Tag Archives: fencing


I’ve been really busy lately. The only things I do are work, meet people, and exercise.

My problem with most exercise is it’s boring. Going to the gym like a normal person is the worst- setting up the weights, doing them, waiting for machines, whatever, everything takes forever and the only way I get through it is through elaborate fantasies usually ending in someone’s death, or I’m a secret agent repeatedly clinging to the edge of a cliff or on the wing of an airplane and need to haul myself up so I for once legitimately need to do a pullup (I guess I’ve always ended up falling to my death, although I don’t think about that part), or rescuing a princess from some savage alien culture where you have to behead her father before you get to mate with her (Ok, the fantasies all involve death).

Crossfit, though boring (I hate clamping weights or counting), is at least extremely time efficient. I sometimes enjoy the workouts if they don’t involve too much weight setup (yes, I’m too lazy to set up my weights to do my exercises) or counting. Sometimes I’ll compete with someone and fantasize about having hidden all our food and needing to defeat them in the hunger games. Part of the allure of crossfit is that everyone is so ripped, so usually in my fantasies I defeat them by being faster and befriending genetically engineered beasts.

Despite feeling good after exercising, doing it can be so annoying and boring that it can be hard to stick with it. Right now the main thing I’ve been doing consistently is yoga. One reason I like yoga is that I’m good at it because I’m flexible, but it’s still challenging (I inwardly third eye snicker when the men can’t do the poses). It’s not the most efficient use of time for pure exercise but it also has a meditative component where afterwards I feel full of love. I very rarely fantasize during yoga except during some prolonged annoying poses like horse. I also get a weird pleasure from hearing yoga instructors talk about massaging your intestines and thyroid- “That uncomfortable choking sensation is so good for you!” Another reason for yoga is the nice showers (In contrast, Brazilian jiu jitsu showers are the most disgusting places I’ve ever seen).

The thing about physical activity, even sports that are really fun, or cool skills like martial arts, is that at some point in the game you basically have to just do 1000 pushups to improve, and this gets really boring. This doesn’t happen as much in the more cerebral games/skills where even if you’re practicing something as boring as typing faster you’re still generally getting a high level of mental stimulation in return. If you can’t stand doing the boring stuff and only do the fun stuff, you’ll probably never improve beyond a certain level in your sport. This is my excuse for sucking at almost all sports.

Being on a team makes boredom much more palatable. Thinking back on the years of fencing, when my thighs were so big I couldn’t wear normal jeans, I’m amazed by what people endure for the sake of the team. I am super, super lazy and yet I would wake up before dawn for those bus rides to meets. I don’t think I fantasized about murder even once during all those hours of drills!

I miss it. I miss being on a team and everyone working out together, drawn together with an irrational school pride, clawing for victory as the underdogs against the division 1 teams that recruited foreign professional fencers, mercilessly whooping the club teams that couldn’t afford nice equipment by competing with each other for how few touches we’d have scored against us, having weird rivalries with the teams that were comparable and employing complex psychological strategies.

I fenced a little after MIT but couldn’t find the motivation to do it without a team around me or a coach I really loved and knew. Our coach Jarek, who’s celebrating his 20th anniversary at MIT, was a professional sabre fencer and I still think of Jarek as my coach even though it’s been 5 years since I’ve been on the team. One thing that’s not obvious about Jarek until you get to know him more, is that he’s better than you at every sport, not just fencing. This is because he’s European- in America, anyone with actual athletic talent is not going to become a fencer.

I want to do a team sport again! The problem is I suck at sports so much it’d be really sad for anyone on my team. So I’m going to make myself really strong and when I come back I’ll surprise everyone by suddenly being not completely pathetic! That’s the meta-fantasy whenever I’m working out and fantasizing about death. In the meantime, ignore my frailty and choose me for your apocalypse survival team because of my creativity and resourcefulness, etc.

Olympic Fencing

Fairness does not exist. Complaining that life isn’t fair is like complaining that the sun doesn’t love you or that Raz Al Ghul’s ninja society shouldn’t engage in vigilante murder: such statements are nonsensical and semantically meaningless. Fairness is a concept that exists in the mind and not in nature. That’s why sports are awesome: they are a bastion of fairness in this cold, cruel world, an opportunity for people to compete within some evolving set of rules ideally designed to eliminate injustice and allow talent to determine the winner- unlike real life. Almost to the exclusion of every other aspect of reality, sportsmanship involves a code of the psychic concept of fairness, and sports become heartbreaking when they break this code, which may be why many prefer the underdog.

I was just in London for the Olympics and watched some foil fencing. In Iceland, I heard about the Shin epee controversy, and I thought, “Epee controversy? That sounds like an oxymoron.”

