Lightsaber Dueling Is Now Recognized As a Competitive Sport in France. No, Really

(BEAUMONT-SUR-OISE, France) — Master Yoda, dust off his French, he must.

It’s now easier than ever in France to act out “Star Wars” fantasies, because its fencing federation has borrowed from a galaxy far, far away and officially recognized lightsaber dueling as a competitive sport, granting the iconic weapon from George Lucas’ saga the same status as the foil, epee and sabre, the traditional blades used at the Olympics.

Of course, the LED-lit, rigid polycarbonate lightsaber replicas can’t slice a Sith lord in half. But they look and, with the more expensive sabers equipped with a chip in their hilt that emits a throaty electric rumble, even sound remarkably like the silver screen blades that Yoda and other characters wield in the blockbuster movies .

Plenty realistic, at least, for duelists to work up an impressive sweat slashing, feinting and stabbing in organized, 3-minute bouts. The physicality of lightsaber combat is part of why the French Fencing Federation threw its support behind the sport and is now equipping fencing clubs with lightsabers and training would-be lightsaber instructors. Like virtuous Jedi knights, the French federation sees itself as combatting a Dark Side: The sedentary habits of 21st-century life that are sickening ever-growing numbers of adults and kids .

“With young people today, it’s a real public health issue. They don’t do any sport and only exercise with their thumbs,” says Serge Aubailly, the federation secretary general. “It’s becoming difficult to (persuade them to) do a sport that has no connection with getting out of the sofa and playing with one’s thumbs. That is why we are trying to create a bond between our discipline and modern technologies, so participating in a sport feels natural.”

In the past, the likes of Zorro, Robin Hood and The Three Musketeers helped lure new practitioners to fencing. Now, joining and even supplanting them are Luke Skywalker , Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader.

France Learning Lightsaber
Christophe Ena—APIn this Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, photo, men dressed up as Stormtroopers joke as they approach a vehicle during a national lightsaber tournament in Beaumont-sur-Oise, north of Paris.

“Cape and sword movies have always had a big impact on our federation and its growth,” Aubailly says. “Lightsaber films have the same impact . Young people want to give it a try.”

And the young at heart.

Police officer Philippe Bondi, 49, practiced fencing for 20 years before switching to lightsaber. When a club started offering classes in Metz, the town in eastern France where he is stationed for the gendarmerie, Bondi says he was immediately drawn by the prospect of living out the love he’s had for the Star Wars universe since he saw the first film at age 7, on its release in 1977 .

He fights in the same wire-mesh face mask he used for fencing. He spent about 350 euros ($ 400) on his protective body armor (sturdy gloves, chest, shoulder and shin pads) and on his federation-approved lightsaber, opting for luminous green “because it’s the Jedi colors, and Yoda is my master.”

“I had to be on the good side, given that my job is upholding the law,” he said.

Bondi awoke well before dawn to make the four-hour drive from Metz to a national lightsaber tournament outside Paris this month that drew 34 competitors. It showcased how far the sport has come in a couple of years but also that it’s still light years from becoming mainstream.

The crowd was small and a technical glitch prevented the duelers’ photos, combat names and scores from being displayed on a big screen, making bouts tough to follow. But the illuminated swooshes of colored blades looked spectacular in the darkened hall. Fan cosplay as Star Wars characters added levity, authenticity and a tickle of bizarre to the proceedings, especially the incongruous sight of Darth Vader buying a ham sandwich and a bag of potato chips at the cafeteria during a break.

In building their sport from the ground up, French organizers produced competition rules intended to make lightsaber dueling both competitive and easy on the eyes.

“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,” said Michel Ortiz, the tournament organizer.

Combatants fight inside a circle marked in tape on the floor. Strikes to the head or body are worth 5 points; to the arms or legs, 3 points; on hands, 1 point. The first to 15 points wins or, if they don’t get there quickly, the high scorer after 3 minutes. If both fighters reach 10 points, the bout enters “sudden death,” where the first to land a head- or body-blow wins, a rule to encourage enterprising fighters.

Blows only count if the fighters first point the tip of their saber behind them. That rule prevents the viper-like, tip-first quick forward strikes seen in fencing. Instead, the rule encourages swishier blows that are easier for audiences to see and enjoy, and which are more evocative of the duels in Star Wars. Of those, the battle between Obi-Wan and Darth Maul in “The Phantom Menace” that ends badly for the Sith despite his double-bladed lightsaber is particularly appreciated by aficionados for its swordplay.

Still nascent, counting its paid-up practitioners in France in the hundreds, not thousands, lightsaber dueling has no hope of a place in the Paris Olympics in 2024.

But to hear the thwack of blades and see them cut shapes through the air is to want to give the sport a try.

Or, as Yoda would say: “Try not. Do! Or do not. There is no try.”

