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Lightsaber embraced as sport in fencing halls

AFP, LYON, France

Members of the Lyon La Rapiere lightsaber fencing club train in Lyon, France, on March 29.

Photo: AFP

It has for decades been the dream of the young and the young-at-heart to be like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars and vanquish foes with a lightsaber.

Now, in France at least, the dream can come true, after the French Fencing Federation registered lightsaber as an official sport.

Fencing already has three very different weapons — foil, epee and saber — which are disciplines up to Olympic level, but now the lightsaber offers a fourth, which the national fencing authorities hope will win new converts to the sport.

“When the world of fiction transforms into sport, it can only be positive,” said Olivier Hanicotte, head of the lightsaber project at federation.

He said the idea first came from the US in 2013 before becoming popular in French fencing halls.

“Then the federation took over to secure and regulate it, because at one point, there were a lot of security concerns, with people not necessarily wearing masks or protection,” he said.

The federation has even created its own lightsaber academy to structure training, organize competitions and ensure safety.

The idea was not to find a novel way to attract people to traditional fencing, but to develop a specific sport, Hanicotte said.

The strategy seems to have paid off — in just two years, the number of participants has quadrupled, with about 1,200 people now training in 92 clubs.

On a Friday evening, a lightsaber session in Lyon was so popular that instructor Mathieu Dhennin, 32, had to turn people away.

“The people in my classes range from children of 10 to adults aged 40 to 50 who have been fans of Star Wars from the very first film,” he said.

Some dress up in costume with a few in full Darth Vader garb.

“I’ve come dressed up a few times, but it’s not compulsory. You can come in a tracksuit. It’s easier, but it’s less immersive,” participant Gauthier Alfonsi said.

To formalize the new sport, the federation has created four different disciplines: combat lightsaber, where fighters move rapidly in a circular arena; choreographed combat, where fighters are judged by a panel; “kata,” where fighters search for the perfect move like in tai chi; and team combat, which explicitly uses the mythology of the films and is particularly popular with children.

“The moves we use with lightsabers are very close to those used in fencing, but there are also moves which are borrowed from other combat sports,” said Dhennin, who founded the Lyon lightsaber academy.

Despite some similarities with fencing, the aim was quite different, Hanicotte said.

“There are a certain number of moves that obviously resemble sport fencing, but we’ve organized them in a convention that allows for us to get nearer to the universe imagined by fans,” he said.

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