Things That Delight Me: Lightsaber Kendo

I’m impressed that the lightsabers survive.

This is a companion piece to the bowl and squeak hammer kendo [stderr]

They’re really going for it, which is great, especially since the lightsabers are making all the correct sound-effects.

Michelle Smith has a bunch of tutorials for how to spin a bo staff (long staff) and she does one applied to lightsabers. I’d forgotten how shabby the action in Star Wars is. Remember when Ben Kenobi turns his back on Vader when they are dueling? I don’t think you do that in any form of kenjutsu or battojutsu – it’s just too slow to rotate a whole body.

If you’re going to carry a lightsaber, the way of the sword you must study. She has a good method in her other videos of breaking a move into slow components that you speed up until it comes out right. At least nobody loses a hand if they get it wrong.


  1. Ketil Tveiten says

    The lady is really just teaching how to do Star Wars-style twirly pretend fighting the way they do in the prequel movies, it looks flashy but is pretty useless in anger.

  2. aquietvoice says

    @Ketil, #1:
    Yeppers! Looks flashy, is plenty of fun, and probably a good way to do some exercise in a social environment.
    So long as they are honest about the sub-par nature of lightsabers in real world combat and not trying to sell Barracuda Darth Tactical Lightsabers (as used by seals, penguins and the navy) or anything, it’s all good in my book.

    I actually saw a really good overview of the fraudulent-fake martial arts recently, from small groups of wildly self-deluded people (which are kind of sad) to vast fraud empires that make the american McDojos look tame in comparison. Gobsmackingly immense fraud empires. How-can-that-existingly huge fraud empires.
    Have a look!

  3. bmiller says

    In my town there is actually a Temple O’ Nerd where they do light saber duels and training. Some of the light sabers are EXPENSIVE…several hundred dollars.

    It was one of the few places open tonight in my town’s rather sad downtown. Given that gyms are supposed to be closed, I am not sure how the martial arts places can be open now (in California).

  4. tommynottimmy says

    The local fencing club had added lightsabers which I did up until the shut down. It wasn’t anything we took too seriously, but it was a ton of fun and a good way to release some pent up frustration from my bs retail job. I like the variety given by being able to use either on or two handed, double bladed (which we didn’t really have good space to do), and dual wielding. Good times, I highly recommend. Oh, and the kids like it, too.

  5. Holms says

    How bout that! Lightsaber fighting has the opposite effect for me – it is unaesthetic specifically because it sacrifices effectiveness for prettiness. It can still look well choreographed, but better still would be a fighting style that has made few or no trade-offs.

  6. tommynottimmy says

    I wonder if a real life lightsaber style would end up more like épée than kendo because even a slight touch could do irreparable damage and priority could become less important if a low force hit could kill. And now I imagine the duel between Vader and Obi to be two old men trying to poke each other’s hands (no guards on their weapons) and arms.

  7. says


    That video was really interesting, especially the last part about China and tai chi. I had known before that Chinese government was promoting traditional Chinese medicine, but I didn’t know that they also promote tai chi beyond its actual merits.

    In my opinion, this is just silly and counterproductive. I’m willing to drink tasty tea and watch beautifully choreographed martial arts movies while knowing that the tea has no health benefits and said martial arts wouldn’t work in real life as portrayed in the movie. But the moment somebody tries to lie to me about how my tasty tea is actually medicine and how martial arts can be magical, then the whole thing just becomes fake and loses appeal due to being fraudulent.

    There are so many great things about traditional Chinese culture that are both genuine and beautiful or cool. It’s a pity that they instead choose to promote something fake. Or promote it incorrectly. For example, tai chi offers good exercise and looks pretty, so it can be promoted on its own merits.

  8. aquietvoice says

    Whoo I helped stimulate discussion! :P

    @Crip Dyke, #6:
    I love that remake! It’s so visceral and the actors do an incredible job of showing intent and emotion purely through body language. It’s pretty amazing what a good actor can do, really. Although I have to admit, I have that realisation about just about every job I learn about.

