Monday, January 11, 2010

On the Art Unspoken (AKA the “Pan-European” Art of Fighting)


Many times over, we have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt (to the reasonable individual; of which the jury of our peers is not entirely composed) that the Masters themselves believed that they did share an ancient, single true Art of fighting (modern practitioners believing the Masters, however, is another matter, and not our concern). They said it plainly enough themselves. After all, they were not generally exposed to other arts, as we are now. They did not see a Japanese art, a Chinese art, or anything else; they had yet to be exposed to anything significant. They saw and lived alongside the Art of the Longsword, the Art of Wrestling, etc. Nothing different, nothing foreign. At least not worth mentioning. They simply had the Art.

But it is not just what the Masters said; it is also what they did not say. Not once did they ever mention “different styles,” or different ways of fighting that were foreign to themselves. They did not, as some inexplicably do now, ever talk about the “Italian style” or the “German style” or the “English style.” They say that they travelled to learn the Art from other Masters across Europe. They did not ever say that they travelled across Europe to learn different arts or different styles or different ways of fighting from somehow regionally divergent Masters. They travelled to learn the Art from different instructors with different perspectives, teaching styles, strengths and specialties, not to learn the English style of longsword combat, which was different from the Italian longsword style of combat.

They did not stock up on somehow “different foreign arts” in order to tactically switch between the “Tiger and the Monkey” styles in the middle of combat to throw off an opponent. They learned from different Masters in order to gain skill and increase their repertoire with the same weapons (or lack thereof) which were governed by the same principles and tools, and therefore the same Art, as we have elaborated upon more than sufficiently, if the Masters have not.

If they wanted something different and exotic, they could have gone to some culturally different region of the world and adopted their methodology, for in fact, nowhere in Europe was truly “foreign” in those days, as we have already explained. Yet they did not, despite the amount of travel to such exotic locales. Despite the occasional idiotic Robin Hood film, no European ever imported any non-European fighting art or weapon; indeed, they never even saw fit to mention that there was such a thing worthy of note (how the hell could you injure an armoured knight with an atrociously curved cutting sword anyway?). Apparently, such foreign encounters only strengthened their resolve and faith in retaining their own weaponry, armour and techniques.

But I digress. We are speaking about the differences, or lack thereof, within the fighting arts of the European culture and cultures (for there were many cultures, yet one culture). If I could imagine one argument from extant evidence that someone might be able to scrape from the bottom of the barrel for divergent uses of the same weapon within the Art, however weak, it might be the Wallerstein Codex references to “French” or “Italian” thrusts with the rondel dagger (another universally adopted weapon in Medieval Europe, so adopted because of its usefulness against universally similar opponents, weapons and armours). A weak argument indeed. Used in such an argument, its basis lies in the assumption that the Germanic dictator of the CW MS did not use overhand/long-knife thrusts from above or below with his favored dagger. Only the French used one, and the Italians the other. I really don’t need to get into refuting such reasoning, as I remind you, I am writing to the “reasonable” individual.

What else did the Masters not say? They did not say anything contained in virtually every argument that is used to refute the idea that there is a homogenous, underlying Art as the Masters themselves say, while vocalizing the opposite. Why is it that martial artists agree with the idea of a homogenous art, yet “fencers” do not? Is it a more universal understanding of the fundamentals of combat, thus the ability to see that what the Masters show beyond their semantic presentations? More than likely. Either a mind to proper fundamentals of fighting arts, or a reasonable mind unclouded by blind acceptance of dogmatic views and emotional investments in hypothesis founded in order to gain certain monopolies.

Indeed, as foreign as, say, the Japanese Art of the Sword is, most will agree on the similarities of a martial culture using a somewhat long cutting implement with two hands, with a foundation of an empty-hand art that consists primarily of wrestling, used by an armoured warrior elite. Such an art is governed by principles presented in such a way as “feeling,” and three separate timings of attack while fencing. Can you guess what they are (other than conveniently ignored)? Yet some insist “Austrians” fought so differently from the “English” who practically lived next door and could not tell each other apart without an exchange of words.

Another thing the Masters did not mention is any “style” or method of countering the style of any other style. Yet, inexplicably, out of apparently thin air, some have come to this conclusion. A conclusion based on absolutely nothing but the presumption of outstanding differences between Masters based upon under-educated perusals of books written and illustrated by different individuals with different styles of artwork and presentation. A lack of knowledge of the subject matter of such books indeed makes them “appear” to be quite different. But are we talking about books, artwork and presentations, or are we talking about what living, breathing art those books attempted to convey? It is apparent both that these are two different things, and that some do not know the difference and argue for one being the other. Such is the price of a lack of foundation and a promotion of over-specialization.

-C

Copyright 1/2010, Casper Bradak

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