Fencing in Seoul

April 6, 2008

It wasn’t easy. First of all, getting all the books I needed for my teaching at EWHA University shipped to Seoul, Korea, and second, with them my fencing gear. Too much to take on the plane, I shipped it all to Seoul by the help of my friend the shipping agent, which was totally uncomplicated. Getting it from the airport to Seoul, though, was a huge hassle, and without help from a Korean friend I would have had to pay some 3-4 hundred USD to have it brought to my place in Seoul. Instead the fares for customs and paperwork was a modest approx 50 000 Won (50 USD).

Next difficulty was finding a fencing club in Seoul. Strangely the internet will not give you any clues if searching in English (at least my search on Google gave nothing). An email to the national fencing federation resulted in two email addresses and mobile numbers. My initial emailing did not get any response, but I found out about Seoul Fencing Club, which actually has a very good (and well designed) homepage with information in English. Since SFC is one of the few clubs fencing more than just foil in Seoul, it seemed a reasonable choice. Actually, they fence all three weapons, with emphasis on foil, followed by epee, and a bit of sabre, if there are sabre fencers around. This is their link:

http://www.seoulfencing.com

It was a happy choice. The club is in Ichon, just a few stops from central Seoul (note: NOT Incheon, by the airport!!). The club is really close to the subway station, and the home page actually provides you a map (in Korean). But don’t try to get here by taxi! if you are unfortunate, it will mean a huge detour, since Ichon actually is surrounded like an island by intersecting highways.

Even though the English speaking is a bit limited, the people at the club are generally friendly. As always, coaches are harder to charm than others, but apart from not understanding the instructions during group and individual lessons, the difficulties are quite minimal. And there are a few Americans fencing in the club, and a handful of Koreans who speak good English, if you feel for a bit of conversation between the fencing bouts.

The fencing is in fact on two different levels: the club, which is of quite small size with some 30 active members (correct me if I am wrong) has a lot of moderate level people who fence for the fun (like me). But the professional coaches and the space is shared with hand-picked high-school students (some possibly even younger) that are super quick in their moves and aspire to be in the elite of the country’s fencing. Some are in the junior national team already, if I got it right. Their efficiency and drill in footwork is impressive, you have their quick “bang-bang-bang” followed by yell shrieks when they practice advance and lunge ringing in your ears long after you’ve left the club.

Fencing style in Korea – at least in this club – differs radically from what I’ve learned in my European club LUGI in Lund, Sweden. There is a lot of attention on the footwork, and the technique seems not so oriented on “the tip” but on getting into short range and hit with surprise and speed. As I talk about epee, the Korean style is a bit like foil, compensating for generally shorter physical range with a more explosive style. Possibly less conservative than back home, but I still need to be convinced about its efficiency. I try to stick to what I’ve learned, but adapting it to circumstances here in Seoul. Still the best fencers were quite impressive, also considering their young age.

Fencing hours are Mon, Wed, Fri 7-9 pm, Saturday 3-6 pm. Saturday is basically free fencing, unless the coach decides differently and gives the group a bit of footwork and other exercises. During weekdays, it can be very oriented towards group and individual lessons, and much focusing on the young talents, who are working on their drills two by two. For an outsider, this might be a bit low intense, but as I am still figuring out how it all works out, I might have change my mind!

Six full length and width pists provides very adequate circumstances for the fencing, as do the large and well lit facilities in a school building. Although do not bother about shower or changing after fencing, since the shower is small and “co-ed” (guys have to wait until girls are done) and there is actually no real changing room. Get there in a track suit, and go home for the shower. But you can leave your fencing stuff at the club, cables and weapons neatly packed into your fencing bag, and jacket, lame etc on hangers (bring your own hanger). 50 000 Won per month is a reasonable price, but you need to have your own equipment.

The club is located in Chung Kyung High School. Just use exit 3:1 from Ichon Subway Station, go straight till you have to turn, go left and then immediately right till you reach the main road. Cross the street, go left two blocks and you will see a big street sign over the road indicating the alley leading to the school. In the far end of the school yard to the left you find a building with a vault on the fa├žade. The fencing club is upstairs on the first floor.

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