Sunday, June 17, 2012

"Tools" or "Weapons?"

There’s a noted fad that’s been spreading for the last few years of calling weapons “tools.” It’s apparently a product of the combatives movement and the “tactical lingo.”

The combatives movement itself is the natural product of a complicated and convoluted martial arts history having to do with technological advancement and cross-cultural exchange in the modern era, particularly the mid 20th century to the present. Suffice it to say that it has produced little of anything new or innovative in the realm of close combat, but it’s a natural constant reformulation and reinvention of the wheel in a certain cultural context, the evolution of which I will not delve into here. But a product of this is the “tactical lingo” in which certain words are used to replace older ones. I bring this up to note that there are no problems with the original technical language; in fact the original terminology is often far more sufficient, but the new language serves to differentiate the ambiance in the modern mind, denoting a seemingly more clinical or professional approach, often just for marketing purposes.* This is particularly apparent when the tactical lingo is misused and convoluted to the point where it is no longer specific enough, nor can it be understood. Example: a friend of mine, a police officer, while discussing a similar subject, told me he was taking a class titled “patrol range engagement,” if memory serves. Knowing nothing else about it, it was impossible to define, which was his point.

Note the term “combatives” itself is simply a different term for “martial arts.” If someone were to argue otherwise, then they don’t quite grasp what martial arts are, or confuse individual training methods with actual technical content. Though there are many attempts to define combatives and differentiate them, a telling point is that there is no real definition for the term as of yet. A great point of fact is the well known combatives instructor Mr. Kelly McCann. By all accounts a knowledgeable and skilled practitioner, on most any given point of the subject he will pontificate on how combatives differ greatly from martial arts, I.e. he will say “We do this in combatives” in this instance “while martial arts do x,” something categorically impossible to say. See earlier in the paragraph. Maybe he had a bad experience in some McDojo as a kid, or maybe he’s selling something, or maybe he just doesn’t know the difference. I don’t know. No disrespect intended, but I can prove him wrong on all such counts.

Now I could make a fun exercise of defining the particular characteristics, reasoning and dictionary of the tactical movement, but I started off on a specific point here. But don’t get me wrong. I love combatives, and I think their line of progression is natural and essential. It is the Western way of war. But my peeves that it triggers are not confined to it: Improper use of terminology. Faddish thinking. Salesmanship. False claims. Reinventing the wheel and calling it new and innovative. George Silver witnessed this. It’s not new. I may tease them all for wearing polo shirts, cargo pants and baseball caps, but look at everyone who thought martial arts were new, out wearing Japanese and Chinese gym clothes at their classes. Maybe they can change the paradigm.

Anyway, back to my specific point.

First, let’s define tool:

-A device or implement, esp. one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function.

-An implement, especially one held in the hand, as a hammer, saw, or file, for performing or facilitating mechanical operations.

-Anything used as a means of accomplishing a task or purpose.

-One who lacks the mental capacity to know he is being used. A fool. A cretin. Characterized by low intelligence and/or self-esteem.

Now, let’s define weapon:

-A thing designed or used for inflicting bodily harm or physical damage.

-A means of gaining an advantage or defending oneself in a conflict or contest.

-Any instrument or device for use in attack or defense in combat, fighting, or war, as a sword, rifle, or cannon.

-Anything used against an opponent, adversary, or victim.

So, as we can see, a weapon is indeed a tool. They’re not wrong there. But a weapon is a very particular class of tool. A tool designed for combat. A most basic premise of any weapon is that it is dictated by the target. This must apply to tools as well. Thus, the wood dictates the nail. The nail dictates the hammer. This singular function vs. the unmoving nail dictates the characteristics of the hammer. This is one thing that brings simple tools so far from weapons. Weapons require more versatility by definition. Were human beings as simple as a nail, we would have few weapons. So as we can see, a weapon is indeed best called a weapon. Specificity is a virtue. As I see it, calling a weapon a tool takes away the weapons soul. There are those who prefer the clinical feel of calling a weapon a tool. It seems sociopathic to me. A hammer is something with no attachment for me. I expect my life to never depend upon a hammer. If I lose a hammer, I buy a new one. It holds no resonance or value to me. One is as good as another. This civilization was made more by the sword than the hammer. Perhaps it is the natural backlash from that convoluted cultural and technological interaction that I spoke of earlier. It certainly makes me a little nauseous thinking about the over-hyped cliché of the katana being “the soul of the samurai,” however figuratively or literally true it may have been. Calling it a tool is a reality check for the deluded. But so is the actual need for a weapon.

A weapon is an item selected with far more care and personal preference. Its most miniscule characteristics are of essential importance to the user. It is known inside and out. It is weapons that are imbued with human characteristics and virtues, not files and levels, putty knives and nail pullers. To the knight, the sword was no simple tool. It was “a cross, and a noble weapon,” to inspire the owners own heart. A common focal point for meditation and mediation. Personally selected and customized, trusted for the salvation of life and limb, and a singular extension of the body and mind.

I can’t speak for everyone, but even the rifle, issued en-mass, is more than a simple tool to the combat soldier. While certainly lacking the resonance of the sword, it is known inside and out. It is often named, and accompanies the soldier everywhere. He knows it like his own arm, and relies on it. If he carries a knife, it is often more meaningful still. Though diminutive, it is a connection with the warrior past, often carefully selected from an extensive personal criteria, and a very intimate weapon it is.

There’s my case for calling weapons weapons. Perhaps a pointless rant to some. I believe that to the psychopath, the sword** may indeed be a tool, but to the warrior, it is a weapon.  

-Benjamin “Casper” Bradak 
17 June 2012

 *The examples are plentiful. The next time you hear one of those catch words, see how many pre-existing synonyms you can find.

**The figurative sword, whatever that may be.


JH said...

Hell yes, right on man! I wish I had written that. Indeed, as you said:

"I believe that to the psychopath, the sword may indeed be a tool, but to the warrior, it is a weapon."

Indeed, there is a specific psychopath who likes calling the sword a tool instead of what it is, a weapon - as summarily & deservedly mocked by our Swedish friends:

John Clements visits GHFS and teaches his new footwork

B & C said...

Ah, yes. The "simple tool" himself.

Unknown said...

William Cain here, back from my semi-exile from all things HEMA (don't ask, just don't)

More to the point, a weapon is a tool with a very singular purpose. It has no other function - to train with it is to train to do harm. We moderate the harm because we have no need to use our weapons in their original context, that has given way to the gun and rightly so.

But it is that purpose that requires us to ethically call a weapon what it is. A hammer CAN be used as a weapon in the moment, but it ISN'T meant to be one. It is a tool of construction. When we label something a weapon, we are being honest with ourselves and others about its true purpose, the dangers and responsibilities inherent in using it and training with it, and with the cultural context about weapons that we live in.

Call a knife 'a tool' to a cop in the UK. See where it gets you.

Call a gun a tool to someone who's been shot with one in violent circumstances. I want to watch.

Yes, they are tools. But they are weapons MOREOVER, because that is the trait that defines them.