Academy of Fencing Masters Blog

Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Category: Interviews Page 2 of 4

Estonian Epee Champion Erika Kirpu Teaches us About Flexibility and Coming Back from Disappointment

Erika Kirpu is a bright star in the world of fencing. Anyone can appreciate her indomitable spirit and deep level of growth. She is a fencer who molds her experiences into new skills, building on what she has come from while embracing the forward fight. 

Erika is a two-time team Gold medal winner at the European Championships for Estonia and a two time team World Champion, as both a Junior and a Senior. This small country has power-packed epee fencers, and she is notably among them. In 2014, she won individual Bronze at the World Championships. Over the course of a career that started when she was very young and under the tutelage of her fencing coach father, Erika Kirpu has changed and grown dramatically. It’s impressive to see, and it’s something all fencers can learn from. 

During this pandemic, I came upon this opportunity to interview prominent fencers from around the world. As I speak with these champions, I’ve come to realize how unknown fencers are to the public. Even Olympic champions are known only to a narrow circle of fencers. Millions of people know what Serena Williams ate for breakfast yesterday but cannot name a single Olympic fencing champion. I’m sure that if sports fans see the lively and interesting people behind the faceless messages like “Estonia won a Gold medal at the World Cup”, then there will be more interest in fencing. Erika’s story is one such story. 

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Finding the Fire Inside with European Epee Champion Yuval Freilich

We talk a lot about the mental game of fencing, how it takes adaptability and focus to be successful. One of the most adaptable and focused fencers we’ve had the joy of talking to is Yuval Freilich.

This young and hungry epee fencer represents Israel on the world stage, and he is doing it with a thoughtful nature that does not match his youthful age. At only twenty-five years old, Yuval has a long career ahead of him. Last year, he made a major mark on epee fencing when he took the Gold medal home from the European Championships. This was the first time an Israeli fencer has taken home the top prize at this level of competition.

What you’ll see here is a fencer who sees the varied dimensions of the sport, and one who has made surprising and difficult decisions to compete in it. We were delighted by his ability to articulate the nuance of epee fencing and of how he overcame the challenges that could have become roadblocks to his success. The tactical and technical insight he gives here, including for fencers who are shorter than their opponents, well it’s worth reading.

Don’t expect this genuine and heartfelt interview to be the last you hear from Yuval Freilich, this remarkable epee fencer.

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Áron Szilágyi Talks Back-to-back Saber Olympic Gold, Training, and the Championship Mentality

Áron Szilágyi with his two Olympic Gold medals

When we think of the highest possible outcome for our fencers, we of course think of the possibility of them becoming Olympic champions. There is no greater stage and no higher podium than the Individual Gold at the Olympics. 
Áron Szilágyi has accomplished the feat of making it to the top of the individual Olympic podium not once, but twice in a row in men’s saber.

It’s an accomplishment that is almost impossible for us to imagine, and then here is he, a real person who is extraordinary and real all at once. He competed in Beijing in 2008, only to finish fifteenth. In 2012 in London, he found his footing and won his first individual gold medal. In 2016 in Rio, he received a great honor as the flagbearer for Hungary, and then went on to win Individual Gold again. He is only the fifth fencer in the over one hundred year history of the Olympics to win back-to-back Gold medals. He was only twenty-six years old at the time.

There are too many high results to list here in his career. He has won Gold at almost every competition you can imagine, all over the world. At this point, he brings to them an ease and a clarity that is tremendous to hear. 

When you read Szilágyi’s words, you’re going to find that he is an approachable and grounded champion. He gets out of bed and puts his fencing knickers on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. What is perhaps different is the cultivation and determination that he brings to his passion. Fencing is a complex and elegant sport, and it is striking to hear his insight into the artistry of it. Physicality meets intellect.

Whatever the future holds for the Tokyo 2020, and hopefully there is a Tokyo 2020, we hope to see Áron Szilágyi continue to show the true champion’s mentality that we have come to appreciate. 

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NCAA Champion in Fencing Iman Blow on Organizing, Energizing, and Pushing to the Next Level

Iman Blow celebrates her individual victory at NCAA championship
Iman Blow celebrates her individual victory at NCAA championship

Becoming an NCAA Champion in fencing is a greater feat than most people realize. Student athletes, especially at the Ivy League level, do an incredible act of juggling seemingly impossible acts of academic achievement and athletic prowess. Iman Blow showed us how this can be possible.

Her list of achievements in fencing start with her training at the Peter Westbrook Foundation. She would go on to become part of the Cadet World Championship Team in 2014, then the Junior World Championship teams in 2015, 2016, and 2017, bringing home three Silver medals in the team event and a Bronze in the individual competition. As part of the Columbia University Fencing Team under the guidance of Michael Aufrichtig, Iman has continued to excel. She is the 2018 NCAA Women’s Foil Champion and is an NCAA National Team Champion in both 2016 and 2019. She is currently participating in the Olympic qualification process, with hopes of making it to Tokyo in 2021.

Iman Blow is a foilist who has forged her own way in fencing. She is both a powerhouse fencer and a powerhouse student, a remarkable athlete and a relatable young woman. More than anything, what we find extraordinary about her is the grounded nature with which she views both her success and how she has gotten there. Iman lays out each step she has taken to lead her to the doorstep of the Olympics, and she does so in a refreshingly accessible way.

Iman is generous in her zeal for the sport of fencing, firm in her resolve to promote it. To that end, she has organized the Aspire to Inspire National College Tour, which allows middle and high school fencers to learn more about fencing in college, direct from the people who are living it – college fencers. It’s a rare opportunity that we encourage you to participate in. You can register for this series of events, which begin on July 11, by clicking on this link. Iman was kind enough to give readers of this blog a discount of 40% with the coupon code AFM-SPECIAL-40OFF

When you read this interview, you’ll find insight into Ivy League and internationally competitive fencing that is actionable and reachable.

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World Champion Epee Fencer Gergely Siklosi’s Wise-Beyond-his-Years Advice on Mentorship and Winning

2019 Men's Epee World Champion Gergely Siklosi (Gergo Siklosi)

There is an old idea that some people are old souls trapped in young bodies. Gergely Siklosi definitely falls into that category.

At the mind blowing age of twenty-one, he won the World Championships in epee last year in Budapest. Senior Men’s Epee Fencing is not a sport of youth, not at this level, and Siklosi shows an understanding of the sport that is well beyond his years. His view of what it means to be an athlete, how fencers should train, and what it is important to focus on will take you by surprise. It definitely took us by surprise.

What you’ll find in this interview is a young man who has a firm handle on what it means to push yourself in a balanced way. He uses innovative training techniques that are accessible to every fencer, and his reasons for using them are sound. They obviously are effective!

We don’t know what the future holds for Siklosi, except to say that this is just the beginning for this bright and powerful fencer from the tiny town of Tapolca in Hungary. Whatever happens for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, we can assure you that you have only just begun to hear about this tremendous young fencer.

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