traditional martial arts and the gangr

For today’s post, I am responding to one of the comments.

“Cambridge defines ‘traditional’ as: ‘following or belonging to the ways of behaving or beliefs that have been established for a long time.’ It’s obvious what you mean here when you say ‘traditional styles’; but doesn’t the style you profess ‘belong to ways of behaving [and] beliefs that have been established for a long time’? And don’t the styles you challenge belong to a back-engineered doctrine that has been categorically designed for the world of modernity? ‘Conventional’ styles they may be, sure–but traditional?”

Well, many modern martial arts have a tradition going back generations, however modified they may have been in modern times. There was an interregnum in the lineage of the berserkergang, though, one that lasted centuries. This is now therefore a reconstructed martial art, not a traditional one. It hasn’t even lasted a generation, so it can’t be called traditional when compared to any other martial art.

Also, I am not challenging any styles, traditional or otherwise. The berserkergang is not superior to other styles. It is merely a different kind of style, one that leans hard toward the internal arts rather than the external arts. A skilled traditionalist will easily curb stomp an untrained pup, however strong he or she is in the gangr. A skilled traditionalist is a match even for a skilled berserker, and such matches can go either way, in my experience.

Of course, the truly dangerous fighters are skilled in both traditional external forms and the gangr. I have sometimes managed to defeat such an opponent. More often, I get beat.

One of the members of the old Pack was a former Nay SEAL. He learned the elements of the berserker style very quickly. He said it was because SEAL training is designed to bring out any latent berserker skills a soldier had untapped, so he had already been trained in the arts, essentially. (Not all SEALs were berserkers, he said, but he bet you’d find a much higher percentage there than in the general population.) My point is, there are actually a lot of martial styles that incorporate both internal and external elements. All my approach will teach you is only half of what a truly superior fighter needs to know.

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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!