Clashing lightsabers, intense rivalries, and dedication to “the Force” are prevalent themes throughout the Star Wars movies. How does this compare to striking swords, highly competitive natures, and dedication to the teachings of Zen Buddhism? The latter, kendo, refers to “the way of the sword,” and it served as inspiration for many aspects of the Star Wars Universe. Keep reading to see how sci-fi and martial arts are intertwined.
In the Star Wars universe, lightsabers feature a metal hilt with a blade made of concentrated, brightly colored energy in the form of a light beam. Feudal Japanese warriors, on the other hand, utilized a series of weapons, including straight swords, spears, curved swords, rifles, and eventually cannons. Samurai warriors practiced their sparring technique, called kenjutsu, in order to creative reflexive movements and gain control over their muscle memory. Katana blades are incredibly dangerous, so wooden swords, called bokkuto, were used to avoid accidental injury and death. These eventually gave way to the bamboo swords, or shinai, used in kendo classes today. You can find these blades and more at Swords of The East.
When it comes to using the blades (whether lightsabers or swords) specific techniques and movements must be mastered. One of the best-known fights in Star Wars occurs in Episode IV: A New Hope. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader exchange banter while dealing blows in this battle to the death. Their movements are precise, clean, and showcase excellent swordsmanship (or in this case, mastery of lightsabers).
The prevalence of Japanese martial arts in our society is huge, so it is no surprise that kendo and fencing would be major influences in movie-making and choreography. Actions are strictly limited, with rules in place to insure a clean and honorable fight. In Star Wars, a fight to the death is still not a dirty fight, as the winner shows not trickery and cunning but a true mastery of technique and form.
The choreographer and trainer for the original Star Wars trilogy was Bob Anderson. A sword master and Olympic fencer, Anderson also performed many stunts as Darth Vader. For the prequel trilogy, produced 22 years later, stunt-coordinator Nick Gillard choreographed and instructed. He specifically mentioned kendo dojos and martial arts clubs as influences. Ultimately, Gillard worked to create a seamless amalgamation of sword fighting techniques.
Understanding the Force
Star Wars relies on the Force as a moral compass, with points facing the dark side, light side, living force, and unifying force. As well all know, the dark side is filled with fear, anger, jealousy, and hatred culminating in Sith lords. The light side, however, draws from many Buddhist principles, including enlightenment, selflessness, and compassion.
In kendo, students understand that the art of Zen is just as important as proper sword technique. A facet of Buddhism, Zen teaches loyalty and self-confidence, with particular emphasis on knowing and developing one’s self. Buddhism, Japanese culture, and martial arts were all huge influences on the original trilogy as well as the prequels, and now you will know what to look for as the new series is released.