What’s in a word, Part Two


I recently had three delightful visits to my home following publication of this video:

Pammachon Lethal Combatives Demo

in which I show aspects of Pammachon.  One of the visitors was an old student who had not trained with me for almost a decade, while the others were squadron commanders who liked the whole S.E.R.E. concept portrayed in the video (one of whom is a Pammachon student as well).

The thing that wowed me was that people got it, they showed me that they understood both the basis of Pammachon and the concepts portrayed in the video.  One commented on my stance and movement, which reportedly was the way a “natural human predator would move and stand.” Another referred to the techniques shown against the insurgents, citing that they were “exactly what a wolf would do – snap at its prey to disable it, seize it and force it down where it can’t strike back, then terminate it.”

So I’m impressed. Pammachon has become an identifiable system, right on schedule. Students are getting the message. All this internet time and seminars are paying off.

And since Pammachon has become an identifiable system, the first thing we need to do is protect our boundaries. Let’s continue with what’s in a word.

The term “Pammachon” was used in ancient Greek texts in very few cases in the sense of a combat sport, and exclusively by authors from Christian times . Specifically one mention occurs in Dio Chrysostom’s works  (he lived circa 40 – 115), most likely in reference to pankration,  and another in Hesychius (who lived at the end of the 5th century); but Hesychius calls Pammachon “Cypriot wrestling.” Theocritus, 315-260 BC, the creator of ancient Greek bucolic poetry, used  the term “pammachoi ” (total warriors) in reference to athletes. Ancient dictionaries (Souda, Eudemus, etc. ) recorded the term “pammachion ” in the context of pankration.

I started using the word Pammachon in 1999 and copyrighted it in 2000 with regard to “the Martial Art of the West.”  I had found incredible similarities between hand to hand combat techniques and methods in the Western world, starting from Egypt in 2000 BC and going all the way up to 1945, and distilled the common elements; I reasoned that if something worked in diverse geographic cultures throughout 4000 years of human history, chances are that it was proven effective in combat.  As I have explained elsewhere, I decided to call this common method “Pammachon” based on etymology; as a martial artist, I knew the difference between martial arts and combat sports (unlike a slew of 20 year olds and the US Army), and I knew “pan-kration” could not be the martial art of the ancient Greeks, no matter how many people wanted it to be. Insisting that it was, is like saying that “catch wrestling” is hand to hand combat. Catch wrestling can be used in hand to hand combat, but it cannot by definition be hand to hand combat.  The best translation for pankration is “all control”; today we would call it submission fighting, or MMA. But the martial art that was common to the Western world was armor-based, and used specific tactics and methods that took the presence of weapons into account, as well as biting and gouging.

In 2002 I organized the system, copyrighted the material, set up the website, and started talking about Pammachon openly;  I had discovered my grandfather’s photos and was uncovering 19th and early 20th-century material from all over Greece.  In 2004 I formed a non-profit cultural foundation to promote the teaching of Pammachon, which was legally recognized by the Supreme Court of Greece.

In 2006, however,  I encountered an unpleasant diversion.

Greece’s official Pankration Federation ΕΟΠΑ was founded back in 1996 by the students of a controversial figure in the Greek martial arts scene. Bill Zachopoulos was a low-ranking student in Uechi ryu karate who had studied the basics with ex-marine Les Mayo in Albany, NY, and then quickly proceeded to open his own school a few years later. Bill’s rank, as many ranks did back in the day,  miraculously advanced as he flew over the Atlantic to return to Greece in 1969, when he opened his first karate school in downtown Athens. He called his system Okinawa Te Tai, and over the next 20 years spawned an empire of 140 schools scattered throughout all of Greece (and yes, he got better at it as he learned more about martial arts), forging an empire in the process. If this sounds like I’m being hard on Bill, let me say that he was a driving force for the growth of martial arts and combat sports in Greece, and was generous with his time and money, and was ahead of the curve on some things. But he was uneducated (he wrote in block letters) and unscrupulous, and in the end, untrained in the martial arts; I met him on several occasions and several of his closest students were friends of mine.

