Last Saturday in the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC), as fencing instructor and self-proclaimed “jedi master” Tim Mills supervised, students and community members took turns hitting each other’s helmets with replica lightsabers. Around them, athletes and gym-goers filed past on their way to and from workouts. Many turned to find out the source of all the shuffling and whacking noises.
Mills, who has a couple of decades of fencing experience under his belt, developed a sword-fighting style inspired by the Star Wars franchise. It combines the use of lightsaber replicas (priced around $80, according to Mills), sport fencing, Kenjutsu (Samurai sword-fighting), long sword fighting and what Mills called “fighting like a ninja.” As a member of the “First Ohio Lightsaber Squadron,” he teaches lightsaber combat as well as other forms of sword-fighting at Columbus’ Royal Arts Fencing Academy — an organization whose business card lists classes in “Olympic Fencing,” “Lightsaber,” “Ninja/Samurai” and “Historical Fencing.” The squadron also shows off the style of fighting in choreographed performances.
Participants signed up in advance for Mills’ lightsaber lessons, co-sponsored by the Kenyon Fencing Club, Tabletop Club and Ballroom Dance Club. Executive Assistant to the President and Provost Pamela Faust, the advisor for all three clubs, took classes with Mills in Columbus and proposed bringing him to campus. In total, the lessons saw several groups of 15-20 participants cycle through the KAC.
“I consider lightsaber to be the MMA [Mixed Martial Arts] of sword work,” Mills said. As Mills spoke, he stood in front of a row of papers taped to the glass of the Multi-Activity Court at the KAC. Each one described a different type of lightsaber that has appeared in the movies and featured a Star Wars meme.
To begin the lesson, Mills ordered a warm-up jog, which for his 2:00 p.m. session constituted seven laps around the court. The jog was followed by sets of lunges and variations of moving squats up and down the court to drill participants on the proper sword fighting stance. Jono Bornstein ’18 was surprised by the amount of physical exertion. “It was a lot of squatting; I was not expecting that,” he said, claiming he was sore the next day.
After the warm-ups, the lessons moved to the use of the replica lightsabers; he demonstrated their indestructibility by whacking them together several times. Participants were taught a few different swings before donning fencing masks and taking turns hitting each other on the head with their lightsabers. Next, they began a few games meant to highlight different aspects of the fighting style. Toward the end, participants were able to try some more unrestricted fighting.
Fencing Club Captain Max Wellington ’19 was amazed by the similarities between Mills’ school of lightsaber fighting and sport fencing. “He used the exact same techniques that I use, that I was taught to use,” Wellington said. “Honestly, it’s really similar.”
Bornstein was also surprised by the similarities to fencing. As a big Star Wars fan, he immediately signed up for the lessons when he first saw the email publicizing the event. He expected something similar to the games he played with his brothers when he was a kid and was not prepared for the relatively rigid style that Mills taught. “I did not expect there to be fencing masks and safety gear and proper fencing instructors,” Bornstein said.
But Bornstein still enjoyed himself. “I partnered up with someone who was an actual fencer, so I kept getting destroyed, but it was fun,” he said. “You got to learn by being knocked down.”
Mills likes that his invented style of fighting pays tribute to Star Wars. The connection to the popular movie franchise certainly was enticing, as slots for the event filled up quickly. “It hits something in every kid to live that dream,” Mills said.