Friday, April 1, 2011

Punch Drunk

I promised at the end of my last post that the next one would be about striking - well, here it is. :)

People, myself included when I started training, are often very confused as to the lack of empty-hand striking in the medieval martial arts. After all, we know the Greeks and Romans boxed, so why not folks in the middle ages? Truth is, we don't know that they didn't. While the majority of manuscripts that feature unarmed sections do not show any striking (Codex Wallerstein is the only contrary example I know of), the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

There are many theories out there about why we are not shown any strikes. These include: Training paradigm, Ineffectiveness, and Lost Knowledge.

Training Paradigm

This is the theory that we are not shown traditional punching type strikes because the punching action does not fit the system's underlying movement patterns. For instance, the overhand dagger blow (ice-pick grip descending blow) is the same motion as a hammer-fist (striking with the bottom of the closed fist). The theory holds that simplicity of training is paramount - why train two separate types of hand motion for striking when one will do. Keep It Simple Scholar.

This is the theory that striking does not appear because striking is ineffective against armour and, as with the above theory, you shouldn't train for something that only works part of the time. Punching a man in a breastplate = Not a good idea. In a helm = Still not a good idea.

Lost (Hidden) Knowledge

This is the idea that the knowledge of striking was there, but that it was either considered such common knowledge that it need not be included or that it was considered "secret". I tend to partially agree with the first part, but find the second utter rubbish.

Here is the problem with all of the above theories - there IS striking present in the manuscripts, not just the Codex Wallerstein. It isn't hidden at all, at least not in Fiore.

"If your opponent is not in armor, strike him in the most painful and dangerous spots, such as the eyes, the nose, the temples, under the chin and in the flanks." - Getty Prologue, trans. Leoni

"-knowing the most dangerous places in which to strike" - Eight qualities of abrazare, Getty Prologue, trans. Leoni

"As you become suspicious of someone's dangerous knife, immediately go against him with your arms, hands and elbows. Always do these five things: take his dagger away, strike him, break his arms, bind him, and throw him to the ground. None of these five plays goes without the other" - Beginning of dagger section, Getty, trans. Leoni

There you have it. Three quotes from the two unarmed sections of the Getty, describing when and where to strike. The only thing they leave out is the "How". Sort of. As I discussed earlier, one can easily take the mechanics for striking with the dagger and turn that into a hammer-fist (Hell, that's how I describe it to people). Okay but what about other strikes? The only other empty-hand strike was see is a strike to the throat that can be done either as a palm strike or as a chop with the side of the hand. There are other strikes shown in the manuscript, specifically a kick to the shin or knee, a kick to the groin and a knee to the groin. Fun stuff.

So strikes do exist in Armizare, but what purpose do they serve. They are not "fight-enders" - they are not intended to be. Instead, strikes serve three purposes:

1.  They are used to soften an opponent. For example, if I am trying to secure a ligadura mezzana on you, but you are fighting me just enough to keep me from getting it. Then, I drive a hammer-fist into your left eye. Suddenly, you are not quite as concerned about the ligadura I'm after.

2.  They are used as methods of entry. If you are guarding well my attempts to grapple, I can throw a strike your way in order to break you of your guard, allowing me to gain a good grapple.

3.  They are used to displace some part of your opponent. Particularly in armoured combat, a strong open-hand strike (as Jesse Kulla of the CSG explained it "a bear-paw") to the side of the helm may not knock an opponent out, but it will displace their head, allowing you to gain control.

Notice that none of these three are aimed at knock-out power. Strikes are, by their nature, inconsistent things - a solid punch to the jaw may knock one opponent out cold while another my take punch after punch and simply laugh at you. This, in my opinion, is why the medieval arts focus on grappling - binding, breaking, or dislocating your opponents limbs is a more sure method of taking the fight out of them.

I personally prefer to use hammer-fists, open-palm strikes (both of which allow for an easy transfer to grappling control), elbow strikes, knee strikes, and low (below the waist) kicks, for strikes. But in a fight you use whatever you have at hand - I've head-butted more than a few sparring partners (always while wearing helmet - I'm not stupid).

But there is a bigger issue here than what, if any, strikes appear in Armizare. That issue is that it is not a big freakin' deal. If you honestly believe that you have such command over the material in the sword, lance, dagger, axe, and mounted sections, as well as the grapples shown in abrazare, that you can afford to split hairs over empty-hand strikes then I envy you. I personally doubt that Fiore would care if you struck a hammer-fist, or a jab, or a cross when he says "Strike" - the point is to strike!

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