Sports – TIME

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PARIS — One is in Troyes, a city in eastern France with a deep-rooted textile history. The other is located in the Haut Marais, a trendy shopping district in the center of Paris.
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World Title Contenders Stephanie Gilmore and Lakey Peterson Eliminated from Roxy Pro France

WSL PRESS RELEASE

PLAGE DES CULS NUS – Hossegor, Landes, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France (Thursday, October 11, 2018) – The Roxy Pro and Quiksilver Pro France, Stop No. 9 on the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT), witnessed a day full of upsets and drama during women’s Round 3 and men’s Round 3.

World No. 1 Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) and World No. 2 Lakey Peterson (USA) were both eliminated in Equal 9th place today, which will now push the World Title race to the Maui Beachwaver Pro, the last stop on the women’s CT.

Gilmore was dispatched by California’s Courtney Conlogue (USA), who will now advance into the Quarters alongside Malia Manuel (HAW). Gilmore’s third-place finish behind Conlogue and Manuel in Round 3 Heat 2 terminated all hopes of a seventh World Title coronation in France.

“In these conditions, I feel like it’s good to work with the currents and play it to your favor,” Conlogue said. “It gives you an option to see the wave happening, cause trying to come in when you’re too far out is a lot trickier with the rips. I knew Steph had a lot on the line but I have my own battle with myself so I was just focusing on my process to execute my plan.”

Gilmore scored the heat’s best wave, an excellent 8.27 (out of a possible 10), in the last few minutes with a long ride and a combination of great backhand gauges, but couldn’t get back in the lineup fast enough to get another ride. Despite the loss, Gilmore’s seventh World Title is still within close striking distance.

“I think at the beginning I just missed a couple of opportunities when I had priority,” Gilmore said. “Then I was starting to stress and just kept making mistakes. I got that one in the end and it was a good score but the problem was my other scores. It was just tough to swallow. It’s the worst feeling ever when you train so hard. Lakey (Peterson) and I both had a shocker ”

Hawaii’s Coco Ho took good notice of the previous heat drama and added her own touch by eliminating the current World No. 2 Lakey Peterson (USA). Ho went to town on the long lefts for a healthy 13.34 total (out of a possible 20), while goofyfoot Bronte Macaulay (AUS) was the first surfer to shine on her forehand, finding her own gems to advance into the Quarters for the third time this season.

“At the beginning of the year I figured this round would be pretty doable, but it’s gotten me until this back half,” Ho said. “I messed up and Lakey (Peterson) got that 6 under my priority, but then I got my 7 under theirs and my last 6 under Lakey’s, so it was about who was in the sweet spot. If I could sit on this left for the rest of the event it could maybe be a Keanu story. It’s really fun, but we’ll see what the forecast is like for tomorrow, everything could change again.”

Following Gilmore’s early exit, Peterson had an opportunity to make up ground in the World Title race but couldn’t quite match her opponents’ form in Round 3. This 9th place exit in France is a second throwaway in the Californian’s season and will seriously complicate things for her in the last remaining event in Hawaii.

“That was definitely a chance for me to get into a really good position heading into Hawaii and I kind of felt like the chips would fall into place right now,” Peterson said. “Honestly I’m just disappointed in my surfing, I haven’t been able to surf a lot these last few days I’ve been a little bit sick and I think I let a couple things get in my head. It’s cool that I’m still in the race and that it’s going to Hawaii. I’m going to go home and rest up, it’s been a little hectic recently and I need a little breather.”

The World Title scenarios are as follows:

– Gilmore will win the World Title with a 3rd or better at the Beachwaver Maui Pro.
– If Gilmore finishes 5th or worse, Peterson must win the event to force a surf-off* for the World Title.

*In the event of a tie for any World Title at the end of the Surfing Season, the tied Surfer will have a “surf-off” during the final Event, which will have the format determined by the Commissioner’s Office.

Three-time WSL Champion Carissa Moore (HAW) put on a clinic right away, facing French representatives from Reunion Island and Tahiti, Johanne Defay (FRA) and Vahine Fierro (PYF).

Moore radiated confidence as she attacked the clean walls on her backhand, mixing carves and snaps from the outside to the shorey, even adding a little fun with a backside 360. The Hawaiian built an impressive 16.04 scoreboard, the highest of the entire event so far. Defay placed second and advanced into the Quarters while Roxy wildcard Fierro placed equal 9th.

“The conditions were fun this morning down the beach where the men were surfing yesterday,” Moore said. “The past couple of years, I just loved the atmosphere here, I love the food and the people. I love the ever-changing conditions, I think it’s a really good challenge and I think it takes the pressure off of overthinking things. I just feel really present when I’m at this event.”

In the last heat of women’s Round 3, World No. 3 Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA) capitalized on the frontrunners’ early exits and made sure to advance into the Quarters after back-to-back, disappointing 9th place results at the Vans US Open and the Surf Ranch Pro.