Bill then made a cardinal mistake; he got old. After his wife died, he became enamored of a certain young lady and had a fling. Sadly, the woman’s mother put her foot down with regard to her daughter dating a more-than-middle-aged man and forbade the union. In a peak of frenzy, Bill threw two hand grenades at the evil matron; the evil matron survived unscathed, however, and Bill went to prison for two counts of attempted murder. He eventually died in prison of a heart condition.

His students were shocked at the situation and the whole Organization teetered for a few months, but then inspiration resonated and the Empire Struck Back. The Greek Pankration Federation was founded in 1996 by the 140 schools in the Okinawa Te Tai network, plus a smattering of other interested parties. It was very well done, and for the first few years, a powerful and promising federation stood on the horizon. Then greed and ignorance stepped in, and everything fell apart.  The problem with ΕΟΠΑ was not pankration – it was that its members insisted on presenting Okinawa Te Tai as pankration, for lack of having trained in anything else.

I have a good relationship with ΕΟΠΑ. I don’t tread on them too harshly and they make sure not to give me an excuse to wax medieval. They know who they are. I know who they are. We both know who I am. Everybody gets along; in fact, personally we like each other and share a drink now and then.  And, since for them pammachon was until recently a synonym for pankration, and there can only be one pankration federation in Greece, we are not really competing, and they think they have the upper hand. The truth is, I LIKE ΕΟΠΑ. I support ΕΟΠΑ for the simple reason that they are as valid as taekwondo, and there is no reason NOT to have a Greek combat sport. I just wish they would further educate themselves on what they are supposed to be, and get rid of those ridiculous uniforms (that Bill Zachopoulos actually came up with) and their ludicrous use of kicks. The ancient Greeks did not employ yoko geri, though the medieval Europeans did.

Circa 2006 they suffered a civil war, however. A bunch of their lesser qualified denizens with delusions of grandeur decided to up and skedaddle and form their own federation called ΠΟΑΜΑ, promoting an ancient Greek combat sport they called pammachon or pammachion that no one had ever heard of. The ΕΟΠΑ guys made sure to gather a bunch of prestigious-sounding individuals to Jointly Declare that There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Sport called Pammachon, and let it go at that. I didn’t care either, because, since I had secured copyrights for my own use and formed a cultural federation for the Greek government which predated their activities, there was nothing they could do about yours truly. ΠΟΑΜΑ eventually disbanded while trying to take ΕΟΠΑ out (ΠΟΑΜΑ today doesn’t even have a website), and most of their members were reabsorbed into the pankration federation after offering humble apologies. Their resident consulting historian, a man called Gregory Zorzos, pressed charges against me for slander because I publicly doubted his conclusions and sources, doubted his references to awards he had allegedly received, and even doubted the existence of the publications he had allegedly authored. The DA threw the suit out. Anyone who has tried to read one of Mr. Zorzos’ books (with one exception) would understand the DA’s decision.

And then  – drumroll – in 2010 Sofie Remijsen translated a 3rd or 4th century papyrus (You, dear lady, are an incredible researcher – I read your other publications as well and predict you will continue to shake the status quo for many years to come. ). Suddenly, there WAS an ancient sport called Pammachon dating to Roman times to Greek Alexandria in Egypt. Whoops and wtf homes?!

But I already knew that Pammachon dated to Roman times in Alexandria; I will keep my own council as to how I knew it. Still, I was surprised to discover that Pammachon had been a sport in Roman times; I didn’t know that.

Then I thought about it. Alexandrian Pammachon was most certainly a sport of Greek origin. Why would the Romans use a Greek name for a sport of Roman origin?

The Roman words that could be used to refer to combat sports or martial arts (or hand to hand combat for that matter) are:

bellum, belli,  certamen, certaminis, certo, certare, certavi, certatus,  confligo, confligere, conflixi, conflictus, dimicatio, dimicationis, duellum, duelli, deluctio, deluctionis, praelium, praeli(i),  proelium, proeli(i)  pugna, pugnae, pugnare, pugnavi, pugnatus

None of these words even remotely resemble machi or pammachon.

