Off to Denmark for the seminar at the Helsingor Chapter. More posts next week. Hope everyone has an enjoyable Bank Holiday weekend, those of you who live in places that celebrate such things as the May Day!
This is part of an ongoing series of pieces about what martial arts are about, what they try to be, and how we as people think about and train them. They will look at how we can find ways to make sure that we are honest in our assumptions and expectations so that we maximise what we get from our training and our interest. All these pieces are short and in no way comprehensive, all encompassing studies. Firstly the subjects are too large and varied to be able to cover in a series of large books let alone a blog or website. Secondly I don’t claim to have the knowledge to go in to the depth that parts of the subject deserve. However I put them here to hopefully start people thinking.
Violence and aggression, two of the things that drive and have driven the development or Martial arts in all it various forms in different cultures and throughout history. Violence and aggression are hugely complex areas to try to understand. They come in many different forms and cover a wide range of situations and levels of intensity and threat.
Although they are often linked there are differences between violence and aggression.
Similarly Martial arts come in many different forms and are and have been used for many different reasons.
Any one studying or considering studying a martial art today should understand what it is they want to get from a martial art, and then consider what the various arts offer so that they get out of their training what they need.
What should those of us who are studying historical martial arts do?
Firstly we should consider what the historical martial arts we are studying were designed to do. We should also consider what we personally want from our study of the past, and then consider how we go about achieving it.
We must be careful that we don’t start trying to fit a round peg in to a square hole and start manipulating what we study or how we study it to achieve the wrong goal and we must be honest so that we do not lead ourselves to artificial conclusions.
Let us look at violence briefly. It can be broadly and perhaps crudely divided in to two categories. There is Inter-species violence. This is the basis of the Fight or flight response, a predator threatens you, or you are the predator. Your options are to get away, to kill or be killed. Commonly know as fight or flight. We then have Intra-species violence; this is violence between members of the same species. This is a far less black and white situation, here violence and aggression is used to achieve a goal, to gain something, generally relating to status. Status in the group, maintaining your status against someone whom has challenged you or your perceived self worth or position in your group or society.
Humans like most animals have in built inhibitions that generally prevent Intra-species violence going too far. This does not always work but generally it does. These inhibitions are there because it is counterproductive to kill off members of your own species, and also because uncontrolled violence, while allowing you to kill a rival, can leave you seriously wounded or maimed. This is why in most species the males use ritualised violence to gain or maintain status, and that generally these contests end before either party is badly injured. It is also why most species do not act violently towards the female of the species, or if they do that the violence is controlled.
Humans have this ritual violence. To quote Rory Miller, who uses the term “Monkey Dance”, because of its in built and instinctive nature from our ape ancestors.
The problem with humans is that we have invented numerous implements and tools to give us an edge and which in effect short-circuit our biological inhibitions. After all one good punch is likely to finish a conflict between two humans but is also likely to leave both relatively uninjured, however, put a club, knife, sword into that swinging hand and the out come is likely to be very different.
We have also, on occasion, managed to control the mindset we can apply to violence in certain situations. We can consciously or otherwise turn on the hunter predatory mind set, that allows us to view opponents not as other humans but as prey, and this allows a different set of rules to be applied. Alongside the above two developments, we have also developed systems to allow us to maximise the physical skills and mind set for the kind of violence we are going to undertake, martial arts, for lack of a more encompassing phrase.
I will not go into an in depth discussion of the physiological and psychological, biological and evolutionary drives and processes that have governed and shaped human aggression and violence, but hopefully this gives a broad outline.
Historically people had a different mindset and attitude to violence than we do today, or at lest some of them did. Yet we must also remember that we are not all that different, the majority of the changes are superficial and are to do with whom we were brought up and the norms of the society we were brought up in.
People used violence and the skills of violence for many reasons and many not that different from how violence is used today.
Self defence –
This is dealing with either stupidity or bad luck. It is primarily about recovery, recovery from the surprise of being on the receiving end of a bad situation that you weren’t expecting. Some manuals deal with this, specifically on occasion, more often in a general way.
This is something that was in general, forced upon the individual, by the expectations and standards of the society to which they belonged or on how they perceived themselves to fit in to that society. In effect this is a type of Monkey dance, in that the goal is to maintain or regain status. Generally governed by rules and expectations of behaviour. Many manuals deal with this, and the teaching of the master’s focuses toward people preparing for this.
