There are a lot of odd hobbies out there that have become competitive sports. One of the latest? Lightsaber fighting, where two people channel their inner Han Solo and Darth Vader and do a fencing-like competition until someone wins. And, while this may seem a bit bizarre to even the laziest mainstream sports fan out there, it’s suddenly become part of the mainstream, so it’s time to accept it.
Like all sports, there’s a superstar who redefines the sport. In the NBA, it’s LeBron James. In the NFL, it’s Tom Brady. In hockey, it’s Sidney Crobsy. In international soccer, it’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Who’s the most polarizing figure in lightsaber fighting? Some guy named Alain Bloch, a software engineer from San Francisco who is suddenly making lightsaber fighting cool.
As part of its ESPN The Ocho series, ESPN.com featured Bloch to talk about the competitive sport. The 37-year-old opened up what has made lightsaber fighting become so popular, talked about some of his success and offered insight as to what might be next for both him and other players.
He became the galaxy’s first two-time saber dueling world champion at CombatCon in Las Vegas. The annual tourney — think: cosplay tag with actual judges in a carpeted banquet hall at the Flamingo hotel — is put on by The Saber Legion, the world’s largest saber-dueling organization. (The reason the sport is called ‘saber combat’ and not ‘lightsaber, or Jedi, fighting’ is because the only thing that scares these guys more than Darth Vader are Disney copyright lawyers.) Whatever the nomenclature, the sport Bloch now reigns over like LeBron James.
“This all might seem rather silly on the surface, but for many it has a deep impact on their lives,” says Bloch, who often spoke in movie-trailer narrator monologues just like this one when The Magazine tagged along for a day during his final preparations for CombatCon. “We’re just an extension of the huge, weird, awesome Star Wars subculture. Some fans wear costumes to honor their heroes. Some fans do performances to indulge their childhood fantasies. We just found a way to combine it all into something that lets us kick the crap out of each other with lightsabers and make a lot of new friends as well as a lot of new bruises.”
All the way back in 2003, it was Bloch’s love for a video game called Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic that got him into the idea of lightsaber fighting in the first place. That led to a Halloween costume as Darth Revan from the game, and, eventually, mastering both fencing and other assorted martial arts.
Around this time, Bloch was contacted by Terry Birnbaum, a Star Wars aficionado and Whole Foods manager in Minneapolis. Birnbaum had just become the new owner and CEO of The Saber Legion, a group that had put together a standard set of rules and safety regulations, based largely on fencing, for their new self-proclaimed “Nerd Sport” of saber dueling. The formula was an immediate hit — the TSL tournament doubled in size in three years — providing legions of Jedi-wannabes with an athletic and competitive outlet for their Star Wars obsession.
“A lot of us were bullied in high school,” says Bloch. “What The Saber Legion offers people is a unique opportunity to regain that sense of confidence in their physicality and ability to fight and defend themselves — to compete and to take a hit and admire that bruise and cherish it as a mark of the courage they might have never known they had.”
It’s this sense of unity and odd similarities that makes lightsaber fighting a competitive sport with a cult following on the rise.
“Ultimately, we’re all geeks,” says renowned Santa Clara swordsman Steaphen Fick, whose face is an intricate road map of sword scars. “Not just in here, everywhere. Just depends what you geek out on. Some people geek out on swords or Star Wars or basketball or fantasy football. We just take away the football and add more fantasy.”
As sports go, lightsaber fighting might not be one that will threaten major sports leagues for sponsors or airtime, but, as part of ESPN’s “The Ocho” channel, it’s a perfect fit for sci-fi and fantasy fans. And, thanks to Alain Bloch, it could be on the rise even more.
To see the full article, head on over to ESPN.com, which goes into even further detail about Bloch, lightsaber fighting events and the sport itself.