Lightsaber Combat 101: Marks and Tactics

To begin understanding the Seven Forms, you must begin by understanding the Marks of Contact. The Marks, simply put, were the strikes one would make to end a conflict. If the saber is drawn and the conflict does not resolve itself before the need for violence, someone’s life will be irrevocably altered.

Whether it is the destruction of their weapon, or the removing of their hand or various limbs, the destructive power of the blade will be felt. Even if grazed or stabbed in a non-vital area, the heat of the saber will cauterize the wound, searing it and scarring it. The Marks of Contact are:

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Art by Russ Briggeman Jr. Knight in New York Jedi. For more of his work, go to http://www.burningice81.com

Shiim is Grazing the target with the edge of the blade. It is generally a non fatal strike, but it can be debilitating depending on where the strike lands. A shiim strike is relatively difficult to do due to the destructive nature of the saber. There are multiple instances in the movies of the saber merely grazing another during the fight, more often than not against the heavily armored Vader. This will be discussed more indepth on the Shii Cho article.

Shiak is stabbing the target with the tip of the blade. Potentially fatal, depending on the location of the Mark. Often used by duelists to show off their precision use of the saber, as if to say “I do not need the edge to end this match. I just need to pick my shot”. This will get discussed in depth on the Makashi article

Sun Djem is disarming the opponent of their weapon. Non-fatal to the opponent, but often ends in their weapons destruction or capture.

Cho Mai is the amputation of the Weapon Hand. This is one of the more common Marks to occur, especially in lightsaber duels. Cho Mai occurs at least once in nearly all the movies, but it is most famously used by Darth Vader in his duel against Luke Skywalker on Bespin. Luke would later return the favor in their final duel on the Secon Death Star. The Mark Cho Sun, is the striking off the entire arm that wields the weapon.

Cho Mok is the amputation of a target’s limb, more specifically one that is not wielding a weapon. This can be anything from legs, the opponent’s off-hand or appendages like tails or wings for non-human fighters.

Mou Kei is amputating multiple limbs of a target. Because of the nature of the Lightsaber and the Marks, the need to use this Mark is rare and its ethical use even more so. As such, it is a Sith favored move, not just defeating an opponent but making them live horribly afterwards. Ironically, the most famous use is from Obi-Wan Kenobi in his duel with Vader on Mustafar.

Sai Cha is Decapitation of an opponent. The final answer in a fight. It is used by Mace Windu on Jango Fett during the Battle of Geonosis and later by Anakin Skywalker against a defenseless Dooku during the final days of the Clone Wars.

Sai Tok is bisecting a target, either horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Usually fatal, but it was possible for opponents to survive the horizontal cut with only the loss of their legs. This Mark is most famously used by (again) Obi-Wan Kenobi against Darth Maul. Maul did eventually survive and sought revenge using bionic legs.

The Marks of Contact have a widely understated presence in the realm of combat. In some of the martial groups that I have seen, this is part of the scoring system they use to see who has been victorious in a match. In some cases, it is a series of Marks scored, in others it is a single point. While there are no hard rules to any of this, I prefer the latter method, as it sticks to the destructive power of a lightsaber. When an opponent is cut, they are cut. The match, and therefore the conflict, should be over.

In stage combat, the Marks are more difficult to display. In the Star Wars universe, when a Mark is scored with a lightsaber, what it usually comes in contact with is cut off. However, there is the notion of selling the power and destruction inherent in the blade. In March of 2014, New York Jedi put on an adaptation of Shakespeare’s MacBeth set in the Star Wars universe. In the last few fights, MacBeth’s attacks had become savage. He took the blade of his saber and pressed it against the face and eyes of one opponent, rendering them a screaming and howling victim in their final moments. A savage use of Shiim

Another example, a Jedi character is approached by a gunman. The match precedes with the Jedi pantomiming blocking blaster bolts. As he gets close, he strikes down cleanly in front of the gunman’s firearm. A dramatic beat later and the gun–which had been rigged–collapses in a clear slashed line. Someone had rigged a prop gun to simulate the Mark of sun djem. They made the reality of the weapon come true, which is the job of those doing stage combat.

