Lightsaber Spinning: An Interview with YouTuber Darth Cephalus

If you’ve ever looked for lightsaber spinning demos or tutorials or lightsaber review videos on YouTube, chances are you’ve stumbled onto a Darth Cephalus video or two. James Kiser, who lives in Oregon, first launched the Darth Cephalus YouTube channel in 2011. “Reverse Obi/Ani light saber spin”, his earliest listed lightsaber spinning video, was posted in February 2014. Since then his YouTube channel has amassed 450+ videos and earned over 3400 subscribers and 540,000 views.

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SaberSourcing interviewed James Kiser about lightsaber spinning and his lightsaber themed YouTube channel, Darth Cephalus.

How did you become interested in lightsabers and, more specifically, lightsaber spinning?
Well the answer to the first part is generational. I grew up with the old trilogy. The first movie is a little older than I am and I saw the third in the theaters when it came out. Star wars a big part of culture then and it was hard not to be drawn to it. I always found the idea of the Jedi most captivating. In a world of blasters and space ships, these were iconic knights who basically combined my two great loves: medieval fantasy wizards and space adventurers. Nothing says badass better than a close combat laser sword in a blaster fight. I had to have one. My first was one of the flashlight looking official ones from ROTJ.

Kiser as a lightsaber-wielding Darth Nihilus
Kiser as a lightsaber-wielding Darth Nihilus IMAGE CREDIT James Kiser

As I got older, my love of swords remained, but I forgot about Star Wars for a while. I took up fencing and other sword arts in college, then the prequels came out. I was hooked again. When I got older still, I started to develop back issues that would leave me using a cane for a couple months out of the year. I came to discover, one of the biggest causes was an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. I have never been one to go for traditional exercise, but I made a deal with my wife, and on my next birthday, I had my first saber.

I signed up on a forum and started trying to figure out how to use it. There was not a lot of material and most of the people who had it wanted a lot of money for premium content or training DVD programs, so I worked with what I could find, which was mostly stuff from a guy named Banditcar. Within a half a year, I had gotten pretty good, my back problems disappeared, and I have been going strong ever since.

How did you decide to start the Darth Cephalus YouTube channel?
I was just mastering the basics when I started the YouTube Channel. As I mentioned, there was not a lot of material out there; I was learning mostly in the dark. I did a lot of experimenting with moves that might be possible and trying to build coordination. I was talking to other people and became aware of a couple neat new developments.

A guy names Venturous was on the forum I was on and was releasing some great tutorials on the stuff I was just working on. He helped get me into saberstaff as well. Also the Terra Prime Lightsaber Academy was getting going and they had videos for their first form as well as a walk-through. The Terra Prime material and some Wushu I was working on that the time was great for helping me figure out transitions and start to flow, but it was a conversation with Venturous that lead to my first YouTube video. I was looking at the moves and there was one called the ObiAni.

These days, some people call it other things, but it is the three beat spin where you throw your shoulder forward. It is one that gives most people trouble when they start. I got to wondering about it: all the other moves had versions of them where you did a move in reverse to get a new move. That one seemed to be an exception: there was no reverse ObiAni. I looked around and asked around, finally, I asked Venturous about it and he asked me to show him what I was talking about. I made a video demonstration. People were intrigued and wanted to know how to do it themselves, so that demo turned into a proof of concept video for my first tutorial series called “Doing things backwards” After that, the response was so good that I kept going. As I learned, I grew, and as I grew I taught.

How did you get into performing fire spinning and lightsaber spinning? Can you describe a typical event?
As mentioned, this started out as a pretty solitary thing. I learned and practiced and taught others what I learned. Before I knew it, I had followers and collaborators. One of them who went by CH3M15T, got me into dual wielding sabers and that lead to a series of challenge videos. We were both getting into saber tossing at the time and trying to see what could be done. One of us would find something and the other one would have to get it to. Those videos were some of the first that I would call performances. When I had a few good ones of those, I started to use them as demos for gigs. I was already practicing in public and I knew what kind of response I was getting to what I was doing, so why not? I started out just taking the sabers to events and doing my thing uninvited. I still do that. Eventually I started to get invited, occasionally I even get paid for it, but it is not something you get into as an income unless you can live off a buskers salary. You certainly can’t afford sabers on it.

