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Like many children in the late 1970s, I was mesmerized by “Star Wars” and dreamed of battling evil with a lightsaber, like Luke Skywalker. Recently I had the chance to revisit that fantasy when I tried out an Asian martial art of the kind that inspired the “Star Wars” creator George Lucas in the first place.
Siljun Dobup, which roughly translates as real sword training, fuses Japanese and Korean styles. Through several classes I learned the basic handling maneuvers: drawing, cutting and resheathing the blade.
Raab Rashi, the head instructor and owner of Sword Class NYC, who has studied sword techniques for a decade, was wearing navy hakama and gi, the traditional Star Wars-esque garb. He opened a beginners’ class at Ripley-Grier Studios in Midtown Manhattan by handing out curved samurai swords to the 10 students. We formed a line and knelt for a ritual bow, first to the teacher and then to the sword. (Beginners use wooden swords in plastic sheaths; more advanced students train with blunt steel blades.)
After sliding the sheathed sword through a karate belt around my waist, I followed Mr. Rashi’s meticulous instructions for withdrawing the blade from the scabbard smoothly while maintaining an upright posture. With my right foot forward and left heel slightly raised, I held the sword loosely with both hands, pointing the tip at the throat of my imaginary opponent (who, looking out from the wall-size mirror, strongly resembled me).
I raised the sword above my head, extending the point behind me. Then, keeping my core tight, I cut my “opponent,” bringing the sword over and down to waist level with all the controlled power I could muster. Then I did it again. And again. Over and over.
“You have to make a desperate effort,” Mr. Rashi, 33, said, “because you may not walk away from this. Your every cut has to be perfect.”
As we practiced, monitoring ourselves in the mirror, he corrected our form and talked about efficiency of movement and how to make a kiai sound — like “Aight!” — to maximize power. I struggled to get the precise choreography right.
“A nice smooth motion,” he said, after demonstrating an overhead cut with his whooshing metal sword, making it look natural. By my third class, I still couldn’t get that satisfying whoosh, which Mr. Rashi explained is important feedback that tells you if the cut is good or not. I couldn’t help noticing a guy across the room, whose loud alpha whoosh made me redouble my efforts until I finally heard a subtle one from my own blade.
The student, Charles Herard, 25, a retail manager who lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said he’d already gotten his own sword and had been practicing at home.
“Every time I do it, I want to do it better,” he said. “Having this sword gives me something to perfect.”
The last step in the sequence was returning the blade to its sheath after flicking the fallen opponent’s blood off it. Resheathing must be done with composure, Mr. Rashi told the class, keeping the breath even, the mind still and movements precise to show self-possession.
“If you control your sword, you can control yourself,” he said. “If you can control yourself, you control everything else.”
Later, Mandy Pabon, 31, a high school science teacher from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, warmed up for an intermediate class. Dressed in blue and white hakama and gi, she said she didn’t expect much when she first took up sword training a year and a half ago. But the discipline ended up transforming her life, she said, affecting the way she taught, walked and thought. It motivated her to get more fit.
“There’s nothing better than wielding a sword,” she said. “It gives you such power and confidence.”
Sword Class NYC offers daily programs at Ripley-Grier Studios, 520 Eighth Avenue (between 36th and 37th Streets), Manhattan. A trial class is $10; swordclassnyc.com.