Different to a duel in that the participants have chosen to engage in the activity, there are also rules and officials to control how far things go. Again something that was if not explicitly stated in the works of many masters, the preparation for fighting in Tournaments or at the barriers, was a not uncommon feature of the fighting classes.
Here we are referring to battle. Warfare is consciously or subconsciously a ritualised affair. The optimal approach is obedience and teamwork, rather than individual skill. The skills needed, though linked to what is seen in some manuals, are often quite different.
This is a predatory mindset; the aggressor in a self-defence situation is likely to approach the situation in this way. In a modern context this is the approach and mindset of Elite Military units, hostage rescue teams and SWAT. Here the goal is to maximise your advantages and minimise theirs. Here there are generally no rules, other than use force to achieve your goal with as little risk or cost to yourself. Perhaps in a historical context we could look at the Vikings, raiding vulnerable targets and using hit and run tactics to gain advantage and achieve the best result for themselves, when they did engage in combat it was generally when they had the best chances of winning.
Keeping fit, training and learning skills your body and in some ways your mind fit and healthy. Many manuals talk the physical benefits of training in the martial skills
Here the skills are used for the enjoyment and possibly education of others. Show fighters of the past, often berated by “real” fencing masters. Of course a tournmanet could be entertaining, but the goal in the tournament was not the entertainment as such. Of course there as overlaps, but basicallym we are looking at "show" fights
Spiritual growth –
Some people have used and still used martial skills for this. Ultimately this is rather a dead end. Training for an engaging in life and death situations would teach you something about yourself, and one could argue that the “warrior” mind set has a strong spiritual element, for one the acceptance of death and or sever injury. However one perhaps emphasise that this is part of the development, not an end in itself.
These are obviously broad categories. However they do help us to start thinking about the focus of the violence and martial skills of the past. Then we can address where our own field of study, masters work, manual, or tradition of interest lies and then begin to put it in context and think about it appropriately. We of course will find situations where one or more categories apply, or the master of the past was advocating that the skills he taught could be used in a variety of situations.
The important things is that the truth is, that despite what may be thought commonly or suggested on occasion, is that no one martial skill can do everything, each has its on demands, requirements, mindset and skills. Also no training method or framework of interpretation or reconstruction can fully cover all the different demands of the different skills. We need to understand what we want to study and tailor our approach accordingly.
In following pieces I will look at ways we can go about starting to achieve it.
We have always said that regardless of cultural origin and period that there only so many ways that the human body will work. There are only so many ways to swing a weapon and only so many ways to move. However it is always nice when you see something that confirms it.
I came across the bottom picture while looking through a book on Kendo in The Guild Master, John Wallers library. The book was written in the early 1960’s
There are obviously minor structural differences, the Kendoist on the right is further into his attack, his arms are straighter and his hands are higher. His right foot is higher off the ground, but I would say that this is to do with fighting on sand. Otherwise his position is pretty close, to his German cousin.
Both swordsmen on the left are in almost identical positions. The Kendoka is hitting higher to his opponent’s face, but that in my opinion is because his opponent has his hands higher. The only other difference is his back leg, which is not pushing him so far forward. I interpret this as him withdrawing slightly as he counter strikes his advancing opponent. Otherwise the angling of the upper body, front leg, arms and sword is mirrored.
The picture of the Kendo is from a book written in the early 1960s in Japan. So we have two images roughly 500 years and half a world away, unsurprisingly finding the same solution to a similar tactical situation.
I will be in Denmark next weekend doing a seminar for the Helsingor Chapter. It will take place on Friday and Saturday, this is as Denmark has next Friday as a public holiday! The seminar will look at the relation of Fiore and the Guild and its Principles.
Guild Study Group Leader and Knight Shop owner Bryan Tunstall says that the new nylon swords should be in full production from Thursday/Friday this . Fingers crossed
Everyone should take their hats off to Bryan for going to the lengths he has to start a quality yet mass produced and therefore reasonably priced range of nylon weapons. It has been a huge investment in energy, time and finaces which can only benifit the whoel range of WMA groups.
