Indomitable Way

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The Kanabo. A powerful symbol. A powerful artifact. Stirring images of terrifying Oni standing all powerful and invincible in combat. A symbol that enflames stories of mythology and spirituality. An image of Japanese martial arts and culture. Yet what is the kanabo? What is the Art? This will be a writing first of martial art expression, followed by mythological inspiration.

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The kanabo comes in many various shapes and sizes, as do many weapons. The immediate feature is the desire to break bone. The martial art? Kanabojutsu, does not necessarily exist. Yet it’s image permeates Japanese martial arts. Pictured is a kanabo I have recently made. Measuring seven feet in length, carved of Oak. One is to use the edge for striking, the studs add weight. 1 3/4” in girth upon squared section. Although made as a practice weapon, it is equally deadly. For a true battle weapon I would prefer one entirely of steel. Designed a particular way. This is the first piece of a matching set, including an Odachi, Katana, Wakizashi, and Tanto all made of Oak. The first time I will use Japanese practice tools tailored to my length. These ones will have rounded edges suitable for sparring, at least sparring with the smaller. One can imagine full contact Kanabo sparring. Or greatsword, great axe, etc, equally translated from originals in weight and form. This can not entirely be done, someone will die or be maimed regardless of protection, regardless of wood or steel. ‘True War weapons’ against armour are such for a reason, armour becomes a cage you die in… Anyways, my original practice “Kanabo” is one naturally created. An oak tree cut down by a beaver I found floating in the river while running many years ago. Naturally shaped as a six foot baseball bat. I can not express the power this new one expresses as it is weilded. Yet, how does one wield such a thing? There is no such true form of kanabojutsu. Kanobodo. Yet to speak of the two, does not the Jutsu of any form, lead to a Do, if one stays true to path… Regardless, my pursuit Is what it Is. My continued pursuit of mastery lies in the Western martial arts. Because of my constant training with the greatsword, I am able to apply this ability to the kanabo. There are many similarities between Samurai swordsmanship and Knightly swordsmanship. Yet more differences. Immediately due to technology. The core of All martial arts is the same. We are all stuck within the human body. There is much to learn in Kenjutsu, and all it’s styles, yet much to ignore in a combative sense, as with all martial arts, Hema included. Training variations of beauty and creativity aside, as these ways will give greater understanding of control, and we all do such things and should. Many eastern arts suffer from a large amount of choreography, taking this no further. Yes, many of these demonstrations are beautiful, yet there is so much to filter out when it comes to simply cutting a stranger as quickly as possible while staying unharmed, while said stranger is also attempting to do the same to you. The eastern arts suffer from ‘fencing around’ as intensely as the western. Techniques piled atop one another, simply too many additions for the sake of impressing the ignorant. Many Kenjutsu demonstrations are highly involved with Iaijutsu. While attractive, such a thing has its limitations in impressiveness, especially when the swords are short aluminum, as they often are. It has very little to do with the actual duel or battlefield, save switching after losing your pole arm. And perhaps assassinating someone who allows you too close as they trust you. After understanding and much practice, the design of the sword allows the scabbard to literally not exist. Therefore it is what it is. I prefer the Kenjutsu, as what actually happens between fighting men. I see Iaijutsu as simply an additional aspect to learn. Kendo is were to take ones sight in straight forward use. Or any full contact sparring use of Kenjutsu, old and new. There is Kendo and Kendo. The sport and the Way. The Way stands alone. The sport simply an extension. If you wish to see some of the greatest swordsmen in the world move, watch the peak of Kendo, although remember the weight and balance of the ‘swords’. Of course they are not acting as if in a real sword fight, nor targeting in such a way, yet the skill obviously translates more than choreography. As it is not routine practiced choreography. One thing I appreciate of Kendo tournaments is the length of match, as well as the stamping and ‘noises’ made. Mine developed more from low rolling growls changing magnitude during Muay Boran training. I really appreciate the ‘Kamikaze pitched’ yell of the Japanese. Western sport swordsmanship should take the round length into consideration, even extending matches to ten minutes, allowing fighters to tire if weak, truly testing them. It is much easier to score points in the longsword as the entire body is the target, this is not the same of Kendo. Such long matches would have a high point score. Yet only produce a greater expression of average, leaving less to chance, more to overall consistent skill and perseveance. Yet back to the kanabo. The kanabo is not a greatsword, as I constantly use. Nor any type of sword for that matter. For in the greatsword I find the deep desire to cut over striking. With the kanabo one must strike. In pursuit of the kanabo, one must know the sword first and foremost, for the sword is the door to all weapons. Next would be the equal understanding of the Bo. For with no blade, the kanabo can be used in such manner on many occasions. It is the combination, yet neither of these arts that one will find the kanabo. Such is viewed in old Japanese art. It desires to be “Fenced around” with, yet equally desires the “one inch punch”. Against armour it will devastate, especially Japanese armour, which is quite questionable in standard of protection and overall design function. Design beauty is amazing. There is much to compare technologically and write of, another time. Although this is why their armour technology changed when contact was made with Europeans. Give me a stout Oaken staff against a knight in full armour, and I will feel great confidence with no armour on. I will wield the staff as a greatsword… Just like a kanabo. The key truly lies in the training, to become such a being. An Oni so to speak. No, it will not give you huge swollen muscles. Do not inflate with supplements, simply for psychological strength. Train outside barefoot and bare shirt upon dirt as much as possible. Use granite blocks with awkward grips and such things. The actual weight of the kanabo is light in comparison to ‘everyday weight lifters’ and your daily reps should be in the hundreds and thousands. The torque of the wrists and strength of grip is another given strength all together. You will appear harder than any ‘sole body builder’ over time. Wiry and animalistic. Not swollen and soft of combative energy. It is energetically obvious who does what. Of course one should lift heavy weight in pursuit of combat prowess. Simply balance as to not become combatively weaker.

