Star Wars fans all across the galaxy often dream of the thrill and glory of being a Jedi knight and wielding a lightsaber. Thanks to Patrick Tatevossian, founder of Iron Fist Martial Arts, residents of Santa Clarita have a chance to fulfill that dream.
On Feb. 1, Tatevossian’s newest martial arts program Light Force Academy hit its third anniversary. The program incorporates different styles of martial arts training such as Taekwondo, kendo and escrima and a love for Star Wars into a unique training experience.
Tatevossian discovered the world of competitive saber combat while searching for a high-quality lightsaber to buy for himself on the internet after watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” During his search, the martial artist came across combat stunt sabers and, after tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole of the internet, decided to take a cue from other martial arts schools and replaced his traditional weapons training with a saber fighting program.
“We originally had a full weapons training program with everything from nunchucks to staff, but I didn’t have fun teaching weapons anymore and my students didn’t even compete with them anyway,” Tatevossian said. “It might be because I’m just a big kid, but I think that the light sabers are a lot cooler than what we were doing before. This actually bettered our weapons training.”
The Light Force training is a progressive program in which students begin with traditional Japanese kendo double-handed sword fighting techniques, then move on to single-handed sword, staff, dual swords and the weapon in a non-dominant hand. After the student learns all of the styles, he or she then selects one of the styles and works to master it, the program’s equivalent of earning a black belt in a more traditional martial art. Tatevossian estimates that the program takes four years to complete, but since the program just turned three years old, no student has reached that point yet.
Since its inception, Tatevossian’s Light Force program has become an affiliate of the competitive Lightspeed Saber League and has been invited to join other competitive circuits. Each league has its own rules in regard to equipment and techniques regarding forms and sparring, but Tatevossian said his main criteria when partnering with a league is safety.
“Competitive saber leagues use either light, medium or heavy sabers,” Tatevossian said. “We have protective armor like fencing masks, and getting hit with a light or medium saber won’t hurt that much, but the heavy sabers can do a lot of damage even with the gear. Also the lighter sabers allow for a lot more fluidity and technically difficult movement, which I prefer.”
When Tatevossian first began in saber competitions he suffered many losses to those larger or more experienced in the style than him, but after he started to use techniques from other martial arts he knew, he found that he was close to unbeatable.
“It was really weird and I wondered what was going on when I started winning,” he said. “Then I realized that my footwork was more advanced than my competitors’. Once I started focusing more on my footwork and less on blade technique, that was it.”
On Feb. 23, Tatevossian will host his first saber tournament, which will also be the first competitive experience for most of his students. He said he has received interest from almost 100 competitors across Southern California. The tournament will also feature vendors and winners will offer prizes including custom sabers and Loot Crates.
If all goes well, Tatevossian hopes to host another tournament at the end of the year, using what he learns from this tournament as a test run.
Light Force Academy has about 30 regular students and dozens more who attend on a part-time basis. He would like to grow the program with other methods than word of mouth, but he said it is difficult to show people the program is more than playing with lightsabers.
“What most people that aren’t already martial artists don’t understand is that what we’re doing is actual martial arts training and a legitimate form of exercise, rather than just swinging around lightsabers for the fun of it,” he said. “On the other hand, that attraction to lightsabers is a good way for me to get people who would never have otherwise tried martial arts to come in, learn and exercise.”