Welcome to the first post of SnarkSide Presents! This section of the blog is where members of the Star Wars/Lightsaber Community can use this site to share their own editorials on the various subjects of our community, from lightsaber combat to the community issues that we all face or should be aware of. As an aside, all of my comments will be in italic or blue font to avoid confusion.
This inaugural post is from Darth Nonymous, the founder of Terra Prime Lightsaber Academy. Nonymous and I have known each other for several years and I have helped assist him in his goal to making a fully functioning curriculum for lightsaber martial arts using the Seven Forms of Combat. One of the key aspects to his curriculum is the fifth of the Forms: Shien. Enjoy.
Shien is a strange Form. In the saber world it is all but ignored in favor of it’s more well known sibling, Djem So. When it is displayed it is almost always done so in a reverse grip. The depictions in media, The Force Unleashed is the most expansive example of the Form, res not go out it’s way to expand on that. It appears, in some comics and novels, but it’s lack of adherents in the sabering world is fairly obvious.
The Legends Sources are the only place the From appears by name (outside of the first Lightsaber Combat article in Star Wars Insider) and has relatively little information about it. The Wookiepedia entry for Form V offers very little in the way of solid information about Shien. It identifies a guard position and the names of two techniques, the “Barrier of Blades” and “Shien Deflection”. Both relating to blaster deflection. As such it has the reputation as being the blaster deflection part of Form V. I disagree with this reading. (It should be noted that Wookiepedia is not a martial arts source, nor it is written by people who know anything about martial arts in general or weapon combat in specific. For our purposes I look at it as a lay person’s account, like a history, and use it only as a jumping off point for naming conventions.)
In “The 7 Forms of Lightsaber Combat: a Discourse” by Craig Page, more detail is given and some speculation as to what it would look like in the real world. It is laid out as being a descendant of Soresu and favors that origin. Djem So in contrast favors the Makashi method. This underscores the fact the Form is divided into two aspects. And Page brings up a good question, what is the difference between these aspects of Form V? In fact, by looking at the ways the two can differ can help to expand on the methods they each would train. In the TPLA system, I have attempted to take into account the myths and common conceptions of Shien and find a way to bring them into the real world.
In The System, Shien represents the academic and pedagogical side. It makes an effort to be complete, expansive, an all inclusive. Shien takes into account as many scenarios and settings it can including single combat, battle field strategies, being out numbered, and other things that may occur in a warrior’s career. Djem So is focused on the duel and single combat. It’s categories and techniques are concerned with mainly fighting one opponent in a formal setting. This is not to suggest that it is inapplicable in other settings, but most of it’s focus is there.
In the TPLA system, Form V is the the pinnacle of the technical Formulae. The Pillars factor in Form V predominantly. Where the Four Pillar Formula are centered on the fundamentals of combat, Form V seeks to take those components and create ever expanding options with them. It is quite simply the natural progression after one has their foundation set. From simple principles come complex strategies. Combination of techniques will yield new methods, outlooks, and reactions. But, one must have the basics well in hand to have any success in Form V. In the System, this is the goal of all technique.
Shien is divided into two main parts and one adjunct. It is based on the Krayt Dragon and it’s two main forms are the Lesser and Greater Krayt forms. Broadly speaking, the Lesser Krayt is more movement oriented and depends on guile, wit, and creativity. The Greater Krayt focuses on direct, powerful and efficient application. The Lesser Krayt is also called “The Dragon’s Body”. The Greater Krayt is divided into two pieces; the “Dragon’s Head” which represents the overall ideas and applications and the “Dragon’s Eye” the interpretation of the formula as it relates to a single opponent. It is intended to be a magnifying glass for warfare, starting broad and “zooming in” on the individual encounters that happen in even large scale battles.
Shien and Djem so are more than just cousins in technique and form. They are extensions of each other. The Formula starts with Shien, the frame work is laid out and from there, the various specializations can be seen. Djem So is contained within Shien and is a part of it, although many decide to focus on one or the other.
The combat philosophy of Shien is adaptability and aggression. The completeness of the techniques derived from the lesser and greater Krayt methods give the swordsmen a dizzying array of possibilities. In fact, the Form can be said to be an explorations of those possibilities. Being able to adapt to your opponents style and actions while maintaining the initiative is the primary goal of the Formula. There needs to be not only skill but a variety of skills that one can bring to bear and keep the opponent on the defensive, thus crippling their ability to take back the initiative.
The reason that I have latched on to Shien in my training is because of it’s open ended-ness. There is a lot of room for addition and maneuvering things around to make it a viable method. I find that it lends it’s self to a very completist sort of view, which is one that I appreciate. I am coming from a martial artists perspective, and Shien offers a wonderful blank slate to combine two (or more) of my passions.
A comment on Shien is not complete with out one on the Reverse Grip. Also known as the “ice pick” grip, this is holding the sword backwards with the blade on the ulna side (pinky finger side) of the hand. Since the grip has been associated with Starkiller, it is also associated with Shien and often called “Starkiller Grip”. This position is an inherently weak one, biomechanically, strategically, and practically. It’s inclusion in traditional forms of sword play from Western to Eastern has allow ed it to persist. It’s ubiquitous use in the movies and video games solidifies it in the publics mind that this is a “bad ass” thing to do or that it denotes some sort of skill. And it is true, it seems that no matter how many videos people put out debunking the use of Reverse grip outside of extremely narrow applications, people still want to find some value in it.
The historical use of the reverse grip is often relegated to knives or armored fighting, or as an exercise. When found in training forms in Kung Fu (called Tao Lu in Mandarin) it is most often a way to train what to do if you get caught with your weapon backwards. As such, the maneuvers that are done all entail switching the hands back to standard grip. It has been well known that holding a sword like this is almost certain death in a duel. And it is this everything which has complicated the issue.
Since reverse grip is seen as such a handicap in the context of one on one combat, it was often (and still is) used in drama and entertainment to show that the character has so much skill they can defeat opponent hold the sword wrong. This is similar to the English saying, “I can beat you with one hand tied behind my back.” What seems to have happened is that people have taken this to mean, the character trained in that technique. As if thinking that tying one’s hands behind one’s back were also martial arts technique to be used.
The inclusion of Reverse grip in Shien is still welcome in my idea of the Form. I think of Shien as a compendium of the technical diversity lightsaber combat as it would have developed in the Star Wars universe. It would be a good form to pass down knowledge in an expansive form that would offer practical application in warfare and defense. It could also give birth to subsequent forms given it’s ability to be interpreted differently by different people. The relationship between Shien and Djem so is also a fascinating and deep topic to explore. Finding ways where such different sounding methods could be linked is one of the core principles that TPLA seeks to foster.
I like to think Shien is the lens that I can view the lay of the land in various ways. It speaks to my imagination and philosophies. While it is often reduced to reverse grip techniques, Shien can be much more and I hope to bring more of it to the public eye.
A little insight into my interest in Shien. I hope it stimulates more discussion into this Form. I thank Uilos for this opportunity to speak on his blog. AndI thank all of you for reading and being involved intros thing we have here. Have a great day and Happy Sabering!
For further conversations on Shien, look to the video conversation Nonymous and I had in October of 2016
If you or your group have any articles you’d like to see put out to the community, message me for a consult.