Gyms have always bored me because I grew up as the only child of a high school sports coach who instilled a love of sports in me at a young age. I played catcher on softball teams and did Muay Thai kickboxing with a private trainer. When I developed anxiety disorder, a psychiatrist prescribed drugs that had weight gain side effects (a career in food writing didn’t help). I gave my stepsister a subscription to Nutrisystem for Christmas which we’re doing together, and as of press time I’ve lost 14 pounds. I hike regularly with my pit bulls Skylar and Blue (a combined 150 pounds of muscle), but still wanted something more intense, so when my friend Kin told me about LudoSport I was intrigued.
Founded nearly 14 years ago in Italy, LudoSport began at a party when three friends, all martial artists, started play fighting with model lightsabers like the ones seen in the Star Wars series. They quickly realized it could be a real sport, so after three years studying all things Star Wars, they created LudoSport in Milan. The academy now has around 40 “halls” throughout the United States and Europe. The first in America and sole West Coast branch is in San Francisco, where members gather for two to four hours on Saturdays to learn techniques and spar with real lightsabers (Polaris sabers, manufactured by the Italian company Lodicule, are the weapon of choice and start at nearly $400). With my background in softball and kickboxing, I thought, how tough can it be to learn how to use a lightsaber?
SATURDAYS WITH THE SABERS
Upon arrival, we are greeted by dean of the San Francisco academy, Michael Masangkay, the 2018 U.S. style champion. He also represented the United States in the International Champions Area that same year. An instructor teaching Form I and the more advanced Course Y, he is an all-around athlete who has completed a 70.3 Ironman and triathlons. He takes the more advanced students to the other side of the room.
Our instructor is Michael Christopher, rector of the academy and certified in Form I and II (he represented the United States at the International Champions Arena in 2017 and 2019). He studied dance and martial arts as a teen, and that focus on body movement proved perfect for LudoSport. We start with a light warmup and then learn to turn on the lightsabers (it’s more complicated than you might imagine). Because LudoSport was founded in Italy, commands are in Italian and the techniques are called “forms” (so as not to conflict with any Star Wars copyrights). The first is “Guardia” (“guard”) — one foot slightly in front, a bit like fencing. The lightsaber handle, or hilt, is held close to the pelvis at a 45-degree angle. “This is not a sword,” Christopher says. Scoring rules, he explains, mean aiming beneath the neck, and above the knees. When he shouts, “fendente!” (“slash”) we tap our sparring partners lightly on the head. Next we learn “destra” (right) and “sinistra” (left) attack moves and how to block them. Suddenly I realize that softball and kickboxing won’t help me in LudoSport as the motions are dancelike, precise, and complex, made up of various coordinated arm and leg movements as you try to strike your partners or block their attempts to strike you.
After nearly two hours, I still feel like a klutz, especially when the two Michaels engage in a combat demo of ethereal, elegant forms. At the end of class, each newbie must spar with Christopher (he’s gentle on us). The familiar sound of the lightsabers clashing (even if you’ve only seen one Star Wars film you know it) is exhilarating, and I began to see why people enjoy LudoSport. Still, I feel deflated at my lack of prowess. As the daughter of a high school sports coach, I expect to “get it” from the start. But Christopher has some soothing words of wisdom: “What you learned here today takes a year or more to master.” In other words — or better yet in the words of Yoda — to master LudoSport, “Patience you must have my young Padawan.”
LudoSport:Form I class Saturday 2:30-4:30 p.m., $40–$80, Studiomix SF, 1000 Van Ness Ave., 415-910-5545,
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