I Was On Sabbatical

Okay I’m a huge Star Wars fan and there was a lot of buzz with the new trailer for The Last Jedi coming out and I came across some fun videos that brought up some interesting questions regarding Luke, The Force, and the light saber dueling.  As great as the theories were that came out that tried explaining these fun facets of the Star Wars universe.  I thought they missed a couple points that would make their cases even stronger in explaining these nagging questions. Being in Guinea, I also had the time…

So, what were the two key issues that I came across that compelled me to write about it myself? The first was the dueling aspect of the films and canon. How would you really fight with an energy sword? Would it be really fast like flailing a flash light about etc.? Or would be like a samurai/medieval knight having to really power through with that two-handed broadsword? The second concern was how did Luke get so good, so quickly, in what seems to be a very limited amount of time training as compared to the villain he fights, the evil Darth Vader, who trained for years from being a young child all the way to his older adult age as well as also being in several conflicts and saber duels along the way?

Let’s address the first one. Why are they not saber dueling in a way that looks more like western fencing, whipping there lightsabers around like flashlights? Why did JJ Abrams change it up from what we saw in the prequels? Here are my thoughts. First, the obvious is that they used sticks to allow them to fence on camera, so their props would never move like a flash light. But we can get into the nuances of sword balance, as Mr. Easton explains in a second. Because the second obvious point I want to address is that real Olympic fencing is not conducive at all to good cinematography or good story telling. Sport fencing might be more realistic than most cinema sword fights, but not that realistic and definitely not fun for movie goers. But here is what these fun videos and explanations could have added. They assumed that because it is an energy beam, all it would take is a simple quick touch to your opponent and that would be it! Dead! Or at least missing a limb. That might be cool, but I think they forget that just because it is this sci-fi energy sword full of laser/hot plasma/electrons whatever, it won’t cut through every object it encounters as if the object is air.  My case in point is that knifes can be very sharp. Samurai swords are very sharp. But just because someone “touches” me with the sharp side does not mean I’m a goner. It my break the skin, but you’re really going to have to put your back into it if you want to slice me in half!  This is where the new line of films gets it more correct. You want to cut that tree down? Slice that storm trooper in half? You’re going to have swing that ancient Jedi weapon like you mean it!

Now we can get into a little science that would actually stack up if we had batteries that could somehow magically produce that kind of seemingly unlimited and huge amount of energy. Einstein, believe it or not, proves that if we did in fact have these kinds of energy sabers, they would in fact behave more like a real samurai or broad swords and not like simple flash lights. This comes back to the point about the balance of the weapon. With real swords, the weapons center of gravity can be placed close to the grip, or near the end of the blade depending on how it’s made. An axe for example has its center of gravity at the top were the axe is and not at the grip. Makes great for swinging and allows the weight to do most of the work when chopping. There are swords with huge blades which are designed to mimic this. So, with this type of weapon you are going to swing it, swing it hard and let the heaviness of the blade deliver a maximum amount of force. On the opposite extreme, there is a European short sword or modern day foil in Olympic fencing. The balance of the weapon is close to the hilt and grip. This means your swing will be less effective, but your thrusting dexterity will be impeccable. You are literally taught to foil fence with your thumb and index finger. Therefore, a foil contest moves fast, but it is hard to stab with power and you will still really have to lunge and put your back into it to actually penetrate and “kill” said opponent.  Alright weapon balance explained so what does this have to do with Einstein, well his equation of E=mc2 is much more than just a way of calculating the power that can be unleashed from a nuclear explosion.  You see he originally wrote it as M= E/C2, minor detail, but what he’s getting at is the energy unleashed still carries mass.

Here is the thought experiment. If you took a kilo of radioactive, and thus decaying uranium and left it out in the open for a few days given enough time there would be less mass. It would, instead of being a kilogram, for easy math be 900g. The missing hundred grams will have been the energy evaporating away into space. Okay but if you put that same kilo into a lead box, therefore the emitting energy could not just escape into the universe, and then did let the kilo of uranium do its thing and check on it again in a week or a month from now, it would weigh the same. That’s right! The actual chunk of uranium rock would be a little smaller, but the weight on the scale would be the same because the “missing mass” of rock would still be there as energy. (Particles and wave functions. Etc.)  How does this relate to the lightsaber? Well it is not a flash light, it is a closed system of intense energy. That energy has mass. If their light sabers had a power source that could generate that kind of power, (it is science fiction, so they do,) then that powerful energy blade has the equivalent mass inside, so it would be a little heavy. Possibly the weight of a real Katana or broadsword.

Another fun line of reasoning we can follow to help explain and enjoy JJ’s style of dueling in the new movies and why there was/is so much “force” behind each strike is… Well, they are using energy blades. This means there is no “flat” to the blade or back side. No matter what, a lightsaber has a 360-degree cutting surface. Which means you can be cut by your own sabre if you fail to put up enough resistance when blocking. With a Katana if your opponent over powers you and your own blade comes back on you, it will hurt! But it’s not going to break the skin, cut you, or kill you. The same can’t be said for the lightsaber, which will.  Ergo there is a legitimate argument to simply whack at your Sith enemy as hard as you can, so much so that if he/she fails to put up the correct resistance in the block/parry, their own saber will be their demise.

