UPDATE: I recently had the chance to talk to Darth Nonymous of Terra Prime Lightsaber Academy while he and his wife stayed in New York City. We talked of many things, including our thoughts on Shien. The video is here
The Sixth Form of Lightsaber Combat is called Niman. It is known by many names, such as the Moderation Form or the Diplomats Form. It is also known as the Way of the Rancor, the gargantuan beast that Luke fought in the bowels of Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi. It is a large, top heavy monster that denotes a sense of balance. This sense of balance is key in understanding Niman.
Niman, like its Form V cousins, is a synthesis of various Forms. In this case, it is the joining of the basic techniques of the preceding five forms. While it existed before the (supposed) fall of the Sith a thousand years before the events of the movies, it saw its prominence come afterwards. The Sith were presumed gone, and the Jedi stepped down from being in conflict with a peer group. They became negotiators and diplomats, with a focus on words over swords.
Because of the nature of Niman as a composite martial art, it took roughly ten years for someone to effectively study the style. As such, practitioners of Form VI had to cultivate a disciplined attitude, they had to commit. Most of those who mastered the Form were themselves at the rank of Jedi Master. With its broad education, study of the Form was not
as intensive as others. This allowed for Jedi to other skills such as diplomacy. Niman was also the Form to utilize the overt powers of the Force to supplement its bladework. Often, they would incorporate Force Pushes or Pulls to distract or unbalance an opponent in order to score a Mark.
Niman gets a very bad rap in Star Wars. In fightsaber, the article that introduces the Forms, it identifies this style as the one where all of its adherents died during the battle of Geonosis at the end of Attack of the Clones. While it carries much of the core principles of the previous five Forms, it does not excel in any specific area. It can handle groups like Shii Cho, but not as well as them. It has the precision of Makashi, the defensive and offensive capabilities of Soresu, Ataru, Shien and Djem So, but it wasn’t as good at them as the specific Form.
As with Shien, it is very hard to describe exactly how this Form would work. It is because of this vague writing that the negative attributes of Niman are further enhanced. What exactly is the point of studying a Form if it grants you no advantages in battle? Like with Shien, the following is a theory that I have based on the information we have and the research put in by members of the lightsaber community as to how to make it work.
First, there is a simple truth that needs to be stated: The Style does not win a fight, the person using it does. A lot of people get very hung up on the martial styles effectiveness that they forget to take in to account that someone had to learn and utilize that style. Shii Cho can defeat Makashi in a duel if the Form I user takes advantage of something the Form II user let slip. Two Soresu users will find themselves matched until one of them drops their guard, or an Ataru user is just that much faster than their opponent. The style doesn’t make the match, the people do.
In order for Niman to be an effective martial style, you need to put it in its proper context. It is not a battlefield style, whereas those who proceeded could be used on large scale conflicts. It was not meant for open warfare, but for personal defense. The style was meant for those who went in to negotiations and used words as their primary weapon. They weren’t warriors; they were negotiators and scholars. Their field of battle was on the streets and in buildings. As such, Niman users would not nearly be as concerned with victory as others would be. They would not be focused on beating the opponent, but rather not be beaten by them. Their primary goal was to survive the conflict.
With that in mind, a Niman user would conceivably view their varied training as a toolbox. Each style contained within it its own means of survival. How best to get out of the situation and away from the violence. How best to protect oneself and those close to them. This leads to a very pragmatic mindset. Nothing flashy or over exerting. Defend when you need to defend, kill when you need to kill, use the Force when it requires. Keep it simple. In this, the style returns to the simplistic philosophy of Shii Cho, but with the lessons of the other Forms behind it.
Nimans primary use to Jedi and Sith was ultimately the physical and mental discipline it generated from its study. This was a Form that ran the gamut of physical and emotional control, a term that has been prevalent in our study here. You learned to control the blade in your hand, you learned to control others through relationship, defense, and combat. You learned to manipulate the minutiae of of those Forms, no longer relying on extreme thoughts. A Niman master was someone who could, in theory, see things clearly and respond without delay.
A Form VI master would be one who was able to assess and adapt to a situation in rapid speed. They can see all options and decide what to do in a matter of heartbeats. They’d have to. They would also have a high degree of pragmatic creativity. By this I mean they’d need to look at the resources they have around them and use them in the most efficient way they can think of, even if it was not the intended use. Fighting a Niman user would be to remove any options you yourself could not control. Overwhelm them with your own numbers, set a trap you have planned. Remove their possible exits, or give them an exit only you control.
