The Stonewall Defense

Today, let me share with you a boxing technique that I learned back in my amateur fighting days. It served me well against other berserkers, but it is particularly useful for berserker versus mundane matches.

While prepping for the second Shieldbiter’s Cup tournament one year, I traveled to Bosnia to meet up with a fellow berserk fighter, one of my opponents in the upcoming tournament, who was stationed there with the UN. He had got his hands on some wonderful old books by a champion boxer from the early twentieth century: Champ Thomas. He had been a golden gloves champion several times, and fought in carnivals where, if he didn’t win, then he didn’t eat. In How to Be an Ass Whuppin’ Boxer, I believe it was, he described a defensive stance that he had developed himself that he attributed some of his victories to: the Stonewall defense.

In a traditional boxing stance, both hands are held a little way away from the body, so that they are a little closer to the opponent, but not so far out as to be too tiring. In Champ Thomas’ Stonewall defense, the rear forearm is held parallel to the waist, a little above waist level, touching the body. The lead forearm is held straight up with the elbow close to the other fist, and the fist next to the cheek. It, too, should be touching the body.

The idea here is that, by holding your arms in so close, you can hold the stance for a lot longer than most people can hold the traditional stance, because your arms don’t get tired so fast. With only the tiniest of movements, you can shift the position of one of your arms to block any attack, and because your arm is braced against your body, your defense is physically stronger.

A berserker can use it particularly well against a mundane opponent. The key to doing so is getting in really close to your opponent, which is easy because your arms are so close in. Use your heightened reflexes to fight comfortably in close. A lot of mundane opponents are not comfortable in close, shifting the advntage firmly to you.

Alternatively, use it to bolster your endurance. Stamina is many a berserker’s Achilles heel, because we burn through energy so fast. This stance can compensate a bit for that.

Be careful, though: your lower elbow will stick out a bit from your side. A clever opponent who is paying attention can target it and do some real damage.

BTW: Champ Thomas’ books are well worth a read for any fighter out there.

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Baritus: The Berserker Kiai

Hello everyone. There was recently a post in the Comments section that I thought deserved a response here. This is the post:

I don’t know if its exactly ‘breathwork’ but all the old stories and reports of somaferan style heroes I’ve read suggest that a warriors ‘battle shout’ is one of his or her greatest weapons and I always laughed and thought it showed how limited they were in their knowledge. Now an article in iscience and referred to in New Scientist and https://www.medindia.net/news/your-aggressive-tone-can-reflect-your-size-and-strength-to-others-180619-1.htm shows that humans male and female can judge height and strength very accurately from aggressive shouting. If as we know somafera style training or ability can boost strength massively, then one way to put people off and slow them down would be to warn them that you were currently much stronger than you look and make them reluctant to fight at all. At the very least it explains why it was so highly regarded in the old stories. OH and I’m getting on fine although old and my 3 children are now adults, two of whom, the girls, have used their innate abilities to fight off much greater nos or sized opponents much to the others surprise. At least it made my kids stop laughing at me for reading your website and other sources of information and teaching them of their available resources in an emergency. As well it reassured me that like my family, my children are much more safe than people might imagine.

Actually, I believe that would be a form of breathwork, good point. It is also one of the few techniques that we actually know that the ancient berserkers used. Called “baritus,” it was traditionally used right before the battle was joined, although it could also be used to great effect in battle. It is pretty much a Western version of the kiai.

I have used it myself to great effect on a number of occasions. Once, during the year I spent fighting in the Broadsword League, I was up against a new swordsman who had only been training for six months, whereas I had been training over twenty years at that point. I found him to be a surprisingly tough opponent where I had expected an easy victory. Turns out he had been a professional dancer for some fifteen years or so before taking up the sword, and he had excellent control over his body, an excellent sense of distance, and truly superior stamina. His lack of experience also meant that he used strange and unanticipated moves that made him more difficult than usual to counter. So, when I judged him psychologically vulnerable for a moment, I used the technique. I am big anyway, and in a berserk state I can manage a good roar. Instantly he shifted from the aggressive approach he had been using to fighting a purely defensive fight. That is always a mistake, because no defense is flawless. To gain victory you need to attack, because sooner or later your opponent will get through your defense. At that point the fight was pretty much over, and I mopped the floor with him. Had he not lost his nerve, he might have been able to beat me, but baritus is a good way of getting inside your opponent’s head.

