by the Masters
A few concepts expressed by the Masters in the year 2008.
BY Gianluca Longo ”Sabnak” Founder Master SLM – Society of LudoSport Masters
What’s the point in light saber combat ?
During new courses that I am lucky enough to take part in sometimes, or during some seminars or workshops, I sometimes get asked by a pupil: “Master, how did you come up with such an idea? Why did you create another type of fencing combat, when there are already so many, for all preferences (Kendo, Olympic Fencing, Singlestick and so on…)?” Right. What is sporting Light Saber Combat used for? Simple: nothing. Dedicating your free time doing voluntary work for Amnesty International or being a Doctor for Médecins Sans Frontières is useful; sporting Light Saber Combat is totally pointless from this point of view. If, on the other hand, in a less “drastic” approach, you are simple looking for a satisfying pastime that allows you to test your own psychological and physical limits in a socially welcoming environment and a happy atmosphere, then yes, Light Saber Combat offered by LudoSport is very useful. It isn’t a selective sport: anyone can take part; anyone can find their own space and role in the Clan that they belong to. The fact that, thanks to a few simple rules (above all Se.Cu.Ri.), the LudoSport gyms give their members the chance to forget the hardships of daily life for two hours is not something to be underestimated. The Clan is the place where everyone must be themselves – freely, without being ashamed of anything, as nobody will judge or criticize you. It is a simply a case of sharing a passion. And almost without noticing, your reflexes, coordination, stamina and awareness of your own body improve. If we have managed to work with a blind person and autistic people with great results, integrating them with a group of athletes, martial arts experts, various kinds of nerds, grey-haired enthusiasts and mums, that means we have achieved something positive. Perhaps that is what we were truly aiming for. And what is new about it all. It doesn’t really depend on our almost maniacal level of attention to detail and quality, that has allowed us to train excellent instructors, but rather on the idea that is the foundation of it all, an idea that seemed a little utopian and that has instead become a tangible, complex reality in just ten years. So what is sporting Light Saber Combat really useful for? It has the same use as any sport where a healthy competitive spirit and fair play are still present. It is a sport that anyone can try without any distinction of health, gender or aptitude, where there is still a sense of a group that is ready to openly welcome anyone with the same passion. Sporting Light Saber Combat is one of those rare realities, and it would be difficult for it to degenerate into a form of castes that are ruled by other interests, as the foundation principles are deep-rooted and are passed on to any pupil, instructor or rectors. But is it a martial art? Now that is a complicated answer. My personal answer is “I don’t know, it’s not a question I ask myself”. However, some people want an answer to that question, so I will stop giving my own opinion and I will try to explain. As soon as you enter the world of martial arts, you have to do it with respect and humbleness. The traditional martial arts are well-defined; for some people they are a way of life, made up of hard work, discipline, hierarchies and effort. Sometimes of pain too. We have only been a consolidated reality for ten years. We are still at the infant stage if we compare ourselves to any traditional martial art. Therefore NO, we aren’t a martial art and I don’t see why we should try to find a precise definition of what we represent. However, there is a but. We use the word fight, and we can indeed use that term without any fear of being contradicted. We really fight at LudoSport. But we don’t fight with the intention of destroying the opponent, or of causing him physical harm, and in fact nobody does that nowadays (or shouldn’t do)! We don’t even fight to prove our physical superiority, seeing as though some of our best athletes are not particularly strong or muscular. The system that we have created allows participants to take part in duels that are not prepared and that have a high technical content. People often think that fighting is a violent event, where one of the competitors causes physical damage to the other by using his superpowers. If we, on the other hand, hurt our opponent, we feel guilty for having underestimated our ability to control ourselves and for having betrayed the Se.Cu.Ri rule and, consequently, the trust that our opponent placed in us. Ours is a sporting fight. Above all, we test ourselves; we fight WITH someone, not AGAINST someone. For that reason, in official tournaments too – where a competitive spirit is even stronger – you will often see the competitors smiling at each other. It isn’t a contradiction, as it is still a fight, a hard one at that, but where the people involved aren’t afraid: there