“High block, low block, mid-block,” calls instructor Rich Ganey, as the students behind him sweep their lightsabers into each position. Minutes later, the students are paired off into sparring groups and the clack of their training lightsabers echo across the lawn.
Welcome to the Jedi Academy at Florida Polytechnic University.
“This is a martial arts club centered on the training that a Jedi would go through,” explains Club President Will Lees. “But it’s not just martial arts. It’s a spiritual journey that conditions the mind, body and soul.”
The Jedi are a monastic order in the Star Wars movies who enforce peace and justice throughout the galaxy. Florida Poly students don’t have the advantage of using the mystical Force, but they do have an ally in Rich, who heads the The Force Institute in Winter Haven.
Rich, a retired law enforcement officer, developed the curriculum several years ago by blending a combination of Star Wars canon and three decades of experience in martial arts. The lightsaber routine, for instance, is grounded in actual Kendo sword training. The same goes for the “unarmed defense” routine, which teaches students how to ward off attacks from would-be assailants.
“There’s more to it than swinging swords around,” Will says.
Indeed, before any of the lightsabers are brought out, students receive a bit of daily wisdom from Rich about personal development. He gives the example of someone getting mad after a rap on the knuckles during weapons training.
“When you give in to that anger, you’re not engaged in higher thinking anymore. So watch yourself. You should be growing through experience, not just philosophizing,” Rich says.
The club’s faculty advisor, Constantine Stefanakos, says the academy is a perfect fit at a school that’s focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“Before advancing to the rank of Jedi Knight they have to build their own lightsaber, which will require them to draw on their technology knowledge,” Constantine says.
The mechanics of fighting are also taught in the language of STEM. Rich uses words like “physics,” “motion” and “energy” as he instructs the students on how to maximize the impact of their lightsabers.
Nathan Roberts, a sophomore studying Computer Science, says the club has been a great outlet for making new friends and getting some exercise. He encourages anyone who dismisses the club as “dorky” to take a deeper look.
“You’ll really start to see that it’s an incredible experience,” Nathan says.
Assistant Director of Communications