The sight of twirling warriors spectacularly swishing their weapons in a graceful dance of light will no longer be exclusive to the Star Wars universe.
France’s fencing federation has decided to officially recognise lightsaber duelling as a competitive sport. Although we shouldn’t expect to see hooded padawans at the Olympics any time soon, the announcement is incredibly significant and rather surprising. Lightsabers, created by George Lucas as for his fictional universe back in the late 70s, has now been given the same status as the foil, epee and sabre, traditional blades and disciplines that have their origins in 15th-century military tradition and have been part of the Olympic Games since 1896.
The move was inspired in part to entice young generations to get off the couch and practice fencing.
“With young people today, it’s a real public health issue. They don’t do any sport and only exercise with their thumbs,” Serge Aubailly, the federation’s secretary-general, told AP News.
“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. That is why we are trying to create a bond between our discipline and modern technologies, so participating in a sport feels natural.”
French organisers of the new sport built it from the ground up, devising a set of rules and technicalities to set lightsaber duelling apart from the lightning-swift, viper style characteristics of traditional fencing. Their intention is to create a flashy competition that’s easy on the eyes and resembles the duels from the movies.
Tournament organiser Michel Ortiz said, “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 what people expect.”
Duels are three minutes long and participants fight inside a circle marked on the floor. Strikes to the head and torso are worth five points, while hits on arms and legs give three points. A blow on the hands gives just one point.
Competitors win the bout by being the first to hit 15 points or having a higher score than their opponent after three minutes. If both fighters reach ten points, the duel enters “sudden death” where the first to land a head or a body blow wins.
Though the announcement sounds novel, lightsaber fighting competitions have been going on for some years at an informal, amateur level all around the world. There’s even an organisation in the US called “The Saber Legion” which runs the most prestigious lightsaber duelling tournaments in the country.
The rules of the amateur American version are quite different from the new French sport, and its intention is closer to the lighthearted fun of cosplay than a real competition.
France’s lightsaber duels not only legitimises the geeky practice as an official sport and brings the techniques, know-how and lengthy history of fencing to a tradition born in a galaxy far, far away. If you ever wanted to see a Jedi in real life, this is where it all starts.