Wednesday, January 16, 2008
In an earlier addendum to a post, I said something in the follow-up remarks to the effect that useful martial arts were all dueling arts. Not speaking of things like kendo and kyudo or other do -- ways -- that are more for sport or exercise or spiritual development and thus certainly useful, but fighting arts designed to be used in life-or-death situations.
Methinks a further explanation of what I mean by "duel" is in order. These are my definitions, and may vary somewhat from what Mr. Webster has to say on the subject.
Historically, "duel" referred to one-on-one encounters involving weapons that were agreed upon in advance. There were strict rules to govern these meetings and a fair number of such encounters around the world during those eras in which they were legal, quasi-legal, illegal-but-done-anyhow. Duels were quite the rage to settle affronts to a man's honor.
Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton -- the latter whose picture is on the $10 bill. Andrew Jackson -- he's on the $20 bill -- got wounded and potted a couple guys himself in duels. A man who wasn't willing to defend his views simply wasn't well-thought of in many circles.
Stupid so much of the time, but there it was, and whaddya gonna do? It's history.
Thus, swords under the oaks at luncheon, pistols at dawn, boxing or wrestling matches were (and still may be) considered formal duels. MMA fights, karate tourneys wherein contact is allowed, toughman competitions still are. Let's-step-outside-the-bar-and-discuss-this-further dust-ups, while something less formal than having one's seconds call to arrange the matter, those still qualify for the designation. It isn't a matter of how much time before the glove-across-the-face and the set-to, but the idea of arranging for a fight, no matter the proximity of time.
When more than two fighters were involved, duels were more apt to be known as gang fights, or -- in my youth -- rumbles. On a national scale, they are called wars ...
The key element of a duel for me is that the would-be fighters are both aware that a confrontation is about to take place, as opposed to one of them being bushwhacked, dry-gulched, back-stabbed, or otherwise footpadded in a sneak attack by the other.
I say, it's rather a Pearl Harbor morning, isn't it?
Pearl Harbor morning?
Yes, there's a bit of a nip in the air ...
Sorry. My son's brother-in-law, a retired British Army colonel, told my wife that one at my eldest grandson's christening in London some years back, and I've been waiting for a place to use it ...
Um. Back to the subject at hand-to-hand:
The first definition was of a formal duel. But as I see it, there is another kind, the impromptu or spontaneous duel. This is a spur-of-the-moment decision usually forced upon one person by another.
What I mean here is this: Assuming that somebody hops out of the bushes and takes a swing at you and misses, or does little enough damage that you are still able to mount a spirited defense against further attack. He's there, you are here, and you certainly ought to have a good idea of his intent, given his recent actions. While you might not be squared-off in the traditional martial arts have-a-go-at-it sense, and while the time before things re-commence might be a few heartbeats instead of dawn at Twin Oaks on Tuesday week, you are now essentially in a duel.
You see him, he sees you. You have an idea of his intent, and he yours. Whatever abilities your martial arts have given you will come into play, if you can access them. Your goal might be escape, pure self-defense, or to defeat your attacker in such a way that he cannot continue his aggression toward you. Whatever.
My point is that, once the situation commences and assuming you are still there and able to put together mind and body and you can't safely run away, you have entered into a kind of duel, and your art needs, if it be useful, to speak to the onrushing attacker.
Like Harvey in Butch and Sundance, you might think there are no rules in a knife fight, but just because there isn't a referee there to enforce them, there are, and plenty of them. It is a matter not just of your conscience, but of law, what you can and cannot do, even in a fight to the death. While you might choose to disregard those -- better to have twelve trying you than six carrying you -- those rules will come back later and you'll have to deal with them. (Hint: If you punch the guy and he falls down and is out of it, you don't get to go over and stomp his head in or slit his throat with your handy-dandy Swiss Army knife. Even against deadly violence, you are only allowed to use as much force as necessary to stop the threat, and not an iota more. Of course, as the victim on-scene, you have to decide how much is necessary, and might be overzealous in your interpretation, but best you keep in mind that you will almost certainly have to justify it to a cop, judge, and jury later. If they don't buy you were in fear for your life from a guy lying unconscious on the alley floor, you could be looking at a long vacation in the graybar hotel.)