What style is that?

A popular question we get from people who watch lightsaber videos is: “What form are they using?”

Recently, a stunt-woman named Michelle C. Smith posted a video that got quite a bit of play among Star Wars fans. I thought I’d use it as a sample to analyze, to help you learn to look for the different SMA forms.

In this video, Michelle uses a lightsaber from Flowsabers. While they may be combat-grade (though I’ve not personally seen them used in combat), they are designed for flowing & spinning, with weighted balance to those ends. So they’re perfect for what Michelle is doing. http://flowsaber.com

There are two basic moves in here, at 0:08, a quick strike & parry, which are classic Shii-cho movements.

A classic Shii-Cho strike – right-shoulder down across the body diagonally
In San Diego Sabers, this is a Shii-cho Parry #9

She does a lot of body spins, and flourishing/flowering of the blade. When I say “flowering” think back to Anakin & Obi-Wan on Mustafar in the control room, when they’re just spinning their blades in circular motions. It looks cool on-screen, but in combat is ineffective. In martial arts, your goal is to strike your opponent. Flowering like that is wasting your own energy, and potentially leaving your blade in the wrong position when your opponent inevitably strikes at you.

The spinning really doesn’t have any real offensive purpose, they’re defensive in nature – so if you had to put them into a form, it would be Soresu (designed almost entirely defensively, for blaster deflection). That’s if you want to classify them as a combat form at all – really, in this case, this is stage combat. They could even be part of some other martial art style, but for our purposes, not part of Saber Martial Arts.

The acrobatic moves I would tend to, by default, classify at Ataru. Whether they’re actually Ataru moves or not can be debated. However, given that Ataru is, in opposition to Soresu, almost entirely offensive, and prone to intense bursts of energy, that’s where acrobatics fall into that category.

Another way to consider if any particular move or strike is Ataru (or any other style) is to consider if it’s any of the others first (Shii-Cho, Makashi, etc). Does it display properties of those moreso than the one you think it may be. If you can eliminate the other forms, then it must be the one you’re targeting. In this case, acrobatics aren’t typically Shii-Cho (which is based on strikes & parries, with fairly linear footwork). Makashi is more akin to fencing (conservation of energy!). They don’t play into Soresu (which is defensive parrying primarily). Niman tends to blend all forms. Shien is know for it’s reverse-grip. Djem-so is very power-based (very offensive, strong strikes). Eliminate those, and Ataru is what you’re left with, even if only in a general sense. This is, of course, simply basic analysis – and in deeper Saber Martial Arts discussions, instructors and masters can assist you with further analysis.

The showy-bits where she’s spinning the blade, tossing it from one hand to the other, or letting it spin across her shoulders – definitely just for flowing and show. NOT things you want to do in combat. You must always(!) maintain control and grip on your blade – after all, your lightsaber is your life (Obi-Wan Kenobi, AOTC).

Looks great on-screen, but in combat always maintain full control and grip on your weapon!

As a stunt-woman, her body-movement and footwork are fantastic. She’s in total control of where her body is at all times, she knows her center of gravity and weighting, and uses her footwork to maintain balance and control at all times. I can’t say enough good things about her work here.

What Michelle has put together is a great video, and takes a LOT of skill to perfect and demonstrate. Full props to what she’s done here. Her martial arts background shows off. The challenge we all have is people want to see Anakin & Obi-Wan fights, but they’re not very martial in nature – those are for show, they’re stage-combat. Michelle has provide a great demonstration of blending the two, and a good martial artist will practice their perception training, being able to discern the different movements and styles, as you’re learning to do by reading this. This is part of the journey you have to chose for yourself. Do you want to focus on a more martial-based approach, or more stage-combat-based, or perhaps, like Michelle (and is appropriate for what she does) a blend of both.

Check our Michelle’s other work on her Instagram: @michelle.c.smith

Screen-grabs were from an augmented video by Taylor Smith (he added VFX to her blade, and made it red).

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