10 Questions with Richard Kruse
I was able to catch up with Richard this Dec/Jan throughout his hectic training, touting and traveling schedule. As a fencer myself, and a great fan of sport fencing, I instantly gravitated and quickly grew to appreciate Kruse’s style and patience on the piste. Looking over the internet, I saw that there wasn’t enough information on this guy and many of his previous interviews were short and out-dated. Myself, and all of us at CombativeCorner.Com is glad to have had this chance to catch up with Richard and get a deeper look.
(quick look) Richard Kruse (32) is a British fencer specializing in the foil. He has represented Great Britain at the Summer Olympics three times. In 2015, he was part of the Great Britain team that shocked Olympic champions Italy to win the first European Games in team foil – the first British gold medal in a team fencing event at World or European level for fifty years. (wikipedia.org)
photo credits: Marie-Lan Tay Pamart
photo credit (profile): wikimedia.org
How did you get into fencing?
I got into fencing through a local club in my neighbourhood in north London way back in 1994. I was trying a lot of sports at the time like karate, football, tennis etc. By sheer coincidence my local club was run by the national Olympic foil coach Ziemek Wojciechowski. As I result I was able to get world class coaching from the very beginning which I attribute a large amount of my success to. Twenty-two years on and my coach and I are still working together.
What has been your biggest challenge as a competitive fencer?
I can’t say what the biggest challenge of being a professional fencer has been to date. Throughout the years I have encountered many challenges, all of which were problematic in their own right ranging from chronic injuries, to funding, to finding motivation to continue after not qualifying for various championships. All of these issues were difficult in themselves but all managed to get resolved.
I’ve always admired your technical style. How have you been able to remain so methodical and “classical” in your approach without fully adopting a “sportive” style?
On the issue of my style, I did initially fence in a “sporty style”. Up until 2004 the game was very different due to the more lenient box timings that allowed all flick hits to register. I did actually enjoy that type of fencing a lot but it was fair to say that the game had lost its roots as a sword fighting art. For this reason the FIE made the decision to alter the box timings to allow less flicks and hence restore the character of the foil. This brought about the initial changes to my style. As I’ve got older I am not able to be as physical on the piste as when I was 21 and therefore have to focus more on the technical and tactical side of fencing rather than the athletic side.
It should be noted that there were some successful classical fencers back in the late 90s and early 00s at a period when the flick hits dominated the game. The most notable was Piotr Kielpikowski from Poland who retired at in 2002 at the age of 40 after winning a bronze medal at the world championships in Lisbon. In an era when fencers used to run down the piste in foil with their arms back it was refreshing to see someone using the point so neatly. Of course this style does require a lot of skill to function at the highest level so I can see why it’s overlooked by a lot of fencers.
As a tall (6’3), right-handed fencer; do you think that those qualities help or hamper you? Why or why not? (Seems like many other top level fencers are short, lefties. i.e. Joppich, Baldini)
Do I think being a tall right hander disadvantages me? Fencing is a bit of a Cinderella style because our competitions are not done in height or weight categories – unlike all other combat sports in the Olympics. This is because you are not actually hitting people with a part of your body and are never supposed to allow your body to come into contact with that of your opponents’. One year you would see an Olympic or World Champion like Lei or Chamley Watson at around 6’5’’ and then next you would get a champion such as Baldini or Joppich that are both well under 6’. Height is no excuse for losing you just have to fence at a distance that is suitable for your body type. The taller fencers will want to keep shorter ones at bay and the shorter fencers will want to fight at a closer range.
Being left or right handed is more of an interesting debate in fencing. Clearly there are far more left handed champions than are proportional for the amount of left handers in the population. I’ve heard many theories as to why this is the case, all of which are interesting but the mathematics of the situation is clear. When starting to fence it is likely that a left-hander will practise more against right-handers than vice versa. As a result left-handers will be more accustomed to fencing right-handers than the other way around and therefore they have an advantage. Left-handers at first won’t be so confident against other left-handers but that doesn’t matter because when they both fence you’ll inevitably have a left-handed winner and a left-handed loser. That applies for younger fencers, at the top level you can’t blame a defeat on the handedness of a fencer.
You have a tremendous coach in Ziemowit Wojciechowski. How has he helped your game improve?
My coach Ziemek Wojciechowski has been of tremendous influence. He has not only produced me but has worked with almost all of the top British Men’s Foilists of this generation. He has single handedly elevated Britain above a third world country in this sport and is a bit of a “John Connor” character of fencing in our country. His enthusiasm for the game is unparalleled and that certainly has rubbed off on me over the years.
What specific fencing drills do you enjoy doing and are there ones that you dislike (but need to do)?
Specific fencing drills that you do that you like or don’t like. My training mainly consists of a warm up, a half hour lesson and then a few hours of sparring followed by a good stretch-off afterwards. I’m not really too big these days on all the footwork drills that I used to do as a younger fencer. I concentrate more on the technical and tactical game nowadays.
Could you explain the most thrilling moment/victory you’ve experienced?
My most thrilling victory had to be qualifying for the 2012 Olympics. For a long time it looked like I’d be able to qualify directly off of the world ranking but in the last world cup of the season I was leapfrogged by one world ranking point by Hertsyk from the Ukraine. I thought that was it but it turned out there was a satellite event in Copenhagen the following weekend which would count for Olympic selection.
It turned out that if I were to win this tournament then I’d finish just above Hertsyk in the world ranking and get an automatic place in the London Olympics. It was a hard task but I managed to scrape my way through six matches and win the competition. A lot of people asked me why I was so keen to qualify legitimately when Britain had eight “host nation” spots to use in 2012. The truth is that I was told that if I didn’t qualify properly then I wouldn’t be given a “host nation” place. As a result it was crucial to qualify legitimately.
What do you feel was your biggest loss, and what did you learn from it?
My biggest loss was finishing 4th in the European Zonal event before Beijing. The top three were to qualify for the Olympics and I missed out by the smallest of margins. It was very difficult to find any motivation to finish the season at that point but my coach Ziemek persuaded me to do so. In hindsight I’m pleased he did because about a month before the Beijing Games I was told I’d been given a wild card to compete. As a result of training through the darker times it was possible to go to Beijing and put in a respectable performance.
What do you think is important for young fencers to know when they first begin to fence?
It is important for young fencers to really enjoy the game. Train as hard as possible and have some achievable goals but at the same time keep other options open for the future. Of course, if you are one of the lucky ones that can be a professional fencer for a living then I’d advise you to take that opportunity! You’ll get to learn a lot about yourself, meet a lot of people and get to travel to all corners of the globe.
What does Richard Kruse like to do for fun (besides kicking arse on the piste)?
When I’m not fencing I still have a lot of things to keep me busy. I coach twice a week at a local fencing club. I enjoy learning foreign languages which also come in handy with all the travelling we do. Plus I teach the bagpipes once a week at the local scout group. I have a very privileged life as a professional fencer, it has certainly given me the time to explore many hobbies!
Interview by: Michael Joyce
The Telegraph; London 2012 Olympics. by: Jessica Winch
10 Questions with Tim Morehouse – Olympic Saber Fencer