Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 30, 2023


By SAM GLASSMAN | March 15, 2012

Fencing is a lot like
chess. Granted, there are
some subtle differences -
namely, the use of a threeand-
a-half foot long sword.
Kidding aside, the two
games are actually strikingly
similar. They both
involve a comparable
brand of 'strategizing'- a
surprisingly mental aspect
given the historically brutish
nature of swordfights.
When one begins to understand
the subtleties of
fencing, it becomes clear
that the only difference it
has from chess may very
well be the three-and-ahalf
foot long sword.
Fencing incorporates a
series parries (blocks) and
ripostes (counters) that
require anticipation and
improvisation, but most
of all an intense focus on
the bout (match) at hand.
It's no surprise, then, that
sophomore Evan Stafford
of Montana, who is studying
physics and math, is
finding such success on
the mat.
"It's referred to as physical
chess," said Stafford,
"in that you have to outwit
your opponent."
The formality of his responses
gave a hint of the
kind of academic intensity
one can only find in the
Hopkins science department.
This intensity has
clearly paid off, manifesting
itself in the form of a
13-0 win at the Stevens Institute
of Technology Invitational
on Jan. 29.
Put simply, fencing
tournaments work as follows:
each school brings
their squad to the meet, a
squad being made up of
three fencers, plus one alternate.
There is a different
squad for each weapon
- a Sabre, a Foil and an
Epee - and each member
of the squad participates
in three rounds of fencing
with three bouts within
each round. Essentially, as
Stafford puts it, "everyone
fences everyone."
Stafford's record of 13-0
at this tournament means
that he fenced 13 people
and won 13 times.
What makes this accomplishment
more notable,
though, is Stafford's "unorthodox
style" of joining
the team, as Head coach
Austin Young noted.
Many notable collegiate
athletes have grown up on
their sport with a pacifier
in one hand and a lacrosse
stick or baseball in the
other. Some may have even
swam before they could
walk although one would
hope not.
Stafford, however, began
fencing "winter of
my freshman year of high
school," he said. He went
on to explain that it was not
for his high school team.
"I did it only at the local
fencing club, three nights
a week for a couple of
hours," he explained.
To many athletes, three
nights a week for a couple
of hours is almost nothing.
Many spend hours daily
perfecting their game and
still don't see similar success.
As a serious student,
though, Stafford simply
does not have time
to spend the extra hours
each day.
"Homework keeps me
occupied a lot of the time,"
Stafford said. He paused
for a moment and corrected
himself, "Fencing and
homework keeps me occupied
a lot of the time."
Coach Young reiterated
this point. "He's a serious
student ... He spends most
of his time coding. That's
the impression I've gotten."
So, between coding,
physics, mathematics and
his membership in the Society
of Physics Students,
there's not much time for
additional hours of individual
Clearly, though, Stafford
has had his share of
experience; at least enough
to have competed with all
three weapons and attend
several national tournaments,
both of which he
had done before enrolling
at Hopkins.
But, of all the weapons
he's tried, his current
one, the Foil, remains his
"I enjoy the kind of
problem solving it involves,"
Stafford said. This
brand of problem solving,
he explained, was different
than with the Sabre or the
Epee. "You have to work
under the 'right of way'
rules to get the points. .
.[which] basically means
you have to stay in control
of your actions."
If you hit the wrong
spot - an 'undesignated
area' - the match
is stopped and reset.
Foil fights differ
from Epee
fights, in that the
Foil rules require
that one must hit
their opponent
with the tip of the
sword, and in a
designated area.
A button on the
sword's end will
complete an electrical
circuit and
set off a buzzer
signaling a hit.
This is the 'right of
way' Stafford was
referring to - hitting
an undesignated
area signals
a loss of control
and a breach of
the 'right of way' rules.
The Epee fights, though,
do not require a hit in a
designated area - the
entire body is fair game.
They simply require that
the hit be made through
contact with the blade's
tip. Anything else won't
count but neither will it
stop the match. Thus, there
is no 'right of way' in Epee
Finally, the Sabre counts
a point for any hit above
the waist by any part of the
blade. It also does not have
'right of way.'
Whereas one "only has
to worry about hitting the
opponent" with the Sabre
and Epee, Stafford said, the
foil involves "outwit[ting]
your opponent in a different
In addition to trying different
weapons, Stafford
has also played a few other
sports. Stafford recalled
that he played baseball "for
a number of years," and
hockey until "everyone
else got a lot bigger." He
never had serious aspirations
for either sport.
It didn't seem to concern
him very much, though. Between
fencing, a rigorous
course-load and coding on
the side, there's not time for
much else; except, maybe,
the occasional game of chess.

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