The cult of nerd culture has eclipsed the “mother’s basement” jokes, and the losing-the-head-cheerleader-to-the-quarterback tropes. Someone who got his start building computers in his garage is now one of the richest men in the world, fan conventions are a multi-billion dollar industry, and the MVP at any company is the IT guy. (I’m lookin’ at you, Mike.) It’s revenge of the nerds, baby, and now they’ve weaponized.
Tom Amoroso is the owner and head instructor at Columbus Saber Academy, and he has over 30 years of formal martial arts weapon training under his belt. By day, he works a straight-laced job with Chase, and by night, he dons the armor of a superhero, and battles villains with a nerd’s favorite weapon.
“My level of geekdom outside of here is pretty high,” he said. “But in here, these guys blow me away.”
For decades, Amoroso has been studying the blade, but before that, he was just a ’70s kid who fell in love with a galaxy far, far away. Despite the fantasy involved, Amoroso is using his skills as a swordsman to pass on his learning to his students, some of whom have become instructors themselves.
“It’s structured as a true sword art. It is cuts, blocks, partner drills, stances, distancing, timing, strategy, all built in. It’s not just hitting each other with lightsabers. But we do get to hit each other with lightsabers, too. Which is fun.”
Now in its third year of existence, CSA has done a little bouncing around before finding its home on the North Side. A large, open studio concept, the room houses racks of painted gear, fluttering banners hanging from the ceiling, and a full floor mat on which the students practice. True to its screen inspiration, the academy also teaches stage combat, which features flourishes and looping movements that would be useless in a real battle. But boy, does it look cool.
As Amoroso explains the basics of fighting styles, he casually swings a saber that has sound effects built in. [Author’s note: I found myself laughing giddily when he did this.]
“It doesn’t matter who you are or how old you are, when you turn that on, it’s so cool.”
It is, indeed.
The benefits of lessons with a saber don’t end at giddy nerdery. Focusing on footwork and movement, Amoroso says that form is incredibly important.
“Fencing is a great sport to improve your legs and your knees. If you do it right, you keep the alignment with your knee, your ankle, your body all together, you’ll prolong the life of your joints, it’s not damaging. You’re moving your entire body. It’s not just your arms, it’s not just your wrists. Where you step, your hips, your shoulders, your body, all moves into that cut.”
Each class starts with a warm up of push ups and planks. Lunges and squats are incorporated into the walking movements during the lesson. But the physical benefits don’t end there. Two pounds might not sound like a lot, but swinging around two pounds for two hours will help you develop core strength, and give you a good upper body workout. Indeed, even the seasoned instructors, when sparring in full gear, emerged from their masks ruddy-faced, sweaty, and breathing heavily.
Beyond finding a novel way to work out, there is a key to the draw and success of CSA. It’s a community hub where people can gather around their favorite subjects the way sports nuts have always been able to discuss the latest bad calls over beers, or while hitting a few balls at the driving range. It might not sound like much, but for people of a certain age, this love is what used to get you shoved in a locker.
“Because we are all geeks, we get folks that are very reserved, very introverted. It’s a good place where they can just be themselves. Yes, we’re playing with lightsabers. Yes, we’re all Star Wars nerds, but we are also martial artists.”
Kids can benefit from the classes as much as kids-at-heart. Amoroso speaks of confidence-building in children, and seeing patience and control bloom in previously wild kids as they learn the routines, strikes, and blocks of the dance of swordplay. The practice is egalitarian by nature, welcoming students from all backgrounds, and of all ability levels.
“There’s no strength advantage. Male, female, age range [doesn’t matter]. It’s about understanding your opponent, it’s about understanding yourself. It’s a game of patience, it’s a game of thinking.”
Though welcoming to beginners, it takes practice to bring form to your skill set, and be able to emulate the twirling fury of the onscreen fights of light we all grew up with. As a wise little green man once said,
“Patience you must have, my young padawan.”
Columbus Saber Academy offers unlimited classes for adults and children for a very reasonable flat fee per month. They will be hosting the Midwest regional full contact tournament on September 29th. For more, visit columbussaberacademy.com.