Dancer-turned Fencer Zhang Mila:‘Fencing is a sport I will practice for life.’

Text│Ella Cheong
Photo│Eric Tam

Zhang Mila, a fourth-year student from the Department of Communication, is the captain of the UM Fencing Team. At first glance, she doesn’t seem to fit the stereotype of a fencer. In fact, having practiced dancing and piano since childhood, Zhang never thought she would become an athlete on a university team, let alone a sword-wielding one. When she filled out an application form to join the university’s Fencing Team in her first year, she didn’t know she would discover a passion outside the world of music. As with any endeavour, the beginning is always the hardest. But after three years of training, her efforts paid off. She placed third in the 20th All China University Fencing Championship. The next year, she outdid herself and emerged as the first runner-up at the same event.

Impressive Debut on National Stage

Zhang had never played any sport before she started fencing, so she was a little afraid in the beginning that she would never master the sport. Luckily, her dancing background proved beneficial to her training in fencing. She was also good at imitating others. So she progressed quickly. Noticing her potential, the coach encouraged her to spend more time practicing. The first year was especially hard. In addition to training two nights every week, she also fashioned a makeshift target which she used in her spare time to improve the accuracy of her swordplay.

When she participated in a national competition in her sophomore year, she did not perform well and felt disappointed in herself. The senior members of the Fencing Team encouraged her not to lose heart, reassuring her that one more year of training would yield better results. Never the quitter, Zhang stepped up her training by joining a fencing club off campus. The next year came her year of harvest — she placed third at the 20th All China University Fencing Championship.

‘I think the good result was partly due to my skills and partly due to luck,’ she says. ‘I was a fearless rookie, blithely unaware of how good the opponents were. And with all pressure off, I was able to give my best and got a third prize, which was a pleasant surprise.’ When she participated in the same competition again, however, she no longer had the luxury of competing in a stress-free state, because all eyes were on her. She lost the final with a margin of two points, to a veteran who has been fencing since middle school.

Second and first runner-up at the 20th and 21st All China University Fencing Championship, respectively

Fencing Changes a Person from the Inside Out

Ever since she started fencing, Zhang has heard her friends comment on how much the sport has changed her from the inside out. ‘I’m much more fit, and my physical coordination is also better. Practicing fencing improves not only my fencing skills, but my skills in other sports as well,’ she says.

Zhang practices foil fencing, which is the sport’s most complicated form. ‘You need to stay calm in a competition, analyse the tactics used by your opponent, and come up with your own tactics to beat  your opponent. This is the most fun part of fencing,’ she says. ‘I’ve been practicing fencing for four years, and I never get tired of it. Just the thought of practicing it makes me happy.’

Zhang Mila has been training for over four years

‘It is a sport I will practice for life.’

Zhang will graduate this year, and she plans to pursue further studies after graduation. ‘The greatest gain from my four years at UM is that I’ve developed a strong interest in fencing,’ she says. ‘I won’t stop practicing it after graduation. It is a sport I will practice for life.’

ISSUE 14 | 2016

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