Thursday, 27 November 2008
The art of war
I visited Duxford Imperial war museum today with my daughter. It was a beautiful clear skied day with a strong wind which cooled us as we walked from hanger to hanger. Whilst in the incredible Norman Foster built American Hanger I was minded of the amazing price young men paid for my freedom during the Second World War. The hell some of them went through. I remember watching a documentary about the making of Saving Private Ryan when Tom Hanks paraphrased Spielberg by stating that we all know war is hell, but that war films never really portrayed this, always erring on the heroic and 'glamorous' side of army life. Well Spielberg certainly changed the war film genre as we know it huh?
But I digress somewhat. My main point was that as I saw memorials I wondered about the art of war, and realised that martial art means literally that. "relating to, or characteristic of war, soldiers, or the military life" (Collins). Further investigation sees the term coming from the Roman god Mars (god of war). Having recently read a story about a spitfire pilot who had (during the war) shot down a Dornier and watched the crew bale out only to realise, in horror, that one of the crew's parachutes had become entangled in the tail structure, I wondered whether martial arts as I practice would have helped this military man? Surely they aren't related. And less so these days with more precise and modern weaponry...
I can see how a martial code and training in a fighting school may have helped hundreds of year ago. Saxon soldiers stood on Senlac hill (picture above with the Abbey of Battle in the background) holding shields in the famous 'wall' as well as their heavy battle axes holding off a strong horse-mounted Norman foe in 1066. I'm sure that both these protagonists would have needed schooling in the arts of war. William of Poitiers said, "It was a strange kind of battle, one side attacking with all mobility, the other withstanding, as though rooted to the soil". Different martial philosophies being tested in battle. Surely this is martial art-kicking and punching and hacking limbs in a mortal struggle to annihilate the enemy?
Can I really develop a sense of what it's like to be at war and use this in my daily life? For example Zanshin is an element of modern training which we aspire to, but I'll never acquire the level of total awareness that this guy did: Terry L. Bryan was in a K-9 unit serving deep in the jungle with just his rifle and his dog. After spending so much time in the jungle and listening outwardly and inwardly theybecame so attuned to the senses of the jungle they could smell people who were out of sight and even be able to judge whether they were Asiatic or American. Read his amazing story here on Fighting Arts.
No, I don't think I'm cut out to be a soldier, but I am a martial artist: someone who uses combat tools and strategies to appraise his own life: not only in a metaphysical way but a bodily one too. My studies help me in my daily life either by working through a situation clearly in my mind or being focused on the moment in order to do something truly well, or even just to sit correctly aligning my spine and muscles as I sit and type a blog.
Some schools of martial arts insist that theirs is still a way of killing and I don't think we should lose sight of this heritage as it clearly lays out our techniques for combat and immobilisation but I like to take elements of these strange (almost archaic) fighting or war arts into my daily life as it's clear I am no soldier. Warriors do however have warrior codes such as 'Noblesse oblige'. a code which helps the warrior lead their lives in society as well as martial times.
These codes can also help us set out clear goals in our lives.
Happy training in your chosen art.