Welcome to the Second post in the Seven Forms of Lightsaber Combat series. In this section, we go over Makashi. Please refer to the Shii Cho post if you wish to read them in order. This is not meant as a technical manual, merely a guidepost for developing the Forms however you see fit.
The Second Form is called Makashi, also known as the Contention Form. It is also known as the Way of the Ysalimir. The Ysalimiri were an arboreal reptile like creature with a peculiar habit. Because of the Force-sensing vornskr (an animal we’ll come back to later) being able to sense and hunt through the Force, the Ysalimir created a natural defense to them. They could generate a field where the Force couldn’t work. No powers, no sensing anything through them. Burst of lighting sluiced off of the air around them, and even the most powerful seers could not find them. This concept of neutralizing a Force User’s powers is key to understanding a form such as Makashi.
Form II was developed shortly after the creation of Shii Cho. After the Force-users learned and mastered the lightsaber, they looked towards the skills of each other. With most of the other opposition being outclassed by the use of the Force and now the advanced technology of a lightsaber, force-users began to view each other as acceptable oppositions. As such, where Shii Cho was about using the lightsaber against multiple foes, Makashi is about one on one combat with a peer. It is the classical dueling form.
Where Shii Cho is all about building up and using energy in a forward motion, Makashi is all about economy. The bladework is tight and succinct, using the least amount of energy to produce the greatest amount of results. Form II’s footwork is linear, like Shii Cho. Unlike Form I, it does take in to account backwards movement. This gives Makashi users a form of cadence about their movements, there is a rhythm they follow. They are dancing a dance with their opponent and only they can hear the tune.
Like Shii Cho, Makashi strongly liked to use shiim and sun djem, grazing and disarming. It enjoyed trapping the opponent into an envelope, bringing them into range of the attack while also eliminating the opponent’s blade from the immediate equation. There was no point in doing one thing for one reason when it could work to do two things at the same time.
Form II also added another Mark to the repertoire: shiak, or thrusting. Where Shiim and Sun Djem spoke of the control inherent in Shii Cho’s training, Shiak takes it further. The lightsaber is a weapon that is all edge. A master of Makashi, utilizing shiak, is stating that they don’t need the edge. They can pick out whatever spot of their opponent and dispatch them with a simple thrust.
Discussing the Form with a friend, he noted to me that the use of shiak could be seen as something of a mercy. With most of the other marks of contact, something is being chopped up beyond any hope of healing. With shiak, an adept of the form can pick a spot that can end the fight without dismembering or killing them. It’s a precision form, and the masters can pick their spots.
It should go noted that despite this focus on stabbing thrusts, Makashi users could still cut someone. The Contention Form was all about economy, what could bring the biggest returns for the littlest cost. If it was feasible to cut with the blade than stab with the tip, then they would. There is a whole lot of dangerous blade on a lightsaber, it would be a waste to not use it. And Makashi users do not let things go to waste.
Adherents of Makashi tend to be conservative, in behavior if not in beliefs. There is a sort of pragmatic understanding in the Makashi users mentality, a silent code of ethics. One can be a paragon of the Jedi Code or a complete and utter bastard, but there is always that expectation of conduct when the sabers are drawn. This is in relation to the concept of Form Zero. Makashi users are aware of the cost of drawing their blades: either they or their opponent must go.
This behavior often gives users of the Contention Form an elitist attitude. They are a select group that has studied in intricate details the ways of combating other lightsaber users. That sort of mentality breeds a little bit of arrogance in to people, even in those like the Jedi. It certainly doesn’t help that this form is embodied by Count Dooku, also known as the Sith Lord Darth Tyrannus. A former member of the Jedi Order who left due to conflicting ideals and reclaimed his heritage as a Count, Dooku was played by screen legend Christopher Lee. A member of the Italian nobility himself and one of the longstanding exemplars of British High Class, Lee infused much of himself in the character. When the writing team that developed the Forms associated Makashi to Lee and Dooku, they gave us our one primary example in to the mentality of the Form.
When fighting with Makashi, your goal is to let your opponent come to you and into your sphere of attack. You control the tempo as you adjust your reach, allowing them to come in and out of distance as you see fit. You keep your movements tight and controlled in response and counter to theirs.
When fighting a Makashi user, the best tactic is to remove their advantage of reach. Either make them over exert themselves or breach their defenses, getting well in and past their comfort zone. A Makashi user who does not have control of the fight is a Makashi user at a disadvantage. This is true of everyone, but Form II prides itself on the fight.
The Makashi adherent is best in the dueling arena. When there is only one opponent and there is room for them to move. Whether it is to the death or whether it is merely a sparring match, whether it is a match between peers or warfare by champion, Makashi is bred for the dueling grounds and yearns to engage with those like itself. However, it should be noted that just because Makashi was built with the duel in mind, that it alone will win all duels. That is an attitude that pervades both the in universe and real life fans of Form II. They believe that because they studied a duelling form that they will always have the advantage. This is incorrect. Each Form can be used for duelling, and the expertise of the users will decide the victor. A shii cho user may beat a Makashi user if they cut off their moving space and nullify their reach, and so on.
Form II has the clearest cut line between itself and real world martial arts. Makashi is an analogy to fencing, and the use of weapons such as rapiers, foils and inevitably, the saber. Fencing was a sword style developed and used primarily by the upper class and upper middle class of Europe from the 14th Century onwards. Both the style and the rapier were seen as the marks of a gentleman combatant, a symbol of status. Schools teaching different styles of fencing spanned throughout Europe, with the majority being found in France, Germany and Italy. Later on, the styles became homogenized into the competitive sport fencing that is prevalent and used today.
