This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age. – Obi-Wan Kenobi
The lightsaber is the most popular weapon to never truly exist, with a history that spans both a fictional galaxy and the very real world. In my last post, I spell out the mechanics of a lightsaber. A weightless blade of energy that can cut through nearly all and sundry, but because of that weightlessness made it as much a threat to the user as much as those around it. It was a weapon with the high capacity of destructive potential. When you heard the snap-hiss of a saber turning on, you knew that something was going to be irrevocably changed. People would die, things would be destroyed.
But more importantly, the lightsaber was a symbol. Obi-Wan spells it out for Luke and the audience clearly that the saber was the weapon of the Jedi, a more civil weapon for a more civilized age. Whether that was some nostalgic sugar coating on Kenobi’s part, there was clearly a way and method that Jedi–and arguably the Sith–handled lightsabers and lightsaber combat. More often than not, they weren’t wantonly activating it and using the sabers to solve all their problems. The lightsaber was a last, and often final, decision in ending conflicts.
This concept is not dissimilar from the practice of the samurai, who were a great influence on how the Jedi were developed. They knew that the katana was a dangerous tool of killing, and if they were drawing their swords, they were committing themselves to violence and their honor demanded they see their commitment through. This is why we often hear stories of samurai deflecting trouble by merely grabbing their hilts, or exposing the blade in its sheath an inch or so and then dabbing their thumb on the blade to pay their commitment to drawing blood whenever the blade was exposed. If you’re carrying a tool of death, you needed to take the death you carried seriously and treat it with respect. Otherwise, you stop existing as a warrior and consign yourself to being merely a killer.
This ethical approach to Lightsaber Combat was referred to as “Form Zero”. While not one of the official Seven, it should be considered when studying the Forms as a whole. Form Zero was the ethical practice of looking for ways to resolve a situation without the need to engage in violence. Could this situation be negotiated? Could the Force play some subtle way through this? There are even accounts of just revealing the lightsaber, inactive, as being sufficient to de-escalating a situation. As one character put it, “The Best Blades Are Kept in Their Sheaths.”
Probably the most popular example of this is Bruce Lee’s concept of the “Art of Fighting without Fighting”. In Enter the Dragon, Lee is on a boat headed towards the tournament where most of the story takes place. On the boat, an arrogant martial artist is harassing the sailors, tripping them and making them spill food and supplies. The arrogant martial artist approaches Lee and begins showing off, challenging him.
Lee accepts the challenge…but not on the boat. He suggests they get on a skiff and go to a nearby island. The martial artists accepts, and gets on the skiff first. Lee unties the skiff without getting on and lets the martial artists drift out to sea a bit, before giving the rope to the crewmen the man was harassing earlier. The martial artist only ever appears in an unrelated match against someone else, apparently he got the message. Lee took care of the situation by being clever, he never had to throw a single punch.
A warrior, which is what Lee was and often was cast as, is someone who doesn’t necessarily seek out conflict but commits to it when it presents itself. This is also prevalent in Star Wars. When the Stormtroopers were looking for the droids, could Obi-Wan have just pulled out the saber and handled them then and there? Of course! Instead he played with their senses to confuse them and let them pass. In the cantina when a few outlaws were giving Luke a hard time, Kenobi offers to buy them a drink. He doesn’t pull his saber until one of them pulls out their blaster first.
Luke begins to mirror this in his treatment with Jabba. Luke sends the droids to Jabba to plead for the return of Han Solo. Rebuked, he goes to Jabba himself and negotiates and is again rebuked. Even standing on the plank over the Sarlacc of Carkoon, he offers Jabba to let them go. Live and let live. It isn’t until he jumps that R2 reveals Luke’s saber and the fighting begins. Of course, Luke’s sincerity in the matter is open to question, as it seemed like he was controlling the situation to that moments as well. More on that when we get to Form VII.
It should also be stated that the Sith employed this as well. I know a lot of people paint them as killers with impulse control issues. But look at the facts. They were a millenia old order that has survived in the shadows for nearly as long without the Jedi or anyone else the wiser. We only see them out in the open when they decide to drop the pretenses. Where the Jedi focused on the universal “Us”, The Sith and presumably most Dark Siders worked on the basis of the singular “I”. “I want something, how best can I achieve that goal?”
Yes, you have Vader force-choking officers left and center and the poor technicians of the First Order having to replace equipment that got in the way of Kylo Ren’s tantrums. Then you have people like Dooku and Sidious, who only draw when presented with conflict. Yes, they can kill, but does killing benefit at that moment to achieve their goals? The Sith are not moral as we would understand it, but there is the potential for ethics. Right and wrong do not factor in to it, only how it benefits them. A Sith who could tell the difference was often the more dangerous.
Form Zero represents everything that a lightsaber may be. A tool of violence, a symbol of office. What a lightsaber also represents is control. Only one who has been fully trained in its use can decide when is the right time to wield it. As we’ll see, the Forms all revolve around this theme of control.
So how does this apply to us, as those in the really real world. It is my theory that the members of the saber community want to emulate the Jedi and the Sith in varying degrees. These were warriors of mythic proportions. To understand them is to understand how they approached ending conflict. To do that, we need to understand what their weapons, their symbols and totems of power and authority mean to them. I’ve seen scenes in the fan community (and in some of the movies) where people are fighting for no other reason than the script demanded it. Two people walk on to stage, clearly brandishing lightsaber hilts. For no other reason, they must do battle. That’s not a fight, that’s a porn plot. What is the conflict in this scene, what has brought these people to decide now is the time to snap out their blades and commit themselves to violence? Is this fight worth death?
There’s a rhythm to lightsaber versus lightsaber combat, an unspoken cadence. Watch the scenes in the movies. Rarely do you see any one trying to sneak attack one another unless there is no time for it (the bar scenes in A New Hope and Attack of the Clones). They openly present their arms before they engage. This is the difference between a fight and a duel. I’ll get more in to this pattern when I write about Form II–Makashi, but I suggest watching those fights and see how the combatants are behaving during it.
Finally, let me leave you with this thought. There is currently a community of people who have dedicated themselves to the understanding and teaching of the lightsaber, some of whom are reading this blog post. Some people do it for the entertainment of others, some do it as a martial thought exercise, some do it to tap in to a modern mythology on a personal level. Despite the reason, the lightsaber means a lot to a growing number of people. And while some of us may disagree and form our small groups; cliques; tribes; and blocs in the way only Humanity can do with minimal effort, the lightsaber is our common factor.
Furthermore, while we as members of this community sweat and stress the differences between each group to better identify ourselves, I can assure you that no one on the outside of our community and culture A) notices or B) cares. All they see are geeks and nerds with glowing sticks, which is what we are. I have seen people explain to those on the outside the differences between their groups and have seen eyes glaze over. By their understanding, we are one group and community, and the lightsaber our common token The behavior of one potentially reflects on the behavior of all. We have taken this weapon as our symbol, and all the burdens that it possess. Keep that in mind in your goings in the sabering world.