Niman/Juyo: The Masters’ Arts

Since posting my articles on sixth and seventh forms of lightsaber combat, I’ve received a few comments and questions that I believe require some adding to the site. Three instances in particular caught my attention and I’d like to address them in turn. The first point is about Niman, the last two are about Niman and Juyo together. My first point comes from my friend and martial arts scholar, Ben Judkins, on my Niman post:

I still have a hard time squaring the assertions that this form was a favorite of non-fighters who needed to spend time on their other studies, and at the same time that it required decades of dedicated practice and a mastery of five other combat form. The logic of the form as laid out the various sources just seems to go in too many directions. 

And there we have again a reason why building martial arts on literary devices built potluck by multiple writers can be a pain in the ass. How can Niman be both for non-combatants and yet require the most dedicated study? How can it be this rigorous and yet allow time for other pursuits like diplomacy? These seem to not go hand in hand with one another and, as Ben rightly put, seem to go counter to one another.

IMG_0540My stance is simple, possibly overly so. I think that there was enough room for both the
martial adherents and those wishing to use it as a means of discipline. Niman is, for all intents and purposes, the study of the lightsaber. Not just one facet of it, but all of it. There is a sense of the hunt for completion, to learn all that there is to know about it…though probably never achieving it in any real sense.

So it would go without saying that people would learn Niman as a means of learning Lightsaber Combat in its totality (at least as far as most Jedi understood it). These would have been the battlemasters, the go-to in the arts of warfare and combat. They would have been teachers and instructors in the art, because they had dedicated their lives to understanding this weapon and how to use it. The Battlemasters were dangerous and insightful, because they understood the power and burden they carried.

Likewise, people would have studied Niman for the discipline of it. Ten years, six forms, a lot of studying and then learning to blend them all without hesitation. That takes dedication and discipline. You always have a goal and you strive to attain that goal, and the more you understand how to use the lightsaber the more you understand yourself.

Also bear in mind that the Forms were as much philosophies as they were technique. You were studying ways of responding to situations not just with a lightsaber, but with yourself.A situation may call for the determined, straight forward thinking of Shii Cho, or the repartee of Makashi. Some days you just need to power through the bullshit with Soresu, or maneuver it with Shien. These weren’t just martial arts, they were ways of thinking and doing.

I can see a Jedi using Niman as a means of honing their internal skills as much as their external skills. Finding a measure of peace, clarity and competency. And yes, it could still be used as a means of defense.

Again, I think back to modern Tai Chi and its connection to Niman. It is used widely as a means of exercise and meditation by millions, some of whom never see the martial aspect of the form. Then there are those who study the application of it, and it can hurt like hell. I have been blessed with seeing Tai Chi practitioners on both sides. There is room for both, and with some luck, a lot of crossover between the two.

In the Niman article, I mentioned that the Sixth Form resembles the principles of Jeet Kune Do very well. The philosophy and art of learning multiple styles and using what is useful for you in whatever situation you find. Several of my readers, who have studied JKD and whose opinions I rank high, noted that my description of Juyo also lined up well with Bruce Lee’s teachings. To quote one friend: “Fluidity, broken rhythm, improvisation”.

So if Niman and Juyo have similar martial components, how are they different? In short, how they view their goals. As we discussed before, Niman is not about winning, it is about surviving conflict. The goal isn’t necessarily to beat your opponent, but to disengage the conflict by any means necessary. This may mean engaging the enemy, pushing them back or finding an escape.

My major example of Niman in non-star wars fiction is Jackie Chan. Watch his fights, most of his art and style is using what is around him to defend and defeat the opponent. It’s also how he uses his training to get in to and away from danger. Also watch how few casualties are in his movies. He’s not in there to kill. He’s there to stop conflict.

Juyo on the other hand is about victory, total and absolute without any ambiguity. How best to cause the most amount of damage on a physical, mental and spiritual level.  I gave IMG_0538the example of Sidious/Palpatine pulling a long game version of Juyo against the entire galaxy in the prequel movies, pitting one half against the other with the end goal netting him a victory regardless and without reservation.

