Greco-Roman martial arts

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Greco-Roman martial arts

Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Fri Jun 06, 2003 7:53 pm

Salvete!

I was wondering recently:

Aside from pankration, wrestling and munera (the armed fighting styles of the gladiators), did any Roman or Greek martial arts exist? I've tried to look for some but I can't find any. The West in general seems to be a little underdeveloped in this respect, compared to the East. Any explanation for this?

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Postby Aulus Dionysius Mencius on Sat Jun 07, 2003 9:39 am

The West in general seems to be a little underdeveloped in this respect, compared to the East. Any explanation for this?


In my opinion, this has something to do with religion. Buddhism encourages people to train their inner and outer sthrenght in a way to reach satori (enlightenment).

This is clearly demonstrated in the Zen tradition, where different martial arts are used as means to devellop inner strenght. The term art has significance, nonne? One fine example is Kyudo, the art of the bow.

Literature on this subject... too many to read, and some are of a questionable quality, but if you would read only one, I can recommend the following :

Zen in the art of the bow, written by Eugen Herrigel
(foreord by Daisetz T. Suzuki)

It is regarded as a classic on Zen. Herrigel was the first (second, actually, but the first dropped out quickly) European student of Kenzo Awa, the last Grand Master of Kyudo.

I am reading it myself, and it lives up to my expectations, I might add.
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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Sat Jun 07, 2003 11:29 am

Salve Aule!

Aulus Dionysius Mencius wrote:In my opinion, this has something to do with religion. Buddhism encourages people to train their inner and outer sthrenght in a way to reach satori (enlightenment).


I'm not sure if martial arts originated this way. I always heard that they were developed because in several historical periods, in many Eastern countries, people were forbidden to own weapons or to use them. Or that the Buddhist monks were forced to develop a form of unarmed self-defence against plundering or pillaging gangs.

Also, afaik styles such as xing yi or shuai chiao (agressive boxing-wrestling type styles from the east) have little to do with developing a form of inner balance or striving for satori (although, perhaps balance and focus can be said to be part of any sport... including acrobatics, racing...).

So again, I'm not sure why the West is so lacking in this department, since I feel many similar ingredients were present at some stage: in ancient Germanic societies it was forbidden for most people to bear arms (only free men could), or in the Middle Ages monastries were plundered by invading Vikings.

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Postby Aulus Dionysius Mencius on Sun Jun 08, 2003 7:53 pm

Salvete omnes

Draco, mi amice, I have some comments.

When you say that shaolin monks started to devellop their martial art s to protect themselves from being robbed, that is only partially true. That was the point were they started to insert weapon techinques in their system. The origin of the shaolin art as a whole goes back to Da Mo, a buddhist monk who visited shaolin monastery. He was shocked to find the monks in as weak a condition as he had, and therefor, he devised a set of exercises to devellop strenght, known as the Da Mo sequence.

I am very interested in xing yi, and I have the instruction book written by Sun Lu Tang, the systems creator. The man is of equal status as Ueshiba Morihei in martial art circles.

You say that xing yi is an aggressive boxing style, but the contrary is true. Using violence for the purpose of attack goes against the philosophy of the art. Also, the fact that this would not require or devellop balance or inner strenght, is a lapsus, my friend. The basic posture, San Ti, or the posture of the three divinities, is meant to balance oneself, and to become rooted. This means that you should be able to withstand heavy attack without being forced out of position.

I know that I am rambling about, so I will restrain myself.
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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Mon Jun 09, 2003 10:40 am

Salve Aule,

Aulus Dionysius Mencius wrote:When you say that shaolin monks started to devellop their martial art s to protect themselves from being robbed, that is only partially true. That was the point were they started to insert weapon techinques in their system. The origin of the shaolin art as a whole goes back to Da Mo, a buddhist monk who visited shaolin monastery. He was shocked to find the monks in as weak a condition as he had, and therefor, he devised a set of exercises to devellop strenght, known as the Da Mo sequence.


Interesting! I thought I had heard this before but I must have forgotten :).

Aulus Dionysius Mencius wrote:I am very interested in xing yi, and I have the instruction book written by Sun Lu Tang, the systems creator. The man is of equal status as Ueshiba Morihei in martial art circles.

You say that xing yi is an aggressive boxing style, but the contrary is true. Using violence for the purpose of attack goes against the philosophy of the art. Also, the fact that this would not require or devellop balance or inner strenght, is a lapsus, my friend. The basic posture, San Ti, or the posture of the three divinities, is meant to balance oneself, and to become rooted. This means that you should be able to withstand heavy attack without being forced out of position.


Then my source was quite wrong :?. It's also due to the way I've seen it being used (in a game) that it struck me as quite agressive and primitive. But then again that same game has someone using judo with uppercuts and kicks, while I was under the firm impression that judo used neither.

Aulus Dionysius Mencius wrote:I know that I am rambling about, so I will restrain myself.


Well it's quite off-topic but still interesting, and since neither Tarq nor I have been moderating you so far, you're free to continue :D.

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Postby Curio Agelastus on Tue Jun 17, 2003 9:06 pm

Salvete omnes,

Most martial arts developed as a result of people needing protection while keeping to their religious vows. The only example that I can think of comes from the Ikko-Ikki monks of Japan, who, during the Sengoku Jidai (Centuries of Japanese samurai slaughtering each other) learned from the Chinese Shao Lin in order to protect themselves against the many bandits roaming the countryside.

