Fact: Lightsaber duels are awesome.

Whoever has seen Star wars could tell you. But Charley Cummings is more than just a casual fan.

“I would go see a movie about Obi-Wan Kenobi going to the grocery store,” he said.

Unlike most fans, Cummings wasn’t satisfied simply marveling at the elegant weapons wielded by the Jedi Knights in a galaxy far, far away. So he got his own saber, made a set of armor, and turned his fandom into a sport.

By day, Cummings is a 45-year-old father who works at US Bank in Minnesota. But by nightfall, you’ll find him dodging opponents’ glowing sabers as a member of The Saber Legion.

“An elegant weapon for a more civilized time.”

Cummings is the vice-president and co-owner of The Saber Legion, a competitive saber-fighting league founded by Terry Birnbaum in 2015. Since then, it has over 4,000 members with chapters in many US states, Canada and the United States. UK. This is not the first organization of saber duels – local groups have been around for years – its rapid and international growth has arguably made it the most successful.

The saber duel is a hybrid sport, attract participants from three distinct groups: Star wars fans, martial arts athletes, and LED saber enthusiasts (there are over 30,000 collectors, according to Cummings.)

For legal reasons, these are not “lightsabers”, but members of the Saber Legion are definitely Star wars Fans. The Legion is heavily influenced by traditional sword sports like fencing and kendo, a Japanese blade-based martial art. But he is not bound by the rules in any form.

The Saber Legion

“There’s that kind of fantastic element in it, but the minute the game starts, it’s all out the window,” Cummings said. “You are touched. For a very long time, my wife called it “Saber Fight Club”, because I came home with bruises.

And, yes, it’s just as cool as it sounds.

“Do. Or not. There is no trial.”

“Our goal is for it to be the MMA of saber fighting,” said Saber Legion founder Terry Birnbaum.

It might sound like an ambitious plan, but the Saber Legion has grown from a group of friends fighting in Birnbaum’s backyard to an international business based on competition in just two years. It hosts several tournaments each year, and many chapters, including the original group from Minnesota, have weekly practice sessions. Some of the best competitors in the league train five times a week with the dedication of any other athlete.

In other words, it’s a real thing.

The Saber Legion

“I really see it as a sport. I work out, eat right, make sure I go to the gym, ”said Ryan Kappes, finalist in the TSL Championship fight last May. “In the end, everything is fun … but there are still rankings; it’s competitive.

“In my experience there is no such thing as luck.”

Sport is actually quite simple. Two “saber players” compete in a 25 ‘by 25’ ring. Fighters wear protective gear often designed to look like something out of the box. Star wars universe. Swords are made of the same material as police batons and often cost hundreds of dollars. They can be up to 52 inches long in standard competition. Matches last up to 10 minutes and contestants score points with direct hits to different parts of the body. Blows to the head, torso, arms and legs all earn one point – and the first duelist is 10 wins. It’s a little different from fencing – where there’s more of an emphasis on using the point of the weapon – but the general idea is similar.

“There is no better experience of euphoria,” Cummings said. “It’s really a chess match when you go up against this other duelist: ‘How am I going to get in there? how am I going to tag it without getting tagged myself? ‘ “

The duels do not look much like the choreographed and acrobatic fights of the Star wars movie theater. Matches are fast-paced brain competitions – everything happens in rapid bursts of aggression interspersed with frequent points and saves. And while online commentators quickly dismissed the sport as more like a costumed kendo match than a sci-fi scene, it doesn’t stop. crowds of fans excited to show up to tournaments, which are like a Star wars fan dream. With fights and dramatic litter-filled entrances, it’s part professional wrestling, part “real” sports, and part comic book convention. In other words, it’s the ultimate in fan service.

The Saber Legion

“Always in motion is the future.”

The Saber Legion is also something that probably couldn’t have existed more than a few years ago. Birnbaum used social networks to grow the league, allowing individual chapters to grow while remaining connected and organized. The popularity of the league has also coincided with another trend: the growing popularity of nerd culture.

“It’s kind of the golden age for nerds right now,” Cummings said. “Because for most of my life I had to hide this stuff, what a big Star wars fan you were … and now you can grow up and let your nerd flag fly free.

And for Birnbaum, TSL is the perfect balance between two of his greatest interests.

“I wanted to combine my fandom and my desire to be active and participate in the same thing, so that’s how TSL was born,” he explained. “We bring a sport to people who don’t necessarily like football, baseball or soccer because they don’t care; maybe they’re a little out of date.

Which in Birnbaum’s vision is what sets the Saber Legion apart from other sports. Although the competition is the main element, it has also become a community – thousands of strong and growing sabers. And that atmosphere is one of the reasons he expects TSL to continue to grow as well:

“It’s very inclusive; anyone can enter. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from … you’re gonna laugh, you’re gonna have a good time, you’re gonna be like “whoa!”

And on top of that, lightsaber duels are just awesome.

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