codex to you, if this seems even vaguely intriguing? It was originally commissioned by an ancestor of mine. ‘Loads of fun, if you’ve got a capable partner.

  11. Hey Evan.

    I competed in foil, and played around with saber occasionally.

    Earlier this year I got back into swords for a bit, and used my saber technique with a couple of martial artists who do a style called kali. We used short foam-core swords for sparring. Also took a couple of broadsword classes and found an old gentleman in my neighborhood who was a lifelong historic swordplay expert. Might dive back in again come winter.

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