This is the first post on the Seven Forms. It will be going through the real life and in universe histories of the Form, as well as the tactical and philosophical underpinnings. This is not meant as a technical manual or a discussion on THIS IS WHAT TO DO. This is meant as a guide to help people who wish to develop the Forms further. Hope you enjoy. If this is your first time on the blog, or need a review, please refer back to these posts first:
The first form of Lightsaber Combat is called Shii Cho, The Determination Form. It is known also as the Way of the Sarlacc. The Sarlacc was the animal/plant hybrid creature that Luke, Han, and Chewbacca were nearly fed to in the desert in Return of the Jedi. The creature plants itself, it’s gaping maw resembling a sinkhole in the ground while waiting for incoming prey. Any and all that fall in to its mouth are slowly digested for thousands of years and, depending on the stories read, psychically tortures them throughout. The Sarlacc does not play by halves, and this reflects the core of Shii Cho.
Shii Cho was created shortly after the invention and adoption of the lightsaber as a tool of Force Users. As a weapon of pure energy that could cut from any angle, the general concepts of swordsmanship needed to be refined. Shii Cho is a distillation of the basics of sword work. The basic angles of striking and achieving the Marks of Contact, of defending against getting a Mark scored on them. These concepts existed before Form I, but the key is the translation between a flat blade and a total blade.
Every Jedi, and Sith for that matter, learned Shii Cho. It was the key to learning how to use the lightsaber, and the building block for the subsequent six Forms that came after it and from it. We see training in Shii Cho in A New Hope with a blindfolded Luke and the little remote droid on the Millennium Falcon. He’s learning the basics in using the lightsaber, and in many ways the Force. It required being able to trust your instincts, or else you were putting yourself as much at risk as anyone else in your path.
There are many people who believe that Shii Cho is just this: a means of instruction. So many people new to lightsaber instruction come in and immediately wish to skip over learning about Shii Cho to something they feel is more ‘interesting’. Shii Cho is a Form in its own right, and it has its own strengths and weaknesses in combat.
Form I is described as being very bold and direct. The blade work is broad and angular, forsaking precision for a fluid power. Its footwork is unilateral and one direction: forward. Every step is a step forward, pressing towards the opponent. Much of the power from the strikes comes the two handed grip and the constant movement forward, using the power of the steps to coincide with the strikes giving the sense that for every step there is a strike and vice versa.
Shii Cho’s strength is in its effectiveness as a bulldozer. With its forward thinking, it focuses on covering as much ground as possible in the shortest amount of time while limiting the amount of ground the opposition has access to. Whether it is a single opponent or a group of opponents, the goal of a Shii Cho user is to go through them. This method is meant to overwhelm, to press them down and make their options fewer with every step.
A Shii Cho user’s mindset is fairly straightforward. The goal is to get from Point A to Point B. No stops, total commitment. Whatever lays in between those two points is considered an obstacle to be passed either through momentum or violence. This gives many Form I adherents a simple view of things. By simple, I don’t mean lacking in intelligence, but lacking in complexity. They keep things low maintenance, but treat what they are doing with an intensity that’s as focused and direct as a laser beam.
And the strength of Shii Cho is that it excels with groups in enclosed spaces. The broad movements allow the Form I user to cover as much area in as little time, allowing them to address multiple targets. To take an analogy from modern weaponry, Shii Cho is a shotgun. In close quarters, the shotgun is a dangerous instrument capable of creating a wide swath in its wake.
One of the things that lead me to research the Forms in the first place was the argument that any Shii Cho user will lose to anyone using any other Form when engaged in a duel. This is incorrect thinking. The Forms, as with all martial arts, is not a rock-paper-scissors scenario. One Form does not out-trump another, but answers a tactical/philosophical deficiency that those before it lacked. Besides, a practiced swordsman can account for those deficiencies. Shii Cho’s main deficiency is that it came first, and that its basic outlook is outmoded by its successors.
Those that deride Shii Cho and call it just a teaching Form should try to take a closer look at exactly what it is teaching. Of the Forms, Shii Cho excels at Shiim, or grazing; and Sun Djem, disarming. Consider that for a second, and everything we’ve talked about the lightsaber so far. This is a weapon that can cut through nearly anything in the galaxy. Without trying, a lightsaber can bisect a being, a vehicle, even a building if given enough time. So, what does it say of someone that has trained themselves to the point that not only can they pick their shots and aimed for the weapon, but that if they do strike flesh it is often to graze the surface.
