When Brian van Kuik isn’t a main control room operations coordinator for the collider-accelerator department at Brookhaven National Laboratory, he is Taomoon Nightstar, the masked, lightsaber wielding Mandalorian mercenary and leader of Clan Nightstar.
In 2009, after a two-and-a-half year stint with the New York City based costume and combat choreography group, New York Jedi, the Selden, L.I. via Michigan resident formed his own Long Island area offshoot, Long Island Jedi. The group holds demonstrations for fight scene choreography and lightsaber combat at local libraries, karate dojos and conventions such as I-CON—where they have been a fixture for the past three years.
Though they don’t actually fight on stage, the Jedis hold weekly practice sessions at a kung fu dojo in Holtsville, N.Y. In fact, most members are trained martial artists and weapons experts; Van Kuik, for example, specializes in fencing and Tae Kwon Do. Another member, Plainview native Andrew Popeil, studied medieval German weaponry, while Tony Ferrandino, also from Plainview, practices jujitsu, muay thai and judo.
“There are different fighting styles involved with lightsabers,” Van Kuik said. “You can’t palm the blade; however, you can cut any way you want. You’re applying many different techniques into one thing.”
“It’s like playing chess and you’re always in check,” he continued. “You’re either blocking or avoiding.”
The fighting isn’t just for show though; it also provides participants with a form of exercise and one member, Cherissa Crossland, who is unemployed due to extensive injury unrelated to her participation in Long Island Jedi said her doctors actually believe the kung fu and stunt fighting have been beneficial to her recovery.
However, Long Island Jedi is distinct from its New York City counterpart in that 100 percent of its proceeds, which are raised through demonstrations and, at this year’s I-CON, the raffling off of custom-built lightsabers, go to charity. Each lightsaber, crafted by member and resident sabersmith Chris Cox, takes a week to make and is composed of a commercial grade laser within a polycarbonate blade and an aircraft grade aluminum hilt and pommel. Raffle tickets are sold at $5 apiece or $10 for three.
“We’re taking our passion and using it to give back to the community,” said Van Kuik.
Through this year’s lightsaber raffle, the Jedis have raised at least $1,000 to help treat seven-year-old Liam McGuire, who suffers from a rare form of leukemia. In the past, they have raised $4,200 for charities and groups such as St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE). They also often join other charity or fundraising events in the hopes of drawing even just a few more people—and thus, donations—over.
“We’re really big nerds and we want to give back,” Popeil said.
For Crossland, however, her decision to be involved was based less on her love for Star Wars and more on her willingness to serve others—two niches that Long Island Jedi fill.
“I continue to be involved in these groups—and do costuming with them—because there continue to be people in need,” Crossland said. “As long as someone wants a lightsaber fight at their birthday party or even costumed waiters at their themed wedding reception and they’ll make a donation, I will do this.”