Other appropriate analogues for Makashi are the Chinese jian and the European Longsword. Both are weapons the require reach. The jian’s use tends to add more flourish, blending the style into a ballet-like dance. The longsword focuses more on power for the cost of some of its reach.Other examples would be the european cutlass and the italian falchion, both of which are focused more on cutting techniques than the traditional viewpoint of fencing. When researching Makashi, look in to all of these. A master of this form would know their weapon. There is no point in wasting all the potential on just the tip, a makashi adherent would know how to utilized the entire blade.
Despite being a clear cut analogy, Makashi is also a very polarizing Form amongst the fencing community. The irony is pretty strong. A friend posted a work in progress swordform for Makashi and promptly received dozens, if not hundreds, of arguments as to how he was doing it wrong. Amongst the commentators were the usual internet trolls and arm chair martial artists, but some of them were actual fencers. This behavior has been prevalent throughout the community for as long as I’ve been around and there’s nothing to suggest it will abate. Most of this, I’ve noticed, comes from the competitive fencing side of the community. I sometimes wonder if the old ways of schools challenging each other hadn’t died out nearly enough in the modern age. The shadows of proving which style is superior still lingers.
This is why, when someone asks me what kind of fencing works with Makashi, I will answer with “Yes”. If there is a style that values the reach of a straight sword and focuses on a singular opponent, then there is an argument for it being an analogy to Makashi. The forms are not written in stone, and if an argument can be made, it should be made.
When discussing Makashi, I need to dispel two very popular myths. The first myth is that Makashi is solely a single handed form. It isn’t. While reach was more important than power, using one handed style of weapon fighting wasn’t the only way of achieving that. The other was the use of a longer weapon. The chinese longsword is a good example of a longer blade maintaining the reach, but requiring two hands. Even Dooku in the movies relied on two hands throughout his fights.
The other myth involves the use of the curved hilt lightsaber. Many people insist that the curved hilt is the Makashi hilt, to the point where anyone who uses it is ‘clearly’ an adherent of Form II. This isn’t true. Having actually worked with a curved hilt, the weight distribution gives you an advantage, but that’s the weapon, not the form. Speaking with fencers in the community, a large cropping of them prefer smaller hilts to curved hilts. Some even say that Yoda’s saber is actually a preferred hilt model over the others. The smaller hilt yields tighter control of the blade. In short, hilts are a personal expression, using a curved hilt means you prefer to have a back-heavy saber opposed to others. That’s all.
Makashi represents an important facet of Lightsaber culture. It marks the study and discipline of dueling. Now, the term ‘dueling’ is thrown about quite a bit in the community. Many assume it to be any fight with only two people, or they believe it is any battle that they come across. Others also believe it to be whenever two practitioners of fencing engage one another.
While these are all valid ways of describing dueling, I have a personal belief that I am going to put forth. There are several forms of combat: the combat of the battlefield where multiple soldiers engage each other at the same time on the behest of two or more powers; competitive combat, such as boxing, Olympic fencing, and wrestling/mix martial arts where the goal is to not beat the enemy but to win; Sparring, which is fighting each other as a means of training and practice; Fighting, which is combat out of desperation and rage on a personal level; and dueling.
A duel is, in my own opinion, a ritualized form of combat. When engaging in a duel, there are societal expectations at play. From the moment the duel is declared to the moment it is finished, there are certain proprieties that must be followed, ways of addressing each participant.
Each culture that valued the art of swordplay had very strict code of ethics in terms of duels. In Japan, swordsmen would formally engage one another as a means of testing their skills against the other. They would also use this to uphold their honor or seek to avenge a slight by their peers. The most prolific of duelists—and certainly the most well know—was the ronin samurai Musashi, who fought in over 60 duels in his life and reportedly never lost.
His first duel was when he was 13 against a ronin who had declared an open challenge to anyone wishing to try their luck. The ronin placed a wooden post in the middle of town with the challenge, and Musashi accepted by writing his name on it. Musashi, too young to have a formal sword, killed the ronin using a bokken. This duel would be contested strongly due to his age, as well as due to the ferocious manner in which Musashi killed his opponent.
More popular in the west was the Code Duello, which was prominent in Europe from the Renaissance until the 19th century. Many of the nobility—and later the burgeoning middle class—would engage one another for many of the same reasons. This was the culture of the schools of fencing, and adherents would duel one another to prove that their school was superior.
The concept of dueling as ritual in Star Wars is present in every movie. Each time two Force users are about to engage one another, they open the exact same way. They approach each other, present their sabers and activate the blade. Often they will talk during these parts, using the activation of the saber as an emphasis or to initiate the beginning of the duel. Even Maul, who is viewed as one of the more vicious lightsaber users in media, presents himself to Obi-Wan and Qui Gon in the iconic image of him brandishing his saberstaff for the first time. No one engages each other until all participants draw their sabers.
It is recommended that when emulating lightsaber combat, whether for martial or performance pieces, one should keep this simple structure in mind. I have seen many fights around the community designed around weak structure, and it comes off as comical at best and sloppy at worst. There have been fights that presented as givens, as if the participants are saying “Well, I’m on stage here with a lightsaber, as are you. Let us fight, for no reason than because we stand here.” Our fights need to have a reason, or at least have a structure, or else we’re just twirling around glowsticks. If we’re to emulate the spirit of lightsaber combat and that which it implies, we need to treat what we use with the respect they are given, and the core of Makashi is all about respecting the blade.
There are no hard rules to lightsaber dueling, but there is an implicit pattern being followed in the source material: Presentation of arms and intent: activation of weapons to engage the duel, yielding or scoring a mark of contact ends the duel. By adhering to this pattern, you are following the core of lightsaber dueling and the core of Makashi itself.
Next post will be on Soresu, and discussing why just because something is ‘defensive’ doesn’t mean it isn’t ‘dangerous’