Bearing this in mind, one must look at Shii Cho’s lesson as being a class in controlling the blade. To be able to stop such an unwieldy weapon at the drop of a dime shows a level of talent, focus, and dedication that many few would lack. Take in to consideration the amount of movement and energy required in the form, and it makes what many would take as uselessly simplistically and reclassifies it as taskingly complex.
As a Shii Cho user, your most ideal tactical scenario is finding yourself in a long corridor with your opposition ahead of you. You have enough time and space to build up forward momentum, advancing forward to press down on the opposition until they are stuck between the rock and a hard case. When fighting a Shii Cho user, the key is to interrupt that starting momentum. It’s hard to be a runaway train if you can’t build up a head of steam.
As we said before, Shii Cho is based on the amalgamation of basic swordplay. That’s not as amazing as it sounds. The human body can hold and move a sword only so many ways. The lightsaber for the movies was based on the concepts of kendo and longsword. The notion of exacting control, enough to graze with a impossibly sharp blade, reminds me of my brief studies in kenjutsu.
The Japanese katana is, for all intents and purposes, a glorified straight razor meant to slice humans. When training, the sensei will focus on the students position and angle of the blade down to the millimeter. It has to be exact and precise to get the best cut. It helps to teach discipline as well as put the positioning of yourself and the blade into muscle memory, so that you can instinctively deliver the optimal slice. This allows the strike to cut true at the slightest chance and notice. This is best seen during tameshigiri demonstrations. Swordsmen use rice matts rolled up, the density of rich will simulate human bone. The goal is to strike as cleanly as possible without warping the mat. It isn’t as easy as it sounds.
In the Saber Community, Shii Cho serves as much as the same function as it does in fiction. It is often the first thing that many incoming students study before moving on to the core curriculum. This serves a purpose, to teach the language of the style and the school. This shows clearest in Terra Prime Lightsaber Academy. Their form of Shii Cho is the basic building block of the other Forms in their curriculum.
All who wish to become apprentices must show proficiency in the material covering Shii Cho. That includes the basic cuts and cadences, and the dulon (sword form) that goes with it. The material for Makashi requires a basic understanding of Shii Cho, and from there the other styles. Each one building up until finally studying Niman and Juyo, which are considered the work of master saberists.
I first came into New York Jedi in the winter of 2009. My first class was taught by Maria, better known in the Jedi circles as Azure Dragon. That night, she taught me on basic block and strikes patterns, using them to make a pocket fight with a partner. At the end of that, she taught me the first part of Shii Cho.
New York Jedi’s Shii Cho was developed by a member named Damon Honeycutt, who was a practitioner of monkey-style kung fu. He developed his version of Shii Cho using what he knew of Chinese infantry sword forms and translated them to the edgeless lightsaber. There were three parts to the form. The first part was taught and known by everyone in the club, with the other two parts growing in complexity.
At first, I couldn’t get it down. I was actually frustrated that I wasn’t getting it right. I had martial experience and somehow my brain wasn’t connecting with what I was doing. After the first week or two, I couldn’t make it to class. My lightsaber, a PVC number from the still young Ultrasabers.com, had come in the mail. I couldn’t make it to class, but I could still practice. I took the saber and went outside. I lived a block away from a park in the Bronx that was deep enough to practice without drawing the attention of anyone. I practiced, I think, every other day for weeks. I practiced, watched the video of Damon and others performing the form, and practiced again.
After a while, I got good at it, then I started challenging myself. I’d dig a line to my sides and ahead of me. I could go no further than those lines in my movements. I began working on it until I could do it without thinking, where I could do it step by step or as a fluid sequence of movements. By the time I was done, I could do Shii Cho in a blast of energy or in a meditative state like tai chi. Eventually, I wasn’t satisfied doing just the first part. I studied the second part, and then worked to get just as good at it as the first part, then chaining them. After I was comfortable doing both the first and second part, I began to work on the third.
Long story short, I became one of the few people who could do the whole sequence of moves on a consistent basis. I’ve taught the sword form to beginners and to the veterans for refresher classes. I tend to focus on the applications of the form, why we use it, as much as the form itself. I enjoy using it as a way of teaching people “Yes, it is a toy. But we can make it seem like the real thing to the audience, if only for a second.” I still use it before performances to get better into character.
In the end, Shii Cho is a basic style. It doesn’t do with flash and isn’t meant to show off. Some people may get bored with it quickly, and some people may prefer the more advanced stuff. But, if you need something to do the job without any fanfare, this is the Form for you.
For further reference:
Next Post will be Form II: Makashi, and we will go in to the anatomy of lightsaber duels.
EDIT NOTE: TPLA Shii Cho link fixed to more current version.