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Once Popular Sport of Fencing Catching On Amid Youth

Suguru Awaji of Japan competes against Andrea Cassara of Italy, right, in the gold medal match during the men's foil team fencing competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
PHNOM PENH - Not many Cambodians know about the sport of fencing. But a small Phnom Penh fencing team recently won a bronze in the Southeast Asian Fencing Junior Competition, in a sport that is starting to catch on again.

“It’s just so exciting for me to win this medal, because it was the first time for me to compete at an international level, and I’m the youngest person on the team,” said Judd Meta, who is 10 and learned the sport from his American father, an ex-fencer.

Members of the team say a lot of Cambodians don’t understand the sport, but Cambodia now has two fencing clubs that teach a sport that saw some popularity in the 1960s, before the war.

“People think fencing is dangerous, because you use a sword,” said San Sokseiha, 17, the oldest member of the team. “But both when you’re learning and competing, we’ve got cloth and other material to protect us and keep people from getting hurt.”

The Hysa and Husana fencing clubs teach the sport to a total 24 students, including one woman. They train to use the foil, epee and saber, competing as individuals or in a group.

Sok Ang, who coaches Judd Meta and San Sokseiha, said the bronze medal at the junior competition, which was held in Brunei earlier in February, shows the sport is making a comeback in Cambodia. That could mean more support for an Olympic team, he said.

“It’s just so important to us,” he said. “Even though we created these fencing clubs, not many people were willing to support us.”

Following the Khmer Rouge, fencing disappeared from public consciousness, he said. Now, though, people are interested again. Some people remain opposed to it, thinking it violent or dangerous, and it can be expensive to begin because of the equipment, he said.

Meas Sarin, vice president of the Cambodian Fencing Federation, said the sport first came to Cambodia in 1964, when French practitioners trained Cambodian athletes. At the time, some Cambodian fencers were competing at high levels, but no longer, he said.

“After such a long time forgotten, Cambodian fencing is not that popular,” he said.

Khlock Rathana, 61, who won a gold medal in fencing in the 1970s, said it may take many more years for fencing to become as popular as it once was.

“After the Pol Pot regime, no one wanted to learn fencing anymore,” he said. “Today, we’ve just recently created a federation to train people, so it may take some years to go.”