En Garde! Siblings with swords

By Stephen Tobey Correspondent
July 20, 2023

Harrison and Iona Lee’s family encouraged the siblings to get involved in fencing, and now they’re following their own paths in the sport.

Harrison, who’s entering the sixth grade at Concord Middle School this fall, and his sister, Iona, who will be in the fourth grade at the Alcott School, both competed in the USA Fencing Summer National Championships in Phoenix, Arizona, from June 30 to July 9.

The Summer Nationals is the largest fencing tournament in the world, with more than 5,300 fencers competing.

Harrison, 10, who was competing in the tournament for the second year, finished 14th in the Y10 men’s epee, the best performance of five Massachusetts fencers in that division. In the Y12 epee, competing against older fencers, he finished in the top half of the division.

“I felt like I did really well,” Harrison said, “I won my first direct elimination bout. It was my first time competing against 12-year-olds.”

Iona, 8, competed in the Y10 women’s epee. As one of the younger competitors in that age group, she placed 67th of 81 in her first national competition. She was one of eight fencers from Massachusetts in the age group.

“I did OK,” she said, “It felt a little weird going against mostly older fencers, who were all bigger than I was.”

Both Lees started fencing at a young age — Harrison when he was 5 and Iona at 3. Their father, James, fenced for Harvard University. They also have an uncle on their mother’s side who has fenced and now coaches in China.

While James was a saber fencer at Harvard, Harrison and Iona are epee fencers. Saber and epee are two of the three weapons used in fencing competition. The third is foil.

“I used to do saber,” Iona said. “It’s more aggressive than epee.”

Said Harrison, “Epee is slower. You get to attack the whole body, while in saber and foil it’s just the (midsection) and face.”

They each practice twice a week at the Olympia Fencing Center in Cambridge. Occasionally, they take private lessons in addition to their regular practice sessions. They usually don’t fence against each other, however.

They also appreciate what each other does well.

“(Iona) is smaller,” Harrison said. “She’s able to get low and attack her opponents.”

Said Iona, of her brother, “He’s really creative. He has a style that makes it difficult for opponents.”

As they progress both in fencing and in school, they will also have an opportunity to compete  for a high school team: Concord-Carlisle has had a fencing program for decades. The program has won state titles, with most of its in-state competition coming from private schools such as Buckingham, Browne & Nichols, St. John’s Prep, Dana Hall and Boston University Academy. There is also a small but growing group of Massachusetts public schools that field teams. 

CC hosts its own tournament every year, travels as far as New York to compete, and has produced several fencers who have competed in college  — and even a few who’ve made Olympic teams.

The Lees said they’re uncertain about high school fencing, but some things about it do interest them.

“We’ve competed against fencers from New York,” Iona said. “That was fun.”

While both students play soccer on travel teams, fencing is their main passion, and they’ve thought about competing at the college level and even beyond.

“It would be hard to do it in college, but I’d like to do that,” Iona said.

Said Harrison, “I’d like to keep doing it after college, but I’d need to find a way to make a good living.”