Lightsaber Academy

The Saber and its Community.

The sabering community is growing. It can be difficult to navagate the ins and outs of the hobby. So I thought I would take some time to give an over view to the lightsaber it’s self, the lightsaber community who uses them, and the methods that form the basis for most of the lore and ideas therein. Also, the “Seven Forms of Lightsaber Combat” are explained briefly. This is not a complete overview of this topic, but it should serve the beginners or new comers to the scene to get acclimated to the larger context of lightsaber combat. 

The “More Elegant Weapon”

The lightsaber. A fictional weapon. Sci-fi weapon, second in popularity only to the “ray” gun. The lightsaber seems to hold a special place in our hearts. Since the movie “Star Wars” was released in 1977, it’s popularity and place in modern culture has become immense. It is the ultimate magic sword. A weapon that is at once archaic and futuristic. 

The Force Beam
The first official lightsaber toy

Over the years there have been attempts to bring this weapon to life. In the earliest days, there was the rather generic looking “The Force Beam”, which was nothing more than a flash light with a plastic blade stuck to it. The first official Star Wars lightsaber had an inflatable blade and again, a flashlight body as a hilt. Stickers that had official logos and names were included on this toy. From that point forward extendable blades made out of translucent plastics, movie style hilts , and finally the string blades we see on the higher end commercially available ones were created. Now in any toy store, one can find lightsabers for a variety of playtime activities.  

String bladed Force FX prop lightsabers by Hasbro

The lightsaber it’s self has under gone a transformation in those years, albeit not in the major toy arena but the replica prop building community. New materials technology, electronics, and  rabid fan base of makers and tinkerers have created lightsabers that can function, as much as we are able to, as they do in the movies. 

In short-you can now fight with them! 

The Weapon

Ultrasabers

The lightsabers being talked about here are the in hilt LED with poly carbonate blade variety. This is in direct contrast to the ideas in the movies, shows, and games which are talking about the fictional properties of the lightsaber. TPLA is concerned with the practical use of the devices, albeit in a fantasy setting. These particular sabers are simple, easy to build, and relatively affordable. They are amazingly durable if constructed well and can be customized to almost anything the user wishes. 

The Hilt

The hilt is the handle and the actual bulk of the device in a lightsaber. The construction of these lightsabers is simple. Usually the average combat ready lightsaber is a simple hilt of machined aluminum pipe that has a simple LED/Switch/Power source configuration. Some sabers are equipped with sound, which adds a speaker, sound card (including onboard processors) and often a recharge port. This is about as complicated as these get, and that is their strength. It allows for some very inventive engineering to fit all the necessary components into a functional hilt while keeping it as small as possible for usability. It also enables almost any design that can be made from a hollow tube possible. 

Canon Ashoka Tano Hilts from Darth Alice

Hilts can be of two major varieties; canon (as in from some portion of the media) and custom (invented by the maker or otherwise an original design). Different companies tend to specialize in one or the other. Canon hilts tend to be less duel worthy because of cosmetic additions on the surface the hilt (often called “greeblies”, they are a common annoyance of martial minded saberists). The custom category is much much larger. Most companies will create several custom designs for their collections and the variety of these types of sabers is beyond counting.

A custom saber by Darth Alice

The canon or movie hilts are often bulky and cumbersome in design. This should be expected as the original props were put together from random repurposed components. By the time the prequels were out, aesthetics and ergonomics started to become design elements. If you contrast the original Lightsaber used by Obi-Wan  in “A New Hope” and the hilt he used in the “Phantom Menace” the differences are very clear. In fact, most of the lightsabers created for the Phantom menace are much more streamlined and less bulky. The original hilts are still by far the most popular being the most iconic, but often they do not make the best ‘duelers’. 

“Canon” hilts as seen in Star Wars media

The Blades

The blades of these lightsabers are really what make them so suited to being used as a sword analog (stand in). The material is usually mainly a polycarbonate tube, some refractive material inside, and a tip cap. They come in various thicknesses and lengths but generally fall into thick walled or heavy grade and thin walled or mid grade thickness. Blades generally have an outer diameter of 1” as most, if not all sabers are designed for 1” blades. These are generally an industry standard although adapters are made for some out lying diameters. 

The blades themselves are incredibly durable. The thin walled type will ding up and buckle under heavy sparring conditions but the thick walled blades will last under almost any pressure. Both blade types flex during use so that if one parries a blow too close to themselves, the blade can make a hit. Both types also flex about the same amount as well, with the heavier thickness being able to flex a bit more without failure. In use, there is little noticeable difference in that aspect of the blades. 

