Miles Chamley-Watson’s battle to be the best
Miles Chamley-Watson is sat in Red Bull Studios in London, wondering if there’s a place in town that does good Korean barbeque. Food is pleasure to the 26-year-old New Yorker, but it’s business too: when you’re the first American to become world foil-fencing champion and your intensive training routine requires you to put away a fairly astonishing 3,500 calories a day, diet is its own discipline.
In many ways, Chamley-Watson is turning the world of fencing on its head. Standing six foot four with bleached hair and sleeve of tattoos running down his right arm, he hardly fits the archetype of a champion fencer. Outside his busy schedule he moonlights as a high fashion model, hitting catwalks for the likes of Ralph Lauren and Rochambeau.
Chamley-Watson was born here in London and moved out to New York with his parents when he was eight. Football was his first love – he’s an Arsenal fan – and his introduction to fencing was utterly by chance. After misbehaving at school, he’d been placed in detention, and was hanging out in the gym, bored. “By the basketballs, there were few swords in the corner. I picked one up, like: ‘This looks fun.’ One of the teachers said, you’d be really good at that. I was like, ‘How do you know?’ So they said come to this club, try it out.”
So he did, and he loved it. “It’s such an intimate sport – one on one,” he says. “I entered a competition, a local one, and I won it. Ended up winning them all. Then tried a national one, and I ended up winning that too. But it wasn’t until I won at the Junior Olympics that I was like, maybe this is serious.”
He also loves hip-hop (“A$AP Ferg is my good friend, those guys are my boys”) and says that music is a key part of his training routine: “I have a playlist pre-competition, during competition, cooling down, stretching. It goes from Bob Marley to Diplo, Drake to Chris Brown. But when I’m in competition I like to hear a lot of bass… I don’t care about the words so much. I just care about the beat and how it makes me feel.”
By the age of 15 he was travelling to Europe to compete, and took fourth place representing America at the 2012 London Olympics. By then, he’d already distinguished himself in the sport by pioneering a move, “The Chamley-Watson”, in which he wraps his long fencing arm around his head to strike his opponent from an unexpected angle.
In 2013 Chamley-Watson made history by becoming the first US men’s fencer ever to win an individual Senior World Championship. Now he’s got his eye on gold. He’s training hard right now, sharpening up his reaction time, boxing to firm up his footwork, and practicing mindfulness.
“Fencing is a very mental discipline,” he says. “You have to think about your opponent, think about yourself. But you also have to clear your mind, concentrate on your breathing. If you can get yourself in that zone, it takes a lot of stress off your body.”
Of course, a warrior needs fight music too – and a blast of the Atlanta rapper Future usually does the trick. “He’s got this song Wicked that makes me go crazy,” he laughs. “Makes me want to go out there and eat someone’s head off.” The hunger is certainly there: only a brave man would draw swords against him.