SINGAPORE - For an hour every Saturday evening, a patch of ground below the train tracks running between Bishan and Ang Mo Kio MRT stations transforms into a battleground of epic proportions.
Over the roar of nearby traffic and rumble of trains overhead, a group of 20-odd apprentices parry with lightsabers, flashes of neon blue, red and green slicing through the dark.
They belong to the Saber Authority, a lightsaber importer and academy founded last November by training consultant Reza Emmanuel, 37, and entrepreneur Kong Ming Jie, 29.
"We help users buy ready-made sabers or customise their own. We then provide the training for proper swordplay, so they can duel with their new sabers," says Mr Kong.
Lightsabers are fictional weapons in the world of Star Wars and are used by the Jedis, a group considered peacekeepers, and their evil counterparts, the Sith, in the stories.
Four hour-long duelling classes with a lightsaber provided cost $80. There are three levels and beginners start by practising footwork and strikes without making contact. They will don protective masks and gloves and move on later to contact sparring.
Mr Emmanuel, who runs self-defence school SurviTac Training in the day, designed the classes from scratch, based on his experience with a mix of martial arts, ranging from aikido and yang taiji to Filipino short sword duelling.
While the swordplay class sounds like a far-fetched idea, he says his sessions come with functional elements, unlike other groups that focus on role- playing and choreographed moves.
"There's definitely the fun factor, but it's also a great cardio session as there's footwork training. Swinging the lightsaber around provides resistance training too and you learn self-defence skills," he says.
One aspiring Jedi is Mr Wilson Lim, 28, a recent graduate who spent more than $800 on a lightsaber.
"It's a combination of the things I like. I like martial arts. I've done fencing, taekwondo and judo and I'm a huge Star Wars fan, so I joined to check out this new technique," says Mr Lim, who posts videos of himself trying lightsaber tricks on his Instagram account.
Classes started last weekend and he says of the experience: "It's fun and a good workout for most beginners."
The battery-operated lightsabers, which are lit by LED lights, come complete with soundboards that replicate the signature lightsaber hum.
The hilts are made of aluminium while the blades, handmade by sabersmiths in the United States, are crafted from polycarbonate that does not shatter on impact to ensure safety, says Mr Emmanuel. They start at $390 and can cost more than $800.
Since the academy's launch, 24 participants - all males - have signed up for classes. They range from students as young as seven years old to working professionals in their 40s and 50s.
Mr Kong says: "Most of them just want to fulfil their childhood dreams of wielding a lightsaber in real life." One such Jedi wannabe is product specialist Nur Hidayat Taib, 27.
"I enjoy the fancy lightsaber swordplay. It's not as intense as a zumba workout, but it still feels great," he says.
Swinging and thrusting the lightsaber while trying to evade your opponent's blows requires much strength, agility and hand-leg coordination, as SundayLife! found out during a duelling session for beginners.
The Force, it turned out, was not strong with this reporter, who was left all hot and sweaty after a 10-minute joust.
Playing a Jedi Knight battling for his life on a remote planet against the dark Sith Lords, however, felt like the coolest thing ever.
This article was first published on January 11, 2015.
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