From the minute I first watched "Star Wars," I dreamed of being a Jedi Knight, wielding a lightsaber and fighting the bad guys. On Sunday, I finally got to live that dream - and keep my limbs intact.
The talented crew and students at the Empire Saber Guild welcomed amNewYork to a special session of one of its popular lightsaber training and choreography classes at a dance studio near Times Square. I could immediately tell I was taking my first step into a larger world.
While I wore track pants and a T-shirt, the six instructors came decked out in brown and white Jedi costumes and custom-made sabers, which were made from polycarbonate rods on aluminum hilts that contain LED lights to simulate the laser blade. Guild member Paul Sposato came dressed in the full black-and-red attire of the evil Sith lord Darth Maul, toting a version of the villain's double sided lightsaber.
"It allows you to be the bad guy without the responsibility," Sposato, 50, said with a smile across his black-and-red painted face.
The group is the New York City chapter of the Saber Guild, a worldwide Lucasfilm-recognized fan group with more than 200 people who participate in lightsaber battles at conventions, charity events and other gatherings. Empire Saber started in 2013 with just three members who met monthly, and has since expanded to 47 who meet weekly at a Midtown studio where they come up with moves and discuss their costuming trends.
Ruben Polizzi, 32, of Bay Ridge, who serves as the guild's director, said the original movie's sword fighting initially focused on the Japanese art of Kendo, but included other martial art forms as the lightsaber battles got bigger and more intense with each sequel. The fans have carried on that tradition with their own improvisation, Polizzi said.
"We always strive to give the best to the audience and bring creativity to the shows," he said.
But before I could put my own spin on a "Star Wars" fight, I had to learn the basics of "Form I" fighting, which emphasizes wrist movements for strikes.
From there, I was taught five primary moves: "rebounds," which is a clashing movement with the sabers; "follow through," strike with crisscrosses; "bread and butter," where each fighter slides down their opponent's saber; "lockups," where both fighters come to a standstill; and "ups and downs" where the fighters alternate from striking from above and beyond.
With enough practice, I had sufficient confidence in the Force to try and create my own choreography fight with guild member Amy Chrzanowski in front of the entire class. Surprisingly, we didn't miss a beat in our presentation: Starting with four "up and down" strikes, fluidly moving to a "bread and butter" and then a follow through. We finished with a dramatic lock up where teacher and student stared through our blades before I used a "force throw," to knock her down for the victory.
The cheering applause from the crowd ignited my geek pride, and Polizzi said that excitement is what brings members together as friends.
"We're maintenance folks, we're stay-at-home moms," he said. "We come together and we learn about the sword."