By: Darren May  | 

YU Fencing Team Flourishing, Poised for 2016 Season

The art of war has been a human fascination since the dawn of man. In the days of old, fencers from Spain and France would train in secret, in dark castle dungeons away from the prying eyes of the enemy. France and Spain each had their own masters, and in great secrecy each passed down the art of sword fighting to their pupils.

Today, there are no such secret convocations of people to pass down ancient fighting wisdoms, but there is the YU fencing team. The YU fencing team meets in the basement of MTA, a fitting setting as it is like the dungeons of old. There, twelve unassuming young men train in this ancient art of sword fighting four days a week, and through hard work and perseverance many of them have been able to compete with some of the best collegiate fencers in the country, fighting against NCAA D1 schools.

Fencing is a sport that is broken up into three different types of sword fighting based on what weapon the fighters are using. The first is the foil, the most commonly used of the three weapons. It is lightweight, weighing less than a pound. One wins points in a foil bout by touching the point of the sword to the body of the opponent. The foil is coached by John Wilhelm, who has been fencing for over 25 years, and is known for his knowledge of the sport, fencing theory and the complex rules of the sport.

Then there is the epée, a modern derivation of the original dueling sword. It is heavier than the foil, and features a more pronounced guard for the hand. Unlike the foil, in order to score with the epée one is aloud to hit the opponent anywhere on his body. New coach Avinash Somir commands the epée part of the team. He is a former fencer for one of the best fencing schools in the country, Ohio State University, and is in the running to compete at the next Olympics in Brazil, starting with a pre-Olympic event in April. He is an incredibly accomplished fencer and has won several NCAA championship team titles with Ohio State. Somir is also responsible for the conditioning of the entire team. So far, the team has benefitted tremendously presence and expertise.
Lastly, there is the saber, which is a slashing weapon, as opposed to the other weapons, which are thrusting weapons. This area is coached by head coach Peter Rosas, a very accomplished fencer in his own right, having qualified for the Division I NCAA championship in fencing twice in his career and having been inducted into the City College Hall of Fame.

Fencing Team (1)

YU will compete in a number of exciting fencing tournaments. The first is going to be held on February 7th in the Max Stern Gym. In this tournament, YU will host five schools that are in the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Fencing Association. This will be a historic tournament, as it is the first time that there has been a fencing tournament hosted on the YU premises in over a decade.
The next tournament will be hosted by YU in the third week of March, and will take place in Vassar College. This will be the NCAA regionals, one of the biggest fencing tournaments in America. Not only is this the tournament that determines who will get into the NCAA finals, but it is also probably the most competitive regionals as it boasts very competitive schools like Harvard, Columbia, and NYU. “It is a great honor to be hosting such a historic event,” said YU fencing team captain Spencer Brasch. “It’s truly a historic event not only for YU athletics, but for YU as a university.”

Brasch spoke about how the fencing team is an incredible fusion of Judaism and sport, and that this fusion could never happen at another university. “I thought that when I went to YU I would be giving up my fencing in order to pursue my Judaism,” said Brasch. “In fact, here in YU we have both very high level fencing and one of the best [religious] study halls in the world. The two are not separate, but the one compliments the other.”

Brasch elaborated on several examples where he feels the two--the sport and Judaism become fused "During suicide runs, we scream at the top of our lungs 'Yeshiva!' every time our toes hit the line. When we have tournaments early in the morning, we get up even earlier to pray intensely as a team. And if you descend into the dungeons of the castle-looking building guarded by scaffolding out front on Wilf Campus, walk into the room with a sign 'Fencing Room,' we have a verse from the Bible on the wall, written in bright orange letters, ' . . .and the fiery turning-every-which-way sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life'(Genesis 3:23).”

With so much going well for it, the Yeshiva fencing team continues to be one of the most consistent and high performing teams on campus. They are the epitome of dedication and perseverance, while also being an example of Torah U’Maddah--in essence, following the core principles that are the basis for much of what goes on at Yeshiva.