Jame Kiser fire spinning
“[T]he rush of working with fire is something else.” — James Kiser IMAGE CREDIT James Kiser

As for fire, my sister in law got me into that. Her ex was very skilled hula hooper, and when they split, my sister in law ended up hanging with the pirate festival crowd quite a bit. I noticed that what they did with fire was pretty much exactly what I did with LED, so I tried it out.

Fire events are a bit different. Fire performances take more people, more planning, have more safety concerns, etc. You can show up and do fire, but risk catastrophe. They involve more people and require a lot of trust. They do have a wow factor that LED just does not have though so the demand for it is less niche.

What are the similarities and differences between fire spinning and lightsaber spinning?
The moves are all the same, but the rush of working with fire is something else. The heat and roar add a whole new element. It is also less forgiving. It is not as dangerous as it gets credit for if you use it in the right clothes and under the right conditions, but you do get burned from time to time. The feel of fire is a bit different as well.

Lightsabers have wind resistance, especially if you are using a flat blade, but fire has its own atmosphere. There is a drag to it that changes with your speed and it leaves trails. When you spin fire, the flame on leading side goes down because of the wind resistance and the fire moves to the reverse, this heats up the air behind the moving blade and creates a vacuum that leads to drag. When you move slow, the fire goes up which removes it. It is like working with a living thing that you have to move and move with.

What are of some of your favorite lightsaber spinning tricks or combos?
I like contact moves for the wow factor, but I think my favorite moves have to be blind catches. To throw a saber and catch it over your head or behind your back, you have to be very familiar with it and how it will behave when you let it go. You have to know where it will be and be ready for it. There is a sense of pride with landing it as well as to do so, you will need to fail a lot of times first.

What are some lightsabers and lightsaber blades that you would recommend for spinning?
By and large, a blade for spinning should be no frills; you don’t want hard edges or activation boxes. You want it to be plain and you want it to be cheap. You will not learn new moves if you won’t risk a drop here and there. For beginners, I recommend an Ultrasabers Grab Bag Saber. They are about as cheap as an aluminum saber will get and the internals are simple. You will break the battery pack, but there is nothing in there that cannot be fixed with tape.

For people who are less likely to drop or might want to chance sound or other premium options, I recommend something thinner and more streamlined. My favorite is a Pach Store Unicron, but Hitorens, Electrum Sabercrafts Torrents, most of the Saberforge basic models, Basic Ultrasabers models, plain Kyberlight, or the more streamlined Vaders’ Vault sabers like the Tempest or the Legionnaire, work great as well. No blades, no boxes, no spikes.

As for the blades, I almost always go with thin walled. The weight of them places the point of balance closer to the hilt and lets you do things that you can’t do with a heavy blade. Beyond that, any thin walled will work. You can go for a plain budget blade, grab a day blade, or go for something classy like a Ripper dueling blade. I tend to always use the latter or at least day blades because I do a lot of things in the day and like the blade to not look white.

“By and large, a blade for spinning should be no frills; you don’t want hard edges or activation boxes. You want it to be plain and you want it to be cheap.” — Darth Cephalus

What’s your favorite lightsaber from Star Wars Canon or Legends and why?
It will have to be a Nihilus saber for the reasons I just gave. I also just really love Nihilus; let’s face it, he is the closest thing SWU gets to a Cthulhu monster and he and Scion are metal AF. For design, on it’s best day it looks like a unicorn horn, on its worst day, we all know what it looks like. The organic design makes it worse. But the embarrassing design just means that the person who carries it has to be able able to look an opponent in the eye … and eat his planet while he laughs at your saber.

What’s next for you?
I always have a lot of irons on the fire. I have started making holocrons lately. I wanted one and I did not like the designs that were out there, so I made my own. I liked it so much I started making them for others and they have been pretty well received. With 8 different designs as I write this it has become something of an addiction.

Kiser as a lightsaber-wielding Revan
Kiser as a lightsaber-wielding Revan IMAGE CREDIT James Kiser

I have also gotten heavily into the 501st [Legion] and other costuming groups over the last couple years. The charity work and the chance to share my love of Star Wars with others is something I don’t intend to give up anytime soon.

Combine that with the several more reviews and 4 additional tutorial sets I have planned already, and I think I will be busy for the foreseeable future. That is the fun thing with any established branch of geekdom: it is like a rabbit hole that you can just keep going down until you lose all touch with conventional reality; and lets face it, conventional reality is highly overrated.

Darth Cephalus YouTube Channel

Darth Cephalus Facebook page

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