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What is it to become Oni? My first thoughts of imagination pull towards Shugendo. The Way of training and testing. A “hermitic” path of wilderness meditation, martial training (for many) and testing such things. Historically these men would be associated with aspects of spirituality such as the Yokai. Tengu and Oni. Both being wilderness embodiments. Feared and mysterious. Possessing powers Unknown to those of society. Thus these Shugendo practitioners are seen as something otherworldly. And what is the pursuit of martial arts than to unleash ones true Dragon, if dragon is what you wish to express. Oni ‘translates’ to many “things” westernly. Daemon, troll, ogre, giant etc. If taken into western understanding. First off, universalism in mythology carries countless flaws. In my mythological narrative, the closest comparable entity of the Oni would be the European Giant. I have written of the giant previously in depth. Jotunn. Yet there are many cultural options to attach such a being to in a universal expression. Does Daemon even have anything to do with Oni or the European pagan folkloric and mythological beings as ogres, trolls and giants? Are the latter even comparable to one another? Or is Daemon simply a Christian term used to brand everything non Christian, and still falsely used today to express understanding from other cultures. Daemon, what does such a thing truly mean? Does it even translate easternly? The word is Greek, the understanding is a supernatural being, not quite god, not quite human yet part of the human being, neither good nor evil by nature, yet sometimes one or the other, sometimes both. This has little to do with the pigeon hole nature of “later” abrahamic thought, using a word for their own cultural expression of something else. Sounds similar to forms of the Fey, to forms of the Yokai, the Giants, etc. If one wishes to be universalists in approach, yet keep the narrative somewhat similar. Thus the Christian “demon” becomes it’s own unique entity. The Greek Daemon is something all men may become, to understand. For what is the Id, the Dragon, the Giant. What is the base natural self when put into a hostile environment, just as what is such a thing when put into a loving environment? What is it when one enters combat of life and death? What natural aspect of self, yet extremely developed to be found, for how disconnected is the human being? Driven by ego, never coming close to touching what it really is capable of… Thus such warriors as the Shugenja become the Oni, the Tengu. Thus they are feared. This reminds me of the Ulfhednar ,Berserkers and Svinfylking of the sagas, as well as many other existing, living human expressions, simply in a generalized, flawed manner. There is the saying “Like giving a club to an Oni”. As in, now one is unstoppable. Ones power greatly enhanced. Indomitable. These wild haired, power enhanced, club bearing Oni brings one sight towards other similar mythological images. Mighty Thor with with magical hammer Mjolnir, wild and red haired. Samson the Judge, power ridden long locked haired, Nazarite from birth, wielding the jawbone and slaughtering thousands of enemies. Herakles, of the “long-haired Achaeans”, locked and bearded as depicted in original art. Fighting with his great club, able to impregnate fifty woman in one night. Symbols of Masculine power and dominance. The Oni also brings to mind the greatly misunderstood Grendel. Grendel being an embodiment of many berserker ‘dark’ qualities. Grendel and the berserker Beowulf being two sides of the same entity. It is my belief the origins of this story are extremely “Odinic.” Grendel being stealth, night, silent killing, cannibalism, etc. Just as the Oni are also ghostly, shadowy entities, as well as enraged animalistic field standing combatants. The true evil of the Beowulf epic were the warriors of Herot hall. Grendel being a man living in the swamps, who became something vastly powerful, sent to punish such decadence… another time. Always allow all mythological symbols to stand as they are. In the beginning and end, an Oni is an Oni. The ‘hero with a thousand faces’ theory, I am extremely against based upon many reasons. It is naive and ignorant of time, culture, historical figures, human psychology and creativity. Mine is the ‘thousand heroes with the face of humanity’ theory. Perhaps another time.