is no danger, you aren’t defending your life or your health. However, that doesn’t mean that just because it isn’t a martial art it is any less difficult or alien to the much sought-after perfection. A perfection of movement desired by a martial arts expert and by Olympic athletes alike. The dignity of the work and research at the basis of our sport is not up for discussion. The results are the only parameter used to judge. And here, I must say, judgement has never frightened me. We are always searching for confrontation with the world outside Light Saber Combat, to verify techniques and expand our horizons. We are always ready to improve ourselves if the arguments are worthwhile, but we are also determined in our way of defending the positive things we have created, as forerunners in Italy and the world. In fact, sporting Light Saber Combat was founded in Italy, and this is the point from where we are exporting it to many other countries. Sporting Light Saber Combat is a well-defined sport, and LudoSport is a consolidated, acknowledge network, much different from other activities revolving around light sabers. Although our fights are often spectacular and exciting, we are speaking about a sport, where the result isn’t a foregone conclusion. Each fight can be different, more or less “great” to watch depending on the athletes’ condition and level. There is no choreography and no programmed sequences. The spectator will wonder at the sight of the illuminated blades striking each other, but will also feel the tension, an emotion formed by the challenge of two minds that will adapt technique to the strategy of the moment varying movements and actions so as to make the moment unique and unrepeatable. I’d like to take a moment here to rebuke some of our fans who have sometimes labelled groups that carry out choreographed fights with light sabers as less worthy of attention. Any activity that requires practice and training is worthy of respect, it doesn’t matter if the words sport, fight or choreography appears in their name. Anyone who trains and makes an effort must be respected. Always. “Fencing is fencing!” “Kendo already exists!” some continue to say. So let’s take a look at the discussion about fencing. Let’s look at the definition of the term: 1. “The art and technique of handling side arms for the purpose of offence and defence.” 2. “An individual sport carried out using side arms, i.e. sabers, foils and epees, that involves striking the opponent in various points on the body that are considered valid for assigning points.” The reference to side arms is always present, but it isn’t a complete definition, in my opinion. It is possible to fence with sticks – short or long – with Shinai, with walking sticks, or even with an umbrella. Fencing is therefore the general art of striking without being struck, with an instrument in your hand, whether it has a blade or is to hit someone with. Or – as in our case – a basically harmless instrument. Traditionalists consider fencing to be solely the sport that was born on battlefields or duelling grounds, where the opponents were risking their lives. Nowadays, battles are no longer fought with thrusts of sabers and nobody walks around with a sword hanging from their belt to defend themselves or show off their rank. Fencing – in its various forms – has evolved, and has become a sport. Only the most martial forms still contain a strictly warlike origin in their DNA, and in those cases too (in spite of the fact that the original matrix has not changed) all participants know that it will never be the case of truly injuring someone with a weapon. It is therefore a simulation, a conversion into sport of what fencing originally represented. The point for many people is as follows: How can we define what we do as Fencing, if instead of brandishing a blade, we use an illuminated mock-up? Our lightsaber became a piece of sporting equipment years ago, and it is no longer a simple collector’s item. We have transformed it as sporting combat requires uniformity in the instruments used. To do that, we considered several parameters of strength, reliability and safety and we set the standards for size, weight and balance, parameters which were then taken as a model by the team that created Polaris, the light saber that corresponds to all our requisites, and which maintains the nature of a light saber while abiding by sporting standards. Let’s go back to the various forms of fencing and the comments – superficial at times – made by some observers. “Kendo already exists!” So what? Medieval, Rapier, Kali and another thousand forms of fencing also exist. Is there one that can boast more dignity than the others for any reason? No. They are simply different forms – sometimes extremely different – of Fencing. So what is it that makes them different from each other. The instrument used. Let’s take Kendo, for example, often referred to in an exaggerated way, in my opinion. Kendo is – if we simplify and leave to one side the philosophical side to it – the sports version of Oriental