Lightsaber Combat Academy: a Community by Induction?
by Stefano Pace, PhD
The Lightsaber Combat Academy is headquartered in Milan. It is a recreational sport association for the practice of fencing with the lightsaber, that is the laser sword represented in the Star Wars saga. The Lightsaber Combat Academy is an interesting case that may add further knowledge about the concept of community.
As the website of the academy claims, the lightsaber is not just a game, but rather a physical activity resembling fencing and martial arts, with strict rules and a complete system of attacks and defenses. As the website of the academy indicates, the lightsaber combat is a “full, complete technical system (theoretical and practical) […] creating a true “common language” that allows anyone entering this sport to perform real combat”. Founded in Milan (Italy) in 2006, today the association has several franchises.
Movies (fantasy and science fiction in particular) have always stimulated the emergence of consumer communities (Cova, Kozinets, Shankar, 2007; Kozinets, 1997). Those communities broaden the imprint of the movie beyond the movie theaters and turn it into a lived cultural phenomenon. The classic example of Star Trek (Kozinets, 2001) shows that a community can develop a sophisticated world of values and ideas starting from a story. That story is turned into reality. In many cases, the community takes as reference the entire universe and cultural values of the film or the literary work. For instance, fans of the Twilight universe refer to the world of vampires and all its complex historical and ideological roots (Olivier-Buchanan, Schau, 2013). The community often proceeds by deduction from the general to the particular. Therefore, the vast utopia of Star Trek takes shape in single gestures, objects, costumes. Each of these elements represents the larger universe of values of Star Trek.
In cases such that of the Lightsaber Combat Academy, the community draws from the universe of Star Wars a single object, the lightsaber, and forms around it a sport and a connected universe of values. The Lightsaber Combat Academy suggests that communities can proceed through a movement of inductive reasoning, from the particular objects to the general values, instead of a traditional deduction reasoning, proceeding from the general values to the single object. In this inductive movement by the lightsaber community, the roots of Star Wars are hybridized with other worlds. The general world of Star Wars thus becomes more diverse than in the case of a “community by deduction”. The lightsaber community does not remain solely in the world of Star Wars. It rather enriches and hybridizes it.
While a community “by inference” has well defined references and a certain canon to adopt, an “inductive community” must negotiate its identity in relation to the various references used. The single reference by itself, the lightsaber, could not support a universe of values. The community thus draws a broader culture with more cultural references. The worlds of references for the Lightsaber Combat Academy, in addition to Star Wars, are those of the martial arts, academies, sports training schools. The culture that emerges from the inductive movement of the Lightsaber Combat Academy employs elements taken from of other sports and martial arts. At the same time, the community distances itself from those references to avoid being absorbed and to present its distinctive elements of identity. In fact, the community declares that there is no technique of combat that can be considered perfectly suitable for the lightsaber combat. As the website of the community declares, “Lightsaber Combat does not derive from any other combat art in any way. This is because the various sports that inspired Lightsaber Combat have not been used to supply single movements or techniques, but solely aspects that could be adapted to the instrument that this sport uses”. In this description we can see the desire not to be classified as imitators of techniques from the movie, or as an additional oriental art per se, but the creators of a new discipline, inspired by other worlds, but not limited to them.
The inductive community of the lightsaber bears a culture that shows its obvious roots in the Star Wars saga, but at the same time it defines the boundaries of that culture. Thus, it is not strictly necessary to be a Star Wars fan to practice the discipline of lightsaber. Of course ─ as the website indicates ─ after a while it is difficult not to become a Star Wars fan too. The Lightsaber Combat Academy shows that a community is not just a group of devoted fans of a literary work or movie. Not surprisingly, the references to Star Wars in the website of the Lightsaber Combat Academy are contained in a specific section called “Fandom”, showing that fandom is almost an understatement compared to the concept of sport.
The inductive move (from the lightsaber towards an entire universe of values) described here presents opportunities and risks to a community. The opportunity is given by the fact that the founders and members of the community can freely choose among the many repertoires of ideas that are best suited to their specific case. Those values and ideas can range from the traditional Japanese dojo to futuristic technology of lasers. The community has the potential to become an example of revisited Eastern traditions or a community for testing cutting-edge prototypical technologies (Pace, 2013). Normally, in the life of a community, these various paths are introduced and then discarded or consolidated depending on their consistency with the “spirit” of the community. Some risks are inherent in this very large opportunity of cultural references: the risk of losing its own identity and dilute it across many facets; that would make the community confused and its positioning would not be clear. How to avoid that risk and take advantage of the opportunities? The passion and attention that are typical of a community, nourished by the daily practices of its values, are the best safeguard of the cultural identity of the community and the source of its evolution. By respecting the underlying values of the lightsaber combat as defined by the community itself, by opening up to external innovations too, practitioners and members of the community have the opportunity to consolidate and update the scope of their culture.
In the case of Lightsaber Combat Academy, the sophisticated skills that the student can learn (combined with passion) are perhaps the best source of evolution from the initial roots: the ability to wield a lightsaber defines the limits of the possible meanings of this rich cultural artifact. The object becomes the anchor of the meanings for this inductive community. In the vast archipelago of communities, maybe the action to induce a universe of values from a single object is the future.
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