Fencing Foil Fun (by Odelia Ong)

Odelia Ong speaks to a former National Fencer and current Cinnamon College resident, Ryan Ong, to uncover the highs and lows of his fencing journey.

Ryan Ong Ren-An, 22, in his fencing suit holding his foil weapon. Ong has been fencing for 15 years and was once in Singapore’s National Fencing Team. (Source: Odelia Ong)

It all started from a birthday trip to Toys‘R’Us  at United Square shopping mall 15 years ago. Instead of choosing a toy from the store, Ryan Ong Ren-An, Year 2, Computer Science, was drawn to the bustling activity beside the store. There, he stood glued behind the glass windows, captivated by masked individuals suited up in white outfits combating each other with their ‘swords’.

That day, Ryan left Toys‘R’Us empty-handed, but that trip into the fencing club next door resulted in an even better gift – fencing lessons. Ryan, who is also part of the prestigious University Scholars Programme at the National University of Singapore and a current resident of Cinnamon College, fondly recounted his fencing journey that took flight when he was 7, but more than anything, his love for the sport.

Soon after he started fencing, Ryan discovered a flair for it and competitions became a routine. He participated in local tournaments mainly organised by Fencing Singapore or his fencing club and often walked away with medals and trophies.


Ryan, 11 in this photo, posing with the trophies and medals he had won in the four years since he started fencing. Some of these achievements include Standard Chartered YMCA International Fencing Cup (Bronze), Singapore Minime Fencing Championships (2nd place) and Fencing Masters Classic Men’s Foil Championships (Individual Champion). (Source: Ryan Ong)

At one of his matches, his quick and explosive jabs caught the attention of talent scouts from the Singapore Sports School (SSP). Ryan eventually broke his Direct School Admission contract with St. Joseph’s Institution (SJI) and enrolled in SSP instead.

The road to success

In SSP, Ryan adhered to a gruelling schedule which saw him having to balance academics and two training sessions daily. His hard work paid off when his stellar performance earned him a spot in Singapore’s National Fencing Team when Ong was 14.

Being part of the National Team unlocked many opportunities for Ryan. For one, he had private blade-work lessons with his coach, which took his technical skills up a notch. He also got to travel to new places such as Germany and France for training camps and international competitions.

Ryan practising his footwork which is an essential part of training. “Most training sessions would start with at least half an hour of footwork drills, and I hated them because they were so tiring, and my legs would be dead (slang for aching). But thinking back, having good footwork helped so much in competitions, especially against super tall opponents with really long reaches,” said Ryan. (Source: Odelia Ong

Ryan achieved a series of successes during the three years in the National Team and these accomplishments can be greatly attributed to the parental support he received. “Because of my parents, I’ve been focused on enjoying it, fencing well. That made the experience more enjoyable for me,” said Ryan.

Ryan’s major fencing achievements and milestones over the years. (Sources: Ryan Ong and Fencing Singapore)

Ryan’s father picked up the sport and developed his unique repertoire of moves to coach Ryan, while his mother took on the managerial role, chauffeuring Ryan to school and trainings, preparing his meals and handling competition matters.

Aside from logistical support, Ryan’s parents provided for him financially, including his fencing equipment and travel expenditures. Ryan’s yearly competitions also doubled as a family vacation, where they would tour the country once he was done competing.

Ryan (right) and his family at Cassis, France, for their year-end family vacation after Ryan came in 5th place in the 2015 Cadet Circuit competition in Cabriès, France. It is customary for Ryan’s family to tour the country after his overseas matches. (Source: Ryan Ong)

A fencing hiatus

Ryan was at the peak of his fencing journey when he began questioning whether there was more to life than just fencing: “I started to feel a bit burnt out in my last year at the training camp, sort of didn’t feel like training, just shag out (slang for exhausted),” he said.

Despite his achievements, Ryan had never considered a career in fencing: “For a long time, people talk about whether this is a viable thing that you can do… but at that time I wasn’t ready to make that sort of a decision, so I started to slowly move away from it.”

Ryan eventually left SSP to pursue the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme in SJI when he was 17. This decision marked a turning point in Ryan’s fencing odyssey. He finally had more time to explore his interests and think about what he truly wanted in life.

In 2017, Ryan took a break from fencing to focus on his IB examinations. He then enlisted in the army upon graduating from SJI.

Initially, Ryan tried to continue fencing when he booked out on the weekends. Such a lifestyle, however, was unsustainable as it was simply too physically demanding. As a result, he decided to stop fencing completely.

Despite this, Ryan never felt that he left the sport. His life was heading in a new direction and moving away from fencing was simply a natural progression to focus on other aspects of his life.

Once a fencer, always a fencer

While Ryan is no longer a national fencer, he plans to compete in the 31st FISU World University Games held in Chengdu, China this year. When asked about his motivation to return to the field, Ryan chuckled and replied: “Why not? Just go and try, see if I still have it!”

Ryan practising his blade work on a dummy target. He currently trains with NUS fencing in hopes of qualifying for more fencing competitions. (Source: Odelia Ong)

Ryan’s easy-going disposition towards fencing echoes the attitude he took during his peak years: “I never really cared about the ranking. I just genuinely went to fence.”

Ryan sometimes wonders whether he would have made it as a professional fencer if he committed his life to fencing. Nonetheless, he has no regrets and is happy with how life turned out for him: “Fencing has made me who I am today, directly, or indirectly, through the experiences… I still really love the sport. I hope to never completely stop fencing.”

Fencing has shaped Ryan’s life: “From the discipline, being not so results-oriented and focusing on doing the best you can. The idea that you can do it as long as you put the effort into it, and that carried over to a lot of things I did,” said Ryan as he anticipates his future fencing endeavours. (Source: Odelia Ong)


This article was contributed by Odelia Ong in collaboration with the AY21/22 Semester 1 run of the NM2220 module.

Know any other interesting stories of residents living on campus? Tell us in the comments or DM us on our IG @nusresidentiallife !

Bethany Low

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