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【Wheelchair Fencing】Wheelchair Fencing Open Championships

The Wheelchair Fencing Open Championships were held on December 3, 2016, at the Komazawa Gymnasium in Stetagaya-ku, Tokyo. Four fencers took part in the men’s foil event. After a round-robin qualifying pool, the final match took place between Naoki Yasu and Shintaro Kano. The title was won for the second year in a row by Yasu, a former wheelchair basketball player, who defeated Kano 15-11.

Match Between Up-and-Coming Yasu and Kano

Yasu had suffered a 0-5 crushing defeat against Kano in the qualifying pool. He reflected, “I wanted to do my best from the qualifying pool, but Shintaro Kano got the best of me in a burst. I’m happy that I clinched the title, but I need to improve my foil skills. I think I managed to win only by movement (and not skill). The white lamp (indicating an off-target hit) kept on lighting up, and it was an embarrassingly bad match. I am not at all satisfied.”

Yasu had fenced against Kano in the final of the Wheelchair Fencing Japan National Championships that were held in August 2016, winning 15-7 at the time. He defeated Kano again in this tournament, but at 15-11 there was a smaller difference in the score as compared to last time. Furthermore, it was a difficult match for him. It started with Kano getting three points in a row after Yasu had initially led 12-3. Yasu then scored another point, bringing the score to 13-6. However, Yasu again gave way to Kano, who earned four consecutive points.

He said he felt he was gaining ground in his efforts, “I have more techniques now and am able to think about strategy a little.” However, Yasu is still relatively new at wheelchair fencing, with only a year and a half having passed since he took up this para-sport. What is more, there are not many wheelchair fencers in Japan, and the practice environment is less than ideal. This worries Yasu, who said that he sometimes gets the help of non-disabled Olympic fencers at the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences (JISS), who sit in a wheelchair to fence with him. Yasu said, “JISS provides a wonderful fencing environment and I appreciate it greatly. However, the style there is for non-disabled (standing) fencing, so things are a bit different from what I need. I watch videos of overseas wheelchair fencers to learn wheelchair settings and movement, trying them out one by one.”

However, there will be World Cup matches in various cities from next year, and Yasu said, looking forward, “I will be able to go overseas to fence in 2017, and I hope that my skills will get better over the next year or by 2018.”

Meanwhile, Kano, who fenced well at the championships, began wheelchair fencing in 2013. He stepped away from competition for various reasons in 2015 but made a comeback to the piste in 2016. Looking back, he said, “We are gradually creating an environment for competing on the world stage, but there is still much more that needs to be done.” Considering how small the wheelchair fencing population is, this rivalry between Yasu and Kano is an important one that will help them improve their fencing skills.

Kano, who finished in second place following his second-place finish in the Wheelchair Fencing Japan National Championships

Kano said, “I have to be a presence that will stimulate Mr. Yasu by keeping him from claiming titles too easily. Although I won in the qualifying pool, I lost in the final match because I let him earn points quickly and get ahead of me at the start of the match. I managed to regain some ground toward the end, but I did find some themes to work on to improve my skills.” He also spoke of his goal and said, “Going forward, I want to become a fencer with skills to my satisfaction. I hope to become a fencer that people will expect to win a medal in Tokyo 2020.”

Matches on the Main Piste in a Tournament for Wheelchair Fencers

今The Wheelchair Fencing Open Championships were incorporated into the third day of the All Japan Fencing Championship (Individual Matches) hosted by the Japan Fencing Federation, which was held between December 1 and December 4, 2016. This is the second time for the championship to be held simultaneously in this way. This year, it particularly attracted attention since all nine matches, including the round-robin qualifier, took place at the “podium,” or the main piste set up higher than others in the middle of the venue. This is quite a big difference from last year when all matches, other than the final match, were held in the No.1 piste off to the side of the venue.

Masashi Hoshino, President of the Japan Fencing Federation, spoke of his aspirations. He said, “We did this because we wanted as many people as possible to see wheelchair fencing. We (non-disabled fencers) learned much last year when we held the championships at the same time. It is a sport that anyone can participate in if they sit in a wheelchair. Even (Olympic medalist) Yuki Ohta could participate in it. We want to boost fencing in Japan, both through the Olympics and Paralympics.”

For wheelchair fencing, there is a major significance to having the non-disabled and wheelchair fencing championships held at the same time. Koji Emura, who is a former head coach for non-disabled fencing, has supported wheelchair fencing for many years. He saw the impact it had and said, “Hosting the championships together in 2015 motivated many wheelchair fencers to want to compete there. It has helped increase the number of wheelchair fencing athletes.”

A Paralympic Gold Medalist Provides Guidance to JWFA-certified Fencers

Yasu, who once again clinched the title (front row, second from left) Photo by Kyoko Hoshino

The number of Japanese wheelchair fencers has increased to about 40 in recent years. However, there is still a very large disparity in their skills, and there are only a handful of fencers who can hope to compete on the world stage. There are still many challenges in addition to boosting the skills of individual fencers, such as cultivating para-fencers who possess potential.

Amid such circumstances, the Japan Wheelchair Fencing Association (JWFA) invited Paralympic Gold medalist Fung Ying Ki of Hong Kong to Japan to serve exclusively as Japan’s head coach. He arrived in October. This has enabled a new scheme for strengthening the skills of para-fencers, such as through a three to four-day training camp held twice a month in Kyoto.

Ki has had a connection with JWFA members since around 2008. He has been involved several times in the past in coaching Japanese para-fencers, coming to Japan to serve as short-term coach. Using such experience as the basis, he wants to do even more now. He said, “In addition to aiming as head coach to get Japanese para-fencers to compete and get on the winner’s podium at the Tokyo Paralympic Games, I also have a big objective of helping wheelchair fencing take root in Japan so that it will be able to continue on beyond 2020. Having the championships take place at the same time as in this tournament is a good exhibition for spreading this para-sport. It is also meaningful in that it provides a good opportunity for athletes to get used to fencing in front of many spectators.”

For the time being, the biggest goal for Japan’s wheelchair fencing circle is to nurture athletes who will be able to compete in the Tokyo Paralympics since it is taking place locally. However, there is not all that much time left. We look forward to para-athletes and JWFA members rousing themselves even further and seeing an acceleration of the speed of activities.

text by Kyoko Hoshino
photo by AFLO SPORT
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