To Junior Irene Jung, fencing is more than a sport; it’s a thrilling pursuit where the unpredictability of each match mirrors the heart-pounding excitement of the fencing arena. In every strategic move and lightning-quick parry, the thrill of fencing comes alive, fusing a blend of mental sharpness and physical intensity.
To her, it’s just like chess.
“When you are playing chess, you can’t predict what they are going to do. In the beginning, there’s no strategy, you just depend on what they do and then you have to adjust to it. Like with chess, every person fences differently,” Jung said.
Her interest in fencing was sparked at 11 years old when she was introduced to it by a family friend who fences for Johns Hopkins University.
She tried fencing at Premier Fencing Academy, where she continues to fence, and she discovered that she not only enjoyed it, but also had skill in the sport.
Jung practices five days a week, about 16 hours total per week. She goes to tournaments once or twice a month.
Jung emphasizes that compared to most sports, fencing is a mix of physicality and mental exercises. The sport requires split-second decisions, strategic planning and physical agility.
“It’s not just a mind game. You need to train your mentality while training your body so that you can endure the many hours of fencing that you do at a tournament,” Jung said. “A tournament is usually seven hours long. You have to train your legs. If you don’t have leg strength, you get tired easily, which makes you perform poorly.”
Jung’s travel lineup for this year is packed. She is on the world team for the Cadet age group, which is 17 years and under and is very close to getting into the team for the Junior age group, which is 20 years old or under.
If Jung gets into the Junior international tournament, she will be gone for more than half the school year.
“I have already talked with the teachers, and they are really helpful. I appreciate their help. They have shifted their schedule, so I don’t miss many of the tests. Last year when I was adjusting to that, it was a lot easier because there was not as much difficulty,” Jung said.
In October, Jung is going to Hungary for the Cadet World Cup and has six international competitions, as well as many North American cups scheduled.
When there are tournaments, Jung tends to be more focused on fencing than anything else. The day before a competition, she usually watches videos of people that she is fencing so she can analyze their strategies.
“Mentally there’s nothing you can do to prepare yourself because you can’t help getting scared at a tournament. It’s the environment,” she said.
Jung experienced a mental slump for the majority of her sophomore year. She had little confidence in her fencing but overcame her dread of competing in a tournament by learning to enjoy the fear and embrace the experience.
“I kept gaining confidence with more experience. Without experience, you can’t have the confidence to know what you are expecting. You have to prepare for the worst and prepare to win,” Jung said.
This summer, Jung placed first in her tournament for a table of 16 bouts, against 250 participants. During one of her bouts, she was losing 8 to 1.
“I had a minute and I was crying and dying because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the end.’ My coach told me to breathe and gave me advice. I was like, ‘Okay you got this.’ I ended up winning 15 to 14. It was crazy,” Jung said.
According to Jung, her opponents are instrumental in reaching her current skill level. Many fencers that Jung crossed blades with, during her summer tournament, were those she had lost to in previous tournaments.
Feeling confident and having the right mindset to beat them was a huge boost to Jung. She was able to fix the mistakes she had once made and come back from it stronger.
Jung emphasizes the importance of teammate support during competitions.
“Teammate support is a really important part of fencing. Without a teammate’s encouragement, you can’t do anything because you lose confidence in it and your drive to win,” Jung said.