Stunt Lightsaber Combat For Beginners: The Unofficial Guide to Dueling Like a Jedi by Carey Martell

I think it’s no secret among all you who follow me that two things hold true:

1.  I am a lifelong Star Wars fan, and

2.  I am a swordfighter.

It stands to reason, then, that I would not only pick up this book, but I that I would pick it apart.  All of you who are afraid to get geeky might want to stand back.

The first thing to say up front is that this is a good idea, and it could have been something special.  The more important thing to say is that as strange as this is to consider, I am actually not the target audience of this book.  Who knew?  I realize this is going to take some explanation, but that’s part of why I review this at 3 stars instead of something closer to what beginners would like to see in a rating.

My fighting style comes to us from the early 15th century from a swordmaster known as Fiore dei Liberi.  His style is specifically for use with the Crusader-esque longswords of the time, but it’s a complete system designed to be used with pretty much any weapon you can get your hands on, or with no weapon at all, against single or multiple opponents.  It’s fast, it’s versatile, and it’s lethal.

The reason that’s important is because this is the style the author used for this book.

In the expanded Star Wars lore, there is said to be upwards of seven different lightsaber combat styles, and you can find details about what the different forms do if you look hard enough.  Some are meant specifically for fencing against other lightsabers, some are adapted for fighting against blasters, and so on.  None of it is relevant to real world dueling, but it’s fun to think about.  So the objective the author is trying to work with is how to translate a real combat system — one that can be directly lifted from period or modern source material — and copy out diagrams that replace a period combatant with a figure drawn in Jedi robes.  Ooooh, aaaah.  I’m so impressed.  *rolls eyes*  As I say, I’m not the target audience.  Now you see why.

The idea is indeed a good one for beginners.  The basics of Fiore’s system are here, which is to say there are 12 basic guards, and you learn how to transition between them at a basic level.  This is Fiore’s system 101, without the frills… and without the conjoining knowledge of how to efficiently transition between the guards.  It’s clunky.  There are no drills to help you learn that.  And why would there be?  That stuff’s not in the period material either.  It’s taught by instructors who have translated and adapted Fiore’s work because the original treatises are only the blueprint.  The rest is passed master-to-student as part of the secret combat system, which had to be figured out when such practices died off.  It’s sort of like playing music of that era, where you think you know what’s going on based on educated guesses of the masters doing the performances, but… can you really know?  Same sort of thing here, based on common sense, translation, and real world extrapolation that a book like this is missing by necessity.

The other problem, and this is my inner fanboy talking here, is that the 15th century longsword is a very different animal from the lightsaber.  Can you guess what the difference is?  Yes, exactly — a lightsaber is made of light.  In Fiore’s system, the fighter is often using leather gloves or metal gauntlets, and there are plenty of maneuvers where you grab the sword by the blade.  Sometimes you grab it in the center to provide extra punch to a direct thrust.  Sometimes you flip the blade around and use the crossguard to grab behind the neck or behind the knee.  It’s a system that requires wrestling as part of it, which means odds are you’re going to touch the blade.  I think we all know what happens when a lightsaber hits a person.  After all, there’s a dismemberment of some kind in each of George Lucas’ masterpieces.  So there’s an entire subset of Fiore’s education out the window.  (Now everyone knows why I also have issues with Kylo Ren’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens: the advantages of the design are pointless in a lightsaber).  Then you combine this with the knowledge that many of the influences of the Jedi knights come from Japan, so Kendo and its ancestor Kenjutsu are the primary base lines for lightsaber combat, with everything from Fiore’s Western style to Chinese Wushu stacked in and mixed up with it.

Essentially what I’m saying here is that this book is a money grab, and it was successful because it did grab my money.  Not totally unworthy, however, because I think it does provide a means to get younger kids excited by the idea that they can actually do this sort of thing.  That point by itself, combined with some real world practicality, is what earns this a “good” rating instead of my 2-star “average, just average, really average” rating that I was tempted to give it.  It’s not that this is bad, it’s just incomplete and somewhat misguided.

But it’s still fun at the same time, which I have to believe is the entire point.

3 stars

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