Fencer drops guard on lesser-known sport

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Photo by Yale Athletics.

Fencing has been a varsity sport at Yale since 1894, but the sport is not well known in North America. In the Ivy Championships last year, the Elis came in second, just one point behind Harvard. Ben Mappin-Kasirer ’14, who fences épée for the team, weighed in on the men’s team this year, the unique nature of the sport and how he became involved in it.

Q: What exactly is fencing, and how does it work?

A: Fencing is the oldest modern Olympic sport. It’s a combat sport, so you have one opponent and three different weapons. Basically, you’re hooked up to an electric system that tells when you strike the other opponent. The different weapons are the foil, the épée, and the sabre.

Q: How did you get started with fencing?

A: My high school had a fencing program actually. It’s somewhat rare, but there are a few that do offer it. My high school coach was an ex-Olympic coach for Canada, so that’s how I started and got into it. Most people on the team were previously involved in private fencing clubs. The fencing community is pretty small, so the tournament circuit is pretty intense and you get into it quickly.

Q: How does the team train? What is the typical Yale fencing practice like?

A: We have three squads based on weapons, with different technique and footwork. We all train together and then we split up at the end of every practice … There are three aspects to our practices. We do cardio with lots of leg strengthening exercises, and we’ll work on footwork and lunges. We then we have technical training. There are nine different parries, or positions with your blade to take the other person’s blade so you can score. Lastly, we do tactical training where we combine everything and strategize.

Q: What has been your most memorable experience as a Yale fencer?

A: At Yale, it was Ivies last year. We lost by one point to Harvard, and it while it was heartbreaking, it was a huge breakthrough for us. All the other teams noticed us, and they all realized that we were a team that they now need to keep an eye on. We’re capable to doing better this season and being one of the top teams … Our team has changed, but I definitely think that we’re still strong … We’re more excited and motivated to do well.

Q: In your last competition at Penn State, you progressed far into the tournament before being eliminated. What was that like, and has that success given you confidence as the season progresses?

A: We had the Penn State Open about a week ago to start out the season. All the best schools [were] there. It went pretty well, and it’s a tournament that doesn’t affect our ranking, so it helped concretely to show us what we need to work on and to get back into a competition mindset. We had some good moments; we had some difficulties, but overall it went well, and we’re excited for the season to come.

Q: Fencing is definitely a unique sport that doesn’t necessarily get as much attention as some others. Why should Yalies be interested in fencing and come to Yale meets?

A: I think that fencing doesn’t get as much attention because it has lots of rules and isn’t necessarily popular in North America. But our team here at Yale is growing and getting better, and we proved last year that we’re capable of doing great things. We’re growing in size, and we have lots of good results and exciting moments on the horizon.

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