Monday, May 30, 2016

The Force as Chi

Galactic Yin Yang
The force is an energy field created by all living things, it surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together 
-Obi-Wan, A New Hope
A more immaterial understanding of chi might treat it as a web linking together all planets with life, somewhat like the Force in Star Wars. 
-Bill Stoddard, GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers 

The Force is best represented with Chi powers.  This is because the Force is chi.  The quote above ties in nicely with the Odic Force or other vital forces I mentioned in the Force as Psi, but those concepts themselves derive from the ideas of chi or prana: an all-pervasive life-force.  Like the force, chi comes from the living (it is literally the breath of life).  It binds people together, and it connects us to each thing in the world.  More importantly, chi is dynamic, and it has two sides: a light side and a dark side.

In this iteration, I have discussed the Force at length, but I haven't discussed the Jedi themselves.  In each model, we might connect nicely to the way the force seems to work, but we don't connect well with what the Jedi are: They are not psychic sideshows or magicians, but samurai.  George Lucas was deeply inspired by the works of Akira Kurosawa, especially the Hidden Fortress and other jidai-geki, or "period pieces."  In fact, the name "Jedi" derives from "jidai."  It makes sense, then, to use the very powers we associate with cinematic martial artists to model how the force works, because then our space knights will feel like jedi. And that means chi powers.

You refer to the prophecy of The One who will bring balance to the Force. 
-Mace Windu, The Phantom Menace

Moreover, the Force is deeply daoist.  Yoda speaks in the sorts of riddles that would make any  daoist master happy, and the philosophy of the jedi, one that demands trust in the Force and expecting the universe to provide, fits perfectly with the daoist way.  I enjoy wuxia fiction and my time running Weapons of the Gods/Legends of the Wulin has surely biased my view, but I cannot help seeing daoism all over the place in Star Wars.  The Force has a "light side" and a "dark side," but despite how the movie treats the dark side as inherently evil, the movie also suggests that both sides need to be in balance.  In the original trilogy, it might be that "bringing balance to the force" is about removing the cancer of the dark side, but in the prequel trilogy, the Light side already dominates, and Anakin's contribution to the "balance" of the Force is to reduce both the Light and the Dark side to two practitioners each: Balance. This suggests that the "Dark Side" isn't inherently evil, but as necessary to the universe as yin and yang.

In daoist thought, "yang" is heat, light, joy, anger, passion, life, the masculine principle, substance, and "yin" is cold, darkness, sadness, peace, death, the feminine principle, void.  A teacup needs its porcelain substance to work: without it, you could not hold the cup, and the cup could not hold the tea: Yang. But a solid block of porcelain isn't useful either.  You need an emptiness in the bowl and in the handle to allow you tea a place to reside and a place for your finger to rest: Yin.  Neither principle is evil, neither principle is good, and both must exist in harmony with one another: balance.  Too much of one or the other leads to sickness and trouble... hence the need, in Star Wars, for a chosen one who would bring "balance."

This view of the Dark Side must necessarily color our approach for this model, and it means we'll need to define it up front.  Here, the Dark Side isn't a corrupting force, a cancer that needs to be removed.  Instead, it's the other side of a coin, another way of approaching the Force, one that's equally valid to the "light" side, and unnecessarily vilified.  In this version, the "Sith" aren't necessarily evil, just perhaps heterodox (and that they are seen as heterodox is a sign that the universe has become unbalanced).

The principles of Chi can also be found in how the Jedi practice their arts.  The Jedi learn to use their lightsabers, certainly: they learn how to attack and how to defend and they harden and hone their bodies.  They practice the arts of war.  This is the external expression of their martial art, the Yang of the Way of the Jedi.  But they also cultivate a deeper relationship with the Force.  They learn to listen to it, to let it guide them, to trust it.  A Jedi master needn't move swiftly, for by listening to the Force, he is already where he needs to be.  A Jedi master need not be strong, for the Force will guide his hand and allow him to strike where what strength he has is sufficient.  This is the internal expression of their martial art, the Yin of the Way of the Jedi.

The result is a rather complex take on the art of the Jedi: An internal and external expression of both the Light and the Dark side, but this isn't far from how (for example) the Old Republic portrays the Jedi and the Sith, the Jedi Knight (External) and the Jedi Consular (Internal), and the Sith Warrior (External) and the Sith Inquisitor (Internal).

But Daoist thought goes even further.  It breaks the world down into 5 elements, with varying degrees of yin and yang association: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.  These five elements have their own Internal and External expressions, and their relationships with the other five elements.  Think of this as different expressions of the Light and the Dark, similar to how the cold ruthlessness of Darth Vader is as much the Dark Side of the Force as the berserk brutality of Savage Opress.

This rich complexity gives us the amazing dynamics of wuxia martial arts and their cousin, the chambara samurai films that inspired Star Wars, and gives us a great deal of material to work with.  It also possibly causes a problem with this model.  First, the classic chi powers include things like accupressure techniques that don't fit perfectly with our model, and the five elements don't really work out-of-the-box with Star Wars.  Finally, Star Wars is pretty simple: Light side good, Dark side bad, m'kay?  Suddenly if we have masters of the Internal Techniques of the Void Expression of the Dark Side fighting the masters of the external techniques of the Technological Expression of the Dark Side, things might get a little crazy-cool, but I'm not convinced they're precisely Star Wars.

GURPS Chi Powers and the Force

GURPS primarily expresses Chi Powers as Cinematic Martial Arts skills, which can be found in the core book.  We'll use this as the base for our Chi Powers as well, but we'll expand out. For our core Chi Powers, in addition to GURPS Powers, we'll use GURPS Martial Arts as our primary source.  If we expand into additional options and general Chi theory, we'll use GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese.Elemental Powers.

The Cinematic Martial Arts skills work well enough as a base. The ability to sense your opponent's intent becomes Sensitive.  The ability to parry a blaster bolt becomes Precognitive Parry.  The ability to leap becomes Flying Leap, the ability to knock your opponents over becomes Push, the ability to influence your opponent's mind becomes Hypnotism and the ability to resist influence becomes Mental Strength.  The internal cultivation of the Force becomes the Inner Balance talent of GURPS Martial Arts, and the external expression of the Force becomes the Forceful Chi talent.  This ties in nicely with part 2 of this Iteration, where we explore Martial Arts.

But these aren't really powers.  They tend to be subtle and specific, rather than broad and reaching like some Force Powers can be.  For that, we could turn to Chinese Elemental Powers.  The anger, electricity and rage of Yang becomes the "Dark" side (Wood and Fire), and the peace, calm and poise of Yin becomes the "Light" side (Metal and Water), or we can create an entirely new model of powers that both fits the concepts of a five elemental theory while using science fiction themes.

The result will surely be martial arts mayhem.  Our Jedi will need to train extensively, which is appropriate; they'll become excellent warriors, which is appropriate; and they'll need to balance their training between the arts of war and the power of the Force, which is appropriate, but, as noted above, we may find the resulting theory too complex, something more appropriate to a Space Wuxia full of a million martial arts rather than Psi Wars. We'll see.

 Going Forward

This week will have a slightly different structure.  Tomorrow, we'll explore Cinematic Martial Arts skills and expand them so they better fit Star Wars, and then look at what 50 points of these skills might look like.

Wednesday, we'll dig out Chinese Elemental Powers, explore some possible new themes and create the skeleton of a new power set based on those themes and then look at what 50-points of Chi Powers might look like.

Finally, we'll look at what's working, what isn't, and what a wuxia universe inspired by this particular power set might look like.

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