    @ Andreas, #9:
    Yes! I drives me up the wall in exactly the same way!
    There’s also a lot of the same idea (nationalistically supported fraudsters) happening at the moment in India, though not centered around martial arts. Being honest and open and showing the abilities of different ideas and cultures is amazing and brings so much valuable stuff with it, and then there are people who choose to throw that all away for…. what?
    Seriously, I just need someone who knows their stuff and wants to share and I will be fascinated without end. It can be as small as a new food or as big as a whole new way of looking at the world, it’s all good.
    But then along comes someone who just wants the idiots version of a good image (aka intrinsically superior) and the appeal just drops away. Don’t impress me, teach me.


    Ok, rant over for the moment at least.

  9. says

    I wonder if a real life lightsaber style would end up more like épée than kendo because even a slight touch could do irreparable damage and priority could become less important if a low force hit could kill.

    The whole idea of lightsabers, as a practical weapon, is kind of silly. My favorite hypothetical lightsaber move is a moving parry in which you deflect the opponents’ blade then turn yours off, move through where their blade is (you’re just rotating the handle) and turn it back on when it’s pointing at their head. Basically a lightsaber is a blaster with a really short range.

  10. tommynottimmy says

    Marcus, I like to picture both parties doing that move and killing each other. That makes me appreciate my instructor’s first rule of fencing: don’t die. In other words, avoid getting into situations where you will get hit or stabbed, even if you think you will get in first. Which is why I imagine it as combatants fighting with fairly extended arms trying to pick at each other’s hands.

    In our group, we took away scoring points by hitting hands because it was surprisingly easy to do. Maybe it is because we were used to fighting with guards protecting our hands, so with practice we might have gotten better protecting them. But, as it was, I would fairly consistently win by quickly slashing (stabbing is not allowed) hands whenever they would try to hit.

    And yeah, it is silly as hell, which is probably why it is so damn fun. Especially when we tossed out Lightspeed (which I assume is trade marked) rules which we obviously made by a bunch of nerds with too much time on their hands.

    Also (and I’m rambling now, but I don’t get to interact with anyone who even remotely cares about stuff like this), the kendo reminds me that the first time I ever did sabers was against someone with more training in kendo than fencing. It hurt like hell because a single layer of canvas and a thin cotton shirt don’t provide much protection from what amounted to getting whipped by a thin piece of metal on the back. He’d hit me, and the blade would wrap around my body and hit me with the end of the blade. I almost quit after the first time it happened.

  11. sonofrojblake says

    @bmiller, 6:

    Some of the light sabers are EXPENSIVE…several hundred dollars.


    Michael “Yoda” Murphy’s lightsabers start at about $1500…

  12. says

    He’d hit me, and the blade would wrap around my body and hit me with the end of the blade. I almost quit after the first time it happened.

    I fenced USFA epee between 1992 and 1996. The story of how I came to quit might be a fun posting but it’s not a story for right now.

    I fenced in a local tournament in Annapolis (at the Naval Academy) and wound up against an A-rated contestant (I was unrated, a bit more than a 2-year beginner) whose main strategy for dismissing his inferiors was a snapping beat attack to the inner forearm. My arm looked like it had been shredded the next day. Saber fencers aren’t quite as bad because their problem is the technology and scoring system they have been given – if the guy had been hitting you with a napoleonic hussar’s saber, it would not have whipped around your back, to be sure. By the way, if you haven’t seen The Duellists I do most earnestly recommend it. (sorry: I was parodying how D’Hubert talks in the movie) Anyhow… My kendo sensei, Kiichi Sagawa, once gave us an avuncular lecture about hitting people hard. He said, and I quote, “if you can hit your target, you can also hit it gently. Waza is not just about posture and movement – it is all about control.”* When I was in fencing class, coach Oles used to sometimes demonstrate something that would involve him reaching around your guard with a sword-point and touching you, lightly as a feather, on some exposed part. He never needed us to be armored-up; I am sure Dr Sagawa and coach Oles would have seen eye to eye on that. Someone who hits you so hard that their blade wraps around and hits your ass is either barely in control, or they are a sadist. I always tried to plant my point as gently as I could, but I later took to hitting a bit harder because in the heat of the moment your target may not feel it and then they claim that the scoring machine must have a problem or your blade is shorted out.

