Star Wars super fans start lightsaber fight club

This summer Josh Linden (left) and Terry Birnbaum founded the Saber Legion, which has swelled to 36 charters worldwide.

This summer Josh Linden (left) and Terry Birnbaum founded the Saber Legion, which has swelled to 36 charters worldwide.

Several months ago in a backyard far, far away (Robbinsdale) a butcher and an IT guy planted the seeds to an awesomely nerdy empire. Star Wars junkies Terry Birnbaum and Josh Linden met through local fan group Minnesota Force. Each had bad-ass replica lightsabers and was eager to make them more than mantle pieces.

Birnbaum, the meat guy, and Linden started hosting hangout sessions they dubbed “burgers and sabers” nights. A gaggle of aspiring Jedi would grill out at Birnbaum’s place and “hit blades together” after feasting. With a handful of their buddies interested in the backyard duels, Linden and Birnbaum sought order and rules to make the get-togethers more fun and safer (these graphite lightsabers aren’t kids’ toys). Thus, the Saber Legion was born.

“We were just a group of guys that loved Star Wars and had lightsabers,” recalls Birnbaum, 31.

Their fledgling organization is a lightsaber fight club, which in true Jedi fashion draws heavily from the martial arts world. Several of the training and combat club’s OGs have backgrounds in various disciplines and sword fighting techniques, and are eager to play Yoda for new members. The crew’s goal is to connect these real-world combat forms to the fantasy realm they love.

The club meets every other Sunday at a USA Karate studio in Maple Grove to duke it out with their neon-lit swords. Their four-point scoring system in one-on-one duels is borrowed from Kendo, a Japanese martial art that uses bamboo swords.

“We try to keep it grounded while trying to also dip into the sci-fi feel,” Linden says.

While the local turnout is still relatively small — 10 or so people at each meet — the Saber Legion’s tentacles have spread quickly. Since launching in June, the Saber Legion has added 35 other charters around the world with roughly 2,300 members in its Facebook group. With the hysteria surrounding Thursday’s premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, interest in the club is surging, the founders say. Their last meet drew a record 20 people, which Birnbaum attributes to the forthcoming flick.

Naturally, Linden and Birnbaum have their tickets for a Thursday screening. They and a few other members will be in costume at AMC Arbor Lakes 16 theaters  for a choreographed exhibition and some light dueling starting around 3 p.m.

Although newbies are welcome to pop in at any of their meets, don’t expect to fight right away. Linden and Birnbaum suggest hitting one of their training sessions (“Basically nerd workouts,” Birnbaum jokes) before thinking you’re a seasoned Obi-Wan Kenobi, lest ye get served or worse injured. Serious saber fighters can compete in an all-charter tournament they’re hosting in Kansas City next summer. Sixty young Anakins have already signed up for the June event.

Beyond procuring a “duel-worthy” lightsaber from outfitters like Ultra Sabers or Saber Forge, combatants are required to wear protective gear based on their fighting tier (oh, it’s serious stuff). Starters in the light combat class can get by with shop glasses, mechanic’s gloves, and a cup. Meanwhile, the serious duelers need fencing masks, heavier gloves, and an array of padding.

“I can show you my finger where you can see right underneath the skin there’s a bone fragment,” Linden says of one wound.

Still, you don’t need to have logged serious dojo time to join the Legion. Most members are simply hard-core Star Wars fans exploring a new, interactive venue for their obsession.

“I don’t come from a combat background at all,” Linden says. “I just started this as a guy that wanted to swing around a really sweet lightsaber I just bought.”

A noble quest indeed.