Thoughts on Schools

Tonight I found myself doing some research (as I tend to do) after a day-long discussion with other instructors on various techniques, guards, stances, and forms.  In reading up on some historical differences between various martial arts, I came across a comment from a life-long student:

You know what makes you a better fighter?  Fighting! If you practice fighting reasonably realistically […] with an opponent who is trying to actually stop you and hurt you at the same time, eventually you will be a badass.

(The context of which was discussing the difference between some MA styles which are more showy & flashy which tend to practice katas which are unrealistic in combat, versus those which focus on more realistic scenarios.)

There’s the old adage that says “practice makes perfect.”  We often say that a true master is always a student, so I disagree with the word “perfect” – but the idea is the same as the comment above:  If you keep practicing in a realistic manner, you will be a badass!

For quite some time I’ve considered lightsaber groups to fall into two categories: Choreography groups, and combat-fighting groups.  I now consider, as we continue developing Saber Martial Arts, perhaps even the combat groups may require further categorization. This is not passing any judgement on anyone, it’s merely a way to differentiate styles and approaches so that students can best make up their own mind given the path they choose to seek.

As I’ve seen lightsaber groups spring up and evolve over the last few years, I’ve been curious as to the reasoning behind such varied approaches towards sparring, points, marks of contact, and even tournament rule-sets.  Tonight I’m considering (and I may be off the mark) that perhaps there are sub-classes of lightsaber combat schools’ approaches to be considered, which this research on Far Eastern martial arts has brought to me.

San Diego Sabers practices what I’ll call a combat-realistic approach.  We consider the lightsaber as if it were the real weapon portrayed in the Galaxy Far, Far Away.  So a point is a point. Any mark of contact is legitimate. Even so, safety comes first. In Star Wars, there are no points assigned – if you cut off an opponent’s hand or arm, the fight is over.  If you cut off their head, it’s really over. But “over” is over. In some sense, this makes scoring much simpler.

There are other schools who say a hand-hit is worth 1 point, a head-shot is worth 3 or 5 points, a body shot may be 2 points, etc.  Different hits have different values. Even simultaneous hits are scored differently by different groups. Some of this approach in scoring is to reward the attacker for making a highly-skilled contact, and to deter always going for lower-skilled hits (to deter “hand hunting” as an example).  That’s also a valid approach, though judging and score is more complex.

Let’s now consider Marks of Contact.  Some schools limit or fully restrict certain hits, certain velocities or strikes – out of safety, it is said.  This can be a perfectly valid thing.  In SDS, we think about “real combat” – if you run across a BadGuy™ in a dark alley, you don’t lay down a set of rules before he starts his attack on you.  Go back to the fellow’s comment above, talking about fighting against someone realistically, who’s trying to stop you and hurt you. This differentiation will make more sense shorty.

Before I continue I want to bring up something else that I think should be considered by any potential student of any school…

Often I see schools where any integration of Martial Arts is derived solely from the founder and/or head instructor’s own background (if they have any at all).  This is absolutely understandable and valid – you teach what you know. (I think SDS is very lucky that our Battlemaster has a life-long background in a variety of sword-based martial arts).

I know some may get offended when a school makes certain claims to which they have no valid claim upon, and I can understand that feeling.  Imagine getting tutored in algebra by someone who hasn’t studied algebra before – you would have a certain feeling about that. We’ve talked on our podcast about people who claim the title “Master” (often just for “show”) versus those who are given the title (as recognition for their years of training).

I bring this up because one could go on to suggest that when you attend a school which charges you to participate, you are effectively hiring them to train you. It’s generally considered good practice to interview someone and check out their background before hiring them.  So why not the same when you attend a school – whether it’s traditional Martial Arts or Saber Martial Arts? I would only suggest you make sure you’re comfortable that you’re going to get what you pay for. I would also suggest that if one school doesn’t do it for you, doesn’t deliver what you were hoping to gain, then 1) make sure you understand what you want (it may only be with experience that you can further define and know that for yourself), and 2) don’t judge all schools based on one poor experience – try somewhere else if the first one isn’t a good fit.

So back to the main thread now – perhaps there are (at least?) two types of Lightsaber combat groups:  Ones which are more sports-like, and ones which are more fight-focused. Again, it’s not to suggest either is better than the other.  It’s merely good to recognize that there are differences, try to understand why, and make sure that a school matches with what the student wants to achieve.  Someone who learns archery as a competitive sport is neither better nor worse than someone who learn archery for hunting; People learn them for their own reasons.  The same would be true here with Saber Martial Arts.

No matter what path you go down – take pride in your acts!  Stepping even one foot down the journey of a thousand steps puts you closer than many people will ever achieve.  You may find that Saber Martial Arts isn’t for you – but thank you for trying! For those who find a passion in it, welcome!  I’ve seen some astonishing achievements in the last 3 years by our students in San Diego Sabers, and from students in other schools. I am amazed by what people can achieve in relatively short periods of time.  Each of you is amazing and spectacular in your own way, and bring something to each session which enriches everyone within San Diego Sabers.

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