The blades themselves are in very little danger of breaking during use anywhere but at the hilt and at the tip. The reason the emitter location is vulnerable is two fold. 1. The blade comes out and presses the lip of the emitter causing a concentration of forces and 2. The retention screw used in holding the blade in the hilt will deform the blade a bit increasing it’s crush-ability and making it more likely to tear or buckle. The reason tips will often fly off is a materials issue. The tips used in saber blades are much more rigid than the blades themselves. As the blade flex and deforms, the tip does not. It is at this point cracks and tears can form in the place where both meet. Several methods of tip retention have been tried by saber makers, but until this dynamic is corrected. This will be a hazard saberists just have to live with. 

The Lightsaber Community

As the advancement of this technology for combat ready sabers became more widespread, it was a natural step for people to want to get together and essentially bash them together. As more and more people got together and started having fun, groups sprung up devoted to recreating the fights from the movies and also create new choreographed fights with these sabers. All across the globe people started coming together and actually started to use the lightsaber as something more than a toy. It was only a matter of time before martial artists got their hands on them. From that point we now have many groups offering a wide range experiences and levels of involvement. Lightsaber combat is seeing a blossoming of popularity right now and its fan base has never been bigger. There are far more groups that have influenced this community than one can talk about in anything less than its own volume. But, there are some touchstones that newcomers may wish to be aware of, historically speaking. 

New York Jedi

A documentary about the NY Jedi

New York Jedi were widely regarded as the progenitors of the saber groups that have come after them. While there were most certainly other groups doing fight choreography with lightsabers before this, this group can arguably be called the parent group of the current community. NYJ were not a formal school or theatrical company. They were just fans with a passion for this weapon and all things Star Wars. Through their extremely influential website “SaberWars”, an online forum that has sadly fallen into disuse, they were able to help start and bring together several groups made in the same spirit as NYJ. NYJ deserve a lot of credit for the groups, individuals and community that exist today. 

NCSCS and the Golden Gate Nights

An early video from NCSCS

Meanwhile on the West Coast, nearer Hollywood and Skywalker Ranch, a pair of intrepid young martial artists combined their expertise from real life martial arts and fencing into a codified system for creating lightsaber choreography. Matthew “Novastar” Cauraddo (himself a fencer) and Mark “Caine” Preader (a martial arts instructor)  created, taught and put out a DVD of their system called NCSCS or “Novastar and Caine Saber Combat System” which is still available today. Cauraddo is also a pioneer of much of the saber tech that has come out for DIYers and custom prop builders, including sound fonts and other electronic features for the weapon. Groups like The Golden Gate Knights formed under Novastar’s guidance and tutelage and still hold weekly classes in choreography and other lightsaber activities.

Ludosport

In Europe, a group called Ludosport is creating a sporting version of saber combat. Veering away from the prearranged choreography groups, Ludosport is the first attempt to create a respected and professional sport out of saber combat. The members of Ludosport were also asked by Hasbro to create the “Forceclash” videos of choreographed fights done in public around Italy. These very popular videos are quite entertaining and form a good portion of the public and fan conceptions of the Seven Forms of Lightsaber Combat covered later. 

Fightsaber Asia

Fightsaber is a group that began in Singapore in 2010. They focus on quality cosplay and choreography shows and entertain many people all over Southeast Asia. They have been able to expand over the years to include Malaysia and Indonesia becoming one of the largest groups in the lightsaber community. They tirelessly promote all things Star Wars with a strength of fandom seldom seen in so many people. They often perform at large tourist spots, amusement parks, movie premieres, and other events associated with Star Wars fandom. They also boast being a recognized fan group by Lucasfilm LTD.

These groups came together and began a wave of other people following suit. At the time of this writing, there are now serval groups ranging from choreography, fitness, and full contact free sparring. All of these groups have one thing in common: The LED lightsaber. 

This particular tool is robust enough to withstand everything from light-medium choreographed fights to full contact dueling. And just as the groups who use it saw a huge surge in membership, so to did the makers of these objects, the “saber smiths”. 

Saber Smiths

The saber smith community is one of the main supporters and enablers of the saber combat community. They make the weapon we use. In the beginning, the only ones creating these devices were prop replica builders primarily for use in cosplay and for collectors. It is unclear who exactly made the first proper dueling capable lightsaber, but the fact remains that they did. There are too many companies now to give an exhaustive list of makers here but most of them will be easily found through internet sources. 

As the technology in blades, hilt construction and electronics all came to bear to make durable sabers for contact increased, so did the want to create more and more ways for fans to immerse themselves in the fantasy of Star Wars and lightsaber combat. The field began with the replica prop builders creating weapons for costume players and other fans. Now, there are saber smiths and companies for any budget or depth of fandom. One can get a totally screen accurate replica of almost any hilt all the way down to a small aluminum tube with a light in it. As a result, there is a saber out there for everyone. 

