This past weekend we held out 2019 Seven Forms Symposium. This year was very special in that we met in real life and in real time to exchange skills ideas and produce something new. This we also had the honor of hosting one of the founders of the community of which we are now so much a part. General Sun, Damon Honeycutt, was gracious enough to attend this year and we built the the weekend around the material that he brought to present. Here is just a little glimpse into how the weekend went.
Besides Damon and myself, we were joined by a few others who have skills and knowledge to bring to bear. VorNach, Matthew, joined us so the founders of TPLA were represented. Also joining us was TPLA apprentice and Martial arts Studies professor, Ben Judkins. Ben runs the Ithaca TPLA enclave, Ithaca Sabers where he teachers Shii-cho (both TPLA and a version of the General’s Set). He also in the mind behind Kung Fu Tea, the well known martial arts studies blog. Rounding out the guest list is professor Daniel Mroz. Daniel is Director of Fine Arts Programs and an Associate Professor at Department of Theatre at the University of Ottawa. Master Nero form TPLA was also supposed to join us but, inclement weather grounded his flight and he was not able to book a new one in time.
This represents a dream of mine. To gather a group of martial arts thinkers in one place and create things. Not just fighters, teachers, or competitors but people who think deeply on these topics. Those that can entertain many different perspectives at once. And that is what we had. The weekend was an amazing meeting of minds. We simply can’t wait to reveal all that we came up with.
We all gathered at a very nice and spacious “A” frame cottage on a lake in Michigan. The location was ideal. We had space in the back to work out and practice, plenty of space indoors for conversation and discussion, remote enough to offer some respite form the outside world. We found the place to very conducive to what we were doing.
We had many travel mishaps on Friday which delayed the arrival of some of our guests and prevented one fro attending. Even so, the group we gathered gelled instantly and we were able to do a good amount of stuff in the time we had. All day Saturday and Sunday we got to the work we were set out to do: help record and disseminate Damon’s teachings and Djem So form that he was never able to complete back in his days as one of the founding members of New York Jedi.
A bit about Damon himself. For those that are new to the community of lightsaber, Damon Honeycutt, aka General Sun, created the first form ( or “dulon”) for Shii-cho. This set has subsequently been taken and done by hundred of groups and thousands of people the world over. Although TPLA has its own Shii-Cho to fit with in our system, we do still incorporate the set with some of our groups. This set is the first actual set of lightsaber martial arts. It has become traditional in the community. Many people do it and there are many interpretations of it out there. This is what he wants to create with his Form V Djem So routine that we worked on for this Symposium.
Damon’s martial background is prestigious. He is one of only a handful of student to study as disciple of the famous Monkey Kung-Fu master, Pauli Zink. Zink’s monkey style is very unique. The style is famous for its difficulty in general, but the high demands on flexibility in this style has made Zink’s version famous (or infamous). Damon brings a great deal of the body skill (shen fa) to what he does. Damon has also studied with famed Wushu champion and film actor, Hu Jianqian. Hu is best known for his Monkey Staff set that he won many awards with. With the exacting nature of competitive wushu and the deeply traditional training in Monkey Style, Damon brings a level of professionalism and knowledge that we at TPLA hold in such high regard.
Damon is also a dancer and performer. He has extensive background in dance and theatre, performing in over twenty countries while working with dance companies such as Pilobolus, Nai-Ni Chen, and Scapegoat Garden. performing in such international venues as the Berlin Opera House, Wien Stadthalle and, The Folies Bergere. Damon has studied with Beijing Opera performer Qi Jian Guo bringing a nice mix of traditions and methods.
The road to Djem So
The main goal of this weekend was to help Damon bring his ideas for the Fifth form of lightsaber combat, Djem So. Damon had been working on it when he left the lightsaber community to pursue his schooling and performing trajectories. Now, we are able to come together and make this set a reality. Damon created his Shii-Cho as a way to help new folks learn the ropes of weapon movement. He never got to finish or share his ideas of Djem So with anyone. So this is what we set out to do.
For our part, the TPLA system is well suited to incorporating new sets and routines as well as new drills, ideas, and concepts. Having Damon here to show us what he is thinking about allows us to discuss things in detail and find out what are the most important pieces of the material that we need to transmit. We wanted to get to a place where we have a collaborative vibe going. We had a good number of astute minds working this weekend. And together, many new and interesting things came up.
The origin of the material that we were working with is from a man named Yu ChengHui. Followers of this Blog and most Chinese Martial artists will recognize that name. For those that are unfamiliar with the man, Yu Laoshi was a famous teacher and martial artist from China who appeared in several films and worked with the first generation of Wushu in China. He created a two handed sword form which he brought all over the world to teach. Interestingly enough, both Damon and I have studied with Yu ChengHui so, much this is already incorporated into our system in various places.
