Looking to make a Star Wars dreams come true? The French Fencing Federation is giving a famed movie weapon equal rank with the foil, epee, and sabre—the traditional blades used at the Olympic Games. Federation bigwigs are recognizing lightsaber dueling as an official competitive sport.
Sure, these hard-plastic, real-life lightsabers can’t slice a Sith in half. But they look fearsome. Some even emit electric rumbles. There’s plenty of slashing, stabbing, and sweating in a three-minute lightsaber bout. In fact, the physical nature of the combat is one reason the fencing federation supports the new sport.
In the past, the likes of Robin Hood and the Three Musketeers helped lure people to fencing. Now, Luke Skywalker is the fictional hero encouraging kids off the couch and into combat.
“Cape-and-sword movies have always had a big impact on our federation and its growth,” says Serge Aubailly, the federation secretary general. “Lightsaber films have the same impact. Young people want to give it a try.”
Police officer Philippe Bondi practiced fencing for 20 years before switching to lightsaber. Bondi says he likes the idea of entering the Star Wars universe he saw in the first film at age seven.
Bondi fights in the same wire-mesh face mask he used for fencing. He bought new protective body armor (sturdy gloves, chest, shoulder, and shin pads) and a federation-approved lightsaber in glowing Jedi green.
To build their sport, French organizers produced rules that make lightsaber dueling both competitive and fun to watch.
“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,” says Michel Ortiz, a tournament organizer.
Combatants fight inside a circle marked in tape on the floor. Strikes to the head or body are worth five points; to the arms or legs, three points; on hands, one point. The first to 15 points or with the highest score after three minutes, wins. Blows count only if the fighters first point the tip of their saber behind them. The rule encourages swishier blows that are easier for audiences to see and enjoy.
With only a few hundred fighters, lightsaber dueling won’t appear at the 2024 Paris Olympics. But if you ever hear the thwack of plastic blades and view the colorful, twisting shapes, you’ll want to give the sport a try. En garde, Jedi Knights!