On a bitterly cold Friday afternoon in New York City, while most 28-year-olds are planning where they are going to happy hour, Miles Chamley-Watson is only halfway through his eight-hour training routine. Through the floor-length windows of Dogpound Gym in the city’s Soho neighborhood Watson can be seen pounding a sledgehammer against a swinging heavy bag. There is barely a sweat under his Red Bull baseball cap, which seems remarkable for someone who has been working out for four hours, but that is what happens when you train eight hours a day, six days a week.
It is that level of dedication that has allowed Watson to become one of the most accomplished and exciting foil fencers of our day. Last year he competed as part of USA’s fencing team during the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, helping take home the Bronze, and back in 2013 he made history as the first American fencer to win the World Championship Senior Men’s Foil.
Despite this success, Watson has become used to having to tell strangers what he does for work, and not being believed, because his appearances doesn’t fit that of the stereotypical fencing competitor. Standing at 6’4” with bleached blonde hair and a lean, chiseled frame covered in tattoos, most strangers assume he is a professional basketball player. “People don’t think I’m telling the truth when I say I’m an Olympic fencer,” he says laughing. “I have to show them videos on YouTube to prove it most of the time.” There on YouTube there is plenty of evidence of his achievements, including highlight reels of his lightening fast attacks and even his own trademark move, “The Chamley-Watson”.
Away from fencing, the tatted-up sword fighter moonlights as a fashion model with work for the likes of Ralph Lauren and VFILES listed in his portfolio.
Below, Watson explains in his own words how the sport changed his life, how he trains, and what he has planned for the future.
I found fencing by accident. I was born in London, and as a teenager I was getting into a lot of trouble. They made me pick an after-school program as a punishment. Like every little kid I loved the idea of playing with swords growing up, so when I saw that fencing was an option I chose it immediately. I had no idea what the sport was or that it would take over my life. I fell in love with it immediately.
I discovered that I was a natural. From early on my coaches were telling me I had a lot of potential. I had pretty long limbs and I was strong. Not only that but I guess I had pretty good coordination. I was encouraged to compete and that’s when I started to make a little money here and there. The next thing I knew I was training to compete in the Olympics.
I knew I was still going to have to work hard. Even though I had that natural ability I knew I was going to have to put in a lot of effort to succeed in the Olympics, and eventually achieve my goal of winning a gold medal. That is what led me to Dogpound Gym. I was at an event and [English TV show personality and fashion photographer] Nigel Barker was also there. He mentioned that he had invested in the gym, told me about what they were creating and invited me to a workout with him. I accepted the invite.
The first workout I did with the Dogpound crew was crazy. I was told to show up at 5:45 a.m. and it was a really intense morning. Kirk Myers, who is now my trainer, was pushing everyone there to their limits. It was a good group of guys, Hugh Jackman was there because Kirk was also training him, and I was hooked on what they were doing immediately. We got straight into it. I started working out with them regularly after that.
I get an early start in the morning. These days I show up at Dogpound around seven in the morning to work with Kirk and Reign. They did a lot of research and studying to find out what I needed from my training regime that I wasn’t getting yet. I started to feel the difference quickly. I got stronger. I got faster. I had speed to begin with, and I didn’t want to lose any of that while putting on muscle, but I found that through this program I was able to become even more agile while getting bigger.
It is easy to get comfortable. When you are training so often things can become repetitive, so it is important for us to keep challenging my body. There were a couple of techniques that we incorporated, like using a slide board to help with my balance. The other addition was doing tennis ball work to improve my hand-eye coordination, and I have seen a great improvement there. On top of that we try out new explosive exercises to push my quickness, like catching weights or sled drills.
It’s not over when I leave the gym. Once I’m done with my Dogpound session I go to physical therapy, and after that it is off to do my fencing training for about four hours. During that time I am practicing my attacks, looking back at video, and sparring with different partners. I have a people come in to spar with me from all over the world. From time to time I will throw in a completely different sport into the mix, like martial arts or boxing. I don’t hold back when I fight, I’m too competitive. If I go down like that, fuck it.
New York is a great place for me to be. This city has a lot of advantages for my training, because there are great fencing programs at NYU, St. Johns and Columbia University. They love having their athletes come in to work with me, and it feels good to be able to hopefully help them a bit.
I had no fencing role models when I started. There was nobody out there like me. So I feel a calling to help spread the sport of fencing to that next generation that is coming up. The fact is the sport of fencing for the most part is old, rich and elitist. There are people in that community that hates what I am doing now, but the young ones love it. I am really enjoying changing the face and belief of the sport. There is no reason why the sport shouldn’t be more urban, and more intertwined with the current culture. I think there is a whole new audience out there that hasn’t been inspired to tune into a match. I am doing what I can to change that.
I am glad that I get to share my story. The biggest reason I am posting on social media and what I’m doing outside of the competitions is the fact that I think trying fencing could help a lot of kids out there. I don’t know what path I would have gone down if I hadn’t found it myself. I was dealing with ADD. I was all over the place. Fencing helped me focus and allowed me to take control, without having to use medicine. It changed my life in so many ways.
I know how lucky I am in this life. Now I not only get to travel all over the world competing in a sport that I love, but also explore other interests. I just signed with IMG as model, and you may see the kid in a few acting roles coming up. There is so much out there to experience, and I think the training that I am doing now only makes me more capable of trying it all. I don’t believe in being limited by time.
Every day I am excited to keep pushing myself to be better. I honestly feel like I haven’t truly even started yet.
Next up; here are 18 fitness tips from Joe Holder, trainer to some of streetwear’s biggest names.
- Words: Charles Thorp
- Photography: Thomas Welch / Highsnobiety