Start thinking outside the box!

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I’ve been saying for years that, for a martial art to be effective on the battlefield, it must use the same class of movement, whether the fighter is armed or unarmed, either wearing armor or not, whether facing one or multiple opponents. In addition, there are no rules on the battlefield. This is not rocket science, but I am beginning to really wonder how many people actually comprehend what I am saying.

Behold yon missive heatedly directed to yours truly and submitted yesterday by The Angry Young Man:

Dear Mr. Dervenis,
I have read your book and read your site I practice pankration. Why do you say pankration and pammachon are different they are the same thing. I am a student at university and my professor who is a Greek said pammachon and pankration are the same thing. Where is the historic proof of pammachon there is no historic proof.
Sincerely,
The Angry Young Man (no reason to publicly humiliate the lad)

TayMan, you Da Man indeed. I am proud of you actually trying to establish contact with the Evil One rather than reverting, as usual, to a forum of your peers and simply patting each other on the back. I would have been be even prouder if your e-mail had actually been written in English, but, given the general level of erudition among youth today, I suppose that would be too much to expect (This letter was from the US). But you are right – there is no historic proof of pammachon as you perceive it.

Allow me to reproduce a section out of The Martial Arts of Ancient Greece:

The words máche (meaning “battle” or “combat”) and máchaera (meaning “knife”) both stem from the same root, mach (μάχ), in ancient Greek-a poetically exact and particularly mathematical tongue. We believe that this is not coincidental: máche and máchaera are defined within the same context, a battle to the death between warriors using close-quarter combat weaponry-a knife, hatchet, sword, or spear. Consequently, these two words also define the development of the martial or combative arts-referred to here with the archaic word pammachon (a compound word formed from pan meaning “all” plus máche)-which are the product of hand-to-hand combat involving bladed weapons.

The oldest documented use of the word pammachon does indeed refer to pankration – which is why I hypothesized that this is the word the Greeks used to describe martial arts training, before they figured out that, of necessity, combat sports are something different from martial arts. But you are right, my use of the term “pammachon” is arbitrary – moreso because I am more interested in what was practiced in the 19th century A.D. rather than the 8th century B.C. But there IS proof of the existence of ancient Greek martial arts other than pankration – spectacular proof that has been in everyone’s face for decades. I even put reference to it in The Martial Arts of Ancient Greece, hoping that readers would grasp the concept (though Dr. Poliakoff did a far better job of it than I did, back in 1987 to boot, and very few got it).

What is that proof? Well, none other than the historically documented (really) controversy around pankration itself, all the way back to back in the day:

And yet, the controversy as to whether combat sports are appropriate for training warriors has lasted for centuries. Euripides, for example, in his work Autolykos, mocks professional athletes:

Name one renowned wrestler, one swift runner, one champion discus-thrower, one expert boxer who has served his country by winning laurels. Do they drive the enemy out of the fatherland by throwing the discus, or do they break the row of the enemy’s shields with their kicks? No man is so mad as to do this when facing the horror of deadly steel.

(Note to the reader: The poke at “breaking the row of enemy’s shields with their kicks” refers to pankration. It was remarkably amusing to see modern practitioners trying to reproduce this farce in a recent “documentary” on pankration; Euripides would have laughed himself to death.)

In the Iliad we find the example of Epeios, who, though an unbeaten boxer, did not enjoy great esteem among his peers in actual combat. General Philopoimen (fourth cent. B.C.), a distinguished wrestler, learned through bitter experience that athletes did not become good warriors, and so forbade his soldiers from taking part in athletic competitions! The philosopher Plato (although a wrestler himself) was against pankration as a means of training warriors, while he supported fencing and training in mass competitions with wooden weapons. In his “Laws” he recommends the introduction of hoplomachia to the gymnasium.

If pankration were the martial art of the ancient Greeks, would such a controversy have existed? Would Euripides have mocked pankratiasts? Of course not. And so, it must be clear that a distinction between pankration and combative martial arts existed and was, for the ancient Greeks, a matter of record. Again, the conclusion above is not rocket science and is readily arrrive at when one decides to take their blinders off. I personally chose the name “pammachon” for lack of an official one on record. This brings me to an interesting question for the lawyers out there: since I was the first to publish the use of this term in the modern day in reference to Greek martial arts vs. combat sports, does that mean I have IP rights on use of the word “pammachon” within this context? A bottle of Dom for whoever can substantiate this for me.

Anyway, once I started using the term to define the distinction of Greek martial arts vs. combat sports, a lot of other people jumped on the bandwagon and started using it too, and now it is well on its way to becoming widely accepted.  So be it; Somebody has to think outside the box,  n’est-ce pas?

Also, let me affirm once again (and for the millionth time) that I am not against combat sports! I have always supported combat sports and consider them a prerequisite for martial arts training. To quote again from The Martial Arts of Ancient Greece:

Although the differences between pammachon and pankration are clear, the right training for martial arts practitioners is incomplete without the inclusion of combat sports. If one has not become accustomed to competition through sports, he might be found lacking physically, emotionally, and intellectually, when he takes part in battle.

There are also historical anecdotes that demonstrate that advanced skill in a combat sport allowed the combatant to win in actual combat. For instance, there is the well-known duel of Dioxippos the Athenian and Koragos the Macedonian (both Greeks). In a state of drunkenness, the Macedonian challenged the Athenian to a duel. Dioxippos had won the pankration competition at the Olympiad in 336 B.C.E. King Alexander himself set the date for the duel and thousands of soldiers gathered for the event. Koragos appeared in full armor, in contrast to Dioxippos, who appeared in the nude, oiled like an athlete, and holding a club like Hercules.

Koragos first threw a javelin at him, but Dioxippos avoided it, and so Koragos tried to stab him with his spear. Dioxippos avoided the thrust and broke the spear in two with his club. Desperate, Koragos tried to stab him with a knife, but the Athenian grabbed his right hand with his own left, breaking his balance, and then knocking him off both feet and throwing him to the ground. The winner, Dioxippos rested his foot on his opponent’s throat and raised his club, looking out at the audience like the winner in the pankration. Apparently, Dioxippos had knowledge of both weapons tactics and pankration, which allowed him an easy victory.

So in summary, my stance and opinions should be clear to everyone if they actually read what I write. By all means do criticize me – I look forward to it. But if you’re going to criticize me, forget what various 12 year olds of indeterminate age are spouting on their respective forums. Read what I have written by yourself, and then come back and tell me whether or not I was right or wrong.

I am not, and never have been, interested in public relations. I am indeed, and always have been, interested in public welfare. For me, the martial arts are simply a manifestation of this concern. Please act accordingly.

So. We cool, TayMan?

1 Comment

One Response

  1. Ioannis Sampalis  •  September 23, 2009 @10:13 pm

    Isn’t it remarkable that thousands years after Euripides the same controversy is still around?

    Today, the main theme of course is MMA vs “Traditional” martial arts and the “Street” is considered the modern battlefield.

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