COLUMBIA — Their slender swords audibly sliced through the air, followed by the clanking of metal blades. For the third consecutive year, the two have competed against each other in finals of the Show-Me State Games fencing competition.
Beneath the black masks and padded white vests are teammates Mohamed Hassan, 15, and Ron Daugherty, 57. They are both members of St. Louis-based fencing club The Fencers Academy. The club is coached by a former national coach of the Egyptian fencing team, Hossam Hassan.
His name, "Hossam," means "sword" in Arabic. Hossam Hassan grew up in Egypt and learned of the sport at age 10.
"In my language, the word for 'fencing' is just weapons," Hossam Hassan said. "So I went there thinking it was going to be guns and rifles, and then I found out that it’s sword fighting. So I like it even better."
He proceeded to take lessons and in 1982, he joined Egypt’s national fencing team and competed for five years until a leg injury forced him to quit. In 2002, he began coaching the Egyptian men’s foil team, which qualified for the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004.
Hossam Hassan moved to the United States after those Games. Three years later, he became coach of The Fencing Academy.
"Our sport is like chess — physical chess," Hassam said. "When you fence, you don’t want to beat them dead, or show how nice your sword is or how nice your outfit is. You don’t want to do ballet. No. Wrong answer. You want to hit your opponent in the target."
Hossam Hassan has been coaching his son since Mohamed Hassan was 8 years old. They now practice together every day.
"Most of the time, having my dad as my coach is really good," Mohamed Hassan said. "But if there is a problem, I’ll hear it at home, then I’ll hear it here, and then I’ll hear it again at home. It’s stressful sometimes, but there are more ups than downs."
Before bouts, Hossam Hassan tells his son to "tough up and fence hard."
Mohamed Hassan’s ultimate goal is to compete in the 2016 Olympics. He plans to accomplish this by using three simple tactics.
"Work hard, practice, and don’t say no to what my dad says," Mohamed said. “Just follow directions, be quiet, and it will get me far.”
His strategy has worked. Mohamed Hassan is ranked among the top 20 in the nation in the 17 and under division.
During bouts, Hossam Hassan directs his son in Arabic to keep opponents from understanding his advice. But when his two students compete in the finals of the Show-Me State Games, he simply observes with intermittent compliments following good plays.
"We train together, so every time they face each other in this tournament, I feel like I’m at one of our training sessions," Hossam Hassan said. "Except here, the winner is the champion."
Mohamed Hassan beat Daugherty, who is ranked No. 12 in the nation in the 50-59 age division. Daugherty hopes to someday compete in the Veterans World Cup Competition as well as defeat Mohamed Hassan in next year's Show-Me State Games.
"Fencing is one of those sports where you have to have a good coach in order to compete well at the higher levels," Daugherty said. "We’re really fortunate to have a world-class coach and one of the best fencers in the country to train with."