When NYU graduate Philip Shin was in the second grade, he began fencing to spend more time with his best friend. This friend soon quit fencing and moved away, but Shin continues to excel at the sport and travel around the world competing.
“I really didn’t start to compete in fencing until the eighth grade because I was competing in chess and didn’t have time for both,” Shin recalled. “Even though I started later than most, coaches encouraged me because fencing is often referred to as ‘physical chess.’ Both are very tactical and force you to think at least one step ahead and anticipate what your opponent is going to do.”
Shin was born in Irvine, California, but lived in New York City from the time he was two years old, growing up in Battery Park from 1999 to 2016 before his family moved to the Upper East Side. “I got into chess early and also played soccer and basketball,” Shin said. “I really enjoyed soccer, particularly watching Manchester United in the Premier League. Being Korean, I enjoyed following Korean player Park Ji-Sung.”
From the time he started fencing with his best friend, Shin took lessons at the Fencers Club on New York’s west side. “When I started competing, I was always behind my peers. Kids my age were slightly better than me and I was always a bit behind in national results,” Shin recollected. “I would look up to the older guys because there were a lot of world-class fencers, including world champions and Olympic medalists.”
Competing in the Cadet/Under 17 level, Shin qualified for an international Cadet competition in Pisa, Italy, to represent Team USA as a junior in high school. “It was my first, and I thought last, foreign trip,” he stated. “Toward the end of high school, I was ranked in the 20s so I did not qualify for any Junior/Under 20 World Cups and had no expectations that I would ever make it to the Senior World Cups.”
He did find great success at Stuyvesant High School, which captured the Public School Athletic League (PSAL) city championship three of Shin’s four years, while he captured the individual city championship in both his junior and senior seasons. He started all four years at NYU and was named captain for his senior year, but there were times he thought he may give up the sport.
“I went abroad my sophomore year and did poorly in my first result back at NYU,” said the Finance and Accounting major. “I considered quitting at that point and focusing on the other things I was doing, including the passion I had developed for cooking.”
Spending a semester in Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic, may not have benefitted Shin’s fencing in the fall of his sophomore year, but it did enhance his college experience. “I had so much free time and enjoyed it. Everything is so fast-paced in New York City, and I had the chance to relax in Prague. I took up cooking. My roommate and I would do weekly cooking projects, trying different dishes. It was also great that we only had to do the cooking, as we had someone who would wash the dishes overnight,” Shin chuckled. “Toward the end of my time abroad, my roommate and I would do potluck dinners with friends. My most memorable and favorite dish we made was eggplant parmesan.”
He had considered choosing a minor related to his major but the semester abroad sent him in a different direction. “After experiencing that, I asked myself why I would choose a minor relevant to what I was already doing when I could add something I really enjoyed,” he noted. “In my mind, I wanted to do something fun and chose food studies as my minor instead of computer science/mathematics.”
These days, Shin doesn’t cook as much as he would like, but still gets a chance to at times. “Sometimes I cook for family or friends and I always bring a dish to my family’s Thanksgiving dinner,” he said. “Of course, living in New York City gives me the opportunity to try a lot of different restaurants and foods.”
While in Prague, Shin did train with the Czechoslovakian national fencing team and won a junior national competition, but the level of fencing in the U.S. is a lot stronger and he struggled upon his return to NYU. He came close to qualifying for the NCAA Fencing Championship in his rookie season, and he was driven to get there. “My main goal the whole year was to qualify for NCAAs. NYU is the number one Division III program, but we compete against Division I programs,” he said.
He was seeded fifth in the NCAA Northeast Region Fencing Championships as a freshman with a top-eight finish needed to qualify for the national championship. He ended up finishing ninth in the region. “Missing by one spot was very disappointing and gave me a taste of what I could accomplish,” Shin said. “When I came back my sophomore year far behind, I started training a lot harder. In spite of not having a strong showing at regionals during my freshman year, I set my goal on making nationals.”
He finished his sophomore season with 29 wins and only six losses in the foil, and did reach the NCAA championship, but it was the following year when he achieved his goal of earning All-America honors with his 12th-place finish. “That was another big step for me and came in conjunction with better national results (U.S., rather than NYU/NCAA). Everything came together at once,” he recalled. “I was a lot more focused in training and loved the sport a lot more. I was focused on the positive results.”
In his junior season, Shin set the NYU record for single-season wins in foil (49), which also tied him with sabre specialist and classmate Zachary Schindler for most single-season wins in any weapon. He finished 18th in his third appearance in the NCAA championship in his senior season and his 151 career victories rank second in program history behind only Philip Jamesson (2009-13, 179 victories).
"Phil was one of my strongest and most dedicated captains," said NYU head men's and women's fencing coach and former Olympian Steve Mormando. "Aside from the results, he was a great teammate, leader, and a man of incredible character. He would never scam for a touch, but fought hard all the time and never gave up."
Shin graduated in May 2018 and was set to work full-time for Citi, which he had interned with during the summer between his junior and senior years at NYU. “When I interned, I learned they have a ‘Service Year’ program where you can defer your full-time offer for one year and volunteer instead at a non-profit with a stipend,” he stated. “I took advantage of that and am currently volunteering at the Fencers Club. I work during the day and then train at night. It allows me to continue competing through the whole year and I am very grateful for that opportunity.”
The 2017 World University Games were in August of the summer he interned with Citi. “I didn’t have as much time to train, but after I was halfway through my internship, my staffer allowed me to leave once or twice a week during the day to train and finish that day’s work at night,” said an appreciative Shin. “It put some strain on my mental health, but it was great to have that chance to prepare more than I otherwise would have.”
Getting sponsored by Radical Fencing toward the end of 2018 allowed Shin to shift his fencing goals. “At the beginning, I saw this as one last hurrah. I know a lot of college athletes quit their sport right after they graduate,” he remarked. “My sponsor encouraged me to continue training because next season is the 2020 Tokyo Olympic qualifying season. I may continue until at least the first national competition and see where I stand after that.”
Meanwhile, he began running last year, competing at multiple New York Road Runners races. “I want to continue racing. If I quit competitive fencing, I can still do it recreationally. My goal is to qualify for the New York City Marathon in 2020,” Shin commented.
Fencing has brought Shin to various cities and countries across the globe, including Shanghai (China), Turin (Italy), Paris (France), Tokyo (Japan), Cairo (Egypt), and St. Petersburg (Russia). He has enjoyed all his trips, but two have stood out so far.