The internet and the saber community

With all these groups and different approaches already out there, one may wonder where exactly are these people, places and things? Where does the saber community exist and where can one join in the fun? It should be noted that the majority of the saber community is online and in electronic format. There are many different online sites and places that serve as a meeting places and forums for ideas. 

Forums

The online forums of many saber companies and saber groups out there have been the most natural place for people in the hobby to meet each other. The saber community at large was in many ways created by the Saber Wars Forum that had boards for each group that wanted to be included in their network. This internet forum existed as perhaps the largest forum for sabering and had lively discussions about all manner of topics related to it. It allowed people to connect and find others in their area, as well as converse with people from other groups. 

For quite some time Saber Wars was “The” place for the saber community. Providing not only contact with other people but also providing a good place to share videos and ideas. As that became more and more popular, other forums began to spring up. The major saber making companies began to offer their own forums for discussion, often including saber combat as one of their topics. But, as time moved on, the forum became less and less the main arena for discussion. 

Facebook, Google+, and social media

At present social media has really over taken the forum as the dominant setting for the community to discuss and interact with each other. The ease of use and the lack of needing moderators and/or admins to keep thins running smooth has given many groups the opportunity to connect and get together. In fact, the dominant form of lightsaber group, wether dueling or stage combat, are almost entirely Facebook entities. Using the systems set up on social media, people can call meetings, have meet ups, and gather and discuss issues important to them. 

YouTube 

YouTube has been the most common source for the perception of lightsaber combat and its interests. On youtube you can find tutorials, demonstrations, shows, and lots and lots of fan films with lightsaber fights in them. The bulk of the physical depictions of the different styles of saber combat are taken from YouTube videos like the aforementioned “Forceclash” videos. This has opened up this community as far as learning and sharing ideas far and wide and is partly the reason the the international sabering community is so strong. TPLA is very centered around Youtube as we focus on providing material for people to learn from. 

The Seven Forms

If one spends almost any time in the saber combat or lightsaber community, they will inevitably run up into the ‘Seven Forms” of lightsaber combat in discussion. Many people in the saber community speak volumes about each of them, either extolling their virtues or their limitations (both, as we will see, are mostly imaginary). Many schools and groups (including TPLA) teach these forms and use them as our common reference point for talking about this topic amongst ourselves. But, a new comer will very quickly ask, “What are the Seven Forms?” and that, is a very difficult question to answer. 

The basic history of the Seven Forms of Lightsaber Combat comes not from any of the movies but rather from an article published September 13, 2002 in Star Wars Insider magazine entitled, “Fightsaber: Jedi Lightsaber Combat” by Dr. David West Reynolds and fencer and film choreography consultant Jack “Stelen” Bobo. This article is the first incarnation of the concept of the Seven Forms. The piece lays down the characteristics for each of the Forms that will follow them through much development. 

After its invention, the concept floated around the various incarnations of fandom for sometime. It appears in role playing and video games most prominently and as a result, many the preconceptions people have of the Forms come from these sources. It has however, appeared in original source material intended as entertainment its self. The books “The Jedi Path” and “The Book of Sith” are two very popular titles that contain what many people consider the definitive word on the forms.

The general descriptions of the Seven Forms have many versions and things written about them. The web site Wookiepedia is an excellent source to get linkable and collated information from all these disparate sources. Wookiepedia is a fan generated and maintained Wiki site of all the information in the Star Wars Universe. It takes information from all sources it can find and collates it into a manageable entries. These entries are divided between “Canon” and “Legends”. Canon means anything in the movies and TV shows that has been accepted into the main stream by Lucas Film and the writers. Legends is the collective term for the enormous amount of external media produced with the Star Wars name and storyline. While this is helpful, one must acknowledge that the information is from many different sources and often does not agree internally. Different authors had different ideas of what these were and it has taken a considerable effort on the part of fans to sort through it all and create some sort of cohesion. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that at this time, each the seven forms has four names. For instance, Form I, Shii-Cho, the Way of the Sarlacc and the Determination Form are all the same thing. For completeness sake all three are included in each entry. It is unclear where the proper names and the descriptive names came from. But, most people are familiar with these terms within the Star Wars fandom. 

The Forms and their descriptions

Here are the basic descriptions of the Forms as they are understood but the bulk of the Star Wars fan community:

Form I Shii-Cho, the Determination Form, Way of the Sarlacc: Shii-cho is the basic and oldest Form. Its characteristics are simple and direct techniques, an unrelenting forward progression and large sweeping movements. It is at times called a bulldozer or a steam roller and at times a “siege weapon”. The basics of saber to saber and baster deflection for battlefield combat are included as well as ideas of striking multiple targets with one stroke. It is the Form that is first taught to younglings and so, all most every Jedi will have learned it at beginning of their training. 

