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May the force be with you this weekend at the Jedi Academy Open House

Brent Bingham, the Agoge Warrior, has been in the business of teaching defensive martial arts for more than twenty years. Sometimes he dresses up his training in a pop-culture overcoat -- for instance, he also offers a Zombie Defense Tactics track -- and for kids, from ages 5 or 6 all the way up those in their early twenties, who just wanna believe in something inspiring, he's developed the Jedi Academy.

It all started with an email from a young man asking him some general questions about the rules of sword play. Bingham put two and two together and asked the youth outright: "You want to learn how to use a light saber, don't you?" Bingo. He began training a few people in light saber arts and tactics. That soon morphed into the full-fledged Jedi Academy.

"I basically teach the two faces of the Jedi: the empty-hand discipline of body, mind and spirit, and the light saber skills and blade arts," Bingham says. "The beautiful thing about it is that the whole mythos, legend and lore of the Jedi is rooted in actual martial art practices -- any fight scene in you see in the movies is based on real martial arts styles, like Japanese Ken-do, fencing and other other satellite arts. We utilize terminology and vernacular that's already out there." But he does play along with the fictional side of it, too. "There are seven disciplines of the Jedi, and I start with the first three: Shii-Cho, which is similar to Ken-do; Makashi, which simulates European-style fencing; and Soresu, which resembles European sword fighting. This stuff is all made up by Star Wars geeks," he allows, but he adds that his true purpose in mixing myth with method is inherently altruistic: "This is really leadership training for kids. Our public proceeds go to Hopeful Tomorrow scholarships for kids who really need self-defense - these are kids who've been abused, been beat up." Bingham offers Jedi academy classes through the Sports Complex at Inverness, 82 Inverness Drive East in Englewood, but before you sign up your kids, try it on for size this weekend during the Jedi Academy Open House, 8 to 9 a.m. on Saturday or 10 to 11 a.m. on Sunday at the complex. "We'll have missions for whole family, where you'll be able to build family bonds through teamwork and leadership. But," he adds, "it's also going to be a ton of fun. It's basically a big Nerf battle." Come in costume, and bring your light sabers and Nerf guns from home; admission is free but donations will be accepted.

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