The Marks of Contact make up the foundation in how one should view the Seven Forms of Lightsaber Combat. Each Form is an instructional tool and strategy in delivering one or more of these Marks to an opponent as well as defending against them. This can be easily seen in the first five Forms, while the Sixth and Seventh deal with more esoteric means of defense and attack.

While understanding the mechanics of a martial art and knowing the exact locations of where to end a combat are essential parts of combat, there must also be a thought held for strategy and tactics. There are five factors you must know when engaging in combat. Knowing your environment; knowing what makes your weapon unique; and what it may not work against; knowing your opponent; and knowing yourself. These factors help to enhance the use of the sabers, and augment the Forms. Some Forms may be more likely to employ other tactics than most, or use them for different reasons.

Sokan is the understanding and utilization of one’s own environment and how it may lead to an advantage in your favor. In the movies, this is the now classic scene of Obi-Wan telling Vader that their conflict is over because Obi-wan has the High Ground while Vader’s options of movement are incredibly limited. Obi Wan has done the mental math here and knows that anything Vader does will leave him open to a devastating attack. Vader goes for it and gets a very real lesson in the mou kei mark of contact, losing all of his limbs but for the mechanical arm.

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“Now, walk it off!”

 

 

Clearly, Vader learns his lesson, because a generation later when he fights Luke on the Second Death Star and Luke takes to the catwalks above, Vader opts to throw his lightsaber instead of going up after him.

Awareness of your surroundings is key in all situations. In stage combat, it is even more so. Sometimes we’ll be on a stage that is twenty feet wide and twenty feet deep with a ceiling just as high if not more so. Other times we’ll be on a nine foot floor with the walls and ceilings so close together there are arguments as to whether or not the space counts as a closet. We’ve done fights in enclosed convention panel rooms, and we’ve dueled while walking through the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade.

In situations like those, we all have to be mindful of each other and keep an eye out. The parade is a wild place, and costumed revelers have a tendency of trying to rush through the group either to get to their friends or for kicks. The performers all have to be aware of their surroundings and back each other up, lest someone gets hurt.

Sokan can be applied in various ways when placing it with the Forms. A Shii Cho user would push their opponent back, limiting their environment and therefore their options. A Makashi or Djem So user would use their environment to trip up or otherwise gain leverage in defeating their opponent. A Soresu user would use their environment to bolster their defenses without having to use too much of their own resources. An Ataru user would use the environment around them as a means of finding other ways to attack that the opponent may not be aware of. For Shien, they would use the environment to pen in their opponents. A Niman or Juyo user would manipulate the environment as they would their opponent in their bid to survive or dominate their opponent, respectively.

My recommendation is, whenever engaging in a match either staged or for real, to use the environment around you. Life is not done in a void, use what is around you to your advantage.

One of the things that makes the lightsaber such a fascinating tool is that the blade of the saber is not fixed. It can be lengthened, shortened, and most importantly it can be shut off entirely. This leaves just the hilt of the saber, allowing for easier transportation and concealment. It also allows for an interesting opportunity in combat.

Imagine two combatants, their sabers locked in a vicious clash. Imagine one of those combatants switching off their saber. Suddenly, all that strength the other person is using has nothing resisting it. They are taken off balance and left open, just enough for the opponent to reactivate their saber and go in for a quick strike. This is technique is known as Tràkata.

Tràkata is a difficult technique to translate for the stage or for sparring, as our blades—polycarbonate tubes that diffuse the LED lights in the hilts—are fixed and can’t be removed without making the saber useless in your intentions. It is much easier in the movies, where a few quick edits and some digital magic can add the blade to an otherwise bladeless saber—and vice versa—without a problem. It’s one of the goals in my career to see attempts made to try to employ it in live saber use.

Tràkata resembles the concept of attacking while drawing the blade. This is popular and the core aspects of Iaijutsu. The ability to use the energy and momentum in drawing the blade to attack. While not the perfect analogy, this use of misdirection and surprise while ‘drawing’ or ‘sheathing’ the blade is as close as we can come.

