March 5, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - As the Stanford fencing team prepares for the postseason, co-captains Kevin Mo and Ashley Titan sat down to discuss how they got started in fencing, it's mental aspect and the biggest misconceptions about the sport. NCAA Regionals are March 10 at Stanford with NCAA Championships running from March 22-25.
How did you get into fencing and end up at Stanford?
Titan - "My younger brother David wanted to play chess but we couldn't find a class that would work for him. He started playing "physical chess" which he thought would involve moving big chess pieces around on a board, but it was actually fencing. I would go and watch him after my dance class and then I realized I could beat up my younger brother and not get in trouble by my parents, what an amazing opportunity! I immediately quit dance and picked up fencing and fell in love with the sport, fencing on the national and international level. There aren't that many schools that offer fencing and the combination of academics and athletics at Stanford were the deciding factor for me."
Mo - "I started fencing because of the movie The Princess Bride, which is pretty cliché. It turned out to be something that I liked and was good at. My coach in N.J. was a great coach for me, he was really good at motivating me and making me want to improve my techniques and making me enjoy practicing. I had a crazy amount of patience for a 12-year-old boy that helped my development. I was ranked fourth in cadets and sixth in juniors and was recruited to come to Stanford. I came here because I got a great vibe from the school when I visited and that's why I came to Stanford."
Describe the mental aspect of fencing.
Mo - "I see fencing as encompassing not only logical and physical aspects but also a very heavy psychological aspect to it. Not only do you have to predict your opponents moves and compose yourself to react to them, you have to execute your moves at the right time and synchronize your body so you move in a way that is perfect to take advantage of an opening or weakness in your opponent. It's a very elegant sport and the strategic aspect combined with the physical and psychological aspects make it a unique sport. "
Titan - "When you're younger you see fencers crying after every match and I was one of those kids. Every time I lost I'd be in tears and be so upset, but I've learned that you have to be able to come back and never give up. Kevin and I both fence epee so you can hit anywhere on the target and anyone can win at any given time. My coaches always emphasized that I could beat anyone who wasn't a world champion, even as an eleven-year-old. That's what kept me so excited about the sport when I was playing a bunch of sports in high school. You could never be good enough and even if you were the best in the world you could lose."
Mo - "There's a certain level of uncertainty in the sport due to the rules that exist in epee. That just adds to the psychological aspect of it. Some days you're just on and you know you're going to roll through every bout and other days you're off and you lose to people who aren't as good as you. You just pick yourself back up and move on to the next one."
Titan - "Your mental game can be a strong suit. A lot of the time when I'm fencing I'm injured with a sprained ankle, stress fracture or torn ligament in my wrist and you can still compensate if you win at the mental game. I can still compete in the sport even when I'm not at one hundred percent. I can still psychologically be there."
What are the biggest misconceptions about fencing?
Mo - "There's this idea that fencing is all about doing flashy moves like you see in the movies; that's what I thought before I got into it. That makes it seem like there's not a lot of thought involved and it's mainly reflexes, but there's so much more to it than that. You can't really appreciate fencing until you've done it, and then you can appreciate it and recognize what's going on. If you haven't done it before you won't understand the depth of the sport."
Titan - "My grandpa always says to me when I come back from practice, `so what kind of fences did you build today? Picket fences, stockades or some other type of fences?' In high school, almost no one knew what fencing was and generally speaking, people seem to think that fencers are soft and a lot of people perceive it as boring. They see fencers hopping in one place and have a hard time seeing what the moves are. Non-fencers say that fencers see everything in slow motion. Non-fencers get lost in the movement and it looks like fencers are relaxed. In reality, we're really tense and focusing so hard on our opponent. The biggest misconception is that fencing is for wimps."