Is Lightsaber a martial art?
You have seen the Star Wars Kid video.
On November 3, 2002, a 15-year-old student in Québec, Canada, named Ghyslain Raza video taped himself enthusiastically wielding a golf ball retriever, in a not-entirely-successful attempt to mimic Darth Maul with a lightsaber.
A fellow student uploaded it to the internet, and on the evening of April 14, 2003, it hit YouTube. That video has been viewed over 32,000,000 times, but represents just a small fraction of the number of times it has been seen. Devotees place Mr. Raza just behind Gary Brolsma, The Numa Numa Kid, in the meme pantheon.
Raza is equal parts unathletic and self-seriously enthusiastic; those qualities combined too often attract cruel bullying. He left school, continuing with a private tutor. In July of 2003 his family brought suit against the families of four of his classmates, stating he “had to endure, and still endures today, harassment and derision from his high-school mates and the public at large” and “will be under psychiatric care for an indefinite amount of time.”
The story has a pretty happy ending. Reza returned to school for his senior year, and eventually graduated from law school. In 2013 he come forward to assert his identity as the Star Wars Kid to help bring to light the type of bullying and negative attention that children might receive in similar incidents with the rise of social media.
Reza was not alone.
There are a lot of lightsaber enthusiasts, and some of them have formed a competitive group called LudoSport.
Dr. Benjamin N. Judkins is a Columbia-trained academic, who has published papers like “Partisanship, Trade Policy, and Globalization: Is There a Left-Right Divide on Trade Policy?” as well as “Liminoid Longings and Liminal Belonging: Hyper-reality, History and the Search for Meaning in the Modern Martial Arts.”
In an interview with Megan Logan for Inverse.com, Dr. Judkins weighs in on whether lightsaber rattling is a martial art.
ML: Is lightsaber combat a martial art?
DBJ: It depends on what you mean by “martial art.” As a somewhat contested term, we’re still working out our definitions. When you talk to actual martial artists, there isn’t a lot of agreement among them as to what constitutes a martial art.
But lightsaber combat itself can be a lot of things. Some people look at it and they treat it as a type of cosplay. Some people are very much into theatrical performance. But there are other lightsaber groups that are working quite hard at taking techniques from traditional martial arts and adapting them to the use of stunt sabers and then creating pretty rigorous martial art systems around that. I think you’d have to look what a group like Ludosport is doing and say, ‘Yeah, that’s as much a martial art as anything you’ll find out there right now.’
ML: What makes something a martial art?
DBJ: You want something that is “martial” in character, that was either derived from or is meant for fighting. And the “art” part really means that it’s social, that it’s not just an individual off by themselves. This is something that is meant to be passed on generationally from a group of teachers to a group of students.
So in that very simple definition, you look at lightsaber combat and what we have is clearly social. In terms of fighting, the issue that we have is that, of course, the weapon is not real. So can you have a martial art with a weapon that is not real? I call it a “hyperreal martial art” that everyone acknowledges is based on a fictional setting.
But a one-inch polycarbonate heavy-grade blade is heavy. That thing hurts when you get whacked with it, so you certainly have an incentive in sparring to act as though it’s real. You don’t want to get hit with it.
A 36-inch heavy polycarbonate blade can smack with a lot of force. When you actually start to spar, when you start to compete with them, you really need to be aware of what the rules of engagement are in a given situation, and you need to understand that there’s going to be safety equipment and you need to actually invest in that safety equipment. That makes it pretty much identical to any other weapon you’d use in training.
So what do you think UnderGround? Is lightsaber a martial art?!