Alexandria was Greek. Pammachon was Greek. It was not Roman.

Then it hit me – “fechten.”

Fechten is a German word that is used today with regard to sport fencing. But over the centuries it has also meant fighting, and combat, and beating each others’ brains out with large heavy implements and sharp nasty things. In short, the word evolved from meaning hand to hand combat to meaning sport fencing.

It occurred to me that the word Pammachon could have evolved in a similar manner. It could have started out as a word for hand to hand combat and come to be perceived as a sport, just like fechten.

The proven existence of a Roman-era Alexandrian sport named pammachon gives credence to my theory that pammachon was the battlefield art of the ancient Greeks.

But there is no proof. As the archaeological record stands, Pammachon was either a late synonym for pankration or a Roman-era sport in Alexandria.

The archaeological record is common domain. What is NOT in the archaeological record, however, is NOT common domain.

Since I published first, and since then have been cited by academic authors and students in degree programs, the theory of Pammachon as the “battlefield art” of the ancient Greeks remains my intellectual property. In order for someone to use the term in this context, according to modern convention and current legislation, I must be cited. I may even have a case for IP infringement if someone doesn’t reference me.

See, after reading my books (because he doesn’t really speak Greek and is therefore not capable of engaging in primary research), in 2010 American Jim Arvanitis started using the word Pammachon to describe what he called “battlefield pankration.” Jim copied core concepts from my books and website. Without reference. And published a new book and dvd series on the subject matter. For profit. Which makes it intentional.

Now, the US has wonderful copyright laws (brokered by Microsoft). For copyrights registered before the infringement, the court may award statutory damages up to $150,000 per intentional infringement. Copyright owners may also obtain (subject to approval by the court): (1) a temporary restraining order that prohibits the infringer from distributing the copyrighted work, and (2) a court order authorizing the U.S. marshal to seize the allegedly infringing material(s). Moreover, copyright infringement is a felony punishable by up to 3 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine under 17 U.S.C. § 506(a) and 18 U.S.C. § 2319 when the pirate willfully reproduces or distributes at least 10 copies of one or more copyrighted works with a total retail value of more than $2,500 within a 180 day period. And, the maximum penalty rises to 5 years imprisonment if the pirate acted “for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain.”

You gotta love it. That’s the reason I insisted all my works be published in the US. Coincidentally, I wrote the five-year strategic plan against IP infringement for the responsible EU Agency.

Those who may be interested in Jim Arvanitis, please view this link, where you can read about him in his own words:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Arvanitis

Which brings us back to the issue. Remember, the archaeological record is common domain. What is NOT in the archaeological record, is NOT common domain.

Therefore, in conclusion we have:

1. Pammachon is a martial arts school with a distinct methodology and philosophy that was reconstructed by yours truly in 2000 after almost vanishing in this generation, based on the art that was taught in the 19th century in my village. I have a court decision recognizing this statement precisely as worded, dating to 2004. I have a copyright on this martial art and its related terminology dating to 2000.

2. Since use of the word “Pammachon” with reference to the battlefield art of the ancient Greeks was made by yours truly in 2000, and no publication predates my own, and since academic reference has been made for same by students and degreed historians as well as the general public, Kostas Dervenis owns the IP rights for this thesis, and anyone proposing or using the same context, is obligated in the very least to make reference to my publications. That is how the law stands around the world;  any nation-state that has signed the Berne convention, has agreed to these terms. You can contest this if you wish, but I would recommend not banging your head against the wall.

That is to say, until the archaeological record proves that Pammachon was the battlefield art of the ancient Greeks, at which point I will gladly surrender all IP rights to the use of the term in this context, such use of the term remains my intellectual property.

So, you guys think I dropped enough piss on the borders of the territory, or what?

