Greetings all! Some of you may be wondering where i have been this past month and a half. This past October I had the pleasure and honor of teaching at the very first “International Lightsaber Workshop” hosted by the French Federation of Fencing (FFE). The weekend was long, hard, and one of the most enriching and energizing four days I have spent in a very long time. This project that TPLA has been working on with the FFE has required much work and attention. But, after this weekend, I feel more confident than ever that our activity of LED saber has a bright future and is only just beginning.
In case you had not heard, back in 2018, the FFE accepted LED sabers as the fourth weapon in fencing. They began creating training curses for referees and coaches as well as staging a national lightsaber tournament with TPLA Knight Cedric Giroux, aka Darth Cervall ( This hit the international news in February of 2019). As TPLA had been instrumental in the rule sets creation, the FFE invited me to come to Paris and help with the instruction of some of their Masters of Arms and a few interested parties from other countries in the first International LED Saber Workshop. They also wanted to formalize the relationship between TPLA and the FFE by making us the representatives for these rules and sport here in the US. A school in Hong Kong would be doing the same for Hong Kong and China. It would be the first effort to make LED saber combat an international sport.
How could I refuse?
We arrived in Paris around 10 in the morning. Quickly going through customs, we met Henrique Vidal of Misty Forge. Henrique is also the developer of the French lightsaber app. A little drive to our hotel and then lunch at a fantastic French restaurant Henrique took us to. It was great to finally meet one of our French students face to face. This entire thing with the FFE and TPLA France has been nebulous for me. Things were finally starting to feel real.
In the evening we had supper and drinks with Thierry LePrise and Steven Lake (a fencing instructor from Australia). We had diner and drinks and discussed the various implications of the LED saber movement in France, and abroad. What has struck me about the entire weekend was the fact that most of the leaders at the FFE instructors and administrators, were all espousing the same philosophy the we from TPLA under. That the fantasy object offers a unique opportunity to gather new fans of the sport.
This was the day of the signing. Basic introductions were to be given to me and the representative from Hong Kong (Jones Chan). We met the group at the home offices of the FFE. For us, the day was event free and rather unremarkable despite the monumental things that were happening. Not so for our visitors from Hong Kong. They were the victim of a daylight robbery on the highway coming in from the airport. Apparently, a motorcycle pulled up beside them, the driver broke the window and took a bag on the floor. This contained the passport, money and identification for one of the Hong Kong visitors. Things were obviously tense because of this event but things went forward without many interruptions.
Most of this afternoon was spent in official introductions and reading of the Convention that the FFE had written up. We met the main people involved with this project for the first time. Aside from Thierry LePrise, we met with Olivier Hanicotte, the director of development for the Lightsaber sport with the FFE, Serge Aubailly, secretary general for the FFE, and of course President Isabelle Lamour. It was indeed a great honor to be speaking with the leadership of such an organization as the FFE.
The official business taken care of and initial introductions to the FFE leadership and staff, out of the way. We returned to our Hotel and awaited the arrival of Henrique and Christian Levieuge (of Elegant Weapons) to meet Cedric Giroux, TPA knight, ambassador to France and my Student in lightsaber. This was the first time that we will have met in person. The meting was suitably celebratory. Again we were treated with a French meal that was beyond imagination. The company that night was wonderful and we all sat and talked about many things that we have been prevented from walkabout due to distance. It was good to connect with TPLA in France and they have always been inspiring to us in the States.
The first day of the workshop proper. The workshop was held at the historic Racing Club De France. The fencing hall was filled with awards and medals from competitions in Europe and abroad from the early 1900’s. There is an entire piece that needs to be done on this place, so I will defers to say that I cannot do it it justice here.
The day was led by Olivier and Cedric. The beginning of the day was Olivier’s and he drilled the Masters of arms in the basics of lightsaber combat. Olivier is a great person to be in this position with the FFE. He is constantly thinking of drills and ways to acclimate people to the specifics of lightsaber combat. This was the main challenge of the weekend. Most of those involved were from a fencing background and that carried with it certain habits and biases. Thinking about more than just advance and retreat, cutting instead of thrusting and moving from different stances. These are things that are not included with much emphasis in their sport.
The second part was focused on solo practice, what we call “dulon”. This is akin to the practice of solo forms called kata, taolu, or forms mainly from asian martial art. Solo practice and routines is a component of FFE lightsaber competitions. This is of course a large departure from normal fencing events. For this weekend, I created a version of the first two dulon from the TPLA system (formula 1 and 2) that focused on the rules and rhythm that these matches will have. This is also a very good practice for those not used to this the of combat play to get used to moving outside one’s accustomed ways.
Cedric took the group for this section. His experience with TPLA has of course given him great insight into the practice and he did an excellent job of imparting the set to the audience. It was difficult for many of them to understand such abstract movements and methods when talking about a combat sport. The activity of fencing is so focused on the match, many have a hard time integrating training that does not directly serve that sport. But conditioning, movement training, and finding new ways to accomplish goals is the lion’s share of the way one must train for such sports.
The afternoon was the introduction and practice of the actual rule set to the group. Groups broke off and did small matches to get their feet wet in the system. They all donned the armor (that is very familiar to us here but unusual over there) and began to play a bit. I helped referee for some folks, but generally this was Cedric and Olivier’s show. Cedric and I also took time with Olivier to have a sample “match” intended to give the group some practice of arbitration and showcase how the game should be played. Cedric and I then showcased some technical offenses for the group. All in all a productive day.
