Knights with shining glowsticks: FightSaber
On a rooftop not so far, far away, Herbert Donald trains his pupils to become lightsaber knights. The FightSaber is a Force to be reckoned with, and Kong Wai Yeng finds out why. Photography Stacy Liu. View more photos in our gallery.
At 33 years old, Herbert is already the OI Incident and Situation Manager for Shell IT Services. Like any overworked yuppie, you’d expect him to spend Friday nights at a spiffy bar with his homies. But no, he doesn’t. He’s not even at home with his wife. He’s out there learning the ways of the Force, binding the galaxy and wielding his glowing tube. And he’s not alone. He has a clan.
I’m sorry but this is quite funny…
What is? My beard or my moves? [Swings lightsaber and slices the air]
Everything. The costume, lightsabers… and the fact that a community like yours exist.
Ah, you’ve underestimated the power of the Force. Communities like us are everywhere including Singapore, Indonesia and the US. In Malaysia, we call ourselves FightSaber and there are 15 of us. We specialise in lightsaber duel choreography. Our moves do not follow the fighting scenes in Star Wars completely. I hold a black belt in mixed martial arts so I tend to incorporate a bit of martial arts moves in the routine too.
Where’s Darth Vader? Is he busy being a daddy?
Nope. There’s no Darth Vader, Stormtroopers or Yoda in our group. Those are posers. Some people don the Star Wars costumes just to pose for photos. But not us. We’re fighters.
Do people find you funny or…
Weird? Yeah, mostly weird. We get ridiculed all the time. People think of us as Star Wars wannabes. They probably think that we’ve got nothing better to do. We usually perform at comic cons, birthday parties, roadshows and weddings. Yeah, we get a lot of wedding requests.
Does that bother you?
Being ridiculed? No. I tell my fellow padawans all the time, ‘Let people poke fun at you. Let them laugh’. Eventually, when people see what we can do, they’re blown away by our sword-fighting skills. And that’s exactly why I started FightSaber in the first place – to establish a top-notch combat lightsaber choreography team. I dare say that there are no other teams in Malaysia that are as committed as us.
Your erm, fellow padawans, do this part time too?
Some of my apprentices are graduate students, some have a day job. But not all of them are Star Wars fans. Most of them are here for the cool combat choreography. It gives them a sense of purpose; a community they can belong to. There are more Siths than Jedis on the team – the Dark side is very tempting. We also accept female padawans. But training is hardcore. We hit the gym every Saturday to build up stamina so that we can execute more challenging stunts like flips, flying kicks or sommersaults.
I don’t recognise some of the characters on your team. You must introduce me to that dude in the gas mask!
Oh, that’s Bill. But once he’s put on the mask, he can’t really hear. [Calls out to Bill] Bill? Bill? Bill! See, he can’t hear. He calls himself ‘Darth Rath’, a Sith Inquisitor during the Old Republic, 5,000 years before the first movie came out. We like to follow this era of Star Wars because we can be anyone we want in order not to destroy the canon that others know from the movie. Most of our characters and costumes are reimagined. Some of us are not portraying specific characters. So you probably won’t be able to recognise.
And what about you?
My padawans refer to me as the Grand Master. And my orders are not to be defied.
So, Grand Master Herbert. Tell me more about your lightsaber duels.
In a four-minute choreography, there are about 400 to 500 moves. A good fighter would need five to six hours to perfect a two-minute choreography but the juniors would probably take seven weeks. A veteran, like my senior padawan Koo, can fight me even without touching the sabers. It’s possible because we both know each other’s moves so well already.
What if someone forgets their moves on stage?
We continue. There are no cuts in a stage performance. In movies, you can afford mistakes because they go through editing. Live combat? No. Things move at a very intense pace. We abide by the wisdom of George Lucas: ‘Faster, more intense’.
I’m sure there were injuries.
Loads. Bruises, bleeds and cuts. We break our nails all the time because the opponent might strike your hand during combat. Dislocated shoulders are common. But no matter what, the show must go on.
A Jedi is not a Jedi until he makes his saber. Do you make your own?
We source our lightsabers from a shop called Ultra Sabers. The blades are just battery-powered polycarbonate tubes which are illuminated by a light inside. It’s the same material used to make car windows. Price ranges from RM500 to RM1,000. You can even customise your sabers with sound devices that churn out voices like ‘I find your lack of faith disturbing’ or ‘Asteroids do not concern me, Admiral. I want that ship, not excuses’. The basic ones just make a whooshing sound when you swing the saber.
Are you always in character?
We can’t wait to take these clothes off actually. It’s really hot. Out of combat, we’re just ordinary people. But once the saber is in our hands…you really don’t want to mess with us.
So, to walk the Jedi Path, what must a padawan do?
I need to see commitment; I need to see passion. A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force but once you start down the Dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will. But FightSaber also welcomes the Siths. We understand. The costumes are cooler.
You’re a geek. Agree?
I’ve watched Star Wars Episode I to VI more than a hundred times. Of course I’m a geek.
Catch FightSaber at the 'Malaysian Gaming and Comics Convention (MFCCon)' from May 19-20. See event listing for more info.