The Villages Light-Saber Club allows members to enjoy the fun and safety of fencing like a real Jedi.
Photos: Nicole Hamel
In a galaxy far, far away, virtuous Jedi knights use lightsaber weapons to cut through any surface and deflect energy bolts, but in The Villages, one doesn’t need the OK from Master Yoda to act out their “Star Wars” fantasy of lightsaber fencing.
In the fencing square, the Villagers’ swords are polycarbonate weapons with a long tubular light blade flashing in different neon colors and the hilt (handle) has a sound card and speaker to emit the thwacking, clashing, whooshing sound effects that are reminiscent of the iconic weapons Yoda and other characters wielded in George Lucas’ blockbuster movies.
And that’s part of the appeal for the 12 members (and growing) of The Villages Light-Saber Club, which meets twice a week at 9:30 a.m. Mondays at Odell Recreation Center and 11 a.m. Thursdays at El Santiago Recreation Center. The group—the first and only one in Florida—formed in the spring of 2019 and is affiliated with the parent organization, Lightspeed Saber League of CA.
“We are the only (lightsaber) group for 50 or older possibly in the world,” says Mark Ackerle, the local club’s lead representative, who considers the sport a fun activity and one that is great for balance.
Cindy Ackerle learned of the sport first and told her husband, “I want to do this!”
She looks forward to every chance to suit up in safety equipment of helmet, and protective gear for her body, arms, and gloves to participate in the full-length, face-to-face bouts of lightsaber fencing. During a typical meeting, the group also practices drills and light bouting exercises. Non-sparring members are welcome and may assist as timekeepers, referees, and supporters.
“I enjoy the activity and the camaraderie that we have,” says Cindy. “These are like my brothers and sisters, and they are awesome. The activity is exhilarating, and it is great exercise. Afterwards, we will be drenched.”
She adds that Gary Thiedman is one of her favorite people to fence. “He looks scary, but he is a teddy bear.”
There are several styles of light-based fencing, and Mark says the Lightspeed Saber League’s style makes the most sense for the club to follow in The Villages. He adds the league’s way was easiest to implement, get started, and that it offered well-defined rules regarding safety and procedures. He also liked that it could accommodate Villagers’ individuals’ abilities and older age of being 50-plus.
The league advocates using a longer, thinner diameter tubular blade, which Mark noted is faster, less impactful, and safer to fence with and against.
“After researching the sport, Lightspeed Saber League appeared to have the best and most logical style which with to affiliate,” says Mark. “The lighter, longer, faster blades, with a life-like combat format, specific rules, and rigorous safety standards were just too good to say ‘no’ to.”
The physicality of a lightsaber duel also is one reason why the French Fencing Federation has recognized lightsaber fencing as an international sport, and the Villages Light-Saber Club strives to grow its membership of male and female participants and to see the sport be included in The Villages Senior Games in the future.
Many of The Villages’ lightsaber members also are active in The Villages Fencing Club, which has been in operation for six years. Fencing activities have included bi-weekly practices, an annual club tournament, and an open USFA-sanctioned tournament each year in the Veteran 50+ age group.
As the lead Florida representative in the Lightspeed Saber League, Mark can assist any group of individuals in other communities interested in forming their own club of light-base fencing, all within following the parameters of the league’s regulations.
Mark and his peers believe one of the fun aspects of the sport is that it’s a modern-day, fast, safe, realistic version of fencing that they enjoyed playing as kids.
“Who among us as children has not practiced fake sword bouts, like the action we used to see in movies?” says Mark. “This is just as great as when you were a kid and it’s fun.”
Mark encourages Villagers interested in the sport to watch videos that are available at The Villages Light-Saber Club website: lightspeedSaber.com. Residents can also obtain more information about the local club by emailing him at email@example.com.