The Art of Saber Dueling


The 'blade' of the weapon has negligible mass. That means the center of gravity for the entire weapon is midway along the hilt, not 20-30% along the length of the blade as is typical in weapons with 'physical' blades. As a result, there is negligible momentum in swinging the blade. It may be swung rapidly about with a minimum of effort.

It should be noted that since the blade is probably an exotic high-energy plasma, and not 'just' light, there may indeed be SOME slight mass, therefore momentum. Indeed the self-containing nature of the plasma may generate gyroscopic forces through some form of macro-spin. This would tend to resist angular motion, such as a swinging cut. BUT: these potential effects are *negligable* for the purposes of discussing lightsabre fighting techniques.

As a result, the blade is difficult to employ safely, as the slightest motion can send the cutting surface swinging wildly. There is no sense of swinging a weight, as there is with say, a katana - there is no 'feedback'.

Imagine trying to tie your shoelaces without any feeling in your fingers, or trying to learn to play a violin with earplugs. Feedback is a crucial mechanism in developing 'muscle memory'.

The lightsaber does NOT cut effortlessly through physical objects. It is required that the 'blade' be 'pushed' through the object. Different objects offer differing amounts of resistance.

As a result, the user must swing the lightsaber with considerable force, and yet, have sufficient control to be able to stop the motion in the event of a miss. Without any momentum, or feedback, it is not easy to develop this skill - it is counterintuitive.


The classic grip is to have the left hand at the bottom of the hilt, and the right hand at the top. The left hand actually does all the work of moving the weapon up and down, whilst the right hand steers the weapons direction. The grip used by each hand is somewhat like a tennis grip, the "V" between the thumb and first finger on top of the hilt. Unlike a tennis grip, however, the strongest force is applied by the ring and little fingers, not the forefinger and index finger.

The fighters in the StarWars trilogy can be seen to apply much the same grip on their lightsabres. This is hardly surprising given the similarity of weapons. On occasion, a one-handed grip is employed, particularly when first drawing the weapon from its place on the left hip.


Lightsaber users tend to use loose, rather static stances. This would NOT because of the weight of the weapon!

It must be noted though, that Luke is an untutored lightsaber user. His stances and techniques are driven more by passion and enthusiasm, than years of disciplined, trained response. Both General Kenobi and Lord Vader employ far more stable and upright stances, nearer in form to the traditional sword arts.

If the swordsman is balanced, aware, upright and hold the centre with his blade, then there will be NO need to 'bob' and 'weave'. Whenever you duck or flinch, or twist yourself out of position, you slow your techniques down and make yourself vulnerable. Only the suppleness and agility of youth, combined with the reflexes of the Force, allow Luke Skywalker to survive against an accomplished master such as Lord Vader. Indeed, until the second half of their second duel, Vader never made a serious attack on Skywalker, opting instead to merely "play" with him.


For the most acurate description, saber dueling is best compared to the Japanese arts of fighting. The Japanese arts employ two main types of footwork:
- The first is similar to ordinary walking, putting one foot ahead of the other alternately. The feet are kept close to the ground, sort of gliding, so that if your motion is interrupted, you are always in a position to stop and be balanced. This footwork is used when closing large distances to the opponent.

- The second type places one foot ahead of the other, often the right ahead of the left, and keeps the feet on that order. The forward foot moves forward a little, then the rear foot moves up the same amount, retaining the original stance. Classical western fencing also employs a similar footwork, to keep the body in the same orientation to the opponent. This type of footwork is employed in close fighting, where distances moved are shorter, and balance is more important than speed over the ground.

The untutored and relatively clumsy Luke Skywalker generally employs the first style of 'natural' footwork, though, by the third film, he can be seen employing the second. General Kenobi and Lord Vader's footwork is harder to observe due to poor lighting and flowing robes (Japanese warriors wore long flowing garments specifically to obscure footwork!) - but from their body movements, it is clear they are employing the second form of footwork far more often than does the brash young Skywalker.

Any fighting art requires balance and control. Excessive motion is kept to a minimum and the orientation of the body to the opponent is kept at an optimum at all times.


Chudan The basic position is the 'middle guard'. The sword is held pointing towards the throat of your opponent. The hilt is slightly in front of your stomach, and the point angles up at 30-45 degrees. All cuts may be made from this position. This is the most powerful position, as when it is correctly held, it presents the ultimate defence. Your opponent must get past your central position or he/she will impale themselves on your point! Classical Kendo techniques often revolve round methods for 'tricking' your opponent into surrendering this 'centre' position. When you see two masters jostling each others swords in this position, they are 'playing-for-centre', for the opportunity to attack. This attitude is 'level', that is there is nothing in it to indicate your emotion or intention to your opponent. We see Lord Vader and General Kenobi duelling in this manner.
David Bunder & Aden Steinke of the Wollongong University Kendo Club
demonstrate CHUDAN-NO-KAMAE

Gedan The low guard. The hands are in the same position, but the sword is lowered to point at the opponents knees. This is a weaker stance, it is often used to tempt the opponent into attacking. It is a submissive position, designed to look weak. Classic Kendo has no upwards cuts to make from here, and so this stance is rarely used (the only direct technique available is an upwards strike with the back of the blade to knock the opponents weapon aside). Older Japanese techniques might rotate the grip and generate a slightly diagonal upwards cut at the opponents hands. Lightsabres, of course, have no edge, and they can be used to cut in any direction, so an upwards strike is just as dangerous, although it would not be as powerful. Lord Vader severs Luke's wrist with an upwards cut, using the 'back' of his blade.

