The red glowing sword came slashing in from the left, a diagonal blow aimed at my torso.
Using the training I had received, my own blue sword came up to meet it crosswise. Attack blocked.
“Good,” said lightsaber instructor Brian Hartz, before making his second attack horizontally across my right side. Alas, my Jedi skills couldn’t defend quick enough. I was done for.
Thankfully, this was only practice.
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Inside the spacious practice area of the Indy Lightsaber Academy, trainers have melded the fantastical world of the “Star Wars” universe with authentic sword-based martial arts.
Participants learn to attack and block from varying angles and situations. Led by southside resident Michael Tucker, students employ fighting concepts that are hundreds of years old, all while using a weapon inspired by what Luke Skywalker used.
“Even if you don’t like ‘Star Wars,’ who doesn’t like a sword?” Tucker said. “The biggest thing is, in my heart, I’ve always loved swords. I’ve always loved the idea of a knight. If you think of one weapon that encapsulates human history, it’s the sword. The lightsaber is essentially a futuristic sword.”
At the academy’s first class since the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” close to 50 Jedis-in-training worked on their attacks and parries. Men and women, older adults and young children all gathered waiting for their first lesson.
Tucker and his team were profiled in GQ magazine in December, and the result has been a massive spike in people wanting to learn to use lightsabers.
Acting out dreams
Some had been to class before and had their own flashy models to practice with. They lit up in shades of red, yellow, green and blue, with some making the signature “whoosh” like in the movies.Other people used the more basic weaponry provided by Tucker and his staff — wooden training swords for adults, padded versions for children.The Force was strong among participants.
“You spend so much time growing up watching lightsaber fights, thinking that is so cool,” said Taylor Cox, a student and Indianapolis resident. “Now, you can actually do it.”
Cox, an actor from Indianapolis, found out about the class from Hartz. When he checked it out, he loved the depth of instruction that ran parallel to his fandom of the “Star Wars” universe.
“I like how it takes something that’s super-fantastical, something you see on the screen and read about, then takes a practical application to it,” Cox said. “Everything is based on real martial arts and a real application of the fantasy aspects that you see.”
The academy was born in late 2014, when co-founder Doug Trefun posted on Craigslist his idea to start a lightsaber academy. He was a huge fan of “Star Wars,” as well as a certified exercise physiologist and health coach.
But he needed an expert in stage combat to help lead the training. Tucker, who has extensive training in sword-based martial arts and stage fighting, contacted him about the idea.
“I was confident it would go over pretty well. But I never thought we’d be where we’ve gotten today,” Trefun said.
‘A cool alternative’
By early 2015, they had a small group of devotees and started attending events such as Indy Comic Con to garner attention. With enough people, they moved to a small training space in Irvington.In less than a year, the academy has grown large enough to move to bigger locations. The group’s new home is the Circle City Industrial Complex, a massive open area with room for dozens of people swinging lightsabers.The instruction is good-natured but serious. Tucker and his team demonstrate each move before asking students to do it themselves. They go person to person, making sure each one’s form and stance are correct.
Tucker assembled a program borrowing from martial arts around the world, distilling them into seven forms, Tucker said.
All participants in the academy start with what is called Form 1, Tucker said.
Based on the ancient art of Shii-Cho, it helps teach control of the body and blade. The twin components of a powerful attack and a stable defense help lay the foundation for other more complicated fighting forms.
“It’s a cool alternative to going to the gym,” Trefun said. “It takes a few classes to do it right, but you can get a good workout especially when sparring.”
Participants who stay in the academy long enough move their way up though three levels of initiate status, eventually becoming a padawan — signifying they have the fundamentals and are ready for more complex lessons.
At the highest rank and mastery of the concepts, students become Jedi masters.
‘Can’t lose control’
The idea is to create an atmosphere of amusement and learning, and the people who come to classes are obviously amped up to start slashing away.But the academy trainers are serious about safety. Everyone has to sign a waiver to take part. They take great care to make sure people aren’t wildly swinging their lightsabers, have everyone stretch before the classes and work individually with each student.“I know this is fun, I know this is goofy, I know this is something you don’t do every day,” Tucker said. “But you can’t lose control.”
For many of the participants, the academy is a chance to live out their science-fiction dreams.
Indianapolis residents Diana Cox and Kobi “Kobi-wan” Walden found out about the class on Facebook. The two are huge “Star Wars” fans and were among the many who packed theaters on opening night for the new film.
With the chance to do something so closely related to their fandom, they couldn’t wait for new classes to start up.
“We want to be Jedis,” Waldron said.
The pair got their friends Jadrian Berry and Kasey Schwartz to join them.
“When my sister and I were kids, we wore out VHS tapes of ‘Star Wars,’” said Schwartz, also an Indianapolis resident. “It’s always been something that I’ve loved.”
Katie Angel has worked with Tucker, Trefun and the other members of the academy through events with her performance group, Angel Burlesque.
For the fun of it
Watching them work with lightsabers, she wanted to try it herself. Her husband purchased a five-class pass for Christmas.“I’m tired of sitting and watching cool things. I wanted to stand and do,” she said.With the growth, the academy has tried to become entrenched in the central Indiana community. They staff currently is sponsoring a food drive, with every participant who brings five cans of food getting to take a class for free.
The group has also worked with Indianapolis Public Schools to offer scholarships to its students, giving them an after-school extracurricular at a steep discount.
“Our biggest thing now is using all of the momentum we have with the release of the new ‘Star Wars’ movie,” Trefun said. “We’re using that popularity to springboard into other things.”
Throughout my first full class, my form was … poor. A Sith lord would make short work of me.
But making cross-body blows with a glowing sword was still exhilarating. With each new move gained, it was easy to get lost in a potential science fiction fantasy.
And that’s the whole point, Tucker said.
“It’s not just for ‘Star Wars’ fans, but for swordplay fans, fitness fans, people who want to do something unique,” he said. “It’s supposed to be fun.”
Indy Lightsaber Academy
What: A stage-combat school using lightsabers as the weapon of choice, using real-life sword play and martial arts concepts.
Where: Circle City Industrial Complex, 1125 E. Brookside Ave., Indianapolis.
When: Weekly classes meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays.
Who: Founded by southside resident Michael Tucker and Indianapolis resident Doug Trefun.
Cost: First class is $5, single classes $15, five-class package $50.