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Big boy’s toys?

July 22, 2017

I recently had a conversation with my closest friend about LED lightsaber duelling. The conversation, which was interesting to say the least, culminated in a discussion about the merits of LED lightsaber duelling as a means of self defence. To discuss this, I feel it is important to briefly outline the anatomy of a “real” lightsaber, an LED lightsaber, and the relative value of training in a sword art.

So, I am sure that most of the world are familiar with the iconic lightsaber from Star Wars. A metal cylinder , between 9 and 14inches in length, ending in a shroud and emitter. When activated, the crystal within the hilt, emits a blade of hot plasma, approximately 34 inches in length. This blade has little or no mass, but, according to the fictional mythos, the hilt feels as though it has power flowing through it. According to some sources, wielding a lightsaber is physically taxing, because the hilt is pulsing with energy, rather like a gyroscope in a Power Ball. The lightsaber is unique, in that, due to the blade’s composition, every part of it is a “cutting” edge.

The LED lightsaber is a cylindrical hilt, between 9 and 14 inches in length. Within this is housed a soundcard and speaker, although this is purely optional. In order to get the lighting effect, there is a battery pack within the hilt and a number of LEDs. The carbon fibre blade is attached to the emitter end of the lightsaber, and the light shines through the blade to create a realistic plasma effect. The carbon fibre blade is cylindrical, has either a rounded or sharp tip, and has mass and air resistance.

Strictly speaking, neither weapons are sabres. A sabre, a sword with a curving blade and a single cutting edge, used primarily by cavalry, or an infantry or sporting sabre with a straight single edged blade, does not have the same qualities of either a “real” lightsaber blade, or an LED lightsaber blade. This means that the technique and handling is totally different. A lightsaber is more like a long sword – a sword with two cutting edges and a point.

So, what can duelling with an LED lightsaber give us? Well, if we were to learn to duel by utilising techniques from Kendo and European fencing, we would learn how to chop, stab and block. We would be able to move with greater fluidity; our co-ordination, balance, spacial awareness and fitness would all improve. Taken in isolation, these things can only enhance our ability to defend ourselves. Allied to this, the practising of a martial art or martial sport, shifts our mind-set, it gives us a greater sense of the moment and a enhanced sense of calmness and control. In a situation that may call for self-defence, this can only be a good thing, as we would be more likely to avoid a combative situation, or defuse one before it becomes physical.

But what about specific skills? Well, to wield a sword of any kind requires practice. It requires fine motor skill, quick thinking, fast reflexes and calm. It requires excellent footwork and a degree of power and speed. Now, it is fair to say, that unless confronting a burglar in one’s own home, it is likely that a situation that requires self-defence will occur outside of the home. This means that there probably won’t be a SFX lightsaber to hand. But, an umbrella, cane, walking stick, branch, cricket bat, tennis racket, or anything hard, with length, can be utilised as a defensive or offensive weapon. But, it is important to point out that even without a weapon, the ability to move, to gauge space and reaction, the enhanced self-awareness, can only be an asset.

So, grown men and women waving around expensive toys, may seem odd. But, in their duelling they are tapping into classic and classical elements of martial arts and sports. They are learning skills that far transcend the space they are in. They are not constrained by a single edged sabre, or a pointed foil, they are learning to use a weapon that can be seen as a club or a sword. A single-handed or two-handed hilt weapon. The practical skills, motor skills, emotional awareness are all transferable. Self-defence doesn’t always mean fighting, it also means negotiation, calmness and prediction.

Therefore, I would argue that learning to duel with an SFX lightsabre, is as valid as learning Kendo, Aiaido, Fencing, Long Sword or any other sword art. You are not of course buying into history and tradition, you are learning how to use a fictional weapon, but, in reality, the cultural ideology and perception are internal. Culturally, a Japanese person may be able to emotionally connect with their nation’s art more than a Western practitioner. Butt, that doesn’t devalue the Western practitioner’s ability. Therefore, learning to use a pair of butterfly knives in Kung-Fu, or a Bokken in Ninjitsu are equally as valid or pointless as a lightsaber. The use of these weapons is purely down to tradition and syllabus, as, just like a lightsabre, they have no real world application. But, you rarely hear people complaining that learning to use a staff, sai or katanna is pointless. Why is that? It is purely about romanticism, perception and fantasy – the exact reasons why people like lightsabers. So, this means that the lightsabre duellist has just as much validity as the fencer, although, one can argue that fencing is more developed. It seems clear to me, that any martial activity done at a proficient enough level, triggers something. It causes the practitioner to shift their thinking and see and feel their body in a different way. In a self-defence situation, this can only be a bonus.

A lot of martial arts that use weapons are based on historical truths. The utilisation of agricultural tools and basic edged or hilt weapons in order to overcome trained warriors with good quality blades. We don’t need to learn these arts anymore, but we do. We learn because it is not only fun, but it taps into something fundamental – an atavistic truth that lies dormant inside of us. That same atavistic siren-call is answered by an SFX lightsabre. Give a young boy a branch and he will wave it around. He will instinctively know how to use it. Although he may not have the language to express it, he is tapping into a distant memory, the memory of the spear, of the club and of the sword. In our modern society where few men have the capacity or opportunity to satisfy deep, primal urges, fantasy combat should only be applauded. It is a balm to the soul, a calming influence that tames the warrior within.

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