One must constantly test oneself, for oneself, against oneself. Soon will be the ‘day of ten thousand sorrows’. That is ten thousand kanabo strikes in a timely manner, “fencing around”, completed in a Japanese style… Oni Kanabodo… Previously it was three thousand ‘Thai kicks’ to taped pads upon the pell. What begins as endurance, becomes a test of pain and blood. Training is The Way, testing is The Way. There is no single definition to express The Way. “I am because I am not.”

Lone Warrior

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A true martial artist must often study alone. For alone is as we spend most of our time. It is in this solitude that we develop particular methods and regimes, tailored specifically for the individual. A habit of training style that revolves around life. I pull large amounts of inspiration from mythology in all pursuits of life. Just as mythology is a large bases for any religion, any way, any spirituality, any cultural expression of self outside of modern times. For today’s mythology is bound to the glowing boxes, bound to slavery and desire of the mob. No longer the cultural expression of self. Therefore the desire of the martial artist is to find something outside of this lowness of the human desire. This is the bases of martial arts. To guide us above, perhaps away. While grounding us to truthful action and behaviour. To seek more than the temporary pride and disgust of the mobs desire and the desire for the mob… My method is of the Lone Warrior. This is not simply the aspect of training alone as one must often do to obtain true mastery of self. This lies in mythology. This lies in technical understanding and practice. This is my way.

Mythologically I am most inspired by the aspect of the Lone Warrior. In a way, this is the core of European mythological traditions. Norse mythology, a final recording of European paganism, a recording, not a way. As that has been lost, never to be found. When studying such a thing, a key figure is the Einherjar, that is the Lone Warrior. Not the Single Warrior, in reference to one battle, this is modern armchair weak gibberish. The aspect of Lone is great importance. Just as Thor is ‘He who rides alone’. The greatest of Northern European champions The Hound, the key character of our greatest epic, is a face of this Lone Warrior aspect. As he stands alone against all. A terrifying yet beautiful champion. With strange personality traits of artistic behaviour, bearing and words, extreme introverting and extreme extroverting. Sensitivity that when exposed to such a life as that time, caused extreme changes in behaviour. Locked in complete psychosis in a way due to cultural upbringing and beliefs. Humble and honorable, proud and beautiful. Yet his bravery, his way, the teachings of the story, speak that one must be able to stand alone. This is the key element of many northern European myths. The cultural ways. The Einherjar are chosen champions. Lone Warriors, for they are capable of such a thing. Many men are not. Many men need the group, the tribe, to function and feel importance. This is not a bad thing, however one must be able to be the Lone. For this is were true strength develops. From your shield, not those besides you. This becomes more and more important as time becomes modern. As neighbors are no longer such a thing, and in a way, there are very few allies to be had in a modern capitalist society, and none of the same sex seen through the entire life. Thus we see the Lone warrior again and again. The archetype expressed in a multitude of ways. The ways of solitude and strength are expressed in many cultures, for there is much to find. A teaching that is to be harnessed. A teaching that is again and again bound to such a mythology.

Let us role-play momentarily into such a mindset as the Einherjar. First and foremost, there is no such thing as a religion as the men followed in today’s time. What religion it was, we do not know. We simply have later recorded mythologies, presumably attaching the stories to a remnant of a religion. Perspective: Consume Thyself. If so, we will continue. Such men truly believed in the afterlife of Valhalla. To live a life of worth to enter such a realm. What type of life, may be more open ended ethically that one could ever imagine. And please be real with such understanding, such things are not romantic and many aspects thoroughly disgusting during such a time. This does not apply to every man, only the cultural mob. This is why I truly stand by The Hounds Way, for this was an honourable and upstanding example of humanity and the martial Way. Regardless, the Einherjar must constantly prepare for the events of Ragnarok, there in lies the martial arts. Yet these men were not to face other men. They were to face the Jotnar. The mighty eaters of flesh. Powerful and hungry. Ravagers of the world, the bane of mankind. This was to be understood while living. Destined to face such opponents. Destined to pursue such prowess to stand ready in life, and afterwards death. And therefore it would be the warriors desire to obtain this ability, this prowess. To be found worthy of Valhalla.

Martial Arts. What type of training, we do not know. In such a culture you find particular weapons. The type of weapons you train with dictate what you become. The Dane Axe is a prevalent weapon found within such a culture, as well as far before. Artistically represented and by artifact into the bronze age. The Great Weapon. A weapon of the aristocratic elite. For training with such a thing is a Way unto itself. Training with such a weapon changes the body into its own aspect. Capable of standing against many, or something vastly more powerful than you. A weapon of the Lone Warrior. This brings to light the heroism, regardless of perspective, of the Lone Warrior of Stamford bridge, undoubtably armed with a Dane Axe. This also brings to mind the mythological aspect of the greatsword in later times as hinted at in the Goliath Fightbook. For the greatsword allowed one to stand against something vastly powerful. To both be Goliath and David. To both be the Giant and the Giant slayer. Just as the Einherjar. There is great power both martially and symbolically of such a weapons.

