- Associated Press - Friday, March 11, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - In “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Luke Skywalker gave up on training new Jedi knights, but closer to home, Theron Sturgess is just getting started.

Sturgess told the Springfield News-Leader (https://sgfnow.co/1RBv6pd ) that he’s taught martial arts like jiu-jitsu and kenpo for 30 years, but his effort to teach Star Wars-style martial arts, Springfield Jedi Arts Academy, is “brand-spanking new.”

Academy sessions - including free monthly events for kids and families and paid sessions - are held at Dynamic Edge Martial Arts, where Sturgess is lead instructor.

The academy blends fitness, Star Wars movements like lightsaber fencing, with philosophy and meditation.

“It’s kind of growing faster than I’d even hoped for,” Sturgess said. About 80 people came to one of his first free events, he said. He’s taught kids as young as 5 or 6 years old up to adults in their 60s.

And despite old stereotypes of Star Wars fandom, the academy is not a boys’ club: Sturgess guesses about 40 percent of the latest round of attendees were girls and women.

He also does private lessons in Star Wars-style martial arts, with coaching much like that of a personal trainer at a gym, he said.

Friday afternoon, Sturgess coached Springfield resident Jamie Diamond in a private lesson. Diamond said she’d practiced a variety of martial arts before, but this was her first encounter with lightsaber basics and the three basic pillars of Jedi studies (which are, per Sturgess, the Force, knowledge and self-discipline).

There are also group “intensive” lessons. A two-hour Feb. 28 event, “Academy Force Focus Intensive,” cost $25 and included meditation, exercise, stretching, fundamental stances, strikes and blocks, fight choreography, stage combat punching and Jedi combat rolling.

If it sounds intense, Sturgess keeps it light during lessons. “What’s the biggest room in the world?” he asked Diamond during her session. “Room for improvement!”

He said his Jedi academy is really about connecting people with fitness and mindfulness.

“(Lightsaber training) is not quite as hard-core as some of the Olympic fencing, or the Japanese sport of kendo,” he said.

“This is for people nervous about trying actual martial arts or jumping into a fitness routine,” Sturgess said. “I like to say, they go from playing the video games to living the video games.”

Some of Sturgess’ students are using Jedi martial arts to work through obesity issues, he said, finding it a “legitimate form of exercise.”

Along with exercise and meditation, Sturgess said the “third tier” of Springfield Jedi Arts Academy is “community.” Participants have helped raise funds for National Public Radio and other causes, he said.

He hopes to develop a group of “core members” who will demonstrate and even teach Jedi arts. He’d like to put on tournaments.

“My personal time is limited,” he said. “But I hope to train the 10 Jedi that will train the hundred, and who knows, maybe the hundred that will train the thousand.”

The next hour-long Springfield Jedi Arts Academy free event is March 19; potential attendees need a doctor’s approval for physical training.


Information from: Springfield News-Leader, https://www.news-leader.com

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