I will dispense with a day by day, hour by hour report of this weekend. I am sure one of our guests has that information. But the weekend did not seem like separate days. The group very quickly fell into a rhythm of discussion, practice, joking, and more practice. We had very successfully disconnected from our outside worries and concerns and entered a sort of “mirror dimension” of martial arts. It was a state of being I did not want to end. But the product of that work is a testament to many almost magical things that happened during this process.
During the time we were there, we would quickly warm up and then begin the process of learning the set that Damon has put together. The set is based on You Chenghui’s, as stated before, but Damon has made some nice alterations and incorporated some new ideas. The movements are dynamic. The stances are carried and changeable. The routine has a rhythm to it that is consistent whit’s origin but also is indicative of its own personality. To back up the techniques in the form, Damon also demonstrated some warm up and basic exercises. These are the simple movements that one can take from the form. These basics will not be unfamiliar to anyone who has some experience with swords or with the TPLA system.
The form is full of novel changes and the use of momentum in a unique way. This gives the set an open and active feeling. One should be loose and adaptable with this, able to do it in multiple locations, with and without obstacles, and with a sense of personal freedom. That last part will be the real test for people looking to follow this style. You will not only be required to repeat and demonstrate things well, but also make things your own and improvise based on what you have learned. This is what will set this apart from all other systems.
The material and the things we worked on for the weekend will all come out, that is for certain. But I wanted to talk about somethings this weekend that are not as visible or easy to communicate. It is these encounters, happenings, and interactions that really made the weekend. In fact one could argue that these moments are much more important as it is them that make the event feel open and cooperative and that lends its self to creativity.
First of all, to have a person like Damon here and directly showing us the things he has been working on and sharing his vision for this material is an amazing opportunity. As a fellow creator, I understand that there is so much left in one’s head and often it goes unexplained, shared, or known. I feel very fortunate that we have been given the chance to help Damon make this a reality. I am humbled by anyone who wishes to share something so deep and personal.
Damon’s movement is something that should be given some lips service as well. Damon is a trained dancer and performer. While often the term “performing martial arts” is used as a pejorative by most mart al artists, such training impart an expert level of body awareness, control and sensitivity. This is a quality of movement that is seldom seen in the martial arts at this level of refinement. Damon’s body can move effortlessly through the positions and each movement contains deluge of information that one can draw on. There is simply no person in the lightsaber community now, that I know of, that can match the deftness and expertise with which Damon moves. Present company included. I am a fighter primarily, and as such I have a body that is full of injury and limitation. This level of freedom is a goal for even me.
We also were able to do something for our French friends and members. Daniel, who is fluent in French, was able to interpret a few scenes of Damon instructing. We are hoping to do much more in the way of translating our materials into other languages in the future. This all goes to our commitment of accessibility to learning material. We are building an archive with not only Lightsaber technique and ideas, but traditional arts and sports as well. This information is for everyone so that our practice will be raised to higher levels in general. This weekend show that potential. We came together to create and discuss and we did so in as many languages as we could muster (even some ASL and Romanian at different points). Yet another unexpected boon from the gathering.
Lastly, the most important component of this entire affair is of course, the people involved. And I cold not have asked for better company. At the risk of getting too schmalzy, our meeting of minds was much more. It was a bonding experience on the deepest level. Ben and Daniel being here is key. They had just been up for my Teachers last visit so it was like they were never away. Their love of the arts is only equaled by the knowledge they bring to this all. They are some of the kindest souls you will find and are able to impart their knowledge with care and razor accuracy. Damon and I share many things, we both have worked with Yu Chenghui, and have similar experiences with traditional martial arts and teachers. I feel as if talking to him we are not meeting for the first time, but rather, picking up a conversation that we left long ago. And of course, having my partner in crime, fellow founder, Matt/VorNach made it feel complete. His long absence from the fold has been felt for sure.
There is a feeling of family created here. One of close familiarity and therefore we all have each others’s back. To support when we are right, but more so, to test that we are not wrong. For who but your family with look yo in the eye and go tell you you failed? And that that is totally ok. This was the most unexpected and yet welcome outcomes of the weekend for me. I feel more grateful for that, than anything else. This was as homecoming on many levels. Damon is coming back to the Saber community. TPLA is entering its 7th year with lots of new thing on the horizon. The teams back and has new members.
This felt like we all were coming home.
And I would be remiss in my duty if I neglected to mention our donors on the fundraiser. The Gofundme helped us put this thing together and we are eternally grateful for your contribution. For those of you waiting for incentives we will get with you very soon. But for now we would like to thank the following:
Thank you all. This could not have happened without you. We will be in touch soon.
The end of of one journey, the beginning of the next
So, at the end of it all, we have a new frontier laid out for us. Al of the things that have happened in the past few months are going to have lasting effects on what we do. We have a new team team now. Along with the old team. We have new visions and new goals set. This will be the start of something wonderful I think. If this weekend is any indication, the future at TPLA is bright.