Jodan The upper guard. The sword is held over the head at about 45 degrees. The bottom of the handle points to the opponents eyes. This is a very aggressive stance ... there is very little time required to launch a downwards attack. It takes advantage of the MASS and MOMENTUM of the physical blade. However, this stance limits the techniques available, and makes your movements more predictable to your opponent. Lightsabre users NEVER seem to employ this stance as a static enguarde ... the massless blade is too quick to use, and a crossways slash across the belly could be used before the Jodan-player could react. As a result, Jodan is only seen in transition, in a split-second pause before a downwards attack. Luke Skywalker makes use of this technique. Lord Vader rarely uses this attack, as his large helmet and stiff shoulder armour make an over-the-head stance very clumsy.


Hasso The shoulder stance. In ancient times, Japanese Samurai wore very ornate helmets and large shoulder pads. As a result it became almost impossible to hold the sword over the head in Jodan. An alternative kamae was developed in which the sword was held upright, NEXT to the head, over the shoulder. The hands were held beside the jaw, and the elbows pointed downwards. Hasso is as aggresive a stance as Jodan, but seems a little more calm, and has more options available, as the hands are nearer to the body. This stance could be taken on either side of the head, though the right side was the more common. Lord Vader employs this stance very often, as his armour similarly restricts his movements. Almost 90% of his cuts are launched from a hasso position. Luke Skywalker adopts this stance as he prepares to attack the emperor. As with Jodan, lightsabre users tend to use this stance in transition. The exaggerated motions of the massless blade together with the clumsy 'americanisation' of the movements tends to make this classic posture look more like a baseball swing! (just look at the jokers posing on the front cover of almost any ninja video!)

Jedi Master Qui Gon Jinn habitually adopts HASSO NO KAME. This stance offers many of the advantages of JODAN, but with less risk. He has been seen in this stance in almost every instance during the two teaser trailers and other footage and still from The Phantom Menace. His balanced, classic stance serves as a contrast to the sloppy cowboy stances adopted by his apprentice, the young and reckless ObiWan Kenobi.

Waki This is the hidden stance. The sword is held low, on the right side, with the blade pointing at the ground behind you. It is VERY rare in modern sword arts and always was! It is VERY slow to use, and requires that the opponent is in a blind unthinking rage. Even then it needs superb timing. It can be seen in the classic 1950's Akira Kurosawa movie "The 7 Samurai", used by a great sword master against the aggressive Jodan position of a very upset opponent. Whilst it is a 'standard' kamae, and is taught in the curriculum (or kata) is was almost never used except in transition. If you are in the low Gedan kamae, and turn your body 180 degree to your left, leaving your sword where it is, you end up in Waki. Similar difficulties with regard to upwards cuts apply here, as in Gedan. Luke is seen in this position very briefly as he turns around to his left to confront Lord Vader during the Bespin duel.


[Pictures and Text taken from "Star Wars: Lightsabres]


All fighting arts operate at a higher level of consciousness than mundane life. During training, one first learns to use the techniques physically, you have to think what you're doing, and decide to do it. Then, as the techniques become programmed into 'muscle-memory' you are able to think about WHAT to do, rather than HOW to do it. But this is just the beginning.

One must reach a state where you will automatically use the appropriate technique more quickly than your conscious mind can perceive the need to. This is the 'mind-of-no-mind' spoken of by great Zen masters, and by the legendary swordsman Myamoto Musashi. The great 17th century English sword master George Silver also notes this phenomenon when he speaks of the 'twyfold mind'. It means to be able to act without thinking, or more precisely, ABOVE thinking.

This is the sort of phenomenon General Kenobi describes when he tells Luke to act on instinct, to "let go your conscious self". Sword fights are won AT LEAST as much by mental attitude as by physical technique.

All sword arts are particularly difficult to master. The lightsaber is a particularly difficult and dangerous weapon, since it can be flipped about so easily (being virtually massless) and being 'sharp' all over, it cuts from all angles. You cannot afford to allow ANY part of the blade to touch you! You cannot afford to 'take' a glancing blow! One must have the HIGHEST degree of control and reaction speed to fight effectively with this weapon.

Sentient life in the Star Wars galaxy is able to access a deeper, perhaps unique, network of 'life-force'. One accesses it by techniques similar to terrestrial ZEN meditation, but the facilities available are wider in scope. One can influence the mental state of others, and even influence the physical motions of inanimate objects.

With this facility, one can not only obtain the deepest degree of control over your own actions, but also have a clear insight into the mind of your opponent. Thus a fight between two accomplished Jedi would occur at many levels! It is this 'mental duel' that is referred to by the so-called "lightsabre combat" force skill in the role-playing game.

The force has two sides, dark and light. Just as on earth, one can obtain great physical powers by surrendering to a berserker rage of fury. Such a rage though does not gift you with any degree of control. The slowly learned disciplines of the fighting arts teach you how to access the same powers, whilst retaining a calm control.

Lord Vader, fighting with the untrained Luke on Bespin is literally unbeatable. No move Luke makes is unanticipated, so long as Vader retains control of himself. Beside the power of Vader's mastery of the force, Luke is effectively helpless. Vader even taunts him mercilessly by throwing objects at him, using the telekinetic aspects of the force, during the lightsabre duel. If he were fighting another accomplished force-user, such as General Kenobi, or Luke after his powers had flourished, Vader would not risk his concentration with such parlour-tricks. The effort of maintaining peak reactions and of reading the opponent would occupy ALL his attention.