From II Makashi, the Contention Form, Way of the Ysalamiri: The dualists method. Makashi was developed by Jedi who thought Shii-Cho lacked skill in saber to saber combat. It is characterized by quick footwork, a fencing style stance, and one handed use. It is said to reject jumping and spinning for more direct attacks and precise strikes. 

Form III Soresu, The Resilience Form, the Way of the Mynok: Considered and portrayed as 100% defensive. It is said to be extremely efficient with it’s economy of movement. It is also described as if the swordsman is they eye of a hurricane being still and calm while their blade moves quickly around them. Often it is used to wait until the enemy provides an opening by making a mistake or slip up that the Soresu practitioner will capitalize on. 

Form IV Ataru, The Aggression Form, Way of the Hawkbat: An acrobatic form of combat utilizing spins and jumps to launch continuous and aggressive attacks at the opponent. It was created by those who felt that Soresu was too passive. It’s signature move is the “Saber Swarm” Which is described as multiple short stabs or attacks done to overwhelm the enemy. 

Form V, Shien/Djem So, The Perseverance form, Way of the Krayt Dragon: This is supposed to the the preferred method of the Skywalkers. It is the first From to combine two or more previous methods. Shien is considered to be the first incarnation and Djem So a more dueling centric take on the same theme. Its characterized by using the other persons techniques and force against them, returning baster fire by deflection, and a heavy reliance on strength to over power the opponent. 

Form VI, Niman, The Moderation Form, the Way of the Rancor: This Form is the form that the Jedi were supposed to favor at the time of the Clone Wars. It is a combination of all the previous Forms in to one Form that find the best of each. This has given it the reputation of being a “jack of all trades master of none” Form. Jar Kai, dual wielding, is often paired with this Form and also sometimes confused for it. Niman does not have to be done with two sabers. 

Form VII, Juyo/Vaapad, the Way of the Vornskr, or the Ferocity Form: This Form is the berserk Form. The Sith version is Juyo and the Jedi version is Vaapad. Both version seek to use the aggression, anger and raw emotion of the fight to increase strength and power. This Form is fast and unrelenting and uses the technique of “dun moch” or taunting. 

These are the very basics of what the Forms represent in a general context and where they come from. It is not exhaustive and it is recommended the reader seek out the sources listed in the Appendices to gain more detailed information. This represents the “lore” or the popular conceptions of lightsaber combat. As is the case with real world martial arts, the popular conception and the reality are often very far apart. Many fans try to stay to the letter of the forms (as they understand them) although there are many inconsistencies. They make sense in an ideological way, but not really a practical one. Still, these sources are often the first place people will get information on the Forms of Lightsaber Combat. 

The major issue with this is that these incarnations of the Forms were not intended as a training guide, technique manual, or true physical tradition. They were instead used as game mechanics, background information, and plot devices in fiction. These depictions and interpretations of the forms differs in many ways from the reality of fighting with swords, (which lightsaber battles are supposed to represent). Many arguments have arisen over the details and interpretations that various sources and authors have described and invented. 

Compounding this is that there was little to no communication or organization to these topics in the literature, fan fiction, games, or other “Expanded Universe” (now called “Legends” by Lucasfilm) proporties. So much of the development of these forms are from fans of the genre and of Star Wars. Until books like the aforementioned Jedi Path and other source books like “The Essential Guide to the Force”, much of what fans had to go on were bits and pieces gleaned from different books and stories. 

The original intent of the Forms was to form a sort of fictional history and tradition for the Jedi and their skills. The concept was introduced hot on the heels of Attack of the Clones which featured Christopher Lee as Count Dooku, a Jedi from another time with a style that utilized a curved lightsaber reminiscent of sabers and swords used in western style martial arts.  The prequels, for all their problems, caused a huge amount of fan involvement and “world building” as these films were essentially background to a story we already were familiar with. This spirit is a defining quality of any interpretation of the Seven Forms. For performance, fiction, martial arts, or just for fun. The seven forms give a good outline for people to look at what is long and complex topic. 

The larger world 

This is just an introductory look at the saber combat world. It is by no means exhaustive. It should give a new comer a bit of bearing on where to go and what to do in the every rowing world of fandom. There is much to see and learn out there in saber-land. 

Over the years TPLA has grown and made many friends and met many people who share our collective love of Star Wars, Fantasy and martial arts.This simple device which represents a fantastic and completely impractical weapon from fiction, has a powerful draw on many people from many walks of life. This creates a married and diverse culture of ideas, philosophies and focuses. This is the real strength and magic of the lightsaber. 

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