The Trinity Prep Saint will compete in Denver next month against fencers from across the globe.
It’s like a game of chess — only it can end in the blink of an eye.
Quick flicks of the wrist with flexible metal blades create a conversation: attack, defense and attack again.
Just like the moves on a chess board, the art of fencing requires strategy — and thinking on your feet, Trinity Preparatory School sophomore Justin Kim, 15, said.
“There’s so many moves that you can do and so many combinations — just like chess — but in the end, it all narrows down to whether you win or lose,” Kim said.
The Trinity Prep Saint is excelling in the sport of fencing outside of school. He qualified in November for the Junior Olympic Fencing Championships Feb. 15 to 18 in Denver. Out of about 15 competitors in the mixed foil category, Kim placed second in the qualifying tournament and will represent the United States as he competes against fencers from around the world.
“It feels mind-blowing, because just a year before, I thought of fencing as more of a hobby — just a way to develop my muscles and just become more athletic,” Kim said. “As I did fencing more, I found myself getting drawn closer and closer to it. I’m really thankful to everyone who helped me.”
Kim picked up another accolade just earlier this month, when he earned an E rating by winning the Winter Fence Off tournament at the Orlando Science School. With that rating, Kim will be awarded a USFA High School All American Honorable Mention in the Summer National Championship in Columbus, Ohio.
Not bad for someone who only has been fencing for about a year.
Kim’s initial interest in fencing sparked from fencing coach and family friend Sung Yim, who asked Kim if he would like to pick up the sport. It wasn’t long before Kim started to explore fencing and joined the fencing team at Orlando Science School in December 2017.
“I was kind of nervous at first, partly because it was a peculiar sport with swords and things that I was not used to seeing or hearing about,” Kim said. “(Coach Yim) really helped me get into it, and after that, because I didn’t really have an athletic activity that I was doing, I decided, ‘Why not just go for it?’ I tried it out, and I just found it was an amazing athletic sport.”
Kim started competing in March 2018 and has been developing his technique ever since.
He transferred to Trinity Prep for his sophomore year but continues to compete in fencing and practice through the Orlando Fencing Academy, which was started by him, several other Orlando Science School students and the fencing community.
The young fencer typically practices three days a week for up to three hours, brushing up on a broad range of sword movements with the wrist, parries and footwork. Almost like learning words in a new language, Kim has learned move after move that he can apply to that rapid exchange between two swords.
“Fencing is very graceful, it requires a lot less strength than I thought and more of the mind,” Kim said. “You have to think a lot and you have to know when to harness the skills that you have while fencing.
“Every single flick of your blade, and every single inch that your blade moves is supposed be calculated,” he said. “That feeling increases the more advanced and the better you get. Everything is in slow motion almost for the fencer.”
What started as a sport that would potentially bolster a résumé for college has turned into a burning passion. As for what the future will hold for Kim and fencing, the 15-year-old said he plans to continue competing and focusing on getting better. He still is deciding whether he would like to compete at even higher levels — or maybe just have fencing as a hobby when he’s older.
But just like his coach taught him, Kim said he’s simply focused on capturing that next point in the competition.
“Fencing holds a special place out of all the other sports that I’ve done in the past,” Kim said. “Because of my love for it and the people around me and their support, I’ve reached new heights, and that’s why I think fencing is really special.”