By Cesar Gabisan


Shawn Crosby grew a beard to look more like Obi-Wan Kenobi, and once a week, he swings a lightsaber like the Jedi master brandishes in “Star Wars.” His battle, Wednesday nights at an Anaheim park, may not be as cosmic as Obi-Wan’s with Darth Vader, but Crosby’s heart rate spikes nonetheless.“I’m a much rounder Obi-Wan than I want to be,” said Crosby, 48, who calls himself Obi-Shawn. “The lightsaber combat is half exercise, half hobby.”

“Star Wars”-inspired fitness, using the iconic lightsaber and often set to the original soundtrack, is showing up across the country. One gym in Dallas also developed a workout that included the Stormtrooper march and Wookiee sandbag slams. With “The Force Awakens” set to hit theaters Dec. 18, the film franchise is appealing to fans old and new. In Orange County, there are lightsaber camps for children offered by martial arts studios and city summer recreation programs, as well as a free class for adults run by the Orange County Star Wars Society, to which Crosby belongs.

“It’s such a magical weapon because it doesn’t exist in our world at all and they’re usually wielded by heroes,” said Crosby, who drives from his home in Los Angeles to Twila Reid Park in a convertible with R2D2 mounted on the trunk.
Arianna Nevius, 23, of Orange, fences with a green lightsaber, her favorite color. She grew up watching “Star Wars” movies and playing the video games. As an adult, she appreciates the chance to express her fandom in a way that isn’t just sitting around.

“It’s a good way to make friends and get your blood going,” Nevius said. “It’s a lot of cardio, running and swinging. It gets really tiring.” Once a year, the group dons costumes and performs a lightsaber show at the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraiser in Fullerton. Club president Joe Pavlenko, 26, said he enjoys the combat as part of his overall active lifestyle.

“I have my Fitbit,” said Pavlenko, who lives in Garden Grove. “If I’m not at my daily goal for calories or steps, this puts me over.”

In Yorba Linda, Trent Zappen, owner of United Studios of Self Defense, runs weeklong lightsaber summer camps that combine tumbling and swordfighting skills. On the last day, the children and teens perform choreographed fight scenes for their parents that are loosely based on the film.
“They don’t just come in and swing lightsabers,” Zappen said. “They come in and they work out, but they don’t realize they’re working out because they’re using lightsabers.”
But they go home exhausted and often return sore the next day, he said. More than one-third of American children are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health experts encourage incorporating play and imagination into exercise to keep kids interested.
At the summer camps, children learn how to turn one-handed cartwheels while holding their weapon, as well as butterfly kicks, blocks and strikes. They choose their alliances, Jedi or Sith, wearing camp T-shirts in blue and red, respectively. The lightsabers come in an array of colors, some equipped with sound boards that transmit the crackling buzz of combat. Less expensive ones are available at Toys R Us for $21.99, and high-end versions can cost more than $200.
During a recent camp session, Zappen, 42, coached young participants to use fierce expressions and gestures for their skits.

“This is where you gotta look mad,” he told a girl. “You can’t smile.”
Evan Neylan, 8, of Yorba Linda, signed up for all four sessions of the camp.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “We learn cool things to do with our lightsaber, like cartwheels.”
Evan’s mom, Suzanne Neylan, 46, said she likes that her son learns choreography along with sophisticated hand-eye coordination.

“The choreography is detailed,” she said. “Their brains have to work with their bodies.”
Jade Suselo, 14, said that during the final performance, with the lights turned off and the lightsabers illuminated, she can’t help but stand tall and proud as the “Star Wars” theme plays.
“It feels like you are some kind of Jedi,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
And that’s coming from someone who has never seen any of the movies.
“I want to watch it really badly,” said Jade, who lives in Anaheim Hills. “I was a scaredy-cat when I was younger.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-3686