Taking the fencing circuit by storm

Fadhil Yunus

Brunei Darussalam national fencer Hajah Anis Sabrina binti Haji Yahya has been recognised as one of the leading female athletes to have taken the country’s fencing scene by storm, having garnered numerous achievements in the domestic and regional arenas.

The fencer’s journey of making her way into the national team and representing the country supports the notion that women have a role to play in weapon-oriented combat sports.

Hajah Anis Sabrina has been a true inspiration in the national fencing circuit having progressed through the ranks and is now competing in major events such as the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

About her beginnings with fencing, Hajah Anis Sabrina said, “At the time, I just turned 15 and I was still in high school. It wasn’t intentional. It was more of me following my friends.

“The coach and senior athletes came to my school to do a demo and introduce fencing. I always found fencing interesting and something that I watch on TV, but I never really thought that it existed in Brunei,” she said. A week later, Hajah Anis Sabrina was confronted with a decision to make when her Math quiz was held around the same time as a fitness test for fencing.

National fencer Hajah Anis Sabrina binti Haji Yahya. PHOTO: FADHIL YUNUS

“So rather than going for the Math quiz, I went for the fencing fitness test and I passed. They gave me a letter and told me to train three times a week.”

Hajah Anis Sabirina’s interest arose when she watched The Musketeers and became fascinated with the mechanics of sword movements. “I loved The Musketeers when I was younger. I watched a lot of fencing videos when I first got into it. I felt like I could be one of them.”

The first that Hajah Anis Sabrina tried was in foil where she trained for four years under the guidance of national coach Rocky Poerawinata. “I was such a big dreamer and I remember that I won the first competition three months after I trained with coach Rocky.

“At that time, I was a foilist. I was also the best novice in that competition,” she said.

“What I enjoyed about foil is it is very dynamic and there is a lot of technical work. After my first SEA Games in 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, I switched to sabre.”

The national fencer made her debut in the sabre discipline as part of the team that won bronze in the Brunei Open.

After emerging as one of the leading, if not the top, female fencers in the country, Hajah Anis Sabrina represented Brunei in the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur and then two years later in Manila, the Philippines.

Hajah Anis Sabrina also made history after becoming the first female fencer to represent the country in the 2019 World Fencing Championships in Budapest.

“I wouldn’t say that it is a big achievement but for me personally, it was because usually only men went,” she said.

The Asian Fencing Championships in Chiba, Japan last year ranks as the most memorable overseas competition in her career as she was joined by other national team members.

“It was my first big international competition with my team. My team consists of four people aged almost the same as me.

“That was the most memorable because it was rare to go with a team because it was usually solo.”

The national athlete, who turns 23 in November, also shared her thoughts on how to help the sport develop and how she can improve as a national fencer.

“I couldn’t describe it in words because every year, I always find motivation to be better, because I know I can be better,” said Hajah Anis Sabrina, who has now been in the field of fencing for eight years.

“There is a possibility that fencing will be a big sport in Brunei Darussalam one day. As long as there are people who want to commit to the sport, I don’t think it is impossible to reach the international level.”

Her coach Rocky played an influential role not just in the progress of her fencing career, but also acted as a father figure.

“Coach Rocky and our fencing federation have been very helpful with my growth in fencing. It is actually because of them I am willing to continue as they always give me opportunities and support me.”

She added that her coach “taught me good values, morals and things in life not just fencing but anything that I stand for in life”.

Hajah Anis Sabrina considers Ukrainian fencing star Olga Kharlan as her sporting idol and she also roots for her in the postponed Olympics.

“Olga Kharlan is the number one sabre fencer in the world. Last year was her best season and I really enjoyed it. She has been really consistent and I’ve been waiting for so long for the Olympics 2020.”

Hajah Anis Sabrina also keeps abreast of any updates from her sporting hero especially how she is coping during the COVID-19.

“She seems really happy during COVID-19. I’ve watched her stories on Instagram and YouTube. Sometimes before I sleep, I just watch her YouTube videos.

“It is the last thing I think of. If I can’t sleep, I watch her videos and see how she moves. When she fences, it feels like she is giving a lesson to the opponent.

“She is so calm over the years by experience. She started when she was nine and now she is 30.”

Hajah Anis Sabrina’s start with the national team saw her in the company of teammates whom she considers as her seniors.

“I joined the national team in 2015, so there were three people that were going to the SEA Games in 2015 in Singapore.

“I was the only female who trained with them. I feel like I’m always competing against boys. I think it is one of the reasons why I feel like I’m a fighter.

Hajah Anis Sabrina indicated that the current batch of athletes motivates the next generation who will represent the national team.

“Sport is not a promising career in the country but what we do right now will actually help the next generation,” she said.

“If you achieve something and prove that we deserve the support from the public and the government, the next generation will benefit. I think a lot of the kids who train want to be like me and have the same opportunities to compete internationally.”

The national fencer has also taken time out to coach kids and expressed her hopes that the younger generation will share her passion in fencing.

“I started teaching kids in 2018. I was involved with training the kids and helping the coach.

“The coach doesn’t really ask me to help him but I just came to kids training. I wish I trained earlier and helped them.

“I want them to have the same passion and to feel that fencing is not just a sport but it is something that they can hold onto in their life and actually learn.”

Asked about what qualities are required to make it as a fencer, she said, “One of the things that I really hold on to is to work hard and be humble no matter where you are and how much you have achieved.”