He is planning on expanding the range, and has been talking to me about the development of the daggers, starting with rondel and cross hilt, which like the swords can be assembeled from commponent parts and also Dec du Faucon and Poll axes. both of which there is a demand for.
In much of the training and research in to historical martial arts, the emphasis is placed on landing a hit on the opponent, whether with a weapon or with some part of the body. After all this is where much of the skill lies, being able to hit them without them hitting you. What is generally not spoken about is what that hit would do to the opponent. Perhaps more importantly, when one is considering a life and death situation, is whether that “hit” would be enough to actually stop them, so that they could no longer pose a threat to you, or be able carry on and damage you. One could argue that detailed knowledge of this is not vital to the training of the skill. After all we are not training people to be killers. Equally are not training them to be killed. As such we do need to consider the realities of what they action could and could not do, if we are to be truthful to the true purposes that dictated how they were used in the past
When making an attack, whether with a weapon or not we should consider what that actually means. Fundamentally an attack is designed to incapacitate the opponent, so that they can no longer pose a threat to us. To do this we need not kill the opponent, but we do need to stop them. Stopping them means preventing them from being a threat to us and we need to do that quickly, for if it is not done quickly then they may be able to carry on and injure or kill us.
There are four main ways in which an opponent can be stopped. All four types are distinct but not necessarily isolated, so any one of these, or a combination of any or all of them can stop an opponent. Of course the best way of stopping them is to stop them before the fight has begun so that there is no fight.
1 - Severe Damage to the attackers limbs. If you stop the opponent’s ability to attack you stop the threat. Basically this means that you incapacitate the opponent’s arms and/or legs. In isolation we have to consider that an opponent can keep operating with broken arms and legs if they are highly aroused with adrenaline etc. so short of actually severing the limbs there is no guarantee that it will stop them from still trying to attack you. To optimise the chances of stopping the opponent the joints should be targeted. Of course if they are carrying a weapon, damaging the hands or arms should be enough to make them drop the weapon and there by reduce the threat they pose
1- Blood loss/restriction of oxygen By preventing oxygen getting to the muscles, major organs and brain it will cause unconsciousness and eventually death. To cause such traumatic blood loss means hitting a major artery or the heart or by blocking or damaging the airway or the lungs. Again it will take time for the effects to be felt and is therefore no guarantee of stopping the opponent before they can carry on and damage you. Other ways include blocking the airway to stop oxygen or to apply some kind of sleeper hold that blocks the airway and/or blood supply to the brain.
3) Central Nervous System (CNS) trauma. Causing major trauma to the central nervous system, spine, brain stem or parts of the brain will cause unconsciousness or death. This could be from a knock out to the jaw/body or by damage to the spinal cord or brain stem. Again not particularly easy to do and such not a guarantee to instantly stop the opponent.
4) Psychological reasons. This is the most likely reason for someone to stop fighting or for someone to not start fighting at all. Basically one has given the opponent a good enough reason to decide that it is not worth fighting or that to carry on fighting is counter productive. Their Will to fight or to continue fighting has been overridden by self-preservation, or at least the belief that avoiding the conflict will be more beneficial.
The effects will vary and depend very much on the state of mind of the individual. Pain is relative to the person experiencing it, so what stops someone in one situation may not stop them in another, or what doesn’t register on one person will be more than enough to get another to give up. Mind set affects how people respond to major trauma, people can keep running on smashed legs or bloody stumps. They can carry a severed arm several miles to call an ambulance. People have suffered major brain damage but have continued to fight or have done so having been stabbed through the heart.
If fighting more than one person then group responses come in to play, again this means that a group may decide to run even though they actually have the upper hand and will hold their ground when they really should be beaten, but by doing so they turn the tide.
This is also cultural element, and of course can be affected by body chemicals such as adrenaline and external chemicals such as alcohol and drugs.
Conclusion We should consider the damage that the actions that we are doing could cause both to our opponents but also to ourselves. We also have to consider that there is not guarantee that what ever we do will actually stop the opponent. If damage is being delivered the more ways in which the opponent is affected the greater the chance that it will work through cumulative damage and the greater chance that they will loose the will to carry on. While of course the best way of stopping an opponent would to be to avoid/prevent the fight all together and before it starts