So, a quick review to justify a saber duel mimicking or looking exactly like a katana or broadsword fight… 1.  Einstein’s equations give credence to there being the feeling of weight to the blade when swung/thrusted.  2. Even without that tad-bit of science. No matter how powerful the energy blade, cutting through anything would require far more effort than simply passing it through air. So, the thicker and harder/denser the object, the more force you’d require to cut through it.  And lastly 3. Hit them hard enough and you could hurt them with their own blade being pushed back on them.

Next, what was the missing argument as it pertains to Luke’s training in the build up to dueling Vader the first time and then going into his second duel. Okay the arguments I liked from the video was that there are real passages of time between each of the original 3 films. So, Luke gets some time with Ben’s force ghost to train after a New Hope ends and before Empire begins. He gets 3 years. That’s a lot of time being fully dedicated to such a craft. Okay after the snow planet incident and almost dying at the Intro. Obi wan tells him to go to the Dagaba system to train with Yoda. So, he goes and trains with the Master of Masters.  The movie doesn’t say how much time passes, but the video I watched estimated a month. Okay so a month of full time immersion with The Master to really hone, sharpen and perfect certain skills might be enough time.  My example is using the Clarinet.  My Mentor was a professional Clarinetist for 20 plus years. He’s good! So good that professional clarinet players come to him for lessons. Not full time, come once a week, every week lessons mind you. They come to play an audition piece. They pay him to be a consultant/coach in that moment. While playing that particular piece, they might be having a hard time with a particular passage, or hitting particular notes. He solves that problem for them. Helps them perform that piece better. Then they are off. Only returning to him when they need his expertise in solving an issue they can’t solve themselves.

This is how Yoda fits into Luke’s training. Old Ben could only teach so much and do so much as a “force ghost” But Luke needed the basics and some experience before he would be ready for Yoda to polish him and tweak his training and skills.  Sniper school might be another good analogy. You’re already a good soldier before you get Sniper Training. You’re also a good shot before Sniper School. So good at being both a soldier and shooter that you honestly probably don’t need Sniper school and yet those 6-12 weeks of Sniper school can teach you more than you could ever hope to learn on your own in a lifetime. That’s Yoda.

But the real point I want to add to what I thought was already a pretty good video is this. There is a difference between learning a fancy “Martial Art” in a Dojo and learning real combat skills. There is a difference between spending 20 years studying Aikido techniques versus learning WW2 Combatives. Or how Samurai were trained in the first place. Samurai didn’t have “Belt Systems” They would learn what they needed to survive and thrive on the battlefield. They would learn those skills as quickly as humanly possible! Belts come after wars. Belt systems (white, blue, green etc.) evolve as a way to rope in a civilian population to keep them coming back every week to learn more. Learning mostly very cool and fun techniques that in real combat, don’t stand a chance at being remotely useful.

My examples come from first, MMA and Street fighting and Urban or WW2 Combatives.  You don’t see Aikido Masters, despite all there very cool abilities and techniques winning. There are basic techniques that really work and a basic formula to winning an MMA fight. You just don’t need that many years in a Dojo to get good at kicking ass in the Octagon. This is even truer of a street fight or urban combat situation. Hence the success of WW2 Combatives. You only need to know how to palm strike someone’s  chin really hard, stick a thumb in their eyes and kick/knee them in the growing and you’re going to win. You just better do it to them before they do it to you.  As I’ve have heard a Shaolin Monk once say, “Kung Fu is a superior system (He had to say that, but he might be right.) But boxing will teach you how to fight much faster!”

Another Modern example is Krav Maga with the Israeli Defense Force. Every recruit spends two years in the Israeli Armed Forces. They learn how to live, they learn how to kill. There is no “Belt” System. In fact, they pretty much stay true to the Krav Maga founder’s original teachings.  The belt system and “fluff” comes later. The belt system is designed for civilians and to put them through a curriculum that ultimately leads to one day becoming certified to teach it themselves. Also, to keep them coming in the door every week as you build a belt system, you are going to ultimately fall into the trap of adding stuff just for the sake of a lesson. Even if it has no real combat application.

We can ultimately summarize this with Miyamato Musashi’s famous quote, “Teaching people a large number of sword techniques is turning the way into a business of selling goods, making beginners believe that there is something profound in their training by impressing them with a variety of techniques. This attitude toward strategy must be avoided, because thinking that there is a variety of ways of cutting a man down is evidence of a disturbed mind. In the world, different ways of cutting a man down do not exist.”

Or as Bruce Lee we would later say, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Ultimately Luke’s training was this. To the point. I will argue that the Jedi, as an order were much like modern day martial arts dojos. A long training curve learning a lot of unessential material. This is the training Anakin had. A curriculum a mild wide, bunch an inch thick, while Luke’s was an inch wide and a mile thick. Which is ultimately why he could get so good and so powerful in the story’s allotted time frame.