Niman has always reminded me of the teachings of Bruce Lee. World renowned for his martial prowess both on and off screen, Lee developed the concept of Jeet Kune Do, The Way of the Intercepting Fist. Jeet Kune Do was his own synthesis of ideas, using the concepts of fencing, wrestling, judo, boxing as well as his first martial art Wing Chun. With those schools of martial thought, and years of dedicated study and training, he developed his own expression a magnitude of which has not been seen in modern times.
A lot of people tend to forget that Jeet Kune Do was as much a philosophy as a set form of moves. In fact, Lee outright spoke against set movements, citing the tendency to get stuck in patterned movements and thinking and therefore becoming predictable. Some take to studying Lee’s movements over his principles. Lee valued the use of his longest weapon, his sidekick, but also knew that some people may not have the same physical dimensions as him. For example, while training Kareem Abdul Jabbar, he spoke to him about the futility of relying on Judo moves. What would be the point of someone Kareems 7ft+ height having to go so low to put someone in a shoulder throw? This leads to Lee’s most powerful commandment: absorb what is useful, discard the rest. So too could it be with Niman. Learn and take in what came before, then use what works for you in that moment.
Niman could also serve another purpose for the lightsaber wielders. Because of its ten year study, it reminds me of the meditative and self disciplinary benefits of styles of modern Tai Chi. The Chinese martial art focuses on slow, measured steps that in sequence create a beautiful display. It helps sharpen the body and mind with its emphasis on controlling the various parts of the body in its movements. In the modern day, it is used more as a callisthenic exercise, but could be an effective style if taught to be so. This is in contrast to Tai Chi Chuan
A sword form that mirrors the principles of Niman is Iaido. Based on the Japanese katana, Iaido is the way of drawing the sword in attack. It is as much a philosophical and meditative practice as it is a swordform. A friend of mine once explained that he and his fellow students were taught to perfect their cuts, using all of their fears and anxieties as the target. The style was not about conquering others, but oneself. I could see a Jedi using their saber in a similar form of moving meditation.
Again, I should point out that I can only suggest that which brings about the essence of these Forms and styles. The Seven Forms are rorschach Martial Arts, we see what we want to see. Niman, by it’s very nature, is not based on set mindsets. It is based on learning from multiple sources and creating something unique that works for you. Learn, adapt, create, repeat.
To further nail home the essence of Niman, I can think of one example in movies to explain what a Niman user does. Watch any movies starring Jackie Chan. In those films, Chan would use traditional and improvised martial arts in his fights, and utilized his entire environment to his benefit, often in non-fatal means. He once explained a fight he choreographed where he fought three armed assailants. In the end, Chan went from no weapons to all three weapons and the attackers on the floor. Chan drops the swords, claiming he doesn’t need them. He already won, and if they come after him again he’ll take them again. So yes, even though it is choreographed, I think if there is any one on the short list of Niman masters, it’s Jackie Chan.
Many in the community (and in the canon) decry the Form for being too complex for too little benefits. I tend to agree. Niman required time and dedication. They studied the other five Forms before it until they understood it on a working level. By that, I mean that they studied it to the point where they understood and could do the techniques without needing to rely on rote memory. While they did not necessarily know the esoteric minutiae of each Form and technique, they had a practical understanding that could be worked with. Niman users had a toolbox fulls of techniques they could use and a trained imagination to use those techniques in ways that were not conventional.
On the other end of that. There are a small number of people who come in to the community and claim that they’ve studied Niman. Again, you’d have to have studied 5-6 different styles to the point where 1) you could understand them on a pragmatic level and 2) do it in a way where muscle memory does not conflict in the process. Even in canon, the process to master Niman took Ten Years. If we were to overlay that with real life, then the first few clubs that founded the community would just be getting to be a master of the Form, and that’s on top having to develop the other 5-6 Forms before it. I started in 2009, I would just be getting there in terms of study.
As such, Niman should always be considered an advanced Form with Masters being the main group to study. You have to teach yourself all of these Forms, then learn how to use them without stumbling over yourself to make it effective. That takes a time and dedication in both saber work and in real life community work.
Niman does not make for an easy style to learn, but inside of it contains the means of expressing oneself in a new way while understanding the ways that came before you. Niman also serves as a narrative of the other Forms. Its simple pragmatism mirrors Shii Cho, but it has the training and philosophies of the other Forms behind it. It is the closing of a Circle.
With the final Form, we will see that Circle broken.