As It Happens

In France, the Force awakens interest in the sport of fencing — now with lightsabers

Step aside, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. In France, Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan-Kenobi and Yoda are the new faces of inspiration in fencing — as France's national governing body for the sport officially recognizes lightsaber duelling with a national tournament.

The French Fencing Federation has officially recognized lightsaber duelling as a competitive sport

Competitors battle during the national lightsaber tournament in Beaumont-sur-Oise, north of Paris. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)
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The French Fencing Federation has recognized lightsaber duelling as an official competitive sport.

To mark the occasion, the FFF held a national lightsaber championship tournament earlier this month — complete with armour-clad competitors and, yes, officially sanctioned lightsabers.

Cedric Giroux , founder of Académie de Sabre Laser — the official training ground for aspiring Luke Skywalkers — said it was difficult to organize a championship at first, because there were many different lightsaber-dueling groups with their own sets of rules.

But the FFF has standardized the rules and ensured that all participants are equipped with the same degree and standard of protection.

"The project was to recreate — with some choreography and real fights — the movie scene of fighting," he said. "It's a melting pot of all different martial arts. You can fight with different weapons — one lightsaber, two lightsaber, and so on."

Giroux acknowledged that the bouts can be dangerous — the LED-lit lightsabers' polycarbonate blades have been known to break bones.

"That's why all the practitioners need really good protection," he said.

The lightsaber fencers compete in a dark space so you can really see the glow of the weapon. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)

Fighters rely on the traditional fencing face masks and breastplates to shield themselves from potential injury, he said. But perhaps the most essential protective gear are the gloves.

"In the movie, as you may know ... the hands are a principal target," he said. "So it was very important ... we found some gloves that you can hit the hands without pain."

The rules of lightsaber fencing 

In an official lightsaber battle, challengers face off in a ring, marked on the floor with tape.

A strike to the hand is worth a point, one to the arms or legs earns three, and a blow to the head gets five. The first fighter to reach 15 wins — or if the bout exceeds the allotted time, victory goes to the combatant with the highest score.

If both fighters achieve 10 points, they enter a sudden death round, where the first head or body blow determines the winner.

"We fight in some dark place, so you can see the light of the blades when we are fighting," Giroux said. "So it's really cool. You are really in the movie." 
Two competitors duel in Beaumont-sur-Oise on Feb. 10. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)

As for authentic Star Wars costumes, Giroux said it's in the works.

"The French Fencing Federation [is] working on a cosplay dress," he said, so that members can look "like a Jedi should."

Giroux said the FFF's decision to recognize lightsaber duelling was made in part to promote and encourage physical activity in the country.

"There is a lot of people who maybe will never try sports," he said. "And now they can with lightsaber."

With files from Associated Press. Interview with Cedric Giroux produced by Richard Raycraft.

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