There is a flow about their actions, a sense of regality. Each step filled with equal parts of elegance and precision. They float across the stage, leaping from one side to the other, with quick feet and graceful execution. These are the movements of the ballet, and these are also the movements of fencing.
While Scott Sugimoto is a fencer, he doesn’t move like most. Where others use the same dance-like movements to glide in and out of their attacks, Sugimoto employs a reckless style. Less plié and more pit bull.
“I like to be on the offensive. I don’t like waiting for the other person,” said Sugimoto, who is a graduate student at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. “I like to direct what is going on. Either I’m going for the attack or I’m moving forward to get them to react.”
Despite previously being a world-class fencer, Sugimoto found himself competing in Sunday’s Okawa Three-Weapon Open fencing tournament, an annual competition hosted by the UCLA Fencing Club at the Student Activities Center. Sugimoto finished eighth in the tournament, but said winning wasn’t the point of participating. Right now, he is trying to return to the sport after spending a few years away.
Jiahua Li, Sugimoto’s practice partner and a first-year economics student, knows Sugimoto’s style better than most.
“He can be pretty aggressive,” Li said. “He’s kind of strange in the fencing sense. He’ll usually see an opportunity, rush in and then figure it out from there.”
Sugimoto fine-tuned his skills while attending Columbia University as an undergraduate student, competing on the school’s fencing team from 2004 to 2007.
“When I was in New York, I trained under coach Simon Gershon. He sort of molded the way I fence now, which is very deliberate,” Sugimoto said. “I’m watching what is going on at all times, and I usually have a plan for every single touch I make.”
During his time at Columbia, Sugimoto had a successful collegiate career. He was a two-time first-team All-American, finished third in the NCAA his junior year and fourth his senior year. He helped lead the Lions’ fencing team to a third-place finish in the 2007 NCAA tournament.
Sugimoto was even chosen to be on the US fencing team, flying around the world on the weekends and competing in tournaments in places like Budapest, France and Cuba.
Even though the frequent travel was difficult, Sugimoto said he loved the places he had a chance to travel to.
“Although it was tough, it was a lot of fun because when you’re that young, it’s really exciting,” Sugimoto said. “You’re going to some random city, but you don’t care because you’re in Poland or Japan.”
Once Sugimoto graduated, he put his economics degree to work, starting his career as a technology consultant. He competed in a few tournaments, but started drifting away from the passion of his adolescence.
“Just with work, what ends up happening is you don’t have time to train,” Sugimoto said. “If you don’t have time to train, you start to lose and it becomes a waste of money.”
Although Sugimoto was doing well in the IT world, he was looking for a greater challenge to tackle and decided to try his hand at business school.
“I had been doing technology consulting for seven years, and I wanted to move into something else,” Sugimoto said. “Maybe start my own business, do something entrepreneurial.”
After enrolling at UCLA, Sugimoto decided to check out the club fencing team in order to get back into the sport he knew so well.
“I think when you’re away from it for a while, you start to realize how much you missed it,” Sugimoto said.
Beverly Sugimoto, Scott Sugimoto’s mom, said she loves seeing him getting to take this opportunity to fence again.
“He always put school first. Fencing has always had to be a little bit on the back burner,” she said. “Now that he’s back at UCLA and in school, it gives him a little more time to practice and to compete.”
Scott Sugimoto said he’s hardly concerned about dominating the sport. As of now, one of Sugimoto’s main concerns is how he will be able to give back to the fencing community.
“I haven’t been as in touch with it as in the past,” Sugimoto said. “But I hope going forward I can give back a little more.”
Li currently represents such an opportunity for Sugimoto. Having only competed for the past four years, Li said she finds herself somewhere in the middle of a novice and a master. She has taken to trying to absorb all the information she can from Sugimoto while they compete in practice.
“I feel like whenever I talk to him about certain situations, he always knows what’s going on,” Li said. “And if I tell him I have a problem he always knows how to deal with it.”
Sugimoto has a couple of other reasons for returning to fencing. First, he loves to compete, and it comes with the added bonus of exercise.
“There is no other experience that I have where I am competing one-on-one with someone in a physical environment. For me, it’s the sport that I know and that I love,” Sugimoto said. “So, when I go out there on the strip, it’s very familiar. The side benefit is it keeps me in shape.”