However, in the west, during the troubled times, monks would sometimes retreat to the nearest fortified settlement and allow others to defend them. In addition, the rule was that Christian monks were not allowed to spill blood. IIRC, in later centuries, monks got round this by using great maces to crush a person without actually spilling blood. Perhaps this was the case earlier as well, meaning that unarmed martial arts were less needed?

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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Tue Jun 17, 2003 10:21 pm

Hmm, something strikes me as unlogical.

You see, I think a martial art like say judo is much more effective in not spilling blood while fending off an attacker than a giant mace would be. I wonder if it's actually possible to kill someone with a mace without spilling blood? Perhaps the monks forced the invaders to eat the mace?

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Postby Curio Agelastus on Fri Jun 20, 2003 9:57 pm

Salve,

Not kill, but incapacitate. It is possible to crush someone's ribcage without spilling (much) blood, and that would prevent them from being of any use in a battle, allowing the crusaders (Who many monks accompanied) to finish them off after the battle. The skull can also be crushed almost like a paper cup, even by a quarterstaff if applied to the right place.

In addition, remember that many of the warrior monks were less holy than they would have people believe - if they spilled the blood of a Moslem, then God would forgive them, yes? And the Moslem "Infidels" were the target of the crusades where the warrior monks of the west got their reputation.

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Postby Anonymous on Sat Nov 29, 2003 6:32 pm

How Holy the warrior monks are depends on wether you are catholic.As to martial arts ,its really an eastern concepyt.Though the belt system familiar in martial arts dates back only as far as the american occupation of japan as a controll mechanism.The ancient world had styles of boxing wresteling and this pancration thing,of wich i know little.Also all the armed arts of war.
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Postby L. Livia Plauta on Thu Mar 20, 2008 2:35 am

Salvete,
Tiberius Dionysius Draco over in a presentations thread said he would be interested in my opinion on roman martial arts.

The previous anonymous poster expressed well some basinc definitions.

The ancient world couldn't have martial arts as they are commonly understood today (with belts, etc). They had boxing (with different rules and equipment than today), they had graeco-roman wrestling (I guess that's what people in this thread have been referring to), which is a fighting style with no hitting, but only grabbing, and pancration, which is a fighting style where everything is valid. Both latter styles are still practiced, at least in Italy, even though they're not particularly popular. Graeco-roman fight had its peak of popularity around the time the olympic games were re-established, but pancration was resurrected quite recently, as far as I know.

But of course all kinds of armed fighting styles were probably more or less codified. There must have been one or more traditions of weapons training. I'm not an expert on the matter, but I'll try to expose the little I know.
In Rome we know there were three contexts when people would use weapons. One was gladiators' schools, one was the army, and the third one was palestrae or the appropriate section of thermae. In these places people would not only play sports, from ball games to olympic sports, but there was also some kind of weapons training going on.
We know that because some authors satyrize women using weapons in palaestrae. In particular there was a quote about one woman hitting furiously the pole (sorry my memory is awful, for the precise source please ask real scholars like Poplicola or Piscinus).
The pole is in fact the only training implement that we can be sure was used in all three contexts.

As to the kind of training that went on in thermae and palaestrae, I've got no idea whether if was organized more like a dojo (fixed timetable, one trainer, serious commitment) or like a fitness centre (go when you feel like it, pick the trainer who happens to be there).
I'm afraid there are no sources on the matter, so this is a field for conjectures as well as the particulars of the training.

For Greece the matter is a bit clearer, because they had gymnasia, which were comprehensive schools where children got training in humanities, sports and military abilities. They worked a bit like english colleges, and they were hierarchically organized and competitive, so they probably taught something structured like the martial arts of today. All my information on this derives from the Athens archeological museum, where I've seen the plaques for the winners of inter-school rowing contests.

However, as far as I know the roman school system was nowhere as structured, so I guess one learned martial arts in the military or had to pay some trainers at the thermae.

If I wanted to recreate a "roman" martial art I would go about it by securing a place where a pole can be set up, then I would go for a light protective equipment, kind of like an hoplite's armour (wooden round shield, leather armour). The weapons would be spear and gladius. For the spear techniques I would ask some expert of the japanese bo, because I have the impression effective techniques would end ub being the same. For the gladius I would enlist the help of Viking re-enactors, since their weapons are similar. This would have to be integrated with techniques drawn from reliefs of war episodes and gladiatorial fights (the poor quality of roman swords meant that Romans usually tried not to thrust into bones, and it also seems it was common to try and grab the enemy with your shield hand, all techniques that got obsolete when swords became longer and harder).
In the end I guess I would end up with a "vanilla" crossover martial art which would probably be close enough to what a well-to-do matrona would choose to do in the thermae.

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Postby Marcus Tullius Ioannes on Sun Mar 23, 2008 3:42 pm

How does one explain that tai chi is considered a marital art, albeit an "internal" one? Granted, its forms are based on what I understand to be actions or movements used in the external arts (my personal favorite is "Repulse the Monkey"), but is it correct to call it a "martial" art? Wouldn't shadow boxing then be a martial art? Or is the art "martial" only when combat is, at least, simulated, so actual boxing is martial but shadow boxing is not? I suppose, then that the form of tai chi engaged in by two persons ("push hands" I think it is sometimes called in the west, though I have not engaged in it) would arguably be a martial art, while the solo form would not.

Is western sports fencing a martial art? Can it be, having become a sport? Due to the establishment of artificial rules such as right-of-way, and the limit of the target to the torso or upper body, it does not resemble much actual combat in the cases of foil and sabre, but in the case of epee, where right-of-way does not exist and the entire body is a target, the resemblence exists. Kendo seems to have similar artificial rules.

Obviously, I struggle with the definition of "martial art."
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