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.

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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.

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!

Berserker Training for the Poor and Urban

It is not always easy to train as a berserker, or somaferan martial artist. We have no established schools. Our training methods are generally not welcome in most gyms. Many of us do not live in or near the woods. If you are in an area that is urban or suburban enough to not have any public space you could have a little privacy in, then you may be forced to train in your own home, for the most part, and on your own. Do not despair, though, there is still a lot you can do. I have used these techniques to train for more than one martial arts tournament, including some I won.

One of my favorite solo indoor exercises was hanging several coins or small rocks in a circle from the ceiling, using twine. I would stand amongst them and, using only my outstretched fingers, strike them all while standing in the middle. The key is to keep them all moving without letting any of them hit you, without leaving the circle. A good variant on this is blindfolding yourself first. This trains you to greater awareness of your other senses, and helps you develop a good spatial memory.

Bodyweight exercises are your friend! You know Charles Atlas’ work? This kind of exercise tends to build a lean, muscular fighter’s body without bulking up. Good for speed as well as strength.

Got a hallway? Use HIIT, or wind sprints. If you can, go jogging around the block a few times, on a regular basis. Developing endurance is the most important thing you can do as a fighter. Gentleman Jack Johnson, an old-time boxing champ, ONLY trained endurance, and simply outlasted all of his opponents.

Throw punches like in shadow boxing. Seriously. Doing thousands of punches, concentrating on your form, will do more for you as a fighter than almost anything else will. Aiming at your moving shadow will keep mixing it up, avoiding the problems that forms give.

Of course, this approach does require you to be able to elevate as a berserker inside, without bothering or freaking out your hosuemates, if any.

Good luck.

Putting on the Wolf Skin

frontcoverAfter the somafera forum closed down, we few remaining members of the old Pack each went our separate ways to pursue our own paths. We each decided to take what we had learned from the forum and send it out into the world in whatever form we thought would do the most good. I’m a writer, so I plan on publishing a series of books on the subject of the berserkergang and other forms of somafera.

I have just published the first of these – Putting on the Wolf Skin: The Berserkergang and Other Forms of Somafera. I split it into two parts that can either be read separately or together. The first tackles the berserkergang, using primarily a spiritual and martial arts perspective. The second addresses the intellectual variant of somafera, the one that enhances mental functioning. This one uses a more scientific perspective. It is a beginner’s book, that covers the basics of how these states work, what it is like to experience them, and more. It provides details of ancient and modern initiation rituals, as well as a number of exercises to induce the state, as developed by the members of the forum over the course of decades. It gives advice on how to come to terms with the tumultuous, difficult lives that born somaferans are prone to experiencing. It also provides a summary of our scientific investigations into the state.

I have attempted to distill the fundamentals of these practices as developed by a team of dedicated somaferan researchers that included medical theorists, Navy SEALs, spiritualists, and more. I wish to thank them for all of their help and guidance over the years. The contents of this book are a product of their efforts and insights as much as my own. Fare well wherever you fare, siblings.

You can purchase Putting on the Wolf Skin direct from Createspace, or on Amazon.com (or order it from your local bookstore).