Let me take a moment here to describe how the technique is done. You see, this is not just loud yelling and a display of aggression. You need to tap into something truly primal to do this right. You have to be pretty berserk to start with, and then you have to really raise your wod as high as you can. You must, if only for a moment, feel truly enraged. As you are probably doing this in a fight, that feeling shouldn’t be too hard to manage. Tap in to all your repressed anger, your inner pain, all the sorrow you have ever felt, all the injustices ever done to you and then, when the tension within is so high that you feel like you will burst, look for your moment. When your opponent has just exhaled, or has finished a move, or looks winded or nervous, give voice to all that emotion in a roar like one of the Tyrannosaurs from Jurassic Park. You should do this in a way that sharply contracts your diaphragm and those muscles along your side, violently expelling the air from your lungs in a large volume.

Not only does this stand a good chance of unnerving your opponent (though beware, experienced fighters will be put off their balance for no more than a fraction of a second), it also will greatly strengthen your own fighting spirit.

Let me tell you something: back in the days of the Pack, I met a lot of fighters of all levels of experience. I fought some, studied under some, and trained some, and if there’s one thing I learned that predicted how well a fighter was going to do in the Shieldbiter’s Cup Tournament, it was whether or not they were able to use the baritus technique. Those who could get into touch with their primal selves and their fighting spirit enough to do it would at least probably make a respectable showing. Those who were too self conscious, or shy, or otherwise unable to tap into that part of themselves did not do well. I usually tried to talk them out of stepping into the ring. This kind of problem indicates some hangups about the more bestial and martial parts of yourself.

If you want to work on developing your fighting spirit and forging a closer connection with your primal self, then practice baritus.

Effective Berserker Technique against Traditional Styles

Today I’m going to share a technique for a berserker fighting mundane opponents. This involves a combination of trickery, brute strength, and speed.

It is best done after a phrase or two. (For those of you who don’t know, in a fight a phrase is a period when you close and exchange blows or grapple for a bit before breaking apart again.) When you are at a distance and both trying to catch your breath, pant a little harder than you need to. Lower your guard a bit. Stand far enough off that you are obviously out of distance. Well, what would be out of distance for a mundane fighter, at any event. (Out of distance, for the beginners in the audience, means further apart than can be covered in a single lunge.)

Keep your energy low on the outside. This will give your body language a relaxed, tired, not-ready look. On the inside, raise your wod as high as you can. Pups may find this difficult but, with practice, it can be done.

Keep shifting your stance. Change up which hand is leading. Look like you’re trying to psych him out with a fake charge or two. In other words, keep his eyes on your face and hands. When your energy is high, put one foot back and plant it, and sink your weight on it. “Load the spring,” as it were. Observe your opponent carefully. When he exhales, or is distracted, spike your wod, go as hamrammr as you can, and LUNGE. (A little baritus here is a good idea.) The extra strength the gangr will give you should mean that you are actually in distance, and can cover it and strike from inside his guard before he is even aware of what you are doing.

(For you pups who have not been doing you vocab homework, hamrammr is an ancient word, meaning “shape-strong,” that refers to the strength boost you get from massive doses of adrenaline as hyper-oxygenation of the blood.)

If you do this trick correctly, it can easily be a fight ender. Remember, if you combine cleverness with the extra edge the gangr gives you that most opponents don’t expect you to have, you can defeat even an opponent with superior strength and training. This technique requires some good gangr control and experience judging distance and exploding off the mark, though. Practice it!

Wod and Ond: Using Breath Work

Wod is the power of fury and inspiration. It is the fuel source that all somaferans use. It is created by many things, but the most important mover of wod is ond, the breath. This is analogous to many other systems of internal martial art, in which such terms as “chi” refer to both the breath and to spiritual power. One of the most important things that a berserker can learn is how to raise and direct the wod with the breath. This technique is also invaluable to many other somaferans, because wod control can be used to aid healing and even help psychological problems.

The most basic form of wod breathing is the “breath of surprise”. This is the kind of breath you take when you are deeply surprised: a deep breath, with a great expansion of the lungs, all in an instant. When you do this, your wod spikes sharply. If you do something immediately after taking such a breath, it will be powered by that elevated wod. If you do this before making an attack, the attack will be incredibly powerful. If you do this before doing something taking precision, your aim and coordination will be superior. If you do this before uttering a meditative mantra, the result will be pure and strong.

There are other forms of breathing too, of course. The “big exhale” is kind of the inverse of the breath of surprise. It involves forcefully yet steadily exhaling most of the air in your lung. You use this one to steady your mind, calm your jitters, and collect your scattered thoughts. One good use for it is to use it while striking, shooting, or doing anything else that requires precision, because it will steady your mind and keep it focused. Another good use for it is to get rid of unwanted thoughts and worries. When these thoughts seize your mind, do not react to tem. Just give a big exhale, and let them wind down naturally. This latter use works especially well with an exceptionally long exhale.

Hyperventilation will raise the wod too, although not by spiking it. It will instead build it a little more slowly, but it will also last a little longer. Breathing more or less deeply, and more or less rapidly, will change how quickly you accumulate it.

