Freshman John Griffin Wields a Mighty Sword!

Liam Smith ’20

Sports Editor Liam Smith ’20 recently interviewed John Griffin ’22, who has been achieving success in international age-group fencing.

John Griffin, would you briefly explain the rules of fencing?
“There are three different competitions with different weapons: Foil, Epee, and Sabre. In Epee, whoever hits gets a point. Sabre is the only weapon where you can hit with the side of the blade. In Foil, you get a point with a hit, but it’s based on “right of way.” [Priority or right of way is the decision criterion used in foil and sabre fencing to determine which fencer receives the point if both fencers land a valid hit at the same time].

So which form is the hardest?
“Probably Sabre. It’s the fastest of the three. I’d it requires the most physical exertion.”

Speaking of physicality, what makes you such a good fencer (are there any specific bodily qualities)?
“Lean muscle mass. You can’t have too much muscle or it will slow down your attacks. You have to have just enough to generate fast twitch movements.”

How often do you practice? How long have you been practicing?
“I practice three to four times a week depending on my tournament schedule. I’ve been training since I was nine.”

Describe how tournaments work and the hierarchy of ranking in the sport.
“You’re put in a group of six or seven fencers and you compete in a round-robin style competition. There are multiple round-robin groups at this stage. How you do in the round-robin’s determines your ranking heading into the direct elimination stage. For the elimination stage, it’s your basic bracket starting at some power of 2 (256, 128, 64, 32, 16, 8, 4, 2).”

“With rank, you have to earn points from the tournament you compete in by scoring in a certain percentile among the competitors or by making a certain round in the elimination stage.”

“They have regional rankings, which is just a five or six state group. National rankings obviously include all 50 states. There are European rankings which only serve for the European Cup. And then they have international rankings.”

And a little bird on the wire told me you were competing in Europe. Are you officially ranked there?
“Currently, I think I am ranked 27th in Europe, in my age group. That’s the sixteen and under group.”

Is fencing more commercial in other countries? Do fencers get sponsorships? Does it have a larger viewership?
“As you can probably tell, fencing in the U.S isn’t that big. In Europe, it’s a lot bigger. There are billboards with it even.”

“The training in the U.S is a lot higher quality since there’s less demand. They focus more on your personal development instead of catering to larger groups.”

Can you finesse your way into the Ivies for fencing?
“If I do well enough. There are only a few people among the vast majority who do this at a high level. I mean you have to be in the top 1-4 in your age group.”

If you were in a real life sword fight, what type of sword would you use? What era/part of history would it be from?
“Probably a sabre from mid-to-late 1800’s France.”

You had the perfect opportunity to say lightsaber and you didn’t take it. I’m disappointed.“I mean, yeah, a lightsaber would definitely be cool.”

Describe your mental process when competing. Is everything in slow motion, is it like a chess game or like rock, paper, scissors?
“Everything’s slower when you’re fencing. Each period you need to concentrate lasts ten to twenty seconds, but in your mind a match feels like hours. In France, it’s even labeled as physical chess. You also don’t think a lot when fencing, you’re constantly doing.”

Is it stressful, or does it get to a point where it becomes fluid?
“It’s more fluid. If you start thinking about what you’re doing, it does become stressful and things probably will fall apart.”

Who’s your favorite fencer? Are there specific fencing organizations/teams you follow?
“I follow USA Men’s Olympic Team. It’s made up of four people, Alexander Massialas, Miles Chamley-Watson, Gerek Meinhardt and Race Imboden. All four of them are ranked in the top 10 of the world rankings. Alexander Massialas took silver at the Rio Olympics. I guess I look up to all of them since they’re the biggest names in international fencing right now. A testament to their character: I’m going to a competition in Austin this weekend, and Race Imboden is coming down to see it. They’re really friendly, and they don’t try to boast any kind of ego. I guess you could say it’s not a toxic sport.”

Which country or countries are the best at fencing?
“USA, Russia, Italy, China and Japan.”

Why is it called fencing and not non-lethal sword fighting?
“That’s a good question. I have debated it with my friends, but we haven’t looked into it.”

Why did you choose fencing? Was there a family connection to the sport?
“I stopped playing baseball around machine-pitch. My parents wanted me to try different sports like karate or soccer. I couldn’t stay involved in one for long. My parents found this place called Fort Bend Fencing, and we gave it a try. For some reason, I had tons of balance issues growing up. I literally couldn’t stand upright for more than 30 seconds without starting to lean to the side or stumbling. That ended up relating to some other issue, but fencing helped to dramatically improve my balance—in a fun way.”

Do you ever feel intimidated by bigger fencers or are you at an advantage if you are smaller?
“I don’t get intimidated by bigger fencers like I used to. They would try to intimidate me at tournaments. It used to work, but, in the end, they couldn’t and still can’t.”

Grown man stuff. I like it. Do you get hyped before matches, or do you try to meditate like Bruce Lee?
“When I’m in the round-robin, I need to be hyped since we start in the mornings. I don’t feel prepared if I’m not energized beforehand.”

How confident are you fencing at the international level?
“I’m pretty nice with it, y’know. It takes a bit getting used to the jet lag. Competing feels on the same level as the U.S national tournaments, just with cultural differences around you.”

Do any freshman know what you do?
“My former classmates in middle school all knew. But only a few people around here know.”

Well, everyone who reads this article will know.