Star Wars fans hone their lightsaber dueling skills at a Mexico City Jedi academy

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A park on the south side of Mexico’s capital lights up with the multicolored glow of lightsabers, as a man slashing a white luminescent sword through the air shouts: “Check the defense!”

Onlookers watch curiously and a dog-walker asks about the duel, which breaks out four nights a week.

The Jedi Knight Academy, founded in 2019, is a lightsaber combat and choreography school in Mexico City and a dream come true for fans of the Star Wars franchise.

“When students arrive some of them drop the saber. They don’t know how to handle it properly, and with the passing of time you see them grow,” said instructor Ulises Vázquez, also known as the Jedi master. “Today they are youngsters who became excellent athletes and excellent lightsaber fighters and fencers.”

During daily three-hour sessions, fans of the George Lucas saga can learn how to perform lightsaber combat in true Luke Skywalker-style.

Based on Jedi and Sith teachings — initially based on ancient sword-fighting techniques — these duels and choreographies between Jedi are not only fun and spectacular to watch, but also a complex discipline that integrates elements of martial arts like kendo, aikido and tai chi.

Classes usually start with meditation and a warmup. Instructors then show students different exercises, which they perform again and again as they strive for perfection. Some later duel with protective equipment that looks like a galactic fencing uniform. Their sabers are made of ballistic-grade polycarbonate and illuminated from within in a rainbow of colors.

It all started 15 years ago when Vázquez and his best friend, Gabriel Mendoza, started toying with the idea of founding a lightsaber combat school. Vázquez had always wanted to learn how to fight like Anakin Skywalker — the main character of the saga, later known as Darth Vader — and both him and Mendoza had experience with martial arts.

They thought other people would be interested in learning and they weren’t wrong.

When they decided to open the academy in Mexico in 2019, lightsaber dueling was already rippling across the world and had been recognized by the French Fencing Federation as an official competitive sport.

Their hope was to encourage young people to engage in regular exercise. That was the case for Maroli Martínez, 19, a university student fighting on the lawn on a recent night.

“People here have a lot of influence in how we learn. This is a very tight and lovable family and that is what I love about this place,” said Martínez, who’s been taking lightsaber combat lessons for three years.

A few meters (yards) away from her, another group is practicing an intricate choreography. Students draw their colorful swords and engage in a dance to the tempo of instructions. A rainbow flag tied to a tree waves behind them.

They are the Pride faction of the academy. Both Vázquez and Mendoza took on inclusion workshops and got in touch with different local LGBTQ+ organizations to better understand how to run a safe queer-only space, which marked a year this June.

“It’s massively satisfying to realize that all the effort we put into the training program has been so successful,” said Vázquez. ___

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