Technically speaking, I am obsessed with such a weapon. The greatsword, the greataxe, etc. It is my training of such weapons that have truly forced my Way. My mindest and fighting spirit. One must train day in and day out to understand what I speak of. Take your reps extremely high, hundreds, sometime thousands. Both fencing around and not. These weapons hold great power. Power of health, body and mind. You will not desire vast bulk, as ignorant understanding wishes to perceive in its calculation of combative strength, Such practice will not make you appear this way, especially when seeking to truly become your best with such weapons. The observant can tell were one puts there time and effort. What energy is combative and what energy is not. Simply do, and you will discover. As it is difficult to express. A few days ago a practiced with a longsword for the first time in three months, it felt as a knife. This makes such a thing very deadly. The constant use of a great weapon changes your psychology. That you could truly stand against something vastly more powerful than you, for you too hold such power in a different way, when weapon and body are one. Every weapon comes alive, every weapon wielded with ease, in a way you will never understand unless you dedicate yourself to the great weapon. This is not only bound to European martial arts. I am passionate of many Japanese arts as well. The Kanabo a powerful symbol and tool… The way of such a ‘Way’ truly creates an archetype, a power source to energize life. In that the great weapon is a Way unto itself. Impossible to express to those who do not know. Repetition upon repetition. The spirit to stand against something vastly powerful. The spirit to stand against many. The spirit to stand alone.

The Highland Sword

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The Scottish Highlands. The very thought stirs romantic images within one’s mind. Not far from the truth. Cold, wet, windswept moors and rolling hills. Lonely mountains and sharp cliffs. Jagged coasts and misty forests. A quiet haunting feeling, of loneliness and sadness if you listen. Lost pipes upon the wind and hilltop fires summoning men. There is a sense of lethargy there, of time moving somewhat slower. A sense of emptiness, for the highlands are still empty as to what they once were. This spirit saturates the air. A people always on the “outside” of history. From the mysterious Picts of the ancient world, to the last of the Jacobite clansmen. In a way, the “Gaels” are history’s “Last Barbarians”. Living a simpler, materialistically poorer life than “civilization”. Warlike and proud. Destined to lose… This is what we feel of the Highlands, what we want to see. As an artist, there is half of me that desires the loneliness of solitude (my wife the exception of course). The desire of feeling as a passing ghost. To be lost in a poem of romance. To drink strong whisky and eat hearty meat. The sound of haunting music, shadowy fires, and the folkloric tales of faeries and heroes. For indeed there are many ghosts upon this land. The Highlands were a wellspring of folklore and myth. The combination of Gaelic, Nordic, Pictish, Welsh and Saxon folklore. A wealth of inspiration and longing. On a very real note, Scotland could arguably be one of the most active centers of folkloric belief during such an era. The folkloric belief in this land was rich and swayed into the lives of many. Far greater than that of other realms, due to this “backwater” culture. Fairy (ghost/spirit) belief and interference, folk healing, curses, and other supernatural encounters being an everyday aspect of life. Many of the witchcraft trials here speak highly of this, with many very unique. The Highlands seemed to be a nesting ground for such a thing, whether accused or not, recorded or not. The commonality of folklore causing many sincere beliefs to slip through uncorrupted by threatened interrogators, as opposed to other lands. The Highlands are a place to explore our mind and imagination, regardless of the dirty truth of past reality, the landscape demands a level of introspection. Many of those in America, especially the mid east coast have ancestry directly from these lands. The high level of this is due to the Highland clearances. The failures of the Jacobites, and the consequences of such action. This is the sadness that saturates the land, this lonely loss of life and noise. My matrilineal side being  German, my patrilineal direct “son of” Scottish line came after the failings of the second uprising, settling the land of the Tennessee frontier. A new beginning from an old loss.

It is of these Jacobites and contemporaries, that we have the passing of a martial art. A form of Swordsmanship. A multitude of manual’s and instructions on the topic of many weapons, with a strong emphasis of the broadsword and targe. An interesting note of the Jacobites was their preference for close combat. A romantic yet outdated battlefield approach. Yet this is an image that has endured, and rightfully so. The Scottish Swordsman and duels of honour. This style takes us there. While on the modern battlefield the “Highland Charge” brought defeat. While once feared, Technology always replaces Prowess…

The combat style is quite the array of weapons when fully equipped. A broadsword in one hand, the hand clearly protected, not the wrist. A targe in the other, a spike sprouting from the middle of the shield, and a long dirk held downwards. That is, three points and locking locations. Unique in appearance. The image of the two handed claymore, although the single handed sword was also a claymore, stands clear in our minds. Yet the sword and shield are more relevant to the martial art and time. The twohander an archaic weapon, although there is evidence of the twohander being used in the last Jacobite uprising. Of the art, there is much to study, mainly of the finer aspects the technology grants after basic mastery. Something to explore on your own then any text specifically. The foundation is the same as any sword art. Of note is the aiming of the wrists, in that it is directly focused on again and again. To mainly strike at from underneath. This is were a downward pointed dirk is of great importance in deflection. Yet this form is not touched upon deeply. The projecting shield spike offers a great way of snagging and displacing a sword or bayonet. All the while counter attacking. Just as the backward step to protect the leg. The style is actually similar to the very early I.33, especially in “stepping” or lack of. Yet it is not I.33, as the two are clearly recognizable to witness stylisticly. It is said there might even had been clan styles, this is a tangible thought, yet probably leads more directly to training methods than clear differences in the appearance of fighting.

