Why We Love Korean Sabre

Oh v Szilagyi 2017 Worlds. Photo: Bizzi
Oh Sanguk lunges against Aron Szilagyi in the final at 2017 World Championships. Photo: Bizzi/FIE

Regular followers of our work will know that we have a strong affinity for K-sabre. There are plenty of reasons: it is spectacular to watch, we’ve worked with them in the past with great success, and they’re nice guys.

But the real reason is this: They set sabre free.

Back in the distant bygone era of 2008 when we were just getting started in this sport, there was an iron-clad set of rules to follow if you wanted to win.

  1. Be European; or
  2. Go to Europe to train; or
  3. Hire a European coach.

Sabre was an art with a body of secret knowledge which was controlled by an Old Guard of Masters. To ever understand it, you had to go to the source and supplicate yourself.

This was clearly impractical for the enormous majority of humans on this planet, but it was an unavoidable price.

And then K-sabre happened, and everything changed.

Here was a squad who had never followed any of the rules. They never went to the source. They reverse-engineered sabre from first principles and hours of vidcam footage from 1990s World Cups. What they built wasn’t strict and regimented, but wild and diverse and individualistic. It bubbled with joy and ferocity.

The Old Guard shook their fists. They objected loudly to all of this. It was ugly. Simplistic. Unsophisticated. “This isn’t fencing, they’re just fighting like animals”, to quote one particularly memorable rant we heard.

But it worked. It didn’t just work better than it should. It worked better than anything that had been tried before. In an era of increasing professionalism and competition, it worked well enough to claim four consecutive World Cup titles and the current World and Olympic team championships.

Obviously there are peculiar conditions behind all this which are not easy to replicate, foremost lavish financial support for Olympic sports in Korea allowing the construction of a fearsome professional program, but the seeds were sown long before the system was in place.

What Korean sabre showed is that the old rules didn’t have to apply. That’s why we love it. It showed us there was another way.

Now, for all you kids who weren’t around when London 2012 happened, or those of you who may have forgotten, here is what a full-power Korean sabre team looks like.

Take the 30 minutes to watch it. It’s pretty great.