Long, shallow breathing keeps your wod low. This is ideal for when you really need to center yourself. If you do it well, it may sharpen your senses a little.

If you are a martial artist, understanding breath control has another use as well. Observing your opponent’s breathing allows you to make attacks that have a much greater than usual chance of working, if you are a close observer with fast reactions. You see, exhalation runs the mind down a bit, momentarily. After your opponent has exhaled, there will be a moment, but only a moment, when his attention is scattered, his reflexes slow, and his mind dulled. Strike, or otherwise move, during this moment and there is a good chance that he won’t see it coming.

An Anti-Berserker Martial Art Style

I have fought extensively in amateur open-hand mixed martial arts tournaments, both against my fellow berserkers and against mundane opponents. I have had some fairly decent practice with a variety of guns. Yet the martial art that is closest to my heart is the sword. I have trained with the broadsword since I was eleven years old. I have had the privilege to fight against some talented swordsmen from many different styles, from all over the world. My very favorite fights have always been with a blade.

Some years ago, I fought an undefeated season in the Broadsword League, a New England organization dedicated to the practice of seventeenth century basket hilted broadsword and similar weapons. One opponent I kept running into over and over again. He had been training quite seriously for years, and had devoted his life to becoming a master of his martial art. Still, he was much younger and less experienced than I was, and I defeated him easily every time we crossed blades.

Years later, I heard that he had completed his training and had been acknowledged as a master by his tradition, and had opened his own school. I had always seen great potential in him, and hoped his graduation had made him a more worthy opponent. Since I knew his teacher, I asked him to arrange a duel for me. The man accepted. On the appointed day I went to a quiet park with my second, and my wooden dueling sword. I was hoping the fight would be more interesting than our old ones. I tell you what, I was NOT disappointed.

You see, he had been hoping to attract my attention. He had been training for years with the sole aim of defeating me. He had always had a difficult time with the berserker style, because it did not use any of the conventions of traditional swordsmanship. Many traditional techniques do not fare well against a berserker’s moves. So you know what he did?

He invented a whole, unique style of martial art specifically designed to be used by non-berserkers against the berserker style. And it worked! In every duel I had ever fought against him before, I had bested him in under five minutes. While I won this fight, it took forty five minutes of uninterrupted dueling before I could beat him. By the end I could barely stand, was sweating so much it looked like I had been swimming, and was gasping for air for what seemed like an eternity.

And this is why I am relating this story today, dear readers, to let the martial artists amongst you know what an anti-berserker martial arts style looks like, so you can be prepared for it if you ever encounter it.

He had accurately assessed what the strengths and weaknesses of the berserker style were. He knew berserkers eschew forms and kata, and count on insanely fast reactions and a good intuitive assessment of stance. The typical berserker techniques will include being in an open, receptive state of mind, what is sometimes referred to as the naïve mind, to see the possibilities inherent in the opponent’s stance at an intuitive level. Being able to anticipate the two or three most likely lines of attack and defense means that we can be ready for them, and this can give us the appearance of having an insanely fast reflexive response. This is boosted by the massive amounts of adrenaline in the bloodstream and electrical activity in the nervous system, which actually does give us insanely fast reflexes.

So he never took a stance. He never kept his blade in one position. He kept moving at all times. He kept shifting his stance. He wove his blade in a complex pattern, and kept shifting it up. He had trained his endurance to maintain this high energy output for quite awhile. In short, he kept me from getting a lock on his potential attacks and defenses. This reduced my apparent reaction speed, and cut down the attacks and defenses I could make. It was a GOOD FIGHT! His style worked very well. His tradition clearly made the right call, elevating him to the rank of master. Anyone who can fight a person a few times and then create a whole new style of swordsmanship capable of defeating his style is clearly a master.

This is probably what any talented mundane martial artist who wants to take on a berserker will do, no matter what the weapon or style used. It maximizes their strengths and our weaknesses. If he had been able to hold out just a little while longer, my endurance would have given out and then he would have had me. Our endurance is one of our biggest weaknesses, because we burn energy at an insane rate. He figured that out, and made a style that worked so well against my strengths that he had a damn good chance at leveraging my weakness against me.

As far as beating this anti-berserker martial art style, I can make a few recommendations. Don’t run too hot. Use a chi approach over a wod approach. Concentrate on maintaining a good meditative state and amp your senses up as much as possible. If you know how, try to lay a warfetter on your opponent after you have observed him or her long enough to pull it off. Try to stay just out of distance, or what seems like just out of distance to a normal fighter. Observe your opponent: just after he or she exhales, or is distracted, or is otherwise momentarily in a blind spot, spike your wod and rush in close and strike. If you do it right, you’ll beat his reflexive defense.

Good luck!