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Blades, Movies, and Swords of Light

Blades, Movies, and Swords of Light

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Published by Brian Kern
An exploratory essay into the fencing art of the Lightsaber.
An exploratory essay into the fencing art of the Lightsaber.

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Published by: Brian Kern on Dec 11, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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06/16/2009

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Blades, Movies, and Swords of Light
By: Brian Kern
Throughout the history of our world, edged weapons have made their cuttingimpact upon our society, from the first flint knives and spears, the heavy and soft bronzeswords, to the elegant Spanish rapier and the Japanese Katana. Humankind has alwaysfelt a fascination for these weapons; the personal experience of studying, using, and feelingthe blade. Even today, the art of fencing is still alive, with thousands of people practicingtheir chosen forms across the world.And as such, Hollywood has included the blade many times: for its elegance, for its beauty, for its dashing ability to demonstrate courage, skill, and honor. Any fool can pullthe trigger of a gun. Only a skilled master can handle the blade. Every one of us can think immediately of some movie where the flashing steel
was
the climax. Need I name a few?I doubt it. In any event, Hollywood now hires the most talented sword masters tochoreograph and aid the actors and actresses in using their blades. And it’s a goodchange, moving from the stilted and poorly executed eclectic styles that ended up lookingas if the players were merely whacking at each other’s steel.But then, in a galaxy far, far away… a new dawn in the era of the blade had begun.Or perhaps we should say that it began almost twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five yearsago we were introduced to a new weapon. “Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster, butan elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.” We watched in amazement as Obi WanKenobi handed Luke Skywalker his father’s light saber. And yet, the one light saber battlewe saw seemed…lacking.
 
Things did improve in
 Empire Strikes Back 
, asLuke Skywalker battled his father. The rash youngJedi’s style proved to be more than a match for thetowering Vader, who ended up using the power of theforce to defeat the fledgling Jedi Knight. But still…In
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
, for thefirst time, the Star Wars saga caught up to the rest of Hollywood in the art of the blade. It was easy to become riveted by the fantastic leaps, quick movements, incredible agility, and theamazing lethality of these weapons. Ah...what I wouldn't do for a lightsaber. Heck! Atthe age of six I wanted one! But as I grew older and understood that discipline, skill, andcontrol are needed to handle even a steel saber, I came to realize what would actuallyhappen if I held a Jedi’s chosen weapon.Studying the blade is no easy task - even in a sport like fencing. Whether you usea foil for thrust work, or a saber for targeted thrust and cut, small wounds, and moreoften, the inevitable feeling of your opponent's blade upon your padded jacket; scoresfrom your opponent’s blade do happen. Fencers are frequently cut on their hands, protective jackets are perforated, and accidents occur. But then again, the whole point isto “score” a “touch” upon your opponent. Fencers practice constantly to improve their technique and master more difficult motions. Now imagine practicing with a blade that slices through titanium like a Gingsuknife through butter, or a tin can as the commercial says. Imagine a blade that generatesenough heat to cauterize a serious wound, like amputating a hand. Now imagine making a
 
mistake with this thing and changing your sex in a miscalculated instant. As Obi-Wan,Anakin, Luke, Leia, C-3PO, and even Han, all said: "I have a bad feeling about this."As a fencer, I find the stilted, halting battles between Darth Vader and Ben Kenobifrom the fourth episode, and later between Vader and Luke in both
 Empire Strikes Back 
and
 Return of the Jedi
, to be much more realistic to the idea of this weapon. I'd bedamned careful with a light saber. Oh sure, killing the opponent and/or severing his wristseems to be a surefire goal, but realistically speaking, how likely is this? Consider thesefacts:Light sabers have no hilt to protect the hand. Did you ever play "swords" withsticks when you were growing up? How many times did your knuckles get rapped? Nowyou want to play with a lightsaber with no hilt? It seems highly likely that a light saber would either slide down the length of the blade into the handle, slicing it open (thusrendering it broken?) and into the fingers of the one holding it. I would imagine that it’stough to hold any kind of saber with no fingers on your hand.Do you use two hands or one hand? Fencers will tell you that swords can come incountless shapes and sizes, but you can simplify and categorize them up in two types:Blades that can be controlled with one hand, or blades that take two. For example,imagine Zorro in a duel with King Arthur. Who would win? Zorro could never hope tostop Arthur’s two-handed broadsword swings with his slim rapier and would be forced toavoid every powerful stroke, dancing around the armor laden Arthur, finding it difficult tomake a thrust. And yet Arthur wouldn’t have the ability to match Zorro’s dexterity. Themasked bandit would have frequent opportunities to strike at chinks in Arthur’s armor.Yet we have seen many different styles of fencing in the Star Wars saga, using allthe same weapon. Obi Wan Kanobi used both one and two-handed grips in Star Wars, and perhaps we should blame his advanced age on the poor fencing basics he gave to Luke.Luke however frequently favored the heavy, two-handed hammer hold, broadsword bashing style. Vaders one-handed stance actually was the most realistic, since his stylewas extremely controlled, as if he recognized the danger of his weapon. In any event,you would expect the users of the light saber to be cautious, controlled, and verydeliberate in their movements.And then we saw
The Phantom Menace
. We were awed at Kenobi’s skill! Look at him twirl his blade in a one-handed elegant fashion! But oh wait, he switched to twohands again. And then, the
 piece de resistance
, Darth Maul’s quarterstaff light saber.Martial Artists throughout the world admired the weapon and cringed at the thought of the danger it posed to the user. Ever watch quarterstaff fighting or the oriental art of the
bo
? But we digress into other art forms.One of the most amazing light saber weapons is Count Dooku's one handed pistolgrip saber. While it appeared too many as if Count Dooku had accidentally micro-wavedhis traditional Jedi blade, fencing enthusiasts cheered the elegant approach the Count took toward fencing. Dooku’s saber was obviously designed for one-handed control, as if itwere a true rapier.Perhaps we should all take Yoda’s light saber course, if we’re not too old to beginthe training. If I had to fight someone with a lightsaber, I sure would like to know whichstyle to defend against. Dooku would be disciplined, knowledgeable, and somewhat predictable (due to his classical style), not to mention that his thrusts and slashes would becontrolled and strong, but not jackhammer force. Fighting Luke however, would be liketrying to block a meteor storm with a chopstick. The best swordsman in the world doesn'tfear the second best, he fears the worst. The worst doesn't know beans and you can't

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