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From Fiction to Reality


Ithaca Sabers and the Application of Martial Arts to the “Most Elegant Weapon”

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Members of Ithaca Sabers run through several warm-up drills before sparring against each other (John Wikiera/Ithaca Week)

When people hear the term “lightsaber,” they might think of the iconic laser sword used by Jedi in the popular movie franchise, Star Wars. It might seem outlandish to hear that there are serious practitioners of lightsaber combat.

Based on Asian martial arts and European fencing, Ithaca Sabers attempts to preserve these historical traditions by using LED sabers as an analog for teaching. The Ithaca group is part of a larger lightsaber combat organization called Terra Prime Light Armory [TPLA].

Ithaca Sabers adheres to the TPLA curriculum of teaching, which is quite similar to that of traditional martial arts. Through the use of the “seven classic forms of lightsaber combat,” it allows students to explore forms of martial arts that they might not have otherwise considered.

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TPLA requires participants to wear protective gear when sparring (Photo from

LED sabers are used because they are considered safe and are well suited for the multiple styles of fencing which this program draws upon.  Students can then go on to use the skills they gained and apply them to combat sports or performance choreography.

Ithaca Sabers’ founder Ben Judkins said  that lightsaber combat is unique because it draws on many traditional forms of martial arts, making it accessible to all disciplines.

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Instructor Ben Judkins explains proper technique to students (John Wikiera/Ithaca Week)

As a social scientist, he has focused on the globalization of martial arts and how they can be used to connect people from differing backgrounds and skill levels.

The combat style practiced by Ithaca Sabers is based on living Asian traditions and is historically bounded.

“It’s not based on anything you see in the movies,” said Judkins. “It’s just amazing what happens when you bring in this fictional setting. It allows for people of different martial arts traditions, who might never interact to come together.”

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Javier Rosa(right) spars with another student (John Wikiera/Ithaca Week)

Javier Rosa, another member of Ithaca Sabers, said that he got involved with the group like most members because of his love of Star Wars.

“Learning actual swordplay and using the lightsaber in general, thats hands my favorite part,” said Rosa, who also elaborated on the two different styles of combat.

One style is based on European fencing. It is used more for performance and competition. The other style, which is used while sparring, is more oriented towards self defense, said  Rosa.

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Daniel Masserini(Left) crosses sabers with another student in training exercises (John Wikiera/Ithaca Week)

Daniel Masserini explained that his favorite part of Ithaca Sabers is the community aspect.

“If you’re struggling with something, someone will be more than happy to take the time to help you take you aside and spend a few minutes working on it,” said Masserini, member of Ithaca Sabers.

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