"This is a real sport with a fictional weapon"
In a ‘galactic’ battle between light and dark, I found myself on the side of the ‘Siths’.
It’s one-on-one combat and I’m up against my instructor Skippy, a self-proclaimed Jedi who’s light on his feet. Somewhat over-zealously, I use the ‘force’ to wield my ‘lightsaber’ into Skippy’s head, more than once…
It’s a ‘mortal strike’ and if this were a real war between Jedi and Sith, Skippy would be dead. “You’re definitely a Sith,” he laughs, rubbing his head.
Of course, a lightsaber to the face during a LudoSport training session is more ouch than complete obliteration.
The glowing lightsabers (with sound effects) are handmade in Italy but couldn’t kill you, and you don’t fight to harm but to gain points. And, while you don’t have to travel to a galaxy far, far, away to join in, we did have to take the Metrolink way, way out of city centre to find the class in deep, dark Oldham.
The session takes place in a decked out Fencing Academy where professional fencing and sword fighting is also practiced. In a room full of serious athletes in white uniforms and face guards, LudoSport athletes are noticeably casual in jeans and Star Wars t-shirts.
An imagination comes in handy here.
“This is not a performance sport,” says Skippy sternly, sensing a sceptic. “That’s one of the biggest misconceptions, that we choreograph the combat. This is a real sport with a fictional weapon.”
Skippy is Steven Clancy, a newly appointed LudoSport instructor who earned his nickname for his quick and nimble fighting style. A fan of both Stars Wars and martial arts, he recently earned his Form II certification after two years of training. He sees teaching LudoSport as more than just a hobby but his ‘path’.
“In my first lesson I was the only person there,” he laughs. “But since then it has grown and grown across the UK.”
...a strike above the elbow is considered ‘fatal’
As a LudoSport representative, Skippy is quick to put to bed any doubt that lightsaber combat classes are not a legitimate sport (because let’s be honest, we’re all a little sceptical).
Founded in Italy by three friends in 2006, LudoSport is a relatively new martial art with a large international following. It combines some of the basic principles of fencing with unique LudoSport techniques or ‘forms’. Like martial arts (and the Jedi Order), students can progress through seven stages of training to become a teacher or competitive combat fighter.
In the two-hour intensive class men compete against women and the old battle against the young. You learn various ‘strikes’ and some of the LudoSport lingo (“one name, one sky!”) while perfecting ‘mortal’ and non-mortal target practice.
By the end of class you’re more than ready for one-on-one combat.
The aim of the game is to block strikes and collect points; a strike above the elbow is considered ‘fatal’ and anything below would be ‘non-fatal.’ The more skilled fighters are, the more athletic a battle can become.
“It’s not about how hard you hit, it’s more about how you execute the moves,” says Skippy.
LudoSport is based on three principles: service, care and respect
Call it the force, but by the end of the session you fancy yourself a regular Luke Skywalker (or in my case, Darth Vader) swinging, leaping and striking for dear life.
For a Star Wars fan this is pure unadulterated, non-judgemental fun.
Mind you, LudoSport is not a Star Wars affiliated brand. That’d be a George Lucas v LudoSport legal case of epic proportions.
“Nothing is Star Wars branded,” says Skippy, with a sly smile. “Ludo Sport is nothing to do with Star Wars at all. We even spell ‘Light Saber’ differently. Plus, we even have our own source comic material.”
But it is inspired by Star Wars, right?
“Well yes, obviously,” he shrugs.
In Greater Manchester, LudoSport has inspired a new legion of devotees or ‘clansmen’. Joining Skippy are the likes of ‘Tip Toe’ and ‘Chrinja’ (an amalgamation of ‘Chris’ and ninja) and the rest of the group who have been training with Skippy for a few months. The youngest is fourteen and the eldest may well be in their sixties, plus there’s no separation of weight class or genders – it really feels like an inclusive sport.
“LudoSport is based on three principles,” explains Skippy “Service, care and respect. There’s no politics involved and it’s open to everyone from all backgrounds. At the end of the day we’re here to have fun with lightsabers.”
Watching combat in action you really see the skill and practice involved. With a respectful bow to start, fighters are tactical, steady and fluid – but no one gets hurt. Unlike, say, jujitsu, LudoSport is not a form of self-defence and out of the ring (and down a back alley in Oldham) you’d be entirely defenceless.
Before LudoSport, I was stuck in a rut.
Regardless, LudoSport training allows apprentices to advance into arena combat to compete in International championship games, with some competitions taking place in Milan and the US. For Skippy, winning championships and advancing to an ‘Accademico’ is a point of pride.
“Before LudoSport, I was stuck in a rut. I was watching a program on Christmas Day called Star Wars changed my life and they featured lightsaber combat. I was both a massive Star Wars fan and into martial arts, so I thought this is for me.”
LudoSport is continuing to grow in the UK with classes in Oxford, Gloucestershire, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol, Hammersmith and now Manchester. LudoSport’s main aim is to continue to grow internationally as well as strengthening a reputation as a real sport.
And I can certainly see the classes taking off in Manchester, both with the sci-fi enthusiasts and people who enjoy hitting each other with luminous weapons.
Stood in a warrior stance, with a lightsaber in hand, I certainly feel 'a force' awaken.