light saber, french fencing federation
Participants in the 2016 Artistic Fencing World Championship at the Kolomna Speed Skating Center. Sergei Fadeichev/TASS (Photo by Sergei FadeichevTASS via Getty Images)
Culture Archive

Obi-wan, you're the only hope for the French Fencing Federation

light saber, french fencing federation
Participants in the 2016 Artistic Fencing World Championship compete with light sabers.  (Photo by Sergei FadeichevTASS via Getty Images)

France is one with the Force, and the Force is with the French fencing federation.

Being one with the Forces is not the only reason the French Fencing Federation acknowledged light saber dueling as a discipline. It also hopes to get young people up and active.

In mid-February, the Federation Française D’Escrime (FFE) announced its recognition of lightsaber dueling. Épée, foil, saber and, now, lightsaber will be disciplines of the sport in France.

Contestants will not have to worry about becoming Luke Skywalker: The lightsabers used in competition will not be able to remove body parts. Instead, the weapons will be made from rigid polycarbonate: plastic that is pliable and strong enough to handle the force. Some higher-end sabers are built with electronics that make them look and sound like the weapons portrayed in George Lucas’ universe.

The plastic weapons may not draw blood, but a hit to the hand will count under the rules announced by the FFE. “Jedi” will battle in a low-lit location within a defined circle on the floor for 3 minutes. Points will be earned for strikes; the totals will vary depending on the strike location. A hit to the hand will be worth one point, the arms and legs three and hits to the head or body five.

If a Jedi reaches 15 points within the 3-minute match, the round ends. If neither fighter reaches 15 points, the winner will be the higher point scorer. The exception is if both contestants reach 10 points. Then a sudden death session will be played and the winner will be the first to land a head or body blow on the opponent. For points to count, the fighters must first point the tip of their weapon behind them, this provides more cinematic-like attacks that are found in the Star Wars movies.

“We wanted it to be safe, we wanted it to be umpired and, most of all, we wanted it to produce something visual that looks like the movies, because that is what people expect,” Michel Ortiz, a tournament organizer told the Associated Press.

Safety is one of the concerns: Participants are required to wear masks and body armor that are approved by the FFE.

With the approval of lightsaber dueling, the FFE is striving to create “a new hope:” Inducing younger generations of Star Wars fans to get away from video games and go outside to train as Luke Skywalker did. The dark side the FFE is battling consists of increasing obesity rates and inactivity in children and adults. One of the Sith lords is the increasing popularity of video games in the world.

“With young people today, it’s a real public health issue,” French federation secretary general Serge Aubailly told the Associated Press. “It’s becoming difficult to (persuade them to) do a sport that has no connection with getting out of the sofa and playing with one’s thumbs. That is why we are trying to create a bond between our discipline and modern technologies, so participating in a sport feels natural.”

The federation strives to become the light side of the Force against world obesity. Their master the International Fencing Federation (FIE), which governs the sport worldwide is keeping in touch with “how this new event progresses,” Serge Timacheff and FIE official told AP. The federation is always trying to find new ways to keep and gain new interests in the sport.

“Cape and sword movies have always had a big impact on our federation and its growth,” Aubailly said. “Lightsaber films have the same impact. Young people want to give it a try.”

Keeping current interest in the sport and wanting to gain the interest of younger generations, the FIE will keep in touch with the progress of the new sport as they try to build popularity, but as master Yoda once said, “Try not. Do or do not there is no try.” The FFE is the first to do.

Dustin Paré is a senior broadcast journalism student at Arizona State University