This is the first in a series of guest posts by my friends Craig Page regarding the Seven Forms of Lightsaber Combat. Their history, their philosophy, and their real world analogues. This is meant to be a guide to help those researching and developing those Forms. This essay originally appeared on his blog The Snark Side of the Force, enjoy!
The lightsaber was the traditional weapon of the Jedi for millenia. Now, while things like culture and technology in the Star Wars Universe progressed at the pace of a listless snail, how to use a lightsaber was not one of them. For thousands of years, Jedi and Sith studied the mechanical, tactical, and philosophical underpinnings of their signature weapons. From those studies came several distinctive styles of lightsaber martial arts. They are often referred to as the Seven Forms of Lightsaber Combat.
The Seven Forms do not, per se, appear in any of the movies. They first appeared in the article “Fight Saber” in the October 2002 edition of Star Wars Insider, just after the release of Episode II.Written by Dr. David West Reynolds with consultation by fight choreographer Jack Bobo. In it, he talks on the Forms, several terms of reference and gives examples of them throughout the then five movies of the franchise. It gave us, for the first time, a sense of history about these amazing weapons.
It also added for us another means of characterizing the characters we saw on screen and in the other media. You can learn a lot about a characterfrom how they fight. Are they a patient person, dodging and defending while waiting for the perfect strike? Are they calm and patient out of a fight and explosive when needed? Are they vicious? Reserved? Are they the kind to plot out the fight before ever throwing a punch, or do they go in guns blazing and let god sort out the limbs? Is someone looking for total victory or just to get out of the fight. The Forms provided a level of depth to the prequel character whom, in my opinion, sorely needed more depth than the movies provided.
Again, contrary to popular belief, the Forms themselves do not appear in the movies. Nick Gillard, head fight choreographer for the prequel movies, has since since gone on record to state that the fights we never constructed with the Forms in mind. The Forms, for a time, existed only in the writings of the Expanded Universe, and in video games. The depictions of each Form varied between whoever was writing the story. Furthermore, aside from some brief mentions in Star Wars: Rebels, the Forms themselves have never been mentioned. This makes their canon-status tenuous at best.
Because of the wildly inconsistent depiction of the Forms, the Star Wars fans who focus themselves on Lightsaber Combat have worked over the years to try to create realistic styles that match their descriptions as best as possible. Through these saber groups, people learn and develop these Forms, and come to their own understanding of the lightsaber.
And so, of course, came the rise of people trying to create the forms in real life. Some develop variations for performance purposes, like a kata at a martial arts exhibition. Other people develop their variations of the Forms as a means of physical characterization on the stage. Other creative folk develop theirs in the sincere hope of making these fictional martial arts real.
The first confirmed creation is, without question, the most universally recognized of the Forms in the community. New York Jedi’s version of Form I was developed by Damon Honeycutt, also known by his Jedi stage name of General Sun. He used his own experiences in martial arts and translated them to the rather basic yet extraordinary features of the lightsaber. That specific Form is taught to all members of the group, and thanks to the internet is widely studied by many across the world.
Since then, there have been many attempts to not only translate the Forms, but to replicate the success of Damon’s take on Form I. Many have based their interpretations on the Forms using a mix of their own martial arts, what they’ve read in their research, and the media that claims to use them (i.e.; the video games). This has lead to varying degrees of success over the years.
One of the things that stands in the way of development is the descriptions of the Forms. They are vast, with broad definitions and very little grounded sense of martial arts. They are, not unlike the Star Wars movies themselves, deeply rooted in Jungian Archetypes. They were never meant to be one specific martial art, like some that had been presented before in writing, they were meant to be what those symbolized. This makes the representation of the Forms highly subjective and victim to the experiences and biases of whomever is looking at it. Someone with Wing Chun experience will look at a Form and immediately see Wing Chun, or a fencer will look at a Form and immediately assume it applies to what they have studied. They’re Rorschach tests, broad strokes with the mind completing the picture.
Attached to this is the disparity with which the Forms are presented. By this I often mean the video games, which somehow manage to give them the most description while also giving the least visual representation. You know, mechanically, what they do, but there is no visual component because of the graphical limitations. There is also the question of game balance, and trying to fit the descriptions of the Forms in to something that can work for the game. In short, it becomes a mess without any uniform consistency.
The other problem that occurs is that these Forms come with their own disadvantages spelled out. Where most martial arts tend to have certain deficiencies–like one relying on opponent’s initiative, or focusing too much on close range attacks to name a few–evolve over the generations of translation, the Forms are spelled out clearly, When developing these Forms, people tend to ignore those characteristics. While it seems counter-intuitive to include an inherent fault, it is my belief that as one of the key defining traits of the Form it should be taken into consideration.
While Wookiepedia does a wonderful job in compiling the information from a dozen different sources, it doesn’t do much good in painting a coherent picture. For practical purposes, those wishing to study the Forms and the lightsaber need a guide in their research. This is the goal of this book, to provide a guide for development of the Forms and Lightsaber Combat for the purpose of martial or theatrical exercises.
To conclude. The Forms represent ways of thinking, ways of being. They are as much philosophy as they are tactics. They can be useful tools of combat, and useful tools in narrative. Balancing those is up to the goal of the person studying them. There will always be multiple interpretations of them, and each has their place. The goal is to keep to the spirit of the Form, and that is what I wish to draw out for us in these posts.
The Seven Forms Are:
I: Shii Cho, the Determination Form. Also known as the Way of the Sarlacc
II: Makashi, the Contention Form. Also known as the Way of the Ysalimiri
III: Soresu, the Resilience Form. Also known as the Way of the Mynock
IV: Ataru, the Aggression Form. Also known as the Way of the HawkBat
V: Shien and Djem So, the Perseverance Form. Also known as the Way of the Krayt
VI: Niman, the Moderation Form. Also known as the Way of the Rancor
VII: Juyo and Vapaad, the Ferocity Form. Also known as the Way of the Vornskr
The next issue on this series will be focused on items to consider when Developing the Seven Forms for personal or instructional purposes.