— It turns out that the timeless battle of good vs. evil is actually not that different from the equally timeless battle of fat vs. fit.
The common weapon of choice? Why, the Force, of course. No, it's not a new energy drink or diet supplement. Thanks to a "Star Wars" enthusiast who goes by the moniker "Master Flynn," the Jedi workout is the new way to fight the battle of the bulge. And now gym-shy geeks everywhere can finally fulfill their dreams of getting droid-like rock-hard abs.
Flynn was on the set Wednesday sharing his moves — including the Rebound, Follow-through and the Lock — with the TODAY family, who were all cloaked and armed with lightsabers.
Flynn, 38, started New York Jedi in 2005 after staging a fight with lightsabers at a Halloween parade in New York's Greenwich Village.
"I had the idea to do a fight scene with my friends on the parade route. People were so impressed when they saw what we were doing, and they wanted to know where they could learn to move the way we did," said New York's resident Yoda.
After putting up a forum on his Web site, NewYorkJedi.com, Flynn says people from all over the world were asking questions and sharing information to better their own lightsaber skills.
The Force for fitness
In early 2006, Flynn decided to teach a class on the art of lightsaber battling, incorporating storytelling and choreography. The class started out with just a handful of students, but now has 30 to 40 people attending twice a week for two-hour sessions in New York. Word of mouth made the class so popular that Flynn also started LAJedi.com, and has partners teaching classes in Los Angeles.
"This was never meant to be a fitness thing," said Flynn. "The class was about appreciating swordsmanship and performance."
But students, many of whom also attended because of their love for sci-fi and performance, started seeing the physical effects of battling — which involves cardio as well as upper and lower body movement.
Joe Shumaker, 23, says that he has lost 60 pounds since he joined New York Jedi six months ago.
"I feel a tremendous difference — I'm physically stronger, I can run without getting winded," he said. "I started going to the class for fun and for a great atmosphere, I definitely didn't expect this kind of weight loss."
And it's not just "Star Wars" fiends that enjoy the workout, says Flynn.
"Who wouldn't want to go around hitting people with glowing sticks? Anyone can do this," he said. "This class is like a gateway drug to martial arts and other activities."
For Melissa Koval, 23, the class was actually a gateway drug to "Star Wars."
"I was never into 'Star Wars,' but I grew to appreciate through what I was doing in the class," she said.
Koval adds that the class has helped her feel better about herself — and she even met her current boyfriend there.
"I'm more confident now, and I feel like I stand taller and straighter," she said. "I have more definition in my arms and legs, and the fact that I look good makes me feel good."
Those who can't attend the class or don't happen to have a lightsaber around the house don't have to miss out on the fitness. New York Jedi posts its lesson plans on SaberWars.com, and Flynn says that household items like brooms can be used for battle in place of the saber.
Students are encouraged to create a character that they slip into when they practice and perform fight scenes. Once the student is skilled enough, he or she can join New York Jedi in performances at various exhibition events — including New York's ComiCon and BigAppleCon — where students actually dress in the costume of their characters.
For many, being able to play a superhuman or otherworldly character is empowering, and not only adds to their workout, but improves their confidence in other ways.
Dave Herald, 26, failed out of culinary school. But after being a part of New York Jedi, he says, lessons he's learned (in addition to the 30 pounds he's lost) have encouraged him not to give up on his career dreams.
"One thing I learned from Jedi is this: When you fall, you get up and keep going, and that's what I'm going to do."
His goal? To be a pastry chef. His character? A Jedi chef named "Boridan Ramsey."
George Lucas would be proud.