Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dueling Arts

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.)


Doctor Jay said...

I can't really agree with your frame, though there are many subpoints I agree with. By framing all martial arts as dueling, you sweep a bunch of stuff under the rug.

First, your formula seems to exclude military training. I would call military training martial arts. I think your definition includes sport. You mention training for satori or personal growth. And there's self-defense.

The part I don't like is the notion that both parties know that there is a fight and then the fight happens. This exactly what I don't want to happen if I should ever have to fight physically. I'm old, small and slow, well not that slow, but still.

Giving away the element of surprise is really not in my interest. I want the fight to be over before the other guy realizes that I'm going to resist. We practice this quite explicitly in our training, too. Not very fair of me, is it?

I don't really think you can call this approach dueling. It's not the slightest bit honorable, under an ordinary definition of honor.

As for rules, your point about laws is well taken. But you must be free of all the "rules" in your head. And, as you try to eliminate those "rules" I think you must do some very serious examination of your motives, and strive to always act out of narrow self-interest. This must take the place of those rules you had.

Steve Perry said...

Jay --

Of course, my definitions are, as I said, mine, and not universal ones -- I expect other folks will have their own. I was just laying out what I thought.

I thought I said what I thought a duel-situation was clearly. If somebody sneaks up behind you and lays a bat onto your head and busts your skull op;en, that's not a duel, that's an ambush, an assassination.

If it's a gaggle of guys, it's not a duel -- which should cover the military stuff.

If the bad guy swings and misses, and you can get clear enough to respond, then it becomes what I see as an impromptu duel.

In the old days with pistols at dawn, sometimes one guy would fire and miss; the second duelist would, now and again, fire his pistol into the air or at the ground, honor being satisfied. Me, I wouldn't depend on that; better to make your shot count in case the other guy really wants you dead.

You might not like giving up the element of surprise, but if I see you coming and can somehow intuit your intent, if you offer any clues I can read, then it's a duel.

My working thesis is that somebody who wants to get into it with me is armed, well-trained, won't fold with first contact, and probably has a friend or two hidden nearby. This might not be the case, but if I am prepared to deal with that, I'm ahead of the game. Since he's going to the aggressor, I expect he has something violent in mind. That if I can't get clear, and that if I don't resist, he will kick my head in and maim or kill me.

All of these might be wrong, but better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. And in any case, he isn't going to know how I am going to respond, because I won't know what I am going to do until it happens. If I raise my hands and say, "Please don't hit me!" and he steps in closer because he thinks I'm a weenie, does that count as surprise if I can lure him in that way?

Silat is real big on deception. What you see ain't supposed to be what you get.

Rory works a lot from the idea that things will often turn to shit and you need a way to recover and keep going. He makes a good point. However, if I can keep things from turning to feces in the first place, I like that notion better.

It's not about fairness, it's about awareness. You likely know Colonel Jeff Cooper's color-coded system that defines one's level of alertness. I'm not arguing against surprise. Guy attacks you, you come up with something he doesn't expect, or can't handle even if he figures it out, more power to you.

I am saying that with due diligence, you might be able to mitigate the chances of being caught flat-footed.

I'm not talking about honor, but about a moment in time when you are *there,* and I am *here* and we both have time to recognize that the situation has gone into the red. It's a duel.

The rules in my head are what allow me to drive to the post office, navigate the streets, park my car, collect my mail, and come home. The ability to reason and make decisions based on a slew of factors, ranging from narrow self-interest to a willingness to lay down my life for my wife or children, to which restaurant wherein I will lunch, that's what humans are.

Sure, adhering to the Marquis of Queensberry's rules in a street fight might get me killed, and I didn't say anything like that. You do what you need to do to walk away. But even chimps have rules about what they can or cannot do.

Rory and I went round and round about reason, and whether it is "weak" or not. I don't believe that it is weak, and nobody has made the case to me to prove otherwise, so I'm not tossing that out. To eliminate the center core of what got us the ability to sit and feed words into a computer keyboard and across time and space strikes me as the wrong way to go.

The rules in my head have kept me alive this long.
None of them say I need to do anything less than I need to survive. Nor did I say that anywhere, as I recall.