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Big boy’s toys?

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.


The price of talent

What is the price of talent? This question is front and centre after the publication of the list of the BBC’s top earners. In many cases, presenters are paid massive amounts of money for just a few hours work a week. On top of this, they are often given cars to ferry them to and from the studio, or given hotel rooms. I think it scandalous that many of these people are paid more than doctors, surgeons, members of parliament and high ranking army officers. How can Chris Evans remuneration possibly be justified? He is on air for three and a half hours a day, totalling what amounts to be part time hours. For this, he gets more than 40 people’s full time wages. In comparison, producers, directors and writers, people who work far longer hours and deal with the content, earn far less.

For women to want the same pay as men is, of course, understandable. But this plea really misses the point. Women who do an equivalent job, for example, a co-presenting role should get the same as their male counterparts. But, on this occasion, somebody like Claudia Winkleman, who earns a fortune for presenting a show that runs for one season a year, shouldn’t be talking about how much she doesn’t earn, but about how much she does earn. Women should be calling for all salaries to be lowered, not for theirs to be raised. It is obscene to see how much money these people are being paid, talented or not. Take Jeremy Vine, he plays music and chats. Not a creatively or intellectually taxing gig. For this, he gets around £700,000 a year.

Before we get swept away on the equal pay debate, we must try to make the pay more realistic. Everyone on this list should be paid less, not more. When real people are working hard with little reward, how can they turn on their televisions or radios without feeling sick? For every high earning entertainer or presenter, there are at least twenty-five who could do the job equally well, for more than half the pay.

Let’s not make this discussion about discrimination – I don’t know how many disabled people, black people or LGBT people are on that list. Frankly, I don’t care. I care that the license fee that the BBC are being paid, is used to supplement, people like Alan Shearer, someone who works once a week and earns more than somebody with a thousand-times more responsability or talent. So, how do we value a person? Do we pay somebody based on their level or responsibility? If so, a teacher ,doctor, nurse, train driver, pilot, MP, and a dozen other jobs should be paid a great deal more. Do we base value upon talent? In that case, writers, actors, presenters, sports men and women should be paid more. Do we base it upon skill? In this case, producers, directors, writers, technicians, designers, should be paid more. Or, is it based on the emperor’s new clothes… based on the fact that if we see somebody on television enough, we assume they are famous. If we assume they are famous, we assume they are talented. If we assume they are talented, their value goes up, and we assume they deserve to get paid a fortune. Or, finally, is it about the hours they work? Ok, there’s no doubt that a presenter on Today, or a breakfast presenter has to go to bed early and get up early enough to get to work in order to prepare for their show. But, most of the prep is done by researchers and producers, who have much longer hours, and much less pay, so that equation doesn’t work. Equally, if you are an actor you have to spend a lot of time hanging around the set during a shoot, so arguably they should get paid more than presenters.

I think, in reality, this has got out of control. Somewhere along the line, we have forgotten what value and talent means, and have allowed this situation to erode reason, much in the same way that the salaries of footballers have lost touch with reality and civilised thinking. There is a debate to be had regarding women’s pay, regarding representation of minorities in the media. But before we have that, we need to take stock and understand that these people, this so called “talent” does not belong to gods, but people. People who, through a mixture of luck, ability, and good agents, have attracted mammoth sums of money. It’s sad, greedy, ridiculous and rather laughable that someone like Hugh Edwards, a chap who reads an auto cue, gets paid more than somebody who performs surgery and saves lives. Go figure – I can’t.


20 years of Potter

So, Harry Potter is 20 years old today. So, how did it become such a global phenominon? Well, if I knew the answer, I would be as rich as Midas. But, I can give my personal opinion. Firstly, I would say that there are better children’s books than Harry Potter, but literature is cyclical, and these books have been forgotten and largely left unread by the Harry Potter generation. Twenty years ago there was somewhat of a magic-shaped gap in children’s literature. Things like Dahl’s The Witches, Susan Cooper’s Earth Sea books, Alan Garner and Ursula Gwynn, having seemingly lost their appeal. Rowling managed to capture some classic elements, borrowing from other writers, she created a magical world that was immersive and inviting. The first book was enchanting, exploiting all the classical elements of the boarding school romp, and the spirit of magic. Sadly, in my opinion, the books slowly went down hill, Rowling constantly writing herself into corners, and having to create sprawling and rather meandering plot devices to get herself out of trouble. This said, there is no debate, Harry Potter is a phenominon, and a very successful franchise. There is no doubt that Rowling is a good story teller, able to set a good pace and keep the pages turning. However, Harry is never in real danger, as the reader knew way in advance that there were to be sequels. This meant that whatever jepardy he was in, there was no real tension, because we knew he would always survive. But, Rowling created accessible characters, giving most readers someone to associate with; be it swatty Hermione, poor Ron, outsider Nevil or bullied Lunar. Characters that children identified with and grew to love Rowling made magic fashionable, she made school interesting, and made the fantastical real. Well done Jo, and most of all, well done Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who cemented Harry into the consciousness of millions. 


The Finsbury Park attack opens an interesting can of worms regarding language, definition and terminology. At first the police were slightly retisent to call it an act of terror, or a terrorist attack, but soon changed their minds. So, what constitutes an act of terror? Is it simply an attack that is motivated by hatred and serves to cause terror and division? in which case, isn’t it a hate crime? Or is it an act perpetrated in the name of a cause or organisation? In which case, can this attack be characterised as terror, as, to my knowledge the perpatrator, given his targets, may not have belonged to an organisation or sect with a clear agenda. If the result of his actions was the spread of terror and dischord, there is an argument to suggest it was a terorist attack. But if it was akin to a hit and run, surely it can’t be terrorism. There is ambiguity here, according to some reports, the man who sadly died, had a heart attack before the van arrived. When people gatherd to help, the van ploughed into them. So, in this case, thankfuly, it seems as though there were no fatalities. I’m not trying to in any way diminish the revolting, synical, wickedness of this crime, but I would argue that the term “terrorism” needs to be better defined. The fact that the perpatrator was subdued and arrested is excellent, and of course the press need to be cautious. But in my opinion, this was a hate crime, not an act of terrorism. The fact that he had a similar modus operandi to other adttacks, doesn’t mean that the motivation and result was necessarily the same. 

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