Friday, September 9, 2011
Raising the Dead, Raising the Bar:
Based upon some of the preliminary feedback in response to the Project Partisan proposal, I think it’s appropriate to clarify some things. First of all, I’m serious. Here and now, I’m laying all snarky joking aside, and emphatically stating that this is not some stupid, self-satisfied, twee attempt to simply create a new arena for drama. I may throw a lot of things out the window, sensitivity included (there are people with congenital behavior disorders who are more socially adept than me); but one thing I do hold in absolute reverence is the Art. I’ll genuflect to that, and the historical masters, every time.
Here’s why I think Project Partisan, or something like it, is desperately needed. Where are we going? There have been dedicated individuals pouring over the historical sources for a little over two decades now. In regards to the “medieval” sources, we’re talking about a limited, though fairly substantial body of material; and it is very clear (when taken as a whole) in regards to its underlying foundational principles, technique, methodology, philosophy, and pedagogy.* And it is thus more than capable of delineating its precepts, of generating a clear picture of itself, and being self-sustaining. And yet, we can’t even agree on the fundamentals.
While there are, doubtless, codices yet to be uncovered, I very much doubt anything monumental or earth-shattering is going to be dredged up that’s going to fundamentally alter the whole picture. It’s possible, I suppose. And yes, there are gaps, but there are gaps in the fossil record, too; and unless you’re interested in being a Bible literalist (and who knows, you might be), there’s no decent reason to deny the picture forming of what’s happened. There’s no good reason too when it comes to our subject, either.
So, again, where are we going? Russ Mitchell has called the modern practice of the Chivalric Martial Arts “necromancy,” (because there’s no living lineage). Well, that may be the case. But, we’ve laid out all the vital pieces of the corpse on the lab table, stitched them together, and Doctor Frankenstein has run a few thousand volts through our monstrosity and brought it to a semblance of life. And yet, it’s nothing more than a shambling abomination, pawing at a foil, its addled mind a scrap heap of jumbled, incoherent concepts and half understood principles it can’t even articulate. It’s the materialist’s worst nightmare: there is a soul after all; and it is in fact vital for cognition, for shunting the world into its proper alignment, for making sense of our surroundings, and the meaning of things. Our soulless thing is stuck in a meaningless existence and is running on instinct and brain stem alone. What’s lacking? The Monster is greater than the sum of its parts. Can we forge a new soul for our reanimate pseudo-art, or are we destined to carry on stumbling around in the dark? I know two things: the status quo will not yield results in this matter; and the Art is the soul of our subject.
I’ve said that after the ARMA Exodus, I wanted a revolution. It was time for a radical paradigm shift: with all the intensity and martiality that had guided us before left intact,** but with hopefully a greater degree of control (it is possible, and even desirable, to engage in a bout of intense sparring and still maintain a high degree of technical and tactile control. One can still press the opponent to great exertion – was sehrt, das lehrt – without mercilessly thwacking the spit out of him. It may sound like a novel concept, but it gets easier with time). The great thing was that the core was already formed. No need to start from scratch. But it didn’t pan out, at least not as far as I’m concerned. Instead, it was more like a messy divorce. A mixture of boredom and squeamishness.
There are issues at play that have been festering under the skin of the scattershot CMA/HEMA collective (at last, I’ve found an alternate to “community”) that need to be addressed. This would involve a lot of friction, of course. But it’s a rumble that’s been waiting to happen. There’s no sense in ignoring it. And apart from sniping away on these electronic pages, that’s all I’ve been doing; but ignoring it won’t make the issues go away. I suppose that I can take heart in the fact that, if I had gone the other route and joined up with one of the zombie umbrella orgs, it wouldn’t have mattered, either. That’s produced little to nothing, too.
So, let’s fight it out. Let’s raise the bar, and elevate this to the next level. It can’t come without pain. We might as well get it over with. Again, I’m open to suggestions and alternate structures or formulas.
It’s up to you.
*Though this last, quite naturally, does vary from one degree or another from master to master. This is to be expected, of course. Of all the masters, Fiore is the most explicit and straightforward about the reasons for this variance in presentiment. He includes only those techniques that he believed would best serve his potential students (the readers of his treatises), and formulated a system of presentation and pedagogy around those, (and NOT the other way around). However, the well that he himself drew upon was much, much deeper than that mere pedagogy, or presentiment; a fact which he is equally open about. His teachers were Germans, Italians, and possibly (or even probably) others. He also said that there can be no master without books on the subject, and that he owned several of these himself; and therefore clearly recommended that his students seek out other treatises to study in addition to his own. Now purists, do you really think all those treatises that Fiore mentioned were Italian (of any region within that ever-shifting, chaotic landscape)? I’ll put my left testicle on the line that many of them were German or from even further afield.
Therefore, there was no dividing lines in ens, but only illusory, imagined, or artificial dividing lines, drawn in the sand only to be washed away by the inexorable tide of the Art as a whole. The Art is the sea, the works of the masters are mere banks of rivers it courses its way inland through, often bleeding out of it’s ephemeral confines into patches of murky swampland, with no markers, boundaries, or islets of vaunted pedagogy to cling to. In some areas, it alters the landscape altogether. So, you’d better be able to swim in it, or you’ll drown. Dobringer, of course, goes even further: Liechtenauer did not conceive of the Art, the Art, centuries older than he, conceived of him.
**And no, John Clements didn’t “invent” that. You can’t patent martial intensity. Furthermore, there were plenty of others doing it, and the historical texts are pretty clear on that regard. Hell, my favorite line from Man yt Wol spells it out for the reader in no uncertain terms: This is the letter, for standing in his sight; either to play, teach, or else for to fight. Note the word “play,” by the way. As in “swordplay.” And this did not originally mean actual fighting, but controlled bouts between two or more fencers. Direct evidence, right there, of sparring in the historical source texts. The Germans called it schimpf (sp?), which also, roughly, means “play.” Le Jeu de la Hache means “axe play,” and from the context of the text, it’s clear that the author is not talking about life-or-death fighting; although he does very clearly state that the techniques taught within the text are applicable to that arena. So, there’s another historical example of “play” in reference to sparring. Somebody had better page Hugh Knight. Sigh. There I go again. Told you I was incorrigible.