Bryce Louie, a senior at North Hollywood Campbell Hall High, is one of America’s top young fencers, having won the Junior Olympics gold medal in cadet men’s foil earlier this year.
But sports are only a part of what makes the 17-year-old unique.
He is also one of Los Angeles’ youngest elected officials. Last April, at age 16, he became the youth representative for the Historical Cultural North Neighborhood Council, which covers Chinatown, El Pueblo, Solano Canyon and Victor Heights.
“I wanted to take advantage of something my grandparents didn’t have,” said Louie, whose mother is from the Philippines and father has Chinese ancestry, “which was a voice in the government.”
He created a campaign brochure, got advice from a family friend, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and ended up receiving 167 votes.
It’s easy to see him as a politician. He’s polite — he addresses elders as “Sir,” “Mr.” and “Ma’am” — has a firm handshake, knows how to smile and gives off the impression he’s genuinely interested in listening to anyone speaking.
“I love talking to people and getting to know their story,” he said. “I feel I want to share everyone’s story. Being a politician, it’s hearing, keeping an open mind and understanding someone’s situation.”
He said politics is similar to fencing.
“In my situation, whenever everyone is cheering and I’m sweating and this guy is screaming in my face, I have to keep an open mind and I have to listen to my coach because I know he knows what’s best for me and know we have to have that connection, just like in politics,” he said.
Louie’s coach, Misha Itkin, has worked with the young fencer’s family members for years. Louie’s brother Brennan, who’s 10 years older, won a gold medal for the Philippines at the 2017 Southeast Asian Games.
“The youngest is the best in the family,” Itkin said.
Louie started fencing when he was 8.
“I was always intrigued by the fast movement of the blades, the contact, the screaming, the emotion,” he said.
At 5 feet 9, with quickness, agility and fierce determination, Louie is being recruited by top college fencing programs. Notre Dame and Penn are his finalists. His 4.25 grade-point average gives him many options. It’s his leadership skills and understanding how to deal with victory and defeat that could propel him on a journey of a lifetime.
“At the end of the day, the best fencer is the one who wants it the most and leaves their heart on the strip,” he said. “Even if you get knocked down you have to get back up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost more than I won. I feel you need to have a positive attitude when you lose. You need to learn from your mistakes.”
When he won his gold medal, it capped off a long journey of ups and downs. He lost a match 15-14 that cost him a spot on a World Cup team. He lost a pool-play match. It was days of drama. But in triumph, he took off his mask, screamed for joy and hugged his coach.
“It’s that constant repetition of coming back and coming back. I took a lot of losses but got back on my feet and said, ‘Come on, let’s focus. I know I can do this.’”
Louie is quite the world traveler for a teenager. His passport is full of stamped pages from trips to Italy, Spain, Poland, France and Austria for fencing competitions.
Brennan was recently visiting from the Philippines. The two faced off at the Los Angeles International Fencing Center, where the flags of the United States, Japan, Britain and Israel as well as many others are hanging on a gym wall for inspiration. They had their masks on and were armed with their blades. Their competitiveness was coming through loud and clear, but Bryce soon admitted Brennan has him beat in one area — dance moves.
“OK, if there’s a dance circle at a party, trust me I’ll go into the middle and bust some moves, but I’m not as good as Brennan,” he said.
An honest politician? He gets my vote.