When I was younger, my father, brother and I visited an aloof antique dealer and collector that was a friend of my fathers. He lived in a very old house atop a hill, with absolutely everything within antique. Everything. Owned arguably the largest personable collection of American Revolutionary War arms in the world, whole armoury rooms under lock and key. As well a a creator of reproductions. Buried money in antique ceramics in his backyard. Million dollar quilt in an old chest the Smithsonian wanted to purchase, wouldn’t sell. A hole you could see the road on his van floor, etc. He also had an array of Scottish broadswords and targets, as well as some renaissance arms. Not to mention any other form of antique you could imagine. The basement the kind of place only goblins and ghosts could live in, and who knows of the attic above the third floor. Sleeping in an antique bed, surrounded by antiques and such a setting, enflamed the imagination, yet often into dark places for a young one. I will always remember the arms and such. As such a thing is more personal than any museum could be. The old shields and broadswords an inspiring memory, one can almost hear the pipes and see the fires.

While this style is something I have trained in and feel very confident with. A next training cycle is falling completly under this style. The practice of a smaller twohander (60”), almost completed in oak. As well as the broadsword (longer than my single handed sword), a stout targe with a nail through the middle (filed and wrapped in leather tip for “safety”), and a strong dirk. To all match technology more appropriately as opposed to the “close enough” items I have used. Although the bare footed training will be somewhat coming to a close in a couple months, as my yard is four acres in the middle of literally thousands of acres of forest. Not suburb forest, untouched ever forest. Nature wants to kill you not hug you, that kind. Bloody, oozy, itchy feet that appear diseased are not preferred, although I am sure to suffer at some point this season. I will miss the cold burning toes of winter training.

Artwork: Highland Swordsman 2012

The High Master

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‘There is only one art of the sword.’

When studying the art of the longsword, one must begin and end with the one High Master. Johannes Liechtenauer, as recorded by ‘Hanko Döbringer’. The words attributed to this man hold the upmost importance. As the art builds through time, one can argue that the tower has been built too high to stand firm. As later masters within the tradition compile new material, new forms, techniques and so forth. We are immediately attracted to this for it seems exclusive, complicated knowledge, these multitudes of guards, strikes, etc. This must be seen through. Just as the modern, and very old, curse of “fencing around”, another aspect to be touched upon that is a bane of the true art, that has flooded the internet and the fallacy of solo video drills. While the videos of worth reveal too much to those who should not freely learn. Words allow purposeful misunderstandings, something to understand when learning from the old masters. Only flesh to flesh dealings hold any worth, in all things. The internet is a strange thing, many strengths, many weaknesses.

Approaching combat from an advanced perspective, basics bound within body, there are many things to do away with in your mind. This will be a focus of the guards, for it is moving through such that all attacks present themselves, and all protection is guaranteed. The strikes are important, yet as water. As the Sword Saint stated, combat is simply striking your opponent down. While at the same time he continues to speak of complexities that have little substance save the sake of art and artful writing. The aspects of Before, After, Feeling, Just As (reading intent before ones action), this is the heart of combat, everything else aside. Only bound within free form. Writing of this is redundant and encircling… Striking is striking, learning to separate the four openings, with both edges and knowing which opening opens the next. The “twitch hit” is the beginning of all… With the basics embedded you will strike as you must. Most importantly master the guards, that offer strikes and defense, the forms in which your body moves through. Most importantly the guards mean little when compared to the other principles. This is the beauty of Liechtenauer, there are only four “main” stances. Ox, Plough, Fool and Roof. Ox, you find yourself in often when one displaces the opponents blade, at the same time attacking, this should happen often. Roof is were the majority of all strikes come from, once again upon displaced sword. Fool, you are a fool if you believe killing blows do not come from here. This snaps to barrier in less than an eye blink. Fool techniques are anything you find yourself in when point is downward of the horizontal line, while not in a movement weakening side position. One should recover in offense. Plough is open to interpretation. Meyers plough? I say not. The original seems to be the one true opening stance, arms ‘extended’ and high, point towards one enemy. The beginning of any other form you may find yourself in. Later traditions do not give a name to this stance, and plough becomes this strange low thing. An enigma that makes sense. While other stances exist, one moves through them very rapidly and less often, or are small variants of one of the four, thus these four are the core.