TPLA France intensive
The history of this trip is actually long and storied. It began as a weekend workshop for the folks of TPLA France and the master of arms at the FFE. However, due to the growing popularity and the lightsaber sport in France and efforts to bring it international, the FFE stepped in and wanted to hold an official FFE workshop for that very purpose. I was invited to teach the combat portion of the weekend. This changed the plans of our original intent. Never the less, I wanted to do something special for TPLA people there and so we held a closed workshop intensive for those folks only. It was an opportunity to meet and train a group of students that I have had almost no direct contact with.
The evening was held at another athletic facility in a large martial arts hall. We had a very good turn out from TPLA practitioners from the area and beyond. The original idea was to introduce some things from Soresu (Formula 3) and Ataru (Formula 4). Getting these students in one place however, offered a unique opportunity. Since I had not seen any of them in action, we would begin with Shii-Cho, our first and most important Formula. Some of them were visibly disappointed. One young, and obviously naive, practitioner ask that since I had seen him before, he was to be exempt from the Shii-cho exercises. As I said to him, “You must learn never to say those things to your teacher. You do it twice.”
Free student tip: never ask to be exempt from anything!
We covered Shii-Cho in detail, making sure the stances, blade work and concepts were correct and the foundation was secure. The second hour was focusing on the Formula 3 and 4 material. For our Soresu training, orbits were on the menu. Most people in lightsaber enjoy doing the spinning and twirling of the saber above all else. While one can pursue this skill in it’s self, (often called “flow” or “contact saber”) the action can also be useful for training basic weapon handling. But for it to be a useful exercise attention must be paid to proper mechanics of the wield. We began by starting big with the major orbits (rotation from the shoulder) and gradually shortened the rotation into the minor orbits. This was very hard on the sword arms of the students but it shows the relationship between wielding from the hand and from the shoulder. Next we moved to the body and Ataru. Spinning, turning and use of the su ma was covered and then the basic parry strike exercise training back and forth. Each these was trained for 30 minutes each. We had only one short break for water.
I had a method to my madness this night. We needed to cover the foundation but it was rare to have so many in one spot especially these particular students. I had decided, to give them all a test. Most of these students were not official Apprentices with TPLA as of yet, and so, I decided to test their foundation, attitude, and endurance in a clandestine Apprentice trial. The 2 hours we spent were hard, intentionally so, but they all persevered through the ordeal. There were those with injuries and those with limitations. I am proud to report that each and everyone at this event impressed me and I was surprised but pleased of the resiliency and seriousness of the French Students. As a result, I inducted them all into the ranks of TPLA’s Apprentices. They will all have the opportunity to become instructors of this system.
This was the day I was on. The group was divided between combat and choreography (the third component to the FFE sport). I took the combat portion and the Choreography was taught by Julien Pennanec’h. Since Julian and I were teaching at the same time, I was unfortunately not able to connect with him during the weekend. For my part, I took the fencers through some exercises and drills that focused on expanding in to the 3 dimensions and using different stances and positions. Everyone seemed to be feeling the weekend by the afternoon, but the final day matches and practice were extremely fun and welcome.
While working with the combat oriented group, I had the chance to meet and discuss things with Didier Lemenage, the Director of Development for the FFE . Didier has been instrumental in the project and speaking with him and Thierry was enjoyable and I felt an understanding between us and a fair amount of shared values. The project at the FFE, while definitely designed to attract new comers to fencing, is inline with the safety, quality control, and openness that TPLA has stood for since we formed.
After the event was concluded, the feeling of history and the future were strong. These two contradictory things may seem at odds with each other, but their relationship has fueled TPLA since our inception. We had several generations of fencers and martial artists present at this event. Not only present but involved. To have Fencing Masters like Isabelle Lamuor and Theirry LaPrise accept this new sport and embrace it the way they have has been amazing. The French students are dedicated and disciplined. The Masters of Arms that were present all showed an interest and openness to this new permutation of weapon sport. It was humbling in the extreme.
We made some history this weekend. A professional and highly respected organization has accepted lightsaber dueling with LED sabers. Meeting all requirements for safety, organization and rules, it is officially a real sport. Sining the Convention with the FFE and becoming their ambassadors to the sport here in the US was also historic for TPLA. But the real history made was the connection to the students there in France. It was encouraging to see the effort put forward by these people. The way they view sport and activity is refreshing and it holds a great importance for the French. This has translated into some he hardest working students I have had the pleasure of meeting. It is for them, and anyone like them that we have tried to build a system that can teach you how to use these in a competent way.
But the friends made are always what you take home with you. This weekend was an honor for me, and I was treated with such hospitality that I feel like these connections will last for a long time. And not just connections with those in France, but Australia and Hong Kong as well. All with the backdrop of Paris. It was truly a dream I would never had dared to even think about. I thank everyone involved with bringing me over there. The FFE, especially Thierry, Olivier, and Didier but to all of those in the organization that see potential for the sport.
But special thanks go to our TPLA members in France. The trip would not have been the same without Henrique, Cedric, and all the students that we connected with. The work they do is top notch and I cannot wait to return. They made me feel so at home and so welcome among everyone. It is a feeling I have not had in a while in martial art. And it was very welcome. I am also filled with new hope (pun intended) for TPLA and what we do. I welcome our new members and cannot wait to form deeper relationships with everyone there.
So, here we are on the other side of this event. We are getting certifications ready for the FFE rule set and hope to be training coaches and referees by the new year. We want to bring the dynamic style of play to everyone here in the US. We also hope to spur on a little of the French dedication to sport and activity among the home fires. We will be putting out new videos on many things related to the rule set but also continue the development of LED Saber arts. We are not under any illusions, there is still a lot of skepticism toward this sport. The journey is far from over and we have much work to do. But it is work we love. And it is work that brings us closer together.
Viva la France!