Since the first Star Wars movie came out 40 years ago, children and adults alike have dreamed of one day becoming a Jedi. Two diehard fans are helping make those dreams come true this summer, and nobody has to travel to a galaxy far, far away.
Robbinsville’s Fencing Club of Mercer County is hosting a lightsaber summer camp for children to train like their favorite Star Wars characters. Three camp sessions are scheduled—for July 10 through July 14, July 31 through Aug. 4, and Aug. 21 through Aug. 25—in which participants will have a chance to learn the seven forms of lightsaber combat through activities and games.
The camp will be taught by lifelong Star Wars fans and West Windsor Plainsboro High School South students Bryce McCreary and Jesse Ritter.
Robbinsville resident John Friedberg, founder and head coach of the Fencing Club of Mercer County, had considered hosting a lightsaber class in the past, but he wasn’t sure how to go about putting it together. One of his students, however, is an expert in the field.
McCreary joined the Fencing Club of Mercer County two years ago after a football concussion left him searching for a new sport. While he’s new to the sport of fencing, he’s loved Star Wars since he was a child and can often be found having lightsaber battles with Ritter and other friends. He pitched the idea of hosting a lightsaber class to Friedberg, who immediately expanded the idea into a summer camp.
“Once I found out he [McCreary] was an expert, and he had a friend who was an expert, I brought them on as partners to help run the camp,” Friedberg said, adding that the camp is an alternative way to use the Fencing Club space while many children are free during the summer.
Ritter, a senior, taught himself everything there is to know about Star Wars, and he then passed his knowledge along to McCreary, a sophomore. The two West Windsor residents spent weeks diving into Star Wars lore, memorizing not just the official lightsaber combat moves but Star Wars canon, facts and character backstories as well. While there are no official parameters to become a lightsaber expert, the two friends are about as close as one can get.
McCreary and Ritter will teach from Star Wars: The Jedi Path, the official training manual written by Star Wars superfan and author Daniel Wallace. Ritter said there are officials ways to use a lightsaber, and just about every twirl or move you see a character do onscreen has an official name and instructions on how to complete it properly.
Some of the moves include the Orbit—a move where you twirl the lightsaber around behind your back—a power stance called Djem So and a speed stance called Ataru.
McCreary and Ritter have given demonstrations at Robbinsville events earlier this summer, including a presentation at Community Day on June 10, and they said the feedback has been positive. No matter where they are, people are always eager to play with the lightsabers.
“I bring them [the lightsabers] to school sometimes for whatever excuse I can think of, and I hand them to people, and they just swing it around and they’ll look at you and be like, ‘I feel so powerful,” Ritter said.
While learning the information about Star Wars lightsaber combat was easy, tracking down a decent lightsaber turned out to be a surprisingly difficult task.
Those sold at Toys ‘R’ Us, the telescoping kind, tend to break immediately upon being struck, Ritter said. So he asked people in the cosplaying community where they get their movie-like quality lightsabers, and that’s how he discovered Ultra Sabers—battle ready lightsabers able to withstand blows from other sabers.
The telescoping lightsabers cost roughly $7, and the Ultra Sabers range in price from $54 to upwards of $225. Many Ultra Sabers can be customized, lighting up and making sound effects similar to those in the Star Wars films.
For the camps, Ultra Sabers will be provided by the Fencing Club, and only blade-to-blade contact will be allowed. In addition to teaching children the appropriate stances and moves, McCreary and Ritter will help campers choreograph their own lightsaber battles.
“We’re going blade-to-blade-only contact with the intention of not hitting each other,” Friedberg said. “We want it to be safe, we want it to be fun, but we want it to look cool, too.”
The camp is open to children ages 8 and up, although Friedberg said a few parents have even expressed interest in learning how to be like Luke Skywalker and their childhood heroes. The instructors will pair the children up by age to ensure the smaller children work together while the older children can perform more advanced moves with one another.
Although the camp is being held at the Fencing Club, Friedberg stressed that lightsaber play has nothing to do with actual fencing.
“If you’re interested in fencing, then I would say this may not be for you, and if you’re interested in this, then fencing may not be for you,” he said.
Friedberg has been fencing since he was in high school. He participated in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona on the men’s sabre team and was a member of three U.S. National Fencing Teams. After teaching his own children how to fence, he decided to open up the Fencing Club of Mercer County three years ago.
While the lightsaber camp won’t focus on fencing, Friedberg and the camp instructors are excited to transform the Fencing Club into a haven for Star Wars fans.
“It’s the little kid in all of us,” Ritter said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 40 or 17 or 16, you want to swing around a lightsaber.”
The Fencing Club of Mercer County is located at 1274 Route 130 South, Robbinsville. The week-long lightsaber camps will be held from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The cost is $250 per child. For additional information, visit fencingclubofmercercounty.com.