A curse of swordsmanship is as the High master calls: “Fencing Around”. That is when ones sword makes circular movements. This is just silly. Imagine a boxer who performs circular punches, a comedy. The High master instructs that one should fight as if there is a string attached to the tip of your sword and your opponent. For literal sake, actually do this and understand. When ones sword begins to circle, it often appears more as a fishing pole pulling in a catch. The string immediately shows that nearly everything is a thrust and cut combo. For when fencing a skilled man, a thrust is often displaced, thus becoming a small strike/cut. A strike is often impossible, being intercepted and becoming a thrust. An intercepted thrust towards empty space followed by cutting is a beautiful thing… You will only see such movements in some, some, sparring demonstrations. When both opponents understand. ‘Fencing around’ is a curse. Yet it is attractive to those who do not understand, students of the art and outsiders. One believes he is watching fluidity and skill, when in fact he is watching theatrics, and saddles with no strap. This is written of for centuries, from Döbringer, onward. Yet even many “masters” stand guilty when put on trial. Certainly this day of internet videos stand of guilt, for it is truly the only thing attractive to look at. Watching one actually train solo for true combat is not as pretty. All martial arts stand guilty. While one may still train in “fencing around”, as it increases handling ability, the masters agree, one should never fight this way, or claim the art appears this way. Thus every Way has misdirection. Not ‘fencing around’ means one must have complete control. One must be able to stop his strike on a dime, and begin again with no need for momentum. This is why I train so heavily with the greatsword. The longsword teaches one to wield anything properly, the greatsword takes this to the extreme. ‘Fencing around’ the greatsword is the only thing you see done, a great shortcoming to pigeon hole this weapon, yet understandable if the opponents weapon has less length. Or the opponent is obviously limp of guard, or strong of guard depending, for this weapon will break guards. Combat against formations is something else to be touched upon entirely. For I write of the duel. Once again control on the dime, this amount of control causes the longsword to feel as if it floating in front of you, with a breath changing path, truly a feather. The greatsword causes all weapons to feel this controllable. While fighting with the great sword is simply a very long path to push into, a very long blade, eager to cut. The cross of any sword acting as a “round shield”. Swordsmanship is a vortex, not a sphere.

The rest of combat: footwork, moving, crossing, the fundamentals of what immediately happens, are more important then the multitude of mid range techniques. Pulsation in and out, never be “jousting knights” with long razor blades and no armour, this is stupid. Stay away from mimicking these men who act modernly without fear for their life. Cuts are extremely bad to experience, your body flays open with nothing but a gentle caress. The blood loss, the immediate effect of causing inability, etc. Stay away from the men who care more about how hard they strike as opposed to how easily they cut, because everyone is padded and using blunt swords. The fallacy of sports combat. Metaphorically, all combative sports included.

Thus the High Master is the beginning and end. Beginning with the basics, learning the complications, and ending with the basics. When you train in martial arts daily, never look at daily progress, there is no such thing. I choose three month intervals of a specific weapon, and overload on it. With some variation, and always maintaining unarmed combat preparation. Day in and day out is extremely repetitive. Yet at the end of three months you truly realize how tall you have grown. Not daily, not weekly, even monthly can be difficult to tell. Feel the burn of the shoulders and thighs. Guard always up, never around…

Artwork: Portrait of Liechtenauer 2012, inspired by a medieval manuscript.

Spadone

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A significant Italian text in wielding the greatsword is Opera Nova, of Achille Marozzo. The Italian tradition, while very similar to the pan European tradition in general, has a few unique stylistic traits to point out. These writings are to point towards stylized differences between texts, while also maintaining the thought of a single European martial art. A single art in which to wield a tool. Yet, when approaching Hema this way, it can be quite overwhelming. Therefore one must first choose the weapon, similar throughout all Europe, followed by seeing the majority of similarities found, as well as the slight differences. When studying the greatsword, this Italian text is of the upmost importance. It is were the greatswordsman should begin, in a pan European approach. The greatsword should be studied after a long period of longsword study, this is simple to understand. When I write that Meyer is the foundation of longsword, I speak of the form. His form is the most difficult to mimic. It is true martial arts. To be able to take such deep stances requires great flexibility and balance. Great endurance to maintain such shoulder height. To be able to move fluidly through them without bouncing up and down takes this to the extreme. This is the purest form of the martial arts. When one actually fights, one must stand more erect, feet around one to two spans separate. His erect form greatly strengthened due to being trained in such a true art form. The majority of all fight books represent the combative form. Understand this. Therefore in longsword and greatsword, the stances of Meyer should be the foundation you seek, regardless of German, Italian, Iberian, English, etc, martial arts. From understanding to seek this foundation, Achille represents one of the most sound forms of wielding the greatsword, clearly depicted. When styles become Rapier-like, or the transitional and contemporary cut and thrust, this is when things begin to change. Marozzo’s single sword seems to fall into this transitional cut and thrust phase, this is not what this post is about. The broadsword, such as the English, maintains the traditional stepping forms for some time. All forms living within the same world at once for a time. Yet this is something else.