A practical tool for the real world would be to use the brightness of the blade to disorient. It can be difficult for people to focus on anything but the blade, which means they forget the person holding it.  By deactivating and reactivating the light, you are also creating a sensory disruption, giving you an opening.
It is a widely agreed to fact that a lightsaber can cut through nearly everything. At least, this is the way it is presented in the movies and TV Shows. In the novels and comics of the Expanded Universe, however, the line is a bit less clear as that. There are several materials in the Universe that could effectively block a saber. These include the ore known as Phrik, ionized to the point of being dangerous to mine; Armorweave, a reinforced cloth that could resist the blade, but not by much; Ultrachrome, which is material found on some spaceship hulls, which absorb the heat and force of the blade while warping the metal of the shield; and Beskar, or Cortosis, a metal made popular by the Mandalorians who made weapons and armor out of the rare metal. Even the flesh of some creatures were so dense that the blade could not cut through with any accuracy.

I’m not a fan of using Lightsaber Resistant Materials in either sides of the sabering community. In the novels and comics where they come from, they serve as a challenge to keep the Jedi from rolling through the plot so easily. In a fight, between two equals, it really doesn’t make much sense. Some sparring groups will declare that, if announced at the beginning of the match, certain clearly armored parts of the body, or even the saber itself, is lightsaber resistant, then it will take several extra hits to render that limb/weapon useless.

On stage, I recommend strongly to sell the fact that this thing you have is resistant to lightsabers. I’ve seen people have gauntlets block the saber wiyt only for the audience to cry foul. Assume that your audience, no matter how Star Wars friendly they are, doesn’t know anything beyond the movies and TV shows. They aren’t aware of the minutiae, so sell the fact that one of your characters is clearly ‘cheating’.
The battle is as much in the mind as it is on the field. Dun Möch is the use of psychological warfare in combat. Often, this will manifest in the form of taunting the opponent, goading them, trying to get them to succumb to their fear or rage. As such, it is often employed by the Dark Siders against others. A lightside variation is trying to diffuse the situation, keeping close to the use of Form Zero.

An example of this was during a sparring match between myself and my friend, Rich. Both of us share similar cultural backgrounds, as well as sarcastic ways of responding. In short, what should have been a few short rounds became a five minute match of us shouting expletives and slurs that I don’t really care to repeat here. We were waiting for one to crack in to a laugh, whoever did first would lose.

This doesn’t just have to be one giant villain’s monologue to goad someone. This can be as simple and subtle as presenting an opening to someone, goading them. Soresu users, especially the more playful/sadistic ones would leave spots open to control their opponent and where they will attack next.

When considering Dun Möch, consider this: You aren’t just fighting a weapon, or a Form. There is a person attached to that weapon, deploying that Form.  Sometimes, the most direct path is to disrupt the person before you defeat them.
Some martial arts rely on a choreographed demonstration of moves as a means of teaching and as a means of expression. There are several names for it, but through my training I’ve heard it as a kata. The word kata means ‘form’ in japanese, and it applies to more than just martial arts. From theater performances, to tea ceremonies, a kata represents a ritual expression of the users training and skill.

Much like its real life relatives, the lightsaber can be used as much for meditation as for violence. The word they have for it is dulon, and it can be used as much to attain a form of clarity or calm in a person as muscle memory in combat. Before a show, or an event, I often do the dulon for Shii Cho. Depending on the space I have provided, it may be the full dulon or just a shortened version.

I do this for three reasons. The first is simple: to warm up. The second reason is to help me get into character. My Jedi character knows the Form this dulon is attached to, and performing serves as a bridge between me and him. I’ll start the form neutral, the way I’d normally do it when teaching or warming up. Then I’d add his energy, his thoughts. The Form beco The Form allows me to push him to the front, allowing me to steer from the rear.

The third reason is just as practical. I get anxious really easily, and being in situations of pressure have lead me into fun panic attacks that I’d rather never experience again. On stage, there are no edits or second takes, and the audience can range from the dozens to thousands. There’s no net when performing live on stage. So doing the Shii Cho dulon helps me get those nerves out of me before I hit the stage.

Now that we’ve, finally, gotten the basics of lightsaber combat out of the way, we can start on the real stuff. Coming up, a look at the first form of lightsaber combat: Shii Cho. We’ll discuss its history, scope, and the impact that it’s had on our community over the years. Also, major thanks to Russ Briggeman for the amazing art. 

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