Let’s bring that back down to a more intimate level, and let’s remove the lightsabers from the equation. A good fictional example of Juyo being employed in combat is the scene in Sherlock Holmes where Robert Downey Junior breaking down exactly how he intends to break down a fighter who spit at the back of his head. The damage he does he calculates to take six weeks of physical recovery and six months of psychological. That’s what juyo does, it responds, calculates, and administers maximum damage on both a long and short term scale.

Also, he did all of this because a guy spat at him. He didn’t want to kill him, because that wouldn’t net him anything in the long run, but it screwed up this guy so much that he probably will never do that again to anyone let alone Holmes. If that isn’t the most Sith response to an insult, I don’t know what.

One last point I’d like to bring up. During a conversation on a lightsaber combat forum, I had a discussion with a fellow Forms developer. They felt that my stance of Niman and Juyo as ‘advanced’ forms is not correct. They felt that each form is unique and should be available to everyone. I agree, to a point.

One of the goals of these posts is try to draw out the culture behind these Forms from the bits and pieces gleaned from what we know of the writings in which they exist and the people who have used them in the fiction. Of all of the Forms, Niman is the one with an explicit timeframe of how long one could go in their training before having become a proficient adept: average of ten years. That we’re told this tells you that that is not the normal timeframe. That we’re told that to understand the previous five forms, plus the specific lessons inherent in Niman itself, tells us that under no circumstances was someone walking in on their first day ever able to do Niman.

Likewise with Juyo. A lot of people confuse Juyo’s sponetnaity and improvisation with ‘I’ll do whatever here’ and not realize that their understanding of ‘whatever’ isn’t nearly enough to float them through. While the level of teaching for Juyo is unknown, I do know that you do not start someone off on a Form that espouses and utilizes improvisation and the drive for destruction as their first art. They don’t have a basis to work with. How can they possibly know they are breaking the rules if they haven’t learned the rules before it?

Juyo is lightsaber jazz. There is a difference between a saxaphone solo and just making a tone of random noise. That difference is control. A soloist has a plan, has experience, and has the talent and training. The really good soloists will make something inherently unique and done on the fly feel like it while still keeping it a part of the piece they are playing. Meanwhile, anyone can blow in to a trumpet and make noises. It does not make them a soloist. I think this is true of a lot of things in life, but it works well in Juyo.

Niman and Juyo are advanced styles and systems, in my opinion. They are highly improvisational and work as much or more on philosophy as they do technique and training. You cannot begin either without a solid working in lightsabers as a whole, and that means the other Forms.  I’ll be honest that when someone new comes in to the community and declares themselves ‘a master of Niman/Juyo’ I see a giant red flag behind them. Because at every turn it always comes off as a gross overestimate of their own talents and a grosser underestimate of those who have been working on this for a while.

Terra Prime Light Armory’s Lightsaber Academy, of which I am a headmaster and resident loremonkey (surprise!) has a curriculum that teaches martial arts through the seven Forms. Each form builds upon one another until you get to the blendings in Forms V-VII. Forms I-IV each have a core teaching that each student will build on as an apprentice. When you advance you learn to blend them in to Form V, coming to fruition in Form VI and VII. At some point, I need to get Chad to do a post here to better explain the system, or else I feel like I’m butchering it.

Now the point the poster made was that Niman and Juyo should not be ‘untouchable’. They aren’t untouchable, they just aren’t easily accessible as “I choose this”. You can choose it, but you’re choosing a lot of work. Niman and Juyo are Masterclasses in lightsaber arts. I don’t mean ‘Master’ in the martial or Star Wars sense. I mean “Master” in the Graduate sense. This is advanced work, because a lot of it requires an insight you cannot gain without having extensive experience in the art. So when someone comes up to me and says “I want to learn Niman” or more often “I want to learn Juyo” I will nod at them, explain all of this, and ask them if they are willing to work their asses off for all of this.

Because if you aren’t  willing to work for it, you don’t really deserve it.

This is my last post for the year. When I come back, expect some new topics. Included (but not limited) will be fan film reviews, fight analysis, a look at Jedi and Sith philosophies and how they relate to the people who portray them. I am also looking to get several guest writers to share their own thoughts and experiences in the saber community. So there is more to come. See you in 2017! May the Force Be With You!

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