The distance with the opponent, the battle with oneself
Miyawaki : Would you like to hold the foil?
Nikaido : Wow, it’s heavy! And you handle it so swiftly. I’d say one needs a high level of physical ability to fence.
Miyawaki : Of course, it would be ideal to have a good athletic ability, but actually as a child I was a slow runner and wasn’t good at sports in general. Yet, fencing is not just speed but a blend of various factors, such as distance and timing, deceiving the opponent and following your instinct or intuition, so it’s possible to win by developing one’s strong points. The longer you do it the more you discover; anyway, it’s a sport that has much more to it than meets the eye.
Nikaido : I see, it’s an intellectual sport! Indeed, when I was watching it on TV I thought it was smart, but I didn’t understand much about the rules so I couldn’t really appreciate it...
Miyawaki : You’re right, it may be hard to understand at first. Fencing has three basic forms; the one I do is called foil, where points are scored when the tip hits the torso of the opponent (excluding the limbs and head). In case of simultaneous hits, the point is awarded to the athlete who holds the so-called priority, or right of way. Thus, earning the priority and the tactical aspect are also important. A hit comes in a blink of an eye, so for the audience it might look too fast to follow, but if you watch the slow motion replay attentively, you’ll gradually understand the details of various techniques – attacking with the foil, bending it to attack from the behind and so on – and you’ll get more involved.
Nikaido : Ultimately, all athletes have different styles, don’t they?
Miyawaki : As for me, I put most importance on the distance and timing. Foreign athletes are taller and have a longer reach, so you can’t win fencing in the opponent’s distance. That’s why, if the opponent advances, I also lunge forward and collapse the distance.
Nikaido : In individual sports, the distance seems to be of great importance. Are you conscious of personal distance in areas other than sport?
Miyawaki : I completely switch modes between fencing and private life. In a competition I’m constantly concerned with the opponent’s moves, but it doesn’t bother me in everyday life. I guess that means I’m suited for an individual sport. Whether I win or lose, I prefer to be the only one responsible.
Nikaido : Sport is about either winning or losing, no compromise, isn’t it? Do you ever feel it’s a burden?
Miyawaki : As a rule, pressure is something that comes from the outside, right? But in my case, I feel stronger pressure from the inside. As a child, I did foil simply because it was fun, and even as a beginning athlete I would concentrate only on beating the opponent in front of me. Recently, however, I started realizing, “If I win this match, my ranking will go up”, and with these thoughts haunting my mind I would rush to win. I was too hasty to get the result. It probably seemed like I was getting too much pressure from the outside.
Nikaido : Indeed! It’s a battle not only with the opponent but also with oneself.
Emotional expression and acting ability
Miyawaki : I was once told by the coach, “You need acting ability for fencing”.
Nikaido : Acting ability?
Miyawaki : For example, if I mean to dodge and attack from one side, I feint a move in the opposite direction, deceiving the opponent. I think it’s different from acting as actors see it.
Nikaido : In our profession, we don’t have any fixed techniques or rules, so it’s rather vague. What does it feel like when you outsmart your opponent in fencing? Something like “Gotcha!”?
Miyawaki : I’m happy when it works out, and when I win I shout for joy, “I did it!”, and when I lose I tear my mask off with frustration – so yes, I wear my heart on my sleeve. Only fencing gives me such emotions. There’s a lot of instinct in a battle, and probably there’s a point where feelings boil over. Do you have such moments of big emotions, Ms. Nikaido?
Nikaido : In my case, by experiencing different emotions in everyday life, I sort of fill up my emotional drawers. Therefore, when I stand in front of the camera, I can naturally express the necessary emotion, or create a certain feeling.
Miyawaki : I didn’t know that actors are constantly preparing for acting in their daily lives!
Nikaido : Everyone has his or her own way, but I’m a type of person who wants to get various experiences. I used to think that real life emotions and the stage were different things, but now when I’m in front of the camera I can feel it close up on my whole attitude to life. And the point is to mix this effectively with other actors, as people with so different backgrounds and experiences come together on one stage. Sometimes you get scenes kissing someone you just met. Although this is impossible in real life, once the camera moves and you stand in front of that person, you feel you’re in love with him. Well, not always (laughs). I often wonder how peculiar this profession is!
Living This Way
Nikaido : Your days must be centered around training, aren’t they?
Miyawaki : Yes, they are. I train both in the morning and in the afternoon and finish around 7.30 pm. After that I have free time. Almost every day runs as scheduled.
Nikaido : Do you go out, too?
Miyawaki : When I was living with my parents, I used to get together with my friends and chat, or go out to eat something nice at weekends, but in my sophomore year at university I decided to concentrate on training. Since then, I’ve been spending a lot of time on my own.
Nikaido : And how do you spend it?
Miyawaki : Lately I’ve been cooking, making sweets, traveling alone...
Nikaido : Traveling alone, that sounds good!
Miyawaki : I went to Shizuoka a while ago and crossed a bridge called Yume no Tsuribashi. The color of the lake was as beautiful as oil paint, so beautiful I just stared at it for a long time (laughs). My days off used to be packed with plans and always got myself busy, but these days I try to take it easy.
Nikaido : When you see young people your age, do you sometimes wonder, “What would my life be like had I not taken up fencing?”
Miyawaki : I was thinking about it a lot since junior high into my freshman year in high school. In junior high, I focused on fencing and practiced every day, but I didn’t yet think of becoming an Olympian. I wasn’t bad at studies, and I also dreamt of becoming a baker, so I couldn’t really concentrate. But in fact I was already on my way to professional sport, and that made me emotionally mixed up.
Nikaido : So how did you get over it?
Miyawaki : As a freshman in high school, I got a chance to talk with the medalist fencer Ota Yuki. He asked me then, “What do you think you should do to win an Olympic medal?” His strategy was, “Which Olympic games are you aiming for?” “Which competitions do you have to show results in to get there?” “What do you need to do for it now?” Thus he told me I needed to set the goal, calculate back from it, and think in detailed steps. Until then, I guess, I was afraid to openly say that I wanted to be an Olympian. But after hearing Mr. Ota’s words, I started thinking in a positive way, “I’ll put all I have into fencing”, “I want to compete at the Olympic Games”.
Nikaido : What are your present plans for the Olympics?
Miyawaki : My original goal was to participate in Rio and get the gold in Tokyo. However, as I wasn’t able to make it to Rio, I’m now thinking of how I will spend the next 4 years. 4 years seems like a long time but it’ll pass before you know it. I want to enter Olympic qualification tournaments in 3 years as an accomplished fencer. But as of now, I can’t compete at the world top level yet, and to get there I’m going to schedule my steps year by year. Therefore I want to stay away from tournaments for some time and practice with various athletes abroad. After seeing the Rio Olympics, I’m planning to go to Italy for a while. I used to feel ill at ease going to new places, but from now on I’ll take on new challenges.
Nikaido : You must be excited! It makes me happy to see such an intelligent, strong and charming athlete of my age. I’ll be backing you up!
Miyawaki : Thank you! And I’m looking forward to seeing your new films and dramas.