fencing with the well known Katana. Kendo is a sport and a fight. But the Shinai is not a Katana. A Shinai reacts in a way totally unlike a Nihontō; they are two different instruments. Let’s use our imagination: let’s take a foil and place it in the hands of a kendoka. He wouldn’t know what to do with it and would use it badly. But it is still fencing, isn’t it? No. In fencing, the various sports only have time and distance in common. The basis of everything. Try to apply Katori techniques while holding a Claymore or a Renaissance rapier: you would look rather foolish. Each side arm has a technique that has evolved to obtain the best performance based on physical characteristics and for the purpose that the side arm was created for. Let’s avoid mixing up things in an approximate manner. Ideally, the lightsaber cuts on all sides and without effort; the weight is almost entirely in the hilt; a technique had never been devised up to this point that could be totally applied to this instrument. As I will be forced to study – and a great deal too – to learn how to use a saber, for example, the hypothetical saber fencer would have to study if he wanted to start with sporting Light Saber Combat. Sorry, there isn’t one kind of Fencing that fits all. Each time it will be necessary to study and train, as the targets, positions, ways of holding the side arm and many more important details change. The Masters of Iaido, Kendo, Karate and Kenjutsu who have been pupils at LudoSport and have come to visit us as true Masters – therefore as people who are interested, modest and ready to challenge themselves to the point of accepting new limits and sharing their precious time with us – all know this. There are so many people that we need to thank for having given up their time and for having supported us from a logistic or training point of view, starting with the Fencing Master Giancarlo Toran and the Master of Aikiken Francesco Dessì; people who have recognised in our type of combat a new example of a sport where the variety of actions permitted is almost unlimited and therefore is in itself a very interesting and complex. Is our sport perfect? No, it will never be perfect, nothing ever is. Like all sports in continuous evolution, the standard achieved is considerable and we have had much positive feedback from outside people with various skills. “All under one sky.” We are perhaps a little obsessed with our motto. But it is what sets us apart from other realities that were founded recently. At the basis of it all is the desire to spread our sport without any compromise, not wishing to fill our gyms to the gills with an excessive number of pupils so that we can bump up the enrolment fees. We want to maintain and improve the standards of quality, the level of our instructors’ expertise, consistency in teaching and the observance of our principles. We want an Italian member to be able to go to London on holiday, and find the same environment and spirit there in the local academy that he enjoys in his own. And if he wants to fight a London member, he will be able to do so with the same “language”: the same techniques, the same honest “chivalrous spirit”. And he will take care of his opponent who like him will speak the same common language of sporting Light Saber Combat. This project has grown, has grown unexpectedly beyond our wildest dreams and now requires an organizational effort, coordination and considerable attention to its administration. We are now a real network, with a structure that is constantly evolving behind it. This structure ensures the same treatment and opportunities to every member in every school and guarantees diffusion of what the name LudoSport has consistently represented since the far-off 2006. LudoSport must ensure quality and safety. This is why we have dedicated time to experimenting with various fabrics to obtain a practical, comfortable and long-lasting uniform. As we don’t use protections, specific training on control makes sure that nobody gets hurt even without excessive padding, thus allowing a high degree of freedom of movement. From here, we studied specific gloves that have been modified several times after trying them out during combat, some protection for the eyes and compulsory protection for the genitals. Each piece has been tests and discussed several times as we have a “paranoid” obsession about safety. An obsession that has helped to make sport Light Saber Combat a safe, complete activity. There is a final question that I want to answer, as – I swear – some people really have asked us this: “Do your Lightsabers really cut?” Fortunately they don’t, otherwise we would all be limbless, and we would dedicate ourselves to something a little less violent. I would like to end by thanking all the people who are or have been part of LudoSport, starting with the students, from whom there is always something to learn, and continuing with the rectors, as they are LudoSport, and it is only thank to their help – however big or small – that our initial dream has become reality.