In a small gym not so far, far away, a new group of 20 wannabe Jedi knights held their lightsabers as they prepared to swing and slash the bright-bladed weapons. Some held them like baseball bats; others spun their blades with one hand while they awaited further instruction.
Of course, these weren’t actual Jedi knights in training—but they were martial artists, lightsaber choreography performers, and avid Star Wars fans. They’d come to learn competitive lightsaber skills from Ludosport, an international lightsaber training academy that held its first set of San Francisco classes at Van Ness gym Studiomix last month.
Over two hours, the students learned a variety of lightsaber techniques, from how to hold their weapons to proper footwork, attacks and defenses.
Unlike in Star Wars, these lightsabers aren’t capable of doing any serious damage. Instead, they’re made of a flexible polycarbonate, perched atop a weighted aluminum handle. They can be charged and assigned a color via microUSB.
“It’s really awesome,” said Aubrey Isaacman, a former martial artist and Star Wars fan who attended the class. “I’ve had [martial arts] training before, so it feels familiar, but the whole fantasy of Star Wars is super cool to have with that.”
Ludosport was founded in Milan in 2006. Its creators are Gianluca Longo, Simone Spreafico and Fabio Monticelli, three Star Wars fans experienced in fencing and martial arts.
Lightsaber combat started as a hobby for the trio, but they’ve since developed and expanded it into an international business, sweeping across Europe and into Russia. Ludosport’s YouTube channel has racked up nearly half a million views, with just as many shares on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
The school teaches and practices seven forms of lightsaber combat drawn from the Star Wars universe: Shii-Cho, Makashi, Soresu, Ataru, Djem-so, Niman and Vaapad. Each form adds something new from the previous one: for example, Shii-Cho is for absolute beginners, Soresu is mainly defensive techniques, and Vaapad is purely attacking techniques. Those who master lightsaber combat eventually specialize in one of the seven disciplines.
Longo said Ludosport’s style combines several competitive combat elements, most notably Olympic fencing, renaissance sportsmanship and medieval armament fencing. The students are taught proper fighting technique, while keeping up a higher pace and using more athleticism than traditional sword combat. The best combatants compete in national and international tournaments.
“It’s an organized sport—you’re not just trying to attack a target,” said Ben Otto, who performs with lightsabers. “You’re trying to execute specific moves towards that purpose. It’s sort of like playing chess.”
The event in San Francisco marked the first-ever Ludosport class in the United States—a fitting choice, since the Bay Area is also the home of Star Wars creator George Lucas and his company Lucasfilm Ltd.
Ludosport’s debut in the U.S. was funded through the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, raising $32,775 from 152 people—328 percent more than the original goal of $10,000. The founders are eyeing New York, Houston, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Orlando as possible future destinations.
While most of the class spent the session wielding a lightsaber for the first time, a few students, like Alain Bloch, were already veterans.
“We were really excited about Ludosport coming out here and bringing what they’ve been doing over in Europe,” said Bloch, a founder of the lightsaber choreography group Golden Gate Knights. “It’s nice to be a part of it.”
Want to learn to fight with lightsabers? Ludosport classes are offered every Saturday from 4:15-6:15pm at Studiomix (1000 Van Ness Ave.) Participants must be 16 and up; email firstname.lastname@example.org for pricing and more details.