Video games come to life with new program Sword Fit

December 1, 2008

By Chantelle Lusebrink

William Johns, Sword Fit founder, carefully watches the students’ techniques during a class designed to bring their video game fantasies to life through physical fitness and safety. Photo by Chantelle Lusebrink William Johns, Sword Fit founder, carefully watches the students’ techniques during a class designed to bring their video game fantasies to life through physical fitness and safety. Photo by Chantelle Lusebrink

Jedi light sabers and swashbuckling adventures in the Caribbean are just one of many things keeping children inside and glued to the television.

But how do you get your child off the couch, detached from the controller and back to reality? Bring the fantasy to life, according to William Johns, a certified instructor and master of sword and martial arts.

His new program, Sword Fit, brings the excitement of sword fighting into reality and gets children moving.

After seeing increasing obesity rates among children in the news, on television and in his classrooms, Johns, a former New York state public school teacher, started the program when he moved to Issaquah.

“I was tired of seeing kids out of shape,” he said. “So, I started a nonprofit designed to increase their physical fitness in a fun way that they understood.” For Diana Linehan and her two boys, Finely, 3, and Oliver, 7, a free class Nov. 11 seemed like a great idea to introduce her boys to more physical activity.

Linehan’s two boys are very much involved with their video games, despite their young ages. Their favorites include “Star Wars” and “Pokémon” videogames — “anything where they are battling,” she said. “But everybody needs to be active. My older son is not particularly sports oriented, so I wanted to find something where he is active and having fun.”

The program is designed for children 4 and older and adults. Courses can be taken for $69 per month, but Johns hosts a free trial class for anyone wanting to check it out.

Instead of fighting on the small screen, the program lets children test their skills in real life.

“It was really fun,” said Dante Baracani, who was in the Nov. 11 class with his brother, Dawson Baracani, and friend, Neel Sahay. The three boys attend Endeavour Elementary School.

“I don’t know any sword fighting other than any of the moves I do in ‘Star Wars,’” Sahay said. “In a video game, there are only certain moves you can do, but here, you can do anything. This is much more fun.”

“It’s a conduit to live out their fantasy,” Johns said. “We are trying to create a strong connection to video games so that the children can translate that into something that gets them moving and healthy.”

Students train with newly developed soft-swords, so the risk of injuries is minimal.

The program doesn’t involve traditional belt levels or tests, either. Instead, it focuses on mastery of skills in classes, and mastery of social skills at home and school, to unlock the different levels and powers.

Before students can advance or unlock new sword powers, their parents have to sign off on their Sword Life Mission, like learning self-discipline, at home.

“Mainly, it is about getting fit,” Johns said. “But it is also about clarity and stability, and it also requires mental focus, and those are skills that are valuable in life.”

Students move up a level with their skills roughly every six weeks, until they become masters of the sword at level 19, the white level.

Class sessions are broken down into four 10-minute segments. A new technique is learned in the first; students practice the skill in the second; a physical fitness component, like push ups, is added to the third; and a game between all students is played in the fourth.

“It was tiring but it was fun,” Sahay said after class. “It was awesome.”

But the best part is that children and their parents can participate, giving both much needed exercise, Johns said.

“It’s like learning to be a Jedi Master,” said 7-year-old Eric Pihl. “It’s better than fighting in a videogame, because it’s not just virtual. It’s real life.”

Beating his father, R.J. Pihl, was also a plus, he said.

“We were looking for something physical to do, but he’s not really into team sports and loves ‘Star Wars,’” R.J. said of his son. “This seemed like light saber fighting.”

Johns said he hopes to begin setting up lunchtime Sword Fit sessions with a focus on self-defense, for working women and mothers.

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com.

On the Web

Learn more about the program here.

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