An Interview with “Forged in Fire” Winner Jesse Hu
At BASIS Charter Schools we are used to having extremely successful students, however it never fails to delight us when alumni start to make waves. That is exactly the case of Jesse Hu, alumnus of BASIS Chandler, who recently participated in, and won, the History Channel’s season 9 “Forged in Fire” weapon-making contest.
Nineteen-year-old Hu battled blacksmiths, some more than twice his age, to win over the judges with his exemplary craftsmanship and creativity.
Regina Gardner, Local Marketing Specialist, and Phil Handler, Vice President of Communications and Brand Management, had the opportunity to speak with Hu about the show, his craft, and his years at BASIS Chandler.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us! How did you hear about the show?
I have known about the show for quite a while, but last year, I was at Bed Bath and Beyond buying college supplies when I got a direct message on Instagram that was like ‘Yo, your page looks really cool, do you want to try auditioning and interviewing for a spot on our ninth season?’ After I got that call, I was doing interviews over Skype, first time I ever used Skype in my life (laughs). I was talking to them through email, phone, text, and Skype for a couple of months, but I didn’t know what I was going to be doing. At some point they gave me the option of doing the four-person show like the ‘Chopped’ format or an experimental new segment called the ‘Gladiators of the Forge.’ I talked to my parents and eventually decided on the one-on-ones [‘Gladiators of the Forge’] because ‘go big or go home’ (laughs).
So, there wasn’t a formal application process or audition that you had to do? Or did they just want you on the show?
All of this was framed as an application/interview thing. I didn’t know if I was going to be on it or not. They interview people and then pick and choose. I have people in my blacksmithing circle who have been asked to do interviews, and then they were never talked to again. They didn’t make the cut or something.
How long did you have to wait before you knew that you were going to be on the show?
All of these interviews began in late August/early September. I was sort of in the dark about when and where, but I knew I was eventually going to be on the show.
Were you able to do anything to prepare? Did you do anything to prepare for it?
I did a few things. The show is known for doing a lot of Damascus and pattern welding, but because my shop at home was slightly under tooled, I didn’t have access to the right materials and tools. At this point I am in Michigan now and in a blacksmithing club. There’s an instructor there that I work with, and he has experience making Damascus. I hit him up and asked him to teach me. He gave me a crash course, and I basically learned it in a day or two. I also watched a lot of ‘Forged in Fire.’ Even during the filming, I was watching it. Aside from that I honed my fundamentals by teaching new members basic forging techniques, reading blacksmithing forums, and watching a lot of YouTube videos.
I looked on your website and got the gist of how you got started forging your future, but could you elaborate?
I say on my website, and on the show, that I got into it by watching YouTube and being bored. I remember seeing a thumbnail on YouTube of someone forging and thinking that is super cool. I also thought to myself you don’t need that much stuff to start, so I went with my dad to Home Depot got some bricks and some charcoal. I went home and built a tiny forge with a hairdryer. It worked terribly, but I got to hit some steel. I did that on and off 3 or 4 times a year for 3 years so I wouldn’t say that I started in 8th grade because I didn’t do or make anything. In 11th grade I invested more time and money, well not my money, my parents’ money (laughs). They were happy to put money in to get me started.
What was your favorite experience on the show?
I think the greatest experience was at the very end of the filming. During there were so many COVID protocols, and I could never talk to the judges. When the entire gladiator segment was over, I got to meet and talk with them for about half an hour. That was super cool. When I went back to the hotel the crew asked me to go get dinner with them at a bar, which they have never done before. I am the first person in ‘Forged in Fire’ history to get dinner with the crew. The thing that made it the coolest was that they treated me like an actual adult as opposed to looking down on me like I was some kid.
I know that you weren’t able to tell anyone that you were going to be on the show for quite some time. How did that feel for you having to keep it all to yourself?
Obviously, it was kinda tough. It’s like if I was in some fictional world and I was a superhero, but I couldn’t tell anyone. I told a few close friends and obviously my entire family knew, but I told them to keep it a secret. I was scrolling through Wikipedia because they have a list that goes four episodes in advance, and I saw four weeks before I got the email that my episode was going to be airing. That made it even worse, because I knew exactly when it was going to air, but I couldn’t tell anybody. But when it came out it was a lot more exciting.
Did you get to keep any of the weapons that you forged on the show?
So, the thing about keeping weapons on the show is that you can only decide to keep them if you lose. But I won all my battles, so I was never given the opportunity to keep them. They are probably sitting in some executive’s office in a glass box or hanging on the wall in the filming location.
Would you remake them at some point in time? Do you have any desire to continue that kind of process? Those type of weapons?
There are two circumstances where that would be possible. Number one is I try to build it again in eight hours and see how different it can be with tools I know how to use. I don’t really know if I want to do that. A time limit is not a good thing! I wouldn’t want to put something out there that isn’t the best I could make. If I wanted to make a good one with ornamentation, perfect grinds and finish, that would be okay, but I wouldn’t do it free (laughs). I would have someone commission it and then build it.
That makes sense. Since you only had eight hours to completely forge a weapon did you feel a lot of pressure?
I kind of enjoyed it. I have grown up in a competitive environment, and BASIS for 8 years (laughs), so I have known time crunches my whole life. I knew how to play with the time that I was given. I said this on the show, but I really liked picking super difficult things. I knew I could find a way to deal with it [the difficulty and time limit], but I didn’t know if my opponent could. (laughs). That sounds kind of mean, but it was a little bit funny.
It’s a competition. You are giving yourself the extra edge you needed to win, and you did win!
Check out Part Two of this interview…
For the second half of our interview, click here.
To learn more about Jesse Hu, or to commission work, find him on his website: www.jhublades.com.
Editor’s Note: “Forged in Fire” depicts weapons in action and may be too violent for some viewers.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
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