A break in the fencing
Brennan Louie of LACES uses dance moves to help with his first love: fencing.
Brennan Louie, a junior at the L.A. Center for Enriched Studies, uses break dancing as part of his fencing training. He hopes to compete in the Olympics. (Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times)
Standing before a wall of mirrors in a dance room on the campus of the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, Louie practices different routines as hip-hop music blares from his iPod. No, he's not considering trying out for "So You Think You Can Dance." He's preparing for his real passion: fencing.
He's set to compete July 2-4 in the summer nationals in San Jose. He has aspirations of fencing one day at an Ivy League college and, perhaps, representing the U.S. in the Olympics.
Full of energy and blessed with an engaging personality, Louie is a 5-foot-4, 130-pound dynamo who uses quickness and intelligence to excel in a sport that tests patience and durability.
"As a little kid, I always watched those ninja movies where they'd fight with swords, and this was the perfect opportunity to get into sword fighting," Louie said.
He got started at 10, taking a class in school, and has been competing in foil fencing ever since. Points are scored by strikes to an opponent's torso.
"This sport is like chess," he said. "It combines the mind and the body. It takes every aspect of thinking and moving."
Break dancing has helped him add quickness, stamina and coordination, even though his hard-nosed fencing coach, Misha Itkin, says, "Break dancing is good for dating."
Louie admits break dancing has enhanced his social life -- he and his friends have won three talent shows at LACES -- but there's hard work and energy being spent on backflips and choreographing moves.
Some of the same muscles generating movement in break dancing come into play in fencing. Lunging forward, then suddenly pulling back in an awkward position, takes a lot of abdominal work.
"It's made me stronger and a lot faster," he said.
Academics is big in Louie's family. His mother is Filipino and his father is a fourth-generation Chinese-American. His sister, Lindsay, was a basketball standout at Los Angeles Marlborough and just completed her freshman year at Harvard, and he has two younger brothers.
"School definitely comes first," he said. "If I don't get my homework done, I can't practice, and I can't go out and break."
Break dancing also helps Louie relieve stress.
"Some people go out and surf," he said. "Break dancing is like that for me. It's a way for me to relax, have fun and do exercise at the same time."
Itkin, who coaches at the Los Angeles International Fencing Center, said Louie has the potential to be a successful fencer.
"He's a great kid," Itkin said. "He needs to work hard. He's very talented physically and very fast and has a great future."
Similar to planning a chess move, Louie relies on anticipation in fencing.
"You have to lead your opponent in and set them up like a trap," he said.
Now, if he only had enough towels to deal with the perspiration coming down his face.
"Oh, yeah, I sweat," he said.