How the Star Wars fandom turned an iconic weapon into a competitive sport
Charley Cummings’ LED Lightsaber is not a collector’s item.
When he bought the polycarbonate replica, it was impossible for the gun to rest on a shelf. Instead, he became what he now calls his “gateway drug” for the sport of LED Saber Combat.
Cummings has always loved Star Wars and has a sports background, including college lacrosse and martial arts. But own a lightsaber – it was a whole new world. He found himself practicing in the privacy of his home. Finally, he decided to showcase his skills publicly.
In 2016, Cummings pulled out his old lacrosse gear and went to his first Star Wars-themed sports meet in Minnesota. It was a local meetup for The Saber Legion, a community of Star Wars fans who created a sport based on lightsaber battles. (Disney owns the term “lightsaber,” so The Saber Legion opted for “LED saber fight.”)
Five years later first meeting Cummings is now the majority owner of The Saber Legion, which has chapters in 11 countries and 48 states. Many practice sessions and ibuprofen pills later (even a polycarbonate saber can leave a mark), he appeared at the highest level of LED saber combat. He even has a move, “the charley”, which bears his name.
Cummings tells Reverse sport gives her something messing around with an LED saber in her bedroom couldn’t.
While learning to wield a lightsaber is one of the most exciting achievements in the Star Wars universe, learning to compete with an LED saber is very close. LED Saber Battles allow players to experience bruises, sweat, and tears – just like real Star Wars characters. The result is a deeper connection to the fandom that cannot be achieved in a movie theater.
“Even though we have this feeling of disbelief or imagination, it still takes a lot of work. It still takes conditioning to be able to do that, ”Cummings says. “It connects us to a world or a universe that we love. This puts you in that next realm and lets you play a bit more. “
What makes LED saber fighting a sport?
LED saber fighting enthusiasts are quick to mention that the sport is more athletic than it looks. Cardio is a fundamental skill of a fighter, and beginners who are short of breath often find that their technique does not withstand prolonged attack.
Basic physical fitness aside, LED sword fighting is a hyper-specific mix of fantasy and sports. In Star Wars canon, there are seven basic forms of fighting style, not to mention spinoffs and other techniques.
“All you have to do is replace in a expensive flashlight. “
LED Saber Fighting is inspired by the movies but is also influenced by kendo, a Japanese martial art designed to “shape the mind and body” through “correct and rigid training” and discipline centered on the Europe called Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). HEMA groups extract historical texts in search of evidence of ancient European combat techniques and reconstruct these disciplines.
The LED saber is meant to be “the MMA of saber sports,” Cummings says. It combines these two styles, along with many different martial arts and combat sports, into something new.
“We’re basically just a platform,” Cummings explains. “People can take the knowledge they have from elsewhere. All you need to do is replace with an expensive flashlight.
The result is a sport which takes place in gusts. The fighters often surround themselves and the attacks are so quick that it’s hard to tell who is really hit (that’s what the judges are there for). The drama ends after each hit, allowing the judges to award points (the first in 10 wins the fight). These moments create particularly intense fights, even if they aren’t exactly. see like the sleek, fluid battle scenes seen in the movies.
Naturally, it’s impossible to imitate what a lightsaber battle looks like in the movies. Part of it is a material problem. LED saber combat fighters are content with polycarbonate blades as opposed to plasma based ones. And the polycarbonate blades slide over each other, making it impossible for the push and pull tension of two warriors locked together.
Still, the Saber Legion is trying to refine the style of its sport to better reflect the drama of saber battles on screen. To better mimic the style of on-screen battles, the group unveiled a new set of rules in 2019 with the goal of striking a different balance between sports and fantasy.
The Unity rule set includes changes that, as Cummings puts it, “adds that theatrical flair.” Players are encouraged to bring the saber back over their head after a hit, and unlike traditional saber fighting rules, the match is played without interruption. Players are also allowed to fight with background music.
“The flow is totally different,” Cummings says. “It takes incredible cardio to continuously fight / hit / block without stopping for two to three rounds at over two minutes each.”
The Michael Jordan of LED saber fighting
Alain Bloch has already been crowned Lebron James of LED Saber Fighting by ESPN for having “the soft feet of a ballroom dancer, the killer instinct of a middle linebacker, and the supernatural feel of the two keys of fencing, timing and distance.”
It is only fitting that he also wins the title of Michael Jordan. Cummings also notes that Bloch is a model of the sport for his speed and unusual skills. But it is not unbeatable.
In 2019, he fell to newcomer Jimmy Sourile, a fighter who trained with the same group in Minnesota that sparked Cummings’ career.
Sourile was described by The Star Tribune as “Luke Skywalker from Minnesota.” His battle with Bloch for the 2019 championship is described as “legendary” by The Saber Legion’s Facebook page. (He also has a respectable 968,501 views as of this writing on YouTube.) Sourile landed several headshots on the defending champion and forced the first round of fights to sudden death in overtime – giving him an advantage that helped him secure the crown.
What sets Bloch, Sourile and the other high performing members of the Championship circuit apart is that they train like real athletes. “They take the sport seriously,” Cummings says.
The spirit of LED saber combat
Sports inspired by fantastic worlds, Like Harry Potter-inspired Muggle Quidditch or LED Sword Fighting, certainly bring players closer to the fandom. A love for Star Wars, admittedly, is what might draw most people into battles with LED Saber. Still, Cummings is adamant that LED saber fighting is “a sport above all else.”
To be fair, you don’t find yourself wielding an LED lightsaber unless you have some flair for the imagination. Some players dress like characters from Star Wars, while others dress like characters from other fandoms. (Cummings’ wife has a Powerpuff Girls-Helmet inspired.)
But some, including Cummings, don’t dress as characters at all. Sometimes the imagination is enough. The drama of the moment makes everything real.
In 2016, Cummings felt that spark ignite during his first competition in Kansas City. Instead of the Force, he felt a surge of competitive energy. He wasn’t playing with an LED lightsaber, he was competing with a.
“The freedom to be able to do it is so release and so surprisingly gratifying. “
The rules of the acting game were gone, and in safe, armored, and controlled combat, he was allowed to pursue his opponent in the same way a Jedi warrior would. “I became a hyper-serious fighter that I didn’t know I had in me,” he says.
Fantasy may have been the force that drew Cummings and thousands of The Saber Legion members. But it’s the competition – and the evolution of the discipline of the sport – that keeps people coming back.
“Every Star Wars fan has, at one point, taken an empty paper towel tube or wrapping paper tube and played like they’re fighting with a lightsaber,” Cummings explains. “The freedom to be able to do this with someone knowing they’re completely armored and safe is so liberating and incredibly rewarding.”
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