Go inside a group of intergalactic warriors in training we will.
“See, you just lost three fingers.”
Standing in this New York studio, my digits appear to be intact, as do my limbs, ears, entrails and every other potentially severable or disembowelable body part. But according to the man who goes by the name Flynn, an actor who has invited me to train alongside the members of New York Jedi, my imaginary fingers are lying on the floor.
They were separated from my imaginary hand after I carelessly handled my imaginary lightsaber (actually a hard plastic kids’ sword), thrusting it into my imaginary sheath at an imprecise angle. While I satisfied certain requirements of the exercise without incident — I heeded Flynn’s warning to “focus on all [my] slain enemies on the ground,” rather than on the saber-?redeployment process — my lack of weapon-?wielding dexterity would have left me typing-?challenged had the blade been real.
Or at least as real as lightsabers get, that is. New York Jedi, a group founded by Flynn? and friend Mike Zhang nearly eight years ago, doesn’t purport to prepare its members for interstellar combat with ill-tempered Siths, nor to use The Force to will the electric company to forgive late-payment fees. What it does, however, is offer a somewhat rare delight in this Internet age: in-person community around a shared interest.
“We’re here because we like each other and because we like to perform,” says Melissa Koval, a 20-something actress who, at conventions, inhabits the persona of ?Tindómë Urúva, a bat-like humanoid. Adds 47-year-old IT consultant Paul Sposato with a gleeful, knowing cackle: “It’s geeks bettering other geeks.” When he opens his bag to show me his selection of sabers and swords, the first item he removes is a double-wide golf umbrella.
New York Jedi was birthed, as pursuits of this nature often are, by accident. One summer night in 2005, Flynn and a friend ?decided to goof around with their replica lightsabers on a rooftop in New York City’s East Village. Their jumps, slashes and thrusts — haloed by the lightsabers’ incandescent glow — attracted cheers from surrounding rooftops. “I do samurai stage combat, so I was teaching my buddy how to use the sword. We got into it pretty good,” Flynn recalls. “Next thing we know, we’re hearing, ‘Kick his butt, man!’ ”
That response motivated Flynn to choreograph a lightsaber battle for the following October’s Halloween Parade through the West Village, which generated tens of “Dude, where do I sign up?” entreaties. Flynn promptly registered the NewYorkJedi.com URL and watched with a mixture of joy and amazement as similar groups popped up all over the country and, soon, the world. “There’s one in Siberia,” Flynn proudly notes.