Spotlight Knight: Warren Choi

It has been more than a decade since Rutgers fielded men’s and women’s fencing teams at the NCAA Division I level. The Rutgers Athletics went out to cut the teams, along with its oldest sport, men’s crew, back in 2006-2007, an academic year where the football team was ranked No. 16 in the nation.

Since then, the Scarlet Knights have been relegated to fence at the club level, it has accepted any students regardless of experience to join. On the club’s getINVOLVED page, it “offers recreational memberships as well as competitive memberships.”

Before Warren Choi, a Rutgers Business School junior and president of the club fencing team, captured the sabre title at this year’s United States Associate of Collegiate Fencing Clubs (USACFC) National Championships, on April 7, he first had to coordinate the travel logistics to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where the event was being held.

While the club team has two coaches — one for practice and one for tournaments — Choi is involved on the planning side. Not only does he coordinate lodging and food for the individuals traveling to competitions, but he responds to tournament invitations with the club’s roster and payments for a particular tournament.

“The coaches now, they supervise everything,” Choi said. “For practices, the coaches just coach. They don’t really do the communication between other clubs and tournaments.”

Choi’s love of fencing came from his father, Franky, who fenced at Temple University. When his father went to boarding school in England, he had to choose a sport, so he chose fencing, the modern version that was established in England before the Revolutionary War with the United States.

The tradition of fencing in the Choi household continued when Franky Choi got his two sons — Andrew and Warren — involved in the sport, when they were young. They first started at foil, where points are awarded by touching the opponent’s electrically conductive lamé.

Warren Choi started fencing foil in fourth grade before he made the decision to follow his brother and make the switch to sabre, the more fast-paced out of the three weapons.

Warren Choi honed his craft at Mr. Ma's Fencing Academy, an affiliate of New Jersey Fencing Alliance. It was there that Warren Choi competed as an individual at FASJ tournaments within and outside of New Jersey.

“There wasn’t a lot of fencing (in South Jersey). Not many of the high schools really had fencing there,” Warren Choi said. 

After six years as a sabre, Choi received his “A” rating as a 16-year-old after finishing in eighth place at a competition, the highest ranking a fencer can attain, during his junior year of high school. 

Transitioning from high school to college, Warren Choi didn’t know much about the fencing club. After looking it up online, he attended one club fencing practice at the Loree Gymnasium on Douglass campus, and found himself enjoying the sport he had grown up with.

As a freshman, Choi did not get a chance to compete in the Temple Open, a tournament at his father’s alma mater that he would fence in the last two years. When he started out, he was already the “A” strip.

As he has grown accustomed to college fencers, Warren Choi has adjusted his style based on the different levels of experience his opponents have. For sabre, he noticed that if they are a “D”-rated fencer or under, he can beat them with pure speed. If they are above “C,” then he utilizes both speed and technique when fencing opponents of that level.

“In college, it’s a separation between the best fencers and the lower fencers,” Warren Choi said. “It’s mainly getting used to different fencers at college tournaments.”

At the USACFC National Championships, Warren Choi won at the national level comprised of 36 other collegiate fencing clubs at the two-day event, on April 6 and April 7, at the Sportsplex in Bucks County. 

The first day consisted of 12-team pools, with each “A,” “B” and “C” strip fencer squaring off against the same ratings. On the first day, Choi earned the No. 1 seed in the sabre section after fencing 12 bouts on the first day, earning a direct-elimination round bye.

After his opponent and teammate, David Natanov, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore withdrew in the first match of the elimination round, Warren Choi edged out Indiana’s Mark Richmond before facing his hardest bout of the day against South Carolina’s Carl Mellone in the semi-final round.

The bout against Mellone proved to be the most challenging for Warren Choi. But, as his coach was Mellone’s coach in high school, he was able to modify his strategy of attack in preparation to beat him.

In the finals bout, Warren Choi defeated Indiana’s Charles Decesaris, 15-13, before a main portion of it was tied. The first half of the finals bout, Warren Choi saw himself down 7-2, before bringing the score to 8-6 at halftime. 

The second day started at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday and lasted until 7:30 p.m., with 10-minute breaks in between. When Warren Choi was not on the fencing strip, there was much time spent waiting around.

“The final bout wasn’t as hard, but I was just so tired at that point,” he said. “By the very last point, I wanted to stop so bad.”

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