While his text is quite lengthy of plays upon plays, this is not what you should seek in the beginning. Nor ever feel over committed to in general. Seek the mastery of his images. Do not even worry of mastering the names, as this will come naturally, simply seek to mimic form. For upon the foundation of mimicking the “stances”, the trial and error of sparring someone skilled will teach you what is most necessary. The stances are utterly fluid. Many have very little variation, transitioning from one to the other. These become so natural, you feel there is no other way to carry such a weapon. The actual act of transitioning the guard, is of itself the vortex of the strike. Tight and contained… What you find repeated often is his use of thumbing the flat of the blade. This is quite different than Goliath, in which you often see gripping the handle a few inches below the cross. While one could thumb the handle, it is a different feeling. Feeling the flex of the blade when thumbed matters greatly. When your thumb is so close to the point of balance, there is a fluidity that can not be denied. The two handed swords of Achille mostly bears lugs, as some do not. My theory on lugs is not concrete, and therefore the swords point of balance is unknown. His lugs are low upon the blade. Thinking of sword proportions and the perfect great sword geometrically can be quite obsessive at times. I will in the future create blades to put my thoughts in steel, seeking the perfect geometry for such a weapon dependent upon the wielders measurement.

Thus, this is what stands out most of the Opera, the repeated use of the thumb. To be filtered into all other styles of Greatsword arts in the desire of mastery. There is also the image of placing the thumb over the cross on the false edge (short edge). Just as you see many styles place the index finger atop the cross of the true edge (long edge). This is something of note in his style. His constant use of the false. Thus are a couple aspects unique to this style, offering great understanding to overall mastery.

Something else of great importance is the art, the images. There are two books. One from 1536 and one from 1568. The art of the latter can actually be considered a piece of fine art. It is not so much the technical ability that is of importance, but the feeling of it. Many of the martial art manuals are static and hard. Yet this one is soft and round. You can actually sense the weight of the weapons. The breathing of the man. The artist who created these had a great understanding of art, and as such, this is a beautiful piece of art history.

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I.33

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The I.33 Fight book is both an interesting and important historical artifact. It is the oldest tome expressing the martial arts of Europe, specifically that of Germany. It is perhaps the oldest expression of a martial arts tradition, actually teachable and frozen from the time it was created. While many legacies throughout the world claim ancient lineages, few can prove such things, and those who speak truth, have often evolved and changed deeply alongside technology causing them to no longer present ones original war form. I.33 is simply the catalogue number for this tome held within the archives. While it is connected with the tradition of German fencing. It also stands alone. As the German fencing tradition “begins” with the teaching of Lichtenauer, as recorded by the priest and master at arms Hanko Döbringer. In the same light, the I.33 is a fighting form recorded by priests, for priests. One must remember that religion did not unite a culture. Attacking an enemies territory and slaughtering his priests, ransacking temples, raping nuns, etc. meant nothing to many medieval (and modern) combatants. Therefore, the priests most often protect themselves.

A romantic thought that has always lingered inside my head, given the time period, is how inspiring it would be if such a book was recorded by remnant Templar knights. Given the Dual nature of it. There is much to be said of the Templars, yet this is not the point. The fight book dated to circa 1320, places it shortly after the Templar’s persecution. One must understand, very few Templars were arrested, very few. Only in locations were their enemies held great political and man power. Many of the Brethren simply prepared for battle, went to the authorities and asked who amongst them would come forth and perform such an arrest. Few challenged this afront. Yet obviously with such a decree sent forth, the Order simply was forced to dissolve. Many simply fell into disguise and silence. Many under the name of new and older orders, perhaps in secret conclaves, some simply not convicted. This is reasonable to understand. The obvious wealth was obviously taken elsewhere, or used elsewhere. It is quite easy to believe that many did indeed leave to Scotland or new lands, the passage to the new world was known of for several centuries at this time. The Scotland theory seems tangible given the fact it was free of this persecution. Fighting alongside Robert the Bruce? Nothing specifically states yes, or no. The idea of a small presence does not seem too radical, given the politics and time. I do not not believe the Templars persecution was unfounded, that they stood in complete innocence. Innocence is a twisted word. What we have at hand is a witch trial. False charges brought forth, spoken from ignorant minds, accusing what one did not understand. Insane acts spoken under tongues of torture. The Templars had their secrets. Secrets that made them what they were. Lost secrets. Learn and decide what you will… Yet, we at least have one of the most inspiring quotes of all time attributed to the men. “A Templar Knight is truly a fearless knight, and secure on every side, for his soul is protected by the armour of faith, just as his body is protected by the armour of steel. He is thus doubly armed, and need fear neither daemons nor men.” And thus in fire and blood, we are left with a legacy…

