There is a specific form of lightsaber practice that is closely associated to Niman. While not a Form itself, it was considered a way to use the forms. The art of Jar’Kai was the use of two weapons in tandem against an opponent.
The lightsaber is a dangerous weapon with one blade. Suddenly having to wield and take in to account two blades makes calculations difficult. Because of the time and broad spectrum of training required in Niman, it was often a requirement to study before taking on a second blade. This was why saberstaff and pike users like Darth Maul were often considered proficient in Niman as well. The balanced training allowed for better control.
Jar’Kai can be used with any variety of weapons. From two standard sized sabers to two shotos (short sabers). I’ve also seen the use of two guard shotos, or lightsaber variations on tonfa, as well as a sword and shield. Traditionally, Jar’Kai is depicted with one standard sized hilt and a shoto in the non-dominant hand. The shoto would serve to aid in defense, deflection, and close in strikes while the long sword was the main attacker at longer range.
There are many martial arts that allow for the use of two weapons, or weapons that require the use of both hands actively. Popular of these in saber communities has been philipino escrima, it’s use of rattan sticks often mimicking the cylindrical lightsabers. The practice of Case, or Case of Rapiers, is the use of two of the swords in fencing. Espada y Daga, and other sword and dagger styles, utilizes a short sword in the off-hand.
My favorite however is Niten-Ichi Ryu style. Developed by the legendary swordsman, Miyomoto Musashi, Niten Ichi Ryu was the practice of two swords together. Traditionally, it was the use of a katana and a wakizashi (short sword). I prefer this because of the meticulous nature it is taught. Like kenjutsu, every fraction of a movement needs to be precise. This brings us back to researching Shii Cho and its focus on controlling bladework. If you’re learning to use both hands, it pays to go back.
I also mention Musashi and his style because of the means in which he develop Niten-Ichi. Musashi was a mostly self trained warrior. He traveled Japan to study (read: duel) the masters of various different styles. Swords, spears, naginata, kusari-gama (chain and sickle), shuriken, jitte and many others. He didn’t just challenge them, he studied them, learned their pros and cons. It was through this that he found personal satisfaction in two handed styles.
It is this focus of study on various weapons is why I put Jar’Kai so closely to Niman. As I discussed with a commenter after the Niman post, there were two kinds of people who studied the Sixth Form: those who wished to focus more as diplomats and negotiators and using the Form to develop; and those who sought to study lightsaber combat. Niman is, at its heart, the study of lightsaber in its totality. How to fight with them, and the variations of the tools to fight with.
In my time in the community, I’ve seen variations on the lightsaber that go beyond the ones we see in the movies. One of my friends had custom built lightsaber sai, another had converted a clear riot shield with EL wire and a shock pad to create a light-shield to be used with a sword. My personal favorites are the guard-shotos, based on the asian tonfa.
But one of the things these things require a drawback in the use of two weapons at the same time. Now that you’re wielding two weapons at the same time, or now that there is more than one blade, you now how to be aware of where everything is. Remember that the lightsaber is a one cut weapon. If the blade touches flesh, that flesh gets cut. I’ve seen many people who are experts with a regular staff find the limited hand space of the saberstaff score a mark on themselves because they lost concentration on one of the blades.
One of the key things to do when trying to learn Jar’Kai is to develop your sense of proprioception, the sense of knowing where your the parts of your body are in concert with themselves. This sense takes time to build and cultivate, making yourself consciously aware of where everything is and then learning to correct those movements subconsciously.
Because of all of this training of style, body and mind, I find it funny that so many people claim Jar’Kai as their first style of lightsaber combat. A lot of this has to do with with the over mythologizing of duel wielding weapons in movies and books. What many people tend to forget is that weapons of all kinds are bastards to wield regularly let alone putting another in the off hand. Essentially, you have to train yourself to be ambidextrous, which is no small feat. Many instructors would tell all students to begin with one regular sword, then when they develop they can develop to other weapons.
Does the concept of Jar’Kai have a practical use? Yes it does, though it does not give as much of an advantage as one would think, just changes the options around. It is tasking, and the sign of someone who can effectively is the mark of a Master.