Senior Cristina Ancog drips in sweat as she prepares to counter the attack. Behind her, a man yells in Russian. To the front of her, there’s an outreached blade pointed directly at her chest.
It’s only a practice, but she has to win.
When she was 10, Ancog took up fencing. She begged her parents to let her take a class because when she fenced she was not only allowed, but expected to play with a sword. Now, seven years later, that’s still her favorite part.
“[My favorite part], I’d have to go with hitting people with swords,” Ancog said.
On paper, fencing is a simplistic, goal-oriented sport.
“Well, I hit people with swords and they try to hit me back,” Ancog said.
In reality, there’s more to it. Along with having a knowledge of basic French vocabulary, fencers need to be tough both mentally and physically in order to be successful.
“[Fencing] is really physical because you are always moving and there’s no stopping,” Ancog said. “But there’s also a lot of mental training, [you’re] just trying to [win] this mental chess game.”
To keep in peak physical shape, Ancog attends practices three times a week. Each practice entails hours of rehearsing lunging, offensive moves, and parrying, defensive moves. She has two coaches she practices with at the Renaissance Fencing Club, one from the former USSR who likes to yell in Russian when she slips up or makes a mistake, and the other who is much more forgiving.
“When [practices are] with my Russian coach it’s mostly verbal abuse,” Ancog said. “He’s a really good coach when he’s not yelling at you.”
Todd Dressell, Ancog’s American coach, said Ancog works extremely hard during practices to become the fencer she is.
“She has a great attitude, she works very hard,” Dressell said. “Her approach is very combat-oriented, she understands how to fight and how to come at an opponent aggressively in terms of strategy”
When it comes to the physical aspect of the sport, Ancog said one challenging part is avoiding injuries.
“Everyone accidentally hurts each other,” Ancog said. “It’s never on purpose.”
The worst injury Ancog received was when her competitor repeatedly hit her in the knee.
“He said it was accidental,” Ancog said. “It took me out for a few minutes.”
To stay on top of her mental game, Ancog will run through martial arts moves with her father before each competition.
“[I do this] just to focus and really get my timing down,” Ancog said.
Ancog competes around Oakland County, or across the United States about twice a month. Meets run in an elimination style, and competitors verse each other until there are two remaining to fight for the number one spot. While Ancog rarely makes it to the final round, she usually finishes in the top five.
“[When I watch her in competitions] at first I was tense, it’s very stressful” Cristina’s father, Romy Ancog said. “The thing to remember about fencing is that it’s combat, it’s fighting, it is a martial art… It’s very stressful to watch somebody fence, at the same time it’s also very technical. After doing this for so long, you’re watching for those little things to.”
Colleges have been recruiting Ancog for fencing, particularly the University of Detroit Mercy, to which she’s already been accepted. However, she’s still debating whether or not she’ll continue on with the sport at the college level.
“Wherever you go, you don’t have many opportunities to fence at the varsity level. If she gets a chance to do that, that’d be great…” Dressell said. “There [are] 43 [or] 44 teams for men or women, so that’s really elite, so that’d be great if she had that opportunity.”
Though Ancog has had points in her fencing career in which she’s wanted to stop, she’s thankful for all the sport has given her. She’s been able to meet a diverse group of people and hear of their experiences, but more importantly, fencing helped Ancog come out of her shell.
“I used to be not very social,” Ancog said. “I used to be the only girl in these competitions. I had to learn how to talk to guys and be more social, or else I’d be alone.”