“At the beginning of my heat, my coach and I had a strategy and it went completely opposite,” Weston-Webb said. “So I just tried to reboot and reset. You always have to be ready to fight and adjust no matter where you are in the heat. Watching these last few days, especially the men, it’s been a lot of tiny turnarounds at the very end so for me it was about paying attention to how to control a heat. This round is definitely more intense so everyone stepped up their game.”

Replacement wildcard Macy Callaghan (AUS) managed to squeeze into the second advancing position and eliminated perennial threat Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) by 0.13 to make her first Quarterfinal appearance this season.

The Quiksilver Pro France remaining five heats of Round 3 followed as the tide dropped and before a strong south wind came to mess up the lineup in the afternoon.

Rookie Michael Rodrigues (BRA) took the debate to the air right away, scoring his best rides on two similar full forehand rotations as the peak shifted down the beach to short and punchy rights now. The Brasilian escaped a tense battle with Ezekiel Lau (HAW) and advanced out of Round 3 for only the third time this season.

“I love being here on the WSL tour with the best surfers in the world on the best waves,” Rodrigues said. “Right now I feel exactly like I want to feel. I’m confident to go into the next heat. I think it was the right call to stop yesterday with the wind that came up and we have much better conditions this morning.”

Mikey Wright (AUS) and Sebastian Zietz (HAW) defeated Joel Parkinson (AUS) and Griffin Colapinto (USA), respectively, on their way to Round 4, but the real drama came in the last seconds of an all-Californian matchup between Patrick Gudauskas (USA) and Kolohe Andino (USA). Andino was dominating the heat, sitting on a good 13.10 heat total, while Gudauskas needed a high 8 to turn the heat. Beach announcers counted down the end of the heat as Gudauskas started on a wave for a last-ditch effort. Andino, with priority, decided to start on the same wave, but did so after the buzzer, receiving an interference and losing the heat.

“I just had a terrible heat, probably one of the worst in a long time,” Gudauskas said. “At the end I needed a big score and I tried to get some distance from Kolohe to maybe try an air or something. I stood up on that wave and he stood up apparently after the horn. It’s a terrible way to win a heat and I wasn’t trying to do that but I’ve had a lot of terrible calls against me this year so I’ll take it where I can get it.”

In the last heat of the day, World No. 3 Julian Wilson (AUS) defeated the last remaining Frenchman in this event, local surfer Joan Duru (FRA).

Surfline, forecast partner of the WSL, is calling for:

The surf is eases on Thursday with variable wind, but southerly flow through around the first half of the day. New, mid period WNW swell fills on Friday as southerly wind continues. Larger W to WNW swell is likely over the weekend as southerly flow on Saturday likely shifts onshore westerly on Sunday.   

The Quiksilver and Roxy Pro France will be broadcast LIVE on WorldSurfLeague.com and the WSL’s Facebook page. Also, check local listings for coverage from the WSL’s broadcast partners.

Local fans will be able to follow the event LIVE on a big screen on the Central square in Hossegor and enjoy movie screenings and music acts in various places during the event’s waiting period.

Roxy Pro France Round 3 Results:
Heat 1: Carissa Moore (HAW) 16.04, Johanne Defay (FRA) 13.54, Vahine Fierro (PYF) 9.40
Heat 2: Courtney Conlogue (USA) 13.60, Malia Manuel (HAW) 12.60, Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 12.54
Heat 3: Coco Ho (HAW) 13.34, Bronte Macaulay (AUS) 13.03, Lakey Peterson (USA) 12.37
Heat 4: Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA) 14.34, Macy Callaghan (AUS) 13.30, Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 13.17

Roxy Pro France Quarterfinal Matchups:
QF 1: Carissa Moore (HAW) vs. Malia Manuel (HAW)
QF 2: Courtney Conlogue (USA) vs. Johanne Defay (FRA)
QF 3: Coco Ho (HAW) vs. Macy Callaghan (AUS)
QF 4: Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA) vs. Bronte Macaulay (AUS)

Quiksilver Pro France Remaining Round 3 (H8-12) Results:
Heat 8: Michael Rodrigues (BRA) 13.53 def. Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 11.16
Heat 9: Mikey Wright (AUS) 11.53 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 10.90
Heat 10: Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 8.06 def. Kolohe Andino (USA) 6.77
Heat 11: Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 12.70 def. Griffin Colapinto (USA) 12.33
Heat 12: Julian Wilson (AUS) 13.53 def. Joan Duru (FRA) 10.36

Quiksilver Pro France Round 4 Matchups:
Heat 1: Matt Wilkinson (AUS), Conner Coffin (USA), Jordy Smith (ZAF)
Heat 2: Willian Cardoso (BRA), Adriano De Souza (BRA), Ryan Callinan (AUS)
Heat 3: Gabriel Medina (BRA), Michael Rodrigues (BRA), Mikey Wright (AUS)
Heat 4: Patrick Gudauskas (USA), Sebastian Zietz (HAW), Julian Wilson (AUS)

For more information, please visit WorldSurfLeague.com.

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