Yet the I.33 is of martial arts, romantics to be left aside. It offers a large perspective into sword and buckler training. Yet there are a couple things to be aware of. Most importantly, is the lack of always stepping. That is as one attacks from a particular side, one steps placing that foot forward. This is stressed in nearly all traditional martial arts, especially the Arts of Mars. Yet it is not always necessary. Yes, one wishes to step in strength in balance, yet cutting a man down is simple, and often takes little strength. Many combative and sports forms, such as Muay Thai, offer little stepping. Performing attacks from all angles while maintaining the “same” foot work. The “strong” foot often already forward, both feet being the “strong” foot. This is effective. Often there is little room to step, yet one should not be limited to one side. Therefore, one should train as diligently in not stepping as one should stepping. What the I.33 seems to be expressing is a form of “shoot combat”. Highly explosive propulsion from the balls of ones feet. Were you “slide forward” without stepping. This is an extremely effective approach to combatives. One to be trained in order to be understood. Simply take a fighting stance, sword pointed at “enemies face”. There is after all only One proper opening stance… Now explode forward again and again, dozens of times across your yard, causing your calves to hurt. Do the same thing moving backwards, diagonally in all directions, etc. This is the “leaping” the masters speak of, not actually jumping, that is foolish. Understand how to kill a man without even moving your sword. Therefore, when you do move your sword, you are thus moving in double… This is what I view when exploring this text.

A reason that such a text is connected to the priesthood, is that priests and religious men throughout time and cultures, have been the most connected to art on average. It is they who would express such things, have the men at their disposal to create such things. In their otherworldly pursuit, writing and embellishing writings into what eventually became true art. Of the world of Art, we owe everything to Renaissance Europe. This is when art truly became “Fine Art”. What the masters accomplished have set the standards for all eternity. Causing all cultures to fall miserably in comparison. This is an undisputable fact. In the history of art, before the modern era, it is the pursuit of the divine that drove such men to such high standards. Art, and all matters of the pen, being firstly held in the hands of religious and learned men, nearly always the same. This is why the I.33 is important to us. For arts sake, for martial arts, for history, and for spirituality.

Image: Conceptual Illustration I created depicting the I.33 models. 2010

Shield Bearer

An essential supplement of martial arts is running. This is extremely essential, or you simply do not have a “moving” body. While lifting weights is a great benefit. A “rooting” benefit. One does not want to become overly “rooted”. Or one becomes a target. Running causes one to become an arrow. While too much running will cause too much “flight” causing one to become a target. These are supplemental workouts. While training in martial arts, one will move both rooted and as an arrow. All martial arts that have any worth are of this.
Before training I will run a couple miles. I have little desire to make this distance longer. Simply faster. To never look as if I am dragging weight, that I am constant weight in movement. The progression varies. In my mind the act of running becomes somewhat boring. In weight lifting I will often add martial twists. Such as heavy repetitions of a dane axe bound in heavy chains, in addition to still performing “traditional” workouts. Push ups, pull ups and dips, fall into the “weight” training category. My seperation is three branches. Martial arts first and foremost, explosive/ running and weight/ bodyweight workouts. Every thing should be performed in a “cardio way”. As in stop sitting around between sets. Unless you are practicing true “Art”. Practicing in a “zen” way of extremely deep beautiful movements. This should be done in addition to combative’s form, which should feel as cardio.
Back to running. To add a martial twist, running with a shield has become very empowering. I created a norse shield several years ago for training. I call it a “shield wall” shield as it is heavy for one. It is half an inch thick and has multiple supports. Made of pine, oaken handle, covered in canvas, rimmed in leather, all steps are very important to strength of tool. Weighs around fifteen pounds. Many shields of the age were a quarter inch thick and often thinner, something far alive in the fight, weighing far less. I often will train with the shield as a solo weapon, it is an amazing tool. If one is to use an additional weapon, keep the hand hidden. Such as a sword, the entire blade and guard can be exposed, yet hide the hand, slide the perimeter. If hand is exposed, it will be sliced off. That is the “throat” of this form of combat. On and on. Regardless, fifteen “awkward” pounds switched often between hands becomes extremely heavy. Especially when attempting to hold it at a combative height. Drag and drag. Yet it is empowering. If only from a fitness level.
Of combative height. Something you will often see in Hema and many martial arts in “sparr” form, combative height is constantly falling. Be careful of this in the longsword. Meyer’s first image of the sword, the one with the double cross, shows proper combative height. How rare a thing you see practitioners do. Strong wrists. This is tiring and takes painful training. A judgement easily viewed.
I am building what I call my “Harii” shield. And older formed body shield of germanic origin. This one is of pine a quarter inch thick, covered in leather. Both the weight and style lends it self better to running and guerrilla warfare. As it was intended. My running is along power lines in the forest. With this perhaps one should veer off path.10584071_509559692522868_6261968339865666634_n.jpg