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French ‘Lightsaber’ Combat Turns Fencing into Star Wars

In this Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, photo, competitors battle during a national lightsaber tournament in Beaumont-sur-Oise, north of Paris. "We wanted it to be safe, we wanted it to be umpired and, most of all, we wanted it to produce something visual that looks like the movies, because that is …
AP Photo/Christophe Ena
NATE CHURCH

The French Fencing Federation is taking advantage of the cultural behemoth franchise Star Wars to promote their venerable sport.

Where people were once drawn to fencing by the likes of Zorro or The Three Musketeers, the next generation of fencers is more likely to fantasize about battling Sith Lords than Spaniards. Federation Secretary General Serge Aubailly sees it as an important opportunity to engage the youth.

”With young people today, it’s a real public health issue. They don’t do any sport and only exercise with their thumbs,” he said. ”It’s becoming difficult to [persuade them to] do a sport that has no connection with getting out of the sofa and playing with one’s thumbs.”

To accomplish that feat, Aubailly wants to “to create a bond between our discipline and modern technologies,” which would make “participating [feel] natural.” According to him, “cape and sword movies have always had a big impact on our federation and its growth,” but ”lightsaber films have the same impact. Young people want to give it a try.”

The LED-lit, rigid polycarbonate lightsaber replicas used in these mock battles look and sound very much like the iconic weapons of the Jedi, but the rules are much closer to the age-old sport than a clash between good and evil. Participants are given points for hits, and the first to 15 is the victor.

To differentiate this spinoff, blows are only scored if the tip of the lightsaber first point their saber behind them. This means that participants must use more dramatic arcs for their attacks to be meaningful, rather than the rapid-fire poking for which fencing is known.

And while this new direction for the sport is little more than embryonic, it is poised to offer dueling excitement to a whole new generation of fans.

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