For the non-fencers out there, epee is the fencing weapon that has the least room for referee interference, involves the most bouncing and simultaneous touches, and is by far the most boring to watch. It is probably the most “fair” of all the weapons, which is part of why this controversy is so surprising and infuriating. In foil and sabre, if both fencers hit something and both lights go off, then the director has to use the rules of “right of way” to decide whose light to listen to. In foil and sabre, there are pretty subjective ranges for the different aspects of right of way, but in epee there is no concept of right of way. In contrast to foil and sabre, if both epeeists hit something and both lights go off, both of them get a point and we move on with our lives. All the epee director has to do is make sure everyone stands where they’re supposed to stand, start and stop fencing when they’re supposed to start and stop, give out cards if people punch each other or do something card-worthy, and make sure everyone listens to the machine.

I couldn’t believe it when I saw the video of the Shin Heidelman epee bout or this video showing the extra second lasting for longer than 1 second. I could believe even less the news articles and ensuing aftermath. The whole event offends me on multiple levels.

First, it offends me technologically. In an extremely technologically advanced sport where stuff that happens within fractions of a second (the weapon tips have to be depressed for 15 milliseconds to register a foil touch. It used to be 2 milliseconds but a semi-recent ruling extended the time to eliminate “flicking,” requiring everyone to patch their scoring machines. In epee, touches scored up to 45 milliseconds apart can be considered “simultaneous”), not having a clock that displays this level of precision is an abomination.

If we went back and looked at videos of old fencing records we might observe many errors due to their inferior technologies, but that doesn’t make me feel better. Do people who get the wrong kidney operation due to hospital errors feel better that in the distant past a barber would’ve been butchering them using liquor as anesthetic instead? No, because why did you operate on my left kidney instead of the right?! I’m going to extend the analogy because doctors are supposed to do no harm, and in epee, by far the easiest to direct of any of the fencing weapons, the referee is supposed to ensure the fencers don’t get unfair advantages and allow the machines to do the job, not generate unfair situations.

Why was there 1 second added to the clock after time had expired? No explanation. Why was the clock measuring out more than 1 second after the extra second had been added? No explanation.

Second, the news surrounding the event offends me as a citizen of the world supposedly relying on the free press and lately unwillingly bombarded by the excreta of said press. Long ago I had stopped reading most non-science news (except hacker news and occasionally the Economist; I mainly rely on blogs of people whose judgment I trust to read, analyze, cross check, and pass on news information to me) because the news mill runs on sensationalism and does not inform me of anything. Accuracy is probably not even in the top 3 principal components of whether a news article generates money, and may even be anticorrelated because controversy and offensiveness may spawn subsequent articles that then generate more money.

With such twisted incentives, does one wonder that the articles suggest that Shin “dramatically refused” to leave the stage? The main offensive part about this is that it’s suggesting she’s the one being unsportsmanlike when in fact it is everyone else. She’s trying to follow the rules, which states she’s not allowed to leave the strip during an appeal, even though she probably wanted to so she could cry in private instead of in front of many people. Trust me, Asians do not like to show uncontrolled emotions in public. Our parents do not kiss even in the presence of their kids, and perhaps do not ever kiss: how I was even conceived may be one of the great scientific mysteries that will probably remain unknowable for all time, like the mating habits of giant squids.

Third, I’m offended as a female fencer. What do people think of the news fixation on her crying? Does crying mean you’re being a baby or unsportsmanlike? She is a professional athlete who kicks ass and I take offense to her portrayal as some crybaby girl. I would’ve cried too, inside my mask. A non-Asian man may have punched something or snapped his weapon and gotten disqualified. The situation is angering and frustrating!

Shin, I am sorry this unfair thing has happened to you. Out of benevolence towards the Olympic committee, I hope that this injustice was simply due to stupidity and incompetence rather than bias. You should have gotten a gold or a silver Olympic medal but instead you didn’t get anything other than ridicule from the news for trying to follow the rules. The FIE admitted the Olympic clock sucked and that the director was wrong but they can’t do anything about it. I don’t know what the deal is with the consolation prize for sportsmanship: is it sportsmanlike to abide by injustice?

In sports, as in life, these kinds of injustices happen all the time. In the Errigo vs. Vezzali womens foil semifinals, the director made 2 very questionable calls in favor of Errigo which put Vezzali in the situation of having only 1 more point before she would lose, at which point the director felt the heat of getting blamed for taking away Vezzali’s potentially 4th Olympic individual gold and abstained from calling the next point, which would’ve given Errigo the win. Lucky for him, his prayers for a point that wouldn’t require him to decide anything were answered, not in Vezzali’s favor. This upset resulted in an anticlimactic gold medal bout (except what were those Italians arguing about while everyone shushed them during the final point?).

Is it showing my MIT-ness that I view everything as a technological problem? When we used to not have replays, electric equipment, metal strips, etc, cheating and errors were much more rampant and less easy to argue factually. In the past, epeeists probably just hit the ground or their own foot and the ref would call it their point. Now that we have video evidence, it’s actually more painful when the injustice does occur. Maybe one day our clocks will be good enough to be able to handle these scenarios (oh wait, that’s today…) and we’ll have a impartial computerized referees that don’t make erroneous calls.