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Murray Journal

Calling all Jedi! 54th street gym has lightsaber training

Jul 25, 2018 01:10PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Students learn the ways of the Jedi and train with lightsabers at Integrated Martial Arts. (Photo courtesy Dan Berry)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Have you ever thought of using an elegant weapon from a more civilized age? Something not as clumsy or as random as a blaster but a weapon of a Jedi Knight? For the padawans (you “Star Wars” geeks know what that is) living at home, the 54th Street Gym (aka Integrated Martial Arts) offers full lightsaber training for all wannabe Jedi aged seven and above.

“While we initially began this class for kids we had a lot of parents and adults who wanted to participate as well. So it’s a fun way for kids and parents to bond,” said instructor Dan Berry.

54th Street Gym is actually on Commerce Drive (300 West). The gym recently moved to Murray from Kearns which is also known as Integrated Martial Arts of Utah (4070 South Commerce Dr.) where they plan to start the same programs for Murray and the general community. 

One of the martial arts systems that the gym teaches is Filipino Kali and Japanese Kenjitsu. According to Berry, “Many of the movements and mythology in Kali and Kenjitsu are very similar to the lightsaber moves and mythology in the movies.  While we would never teach a child how to wield a real sword or knife until they have the emotional capacity to do so, the lightsaber is a way they can learn and have fun and mimic the characters in the movies.”

Berry is the primary instructor with over 47 years of martial arts experience and numerous black belts in every system the gym teaches. He was coach and senior instructor for the Bihonte Combativos System that won the 1989 National Full Contact Stick Fighting Championships and coach for the World Full Contact Stick Fighting Championships in the Philippines.

The class meets for two Saturday sessions for three weeks where participants will be given an unbreakable polycarbonate lightsaber which they can purchase or can return at the end of the class. “We will introduce them to a very basic understanding of how to strike, defend and maneuver a lightsaber as well as participate in some basic self-defense,” Berry said.

The gym was started at the request of Michelle Nelson who had been a psychotherapist for Salt Lake County Youth Services for 28 years. Nelson saw a growing concern that increased bullying often times lead to depression and even suicide among youth in Kearns and surrounding communities. Nelson asked Berry to open a martial arts gym in conjunction with her nonprofit organization to provide Gracie Jiu-Jitsu “BullyProof” programs to kids who otherwise could not afford to participate.

Nelson’s organization then solicited funds from federal, state, municipal and private donors for these kids at greatly reduced and even free tuition. By providing Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Bullyproofing training the kids learn to develop the confidence to stand up to bullies and gangs. In exchange for free tuition, the kids "contract" to stay in school, keep their grades up, stay out of gangs, and be respectful to the teachers, parents, adults and other students. “Just kind of everyday stuff we would expect of any child,” notes Berry.

With her caseworkers, Nelson works with teachers and counselors to ensure that the kids were living up to their part of the bargain. If they didn't then they didn't get to participate in martial art activities until they did. “Martial arts have a strong appeal to kids and is a natural for influencing kids in a positive direction,” remarked Berry.

Berry has high hopes for the padawans. “Just have fun, learn to recognize the movements of lightsaber sparring that takes place in the movies so that when they watch the movies they will be able to emulate the characters and hopefully live up to the ideologies of the Jedi warrior.”

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