By Chris Teale (Courtesy photo)
Jacob Asch was first introduced to the sport of fencing when he attended a summer camp for the sport at the age of 10 with his friend Grant Wagner. In a sport where elite athletes generally start at around 8 years old, he was a relative latecomer, but has flourished.
Now, the T.C. Williams senior is nationally ranked in the Under-20 age group for the saber and looking to climb higher. At one point he was ranked as high as No. 8 but has recently fallen back into the top 20.
There are three categories of weapons in fencing — saber, foil and epee — with different rules and strategies for each. The saber is a light cutting and thrusting weapon with which the fencer can target the entire body above the waist, except the weapon hand. Points are scored when one fencer hits their opponent cleanly in the target area in a very fast-paced game of strategy, aggression and skill.
Asch said he enjoys the strategy side of the sport, and he has already made great strides. In 2013, at age 16, he won the Virginia State Championships, and has since competed in national North American Cup competitions across the country and several World Cup events internationally. So far, he has competed in Under-20 events in Hungary, Poland and Germany, experiences he said have been extremely beneficial.
“It’s extremely intimidating,” Asch said. “It really puts your ego in check. The experience is very good, but especially when you’re traveling across an ocean, the jet lag kills you.”
Asch is a member of the D.C. Fencers Club, based in Silver Spring, Md., and competed in the NAC event in Richmond in early October, a competition that also doubles as an Olympic qualifying tournament, meaning all competitors earn national ranking points that count toward qualification for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
He said that his relatively late entry into the sport makes things difficult at times. But after several strong finishes in national competitions, including saber gold at the 2014 Capitol Clash, the largest all-youth fencing event in the world, Asch appears to be doing well.
“It’s a lot to take in, because most of these kids that I’m fencing with have been traveling like this for three or four plus years, while I’ve only started doing it this year,” Asch said. “I started late, and they started when they were 8 years old. The traveling is a grind, because you’re in another place for a weekend and you have to get back on the plane.”
But he sees his triumph at the state championships in 2013 as a strong indication of how far he has progressed already, especially since he had only been fencing for six years.
Looking toward the future, Asch said there are plenty of opportunities to fence in college, as a number of schools have declared an interest in recruiting him, including 2009 and 2010 NCAA national champion Penn State.
Asch said he has the ambition of being an NCAA All-American, but knows that opportunities beyond college may be scarce in an entirely amateur sport.