Born in London, 23-year-old Miles Chamley-Watson moved to New York at the age of eight. At nine, he took up fencing and has been breaking records ever since. In 2012, Chamley-Watson was awarded the top spot on the U.S. Men’s Olympic Fencing Team. In 2013, Chamley-Watson became the first ever U.S. men’s fencer to win an individual Senior World Championship title. Currently ranked as number one in the U.S. and number five in the world, Miles hopes to make history once again at the 2016 Olympics in Rio winning Gold.
Fencing has rich cultural space in the history of the world. The ancestor of modern fencing originated in Spain, where several books on fencing were written. Treatise on Arms was written by Diego de Valera between 1458 and 1471, and is one of the oldest surviving manuals on western fencing shortly before dueling came under official ban by the Catholic Monarchs. In conquest, the Spanish forces introduced fencing to their world, particularly Southern Italy, one of the major areas of strife between both nations.
ANEL PLA: Please describe to us in your words what “the art of fencing” means to you?
MILES CHAMLEY-WATSON: To me, the art of fencing means a battle. You against your opponent, no one else. During that period of time, you get to take out all of your aggression, emotions and feelings against your opponent. Fencing is the art of protection, defense and passion. In the past it was first blood, so whoever was able to draw blood was the victor. When you loose a match in fencing, there is none to blame but yourself, which is why I love it so much. It is all on you. I think I connected so well with the sport because since early childhood I recognized my obsession with perfection. I never wanted to be second best.
ANEL PLA: What drew you into fencing at such an early age, considering the popularity of the other sports ?
MILES CHAMLEY-WATSON: When I moved to London, I actually got into trouble. One day I stayed after school and saw some “foils” in the corner and of course, picked them up without asking. I loved how it felt in my hand. It made me feel invincible. It was love at first sport.
I am naturally drawn to athletics. I was huge into soccer, track and basketball. Someday, I would even love to run track competitively. But fencing is my passion.
ANEL PLA: Fencing differs as a sport in terms of its classical nature. There are elegant dynamics, much like a classical musician, that don’t play out in other sports that are expected of a fencer. How do you approach that concept of virtuosity within your training ?
MILES CHAMLEY-WATSON: The virtuosity I constantly strive for is achieved through repetition, focus and patience in training. A virtuoso musician, in the months or weeks leading up to a concert, works tirelessly and patiently on perfecting a single troublesome bar or section of a piece of music until it flows seamlessly into the rest of the composition. Like the virtuoso musician, I practice the same action, be it a parry, a combination or an attack, until it becomes second nature, and flows perfectly into the greater scheme of my game. When the competition comes, my training allows me to execute with the same degree of elegance and facility exuded by the virtuoso performing before a packed Carnegie Hall.
ANEL PLA: Having said that, you are known for your personal sense of style and love of culture. How does that appreciation relate to your athleticism when engaged in a match?
MILES CHAMLEY-WATSON: It relates directly to my performance because my style is unlike anyone else off the strip. I love to set trends and wear things that others would be scared to wear. Before walking in fashion shows, I was always comfortable in my own skin, so I never had a problem taking a risk. People in fencing consider me a one of a kind, because I am able to do things that others cannot. For instance I have a move called “Chamley-Watson” which is where I am able to hit someone behind my head without turning my body. Originality to me is one of the most important qualities someone can have.
ANEL PLA: What do you love most about the sport of fencing and what would consider its greatest challenge ?
MILES CHAMLEY-WATSON: I love the intimacy of fencing. I love how everyone is watching you. With only two athletes on the arena stage, fencing is one of the most intense and yet relateable of sports: man against man (or woman as the case may be). I love the rush I get from scoring a point or making the opponent look weak.
This is the time you have been waiting for, for you to show the world who you are and make a name for yourself. The hardest part of fencing just like any other sport, is staying on top. I always try to bring something new to the table when competing. I try to re-invent myself.
ANEL PLA: Are there specific artists, musicians and designers that influence your style from the past or present ?
MILES CHAMLEY-WATSON: Yes. The musicians who influence me are the Wu- Tang-Clan, Raekwon, Drake, Chris Brown, ASAP Rocky, Disclosure, Kanye West. All of these musicians are never afraid to take a risk and are never satisfied. I feel this way about my approach to sport. When it comes to designers, I am a huge fan of Balenciaga, Rick Owens, SIR New York, YSL, Todd Snyder, Hood By Air, Public School and Tom Ford. I love mixing urban clothing with more formal/upscale/ luxurious clothing. I also have a shoe addiction. I would love to start working with some of these brands to have the first ever designer fencing shoe.
ANEL PLA: Are you affiliated with any charities? In what ways has fencing given back to you as an individual?
MILES CHAMLEY-WATSON: I am not affiliated currently with any charities yet because I just graduated from school, but I plan on making philanthropy a major part of my life. I am always someone who enjoys giving back. I would love to start a foundation for kids who are underprivileged and who just want a chance. I was a troubled youth..fencing gave me balance, focus, a place to live out my dreams. My coaches and mentors along the way have given me the tools to create a successful path for myself in life. I will never forget that.
ANEL PLA: Where do you see you see your self five years from now?
MILES CHAMLEY-WATSON: Five years from now, I see myself hopefully as a 2016 Olympic champion, with a successful clothing line, as well as an established charity, so I am able to give back to those who helped me get to where I am today. I always want to be remembered as someone who was never afraid to take a risk. I preach this a lot, but no matter how far I get in life, I will never forget those who helped me.
When I go the club to practice and I see the little children who are just beginning, I give them whatever I can with my time, even if it’s just a smile or a few inspiring words. It’s Those small moments have the biggest impact for a child. Who knows what their life is like outside of that space? That kind of simple kindness can change a life.