This Star Wars fan practices martial arts with lightsabers
While the training programme at The Saber Authority is based on a martial art called Kali, those with no experience are still welcomed.
If you are a Star Wars fan, you’d have probably dreamt of wielding a lightsaber at some point in your life.
For 27-year-old Jahaan and his friends from The Saber Authority, this dream has turned into a reality. As members of The Saber Authority, they practice a martial arts-based sport where individuals fight using lightsabers.
“Lightsaber martial arts is somewhat new but we’re not the only ones in the world to do it. Usually what happens is that it starts with someone who has a weapon-based system and is a Star Wars fan and they merge the two together,” Jahaan explains.
Jahaan has been doing lightsaber martial arts for about seven years now. He first chanced upon this sport after having just completed his National Service. While looking for something fun to kill time, he came across the group’s social media posts and decided to sign up for a session.
The idea of fighting with lightsabers might be deemed as childish by some but the group’s weekly sessions are definitely no child’s play.
“After the first session, I came to understand that it wasn’t something that was just done for fun. I can get fit here, I’m learning something that is actually practical and the kind of people who came were the kind of people I would get along with so that’s why I stayed for so long,” Jahaan says.
While the activity is usually the result of a crossover between martial arts and Star Wars, it is not always the case in other parts of the world.
“The guys in the United States tend to be very fencing-focused. For us, we are ASEAN-focused because that’s the core of where our martial arts come from. Because of that, there is no consistency.
“The only consistency I see is in terms of the people who join. No matter which team I’m watching, I will always see a big variety in people because what brings us together is not the martial arts but the love for Star Wars and sci-fi culture.”
But that does not mean one has to have a martial arts background to be part of The Saber Authority. All members, including both beginners and experts, will do warm ups and stretches together. Then, they will go into some basic techniques and pair work before ending the night with friendly duelling.
Jahaan also debunks the myth that duels are rehearsed and choreographed. In fact, those participating in duels would have to wear gloves and helmets in order to protect against legitimate injuries.
In lightsaber combat, the moves mainly consist of two things – basic strikes and precise footwork.
Jahaan explains: “The idea is that you cover two diagonals from four different points. One diagonal is left shoulder to right hip and the other diagonal is right shoulder to left hip.”
But these moves are not done at random. The system they use is based on a martial art called Kali, which originated from the Philippines. Kali emphasises on the use of sticks, knives and even bladed weapons.
“With Kali, the assumption is you are not wearing armour and you are fighting multiple opponents. Kali is extremely heavy on footwork for that reason. You cannot get hit as any hit to you is going to be very dangerous,” Jahaan says, explaining how every move is crucial.
Instead of the usual ratan sticks and weapons utilised in Kali, lightsabers are used instead for the sport.
In the past, a good quality lightsaber would cost around 200 USD (S$271) and higher end ones could go up to 700 USD (S$948). With the rise of manufacturers in Asia, a lightsaber now costs as low as around S$100.
Jahaan explains that heavier lightsabers are more ideal for training to build up muscles, but a lighter one is better for duelling and combat practice. Apart from that, some people tend to buy lightsabers which they call “shelf queens”.
“It’s a saber where you just love the design but you’re never going to fight with it…Most of the time, these shelf queens are replicas. But sometimes combat manufacturers will make a really good saber and people will feel like they can’t use it.”
While most members treat the sport as a hobby, it still requires a certain level of time commitment. Despite holding a full-time engineering job, Jahaan still tries his best to make time for sessions. With sessions typically happening at night, he would head down after a day of work.
On top of time management, he also faced a different challenge as a beginner.
“During our first tournament they did preliminary rounds every week to let us know how we fared and I thought I was okay but I was way down at the bottom. It was a bit depressing because you would think that if you came in for a few months, you would be better than the worst.”
Despite receiving disheartening results, Jahaan never gave up. Instead, he recognised that being ranked at the bottom would mean that he had the chance to climb back up. He would study footage of his fights to spot his mistakes.
From there, he would make adjustments to his game plan where necessary. It took around two to three months of constant and repetitive practice, but his hard work eventually paid off.
“I managed to get second place in a tournament and subsequently since then, I’ve been trying to maintain that.”
However, maintaining his fitness and skill levels became a struggle when the pandemic broke out. The COVID-19 restrictions would mean that they could not train together in groups. They were also not allowed to use public spaces such as the usual spot under the MRT tracks at Ang Mo Kio.
To combat this situation, they worked out an arrangement with the Stadium and secured a spot to conduct their sessions there. The Saber Authority has since grown in numbers. From only 15 members when it first started seven years ago, they now have almost 20 regulars and have 10 newcomers trying out the sport each week. They even host yearly tournaments at Bugis Plus atrium.
“We’re starting to build back up to what we used to be but it feels like we’re starting from zero again. The core crew is still here and they are very passionate. New people are coming in slowly…it’ll take a bit for us to be where we used to be.”
Most importantly, through the sport, Jahaan has learned that true friendships know no boundaries.
Training alongside those twice his age has broken down a lot of barriers in his mind for what friendships can be across people. He believes that the camaraderie and relationships forged are the greatest takeaways from this hobby
And while it may sound intimidating to train with a group of martial artists, Jahaan provides some reassurance.
“Don’t think of us as a martial arts group. Think of us as a group of passionate people. We’re all into this common interest and came together. What is actually happening is all the chatter and catching up happening in between. It’s just the joy of doing something together.”