    I really want to try to make myself a hussar’s sabre, someday, when I grow up.

    [*Watch some footage of Eiga sensei on youtube. He’s a world champion, and he hits people like he’s smooching them. e.g:

  13. tommynottimmy says

    I’m pretty sure he is just a sadist. Also, I think he was always assuming he was going to get partied and was just trying to power through it. But also, he was trying to hurt people, a little bit at least, and he succeeded. he did practice more and learned that his power was making him very slow and got fast and he didn’t hurt, unless he was mad about the scoring. But I think saber is dumb and I don’t think I’ve ever had fun doing it. It’s the only thing worse than foil, which in our club was full of lawyers, which totally tracks.

    We fought what I would call extremely recreationally, once a week for about 2 years. My wife and I got signed up our kids along with their friends because it was a relatively cheap activity through the rec center. Us manly (ha!) fathers tried it one day and got hooked. The instructor was a college kid, so once or twice we would get to fence some other college kids (as a middle aged adult, they seem like kids), but no one rated AFAIK. I doubt it would be much fun to go up against anyone that mich better even if they aren’t a sadistic asshole. Our battles look rather pathetic, slow and stiff. There are clips from unofficial tournaments we’ve done somewhere on the internet, but they aren’t worth watching.

  14. dorfl says


    Which is why I imagine it as combatants fighting with fairly extended arms trying to pick at each other’s hands.

    I’d expect pretty much the exact opposite. Historically, most swords with little hand protection tended to be held with the hand very close to the body. Guards with the arm extended forward mostly start to appear once you get basket-hilted swords and the like.

    Even in kendo, that stance with the sword extended – chudan-no-kamae – is mostly an artifact of the scoring system. I mean, it was used historically, but it was probably used less than the stances keeping the sword above the head or behind the body.

  15. dorfl says

    @Marcus Ranum

    “if you can hit your target, you can also hit it gently. Waza is not just about posture and movement – it is all about control.”

    A version I’ve heard boxers use is “If you can do it light, you can do it right”, or vice-versa. For them it’s even more of a priority to avoid hard hits during practise, since it’s not just unpleasant, it gives cumulative brain damage.

  16. tommynottimmy says

    @16 dorfl That’s a fair point. I’m just biased by my experience with the success of hand picks. Also, the historical lightsaber documentaries (ie, the movies) don’t show anyone being very successful after having a hand cut off. But as a mere novice at combat sports in general, my limited experience doesn’t mean much beyond the bias it causes me.

  17. dorfl says

    @18 tommynottimmy
    I think you’re completely right that lightsaberers would go for hand-shots a lot. I just don’t think they’d keep their arms extended while fighting. You’d be more likely to see them make quick sniping attacks at the hands and immediately retracting back into a guard with the hands close to the body. This could involve trying to draw the opponent out by presenting a target, then stepping back out of measure and cutting at the arms while they attack.

  18. tommynottimmy says

    I want someone to remake the Vader/Obi fight as old men trying to poke each other in the hands.

    @dorfl, you are probably right. I found that sometimes doing the fancy spinny stuff can be a good.way to get people to attack you, so if I kept a bit of distance and didn’t go crazy I could get a quick hand strike in when they lunged. Sometimes. It would be different if it was a fight to the death and not a fight to 10 points.

  19. tommynottimmy says

    @Marcus That would be horrible. The blood rushed out of my arms when I thought about it. I would hope for a quick decapitation afterwards, because that is not something I would want to experience for very long.
    (This is making me miss fighting even more. Anyone wanna duel?)

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