1 Comment

You might be missing the point


I recently had a conversation with a friend on Facebook regarding historical bowies and their use.  If you look at original bowie knives, most of them lacked a hilt, and the reason for this was quite simply that lack of a hilt made it easier to carry on the person close to the body. You see the same trend in Balkan knives of the same period. The popularity of the Bowie was established in the 1830s, expanded during the 1840s, and reached its peak in the 1850s and the Civil War.  Many bowies were actually made in England, however. The trickle of Sheffield Bowie knives in the early 1830s developed into a flood before the Civil War, with whole factories springing up in England. Bowie knife collections today indicate (not prove) that only about one in ten knives was American made. Union soldiers generally favored Sheffield-made Bowie knives, while Southerners used hand-made versions from individual blacksmiths.  After the Civil War the bowie knife diminished in popularity, and by the mid-1870s was relegated to use as a hunting knife, which is where it started, before it became popular again as a fighting knife in the 1970s.

Let’s take a look at some originals:


(Great article, make sure to click through all the photos!)



Interestingly enough, only one original knife survives that was clearly a dueling blade for knife on knife. This blade is of Mexican origin, and is also claimed to be the one Jim Bowie carried at the Alamo,:


It carries a strong Spanish/dueling influence, and it is likely that Bill Bagwell based his extraordinary Hell’s Belles on this design. But as you can see, the original bowies looked very different, and had no hand guard- just like Balkan knives and Caucasian qamas.

Pavle “Paja” Jovanović (June 16, 1859 – November 30, 1957) was a Serbian Realist painter. His most famous and recognizable painting is the Fencing Lesson. Balkan yatagans tend to have larger ears and are often of bone or ivory; I studied them when I was researching Pammachon.


For me, such weapons are clearly used with the system of quadrants used today in saber/backsword fencing, unlike the eastern saber dance which most resembles gatka. But I have to question if we are missing something – there is no hand support for what is clearly a stabbing as well as chopping weapon. Why? This is not a shamshir or kilij, where the thrust was primarily a backcut during which the hand does not indeed slide (tried it full force on a cow torso with a real kilij while wearing leather gloves).  But for the Balkan yataghan I just don’t get it. How is the hand protected from sliding down onto the blade during a stab?

The qama, Pammachon’s short sword, has two little studs that guide the edge and prevent slippage. It also has a pseudo-guard your hand slips into; I have thrust one through a bull’s spine as a test. But the yataghan escapes me.

As I mentioned earlier, the bowie, like the saber and the kilij, relies on the backcut for much of its functionality. Without the backcut, the bowie quickly becomes irrelevant. So my question is, how many points are we missing? My brief 44-year sojourn in the martial arts and hand to hand combat has shown me that people tend to forget many details very quickly, within a decade for example – I have proven that repeatedly myself during my own studies. So again, the question is, are we missing the point during historical reenactment and reconstruction? Do we lack vital information? And if so, are our egos preventing us from discovering that information? Are we trying to become IMPORTANT rather than trying to discover the truth?

If you are primarily ego-driven, chances are that you are wearing blinders of a sort. And in this day and age, many of us are motivated by our ego and desires rather than the primary function of the warrior, which is to protect the group, and to lose personal ego and desire. Remember, you only have to fear what you carry with you into the Dark. Many of us carry a 50 kilo backpack of subconscious and unconscious urges and hatred with us all day long – that is why we fail.

No Comments

[Luke:] I can’t believe it. [Yoda:] That is why you fail.


I am one of the “old men” (growl) of historical European martial arts and historical reenactment, having been passed the baton by Hank Reinhardt in the mid 1980s, while he was still living in a small apartment, before he made good money with Museum Replicas and became somewhat famous. Many of the observations I enthusiastically put forth back in 1985 as a young man have still not been over-ridden or surpassed today, and are in fact often “borrowed” and used by others without permission or reference.

Back then, we had an advantage that younger folks today do not have – there was no internet, and everything cost money. When I wanted pictures of something in a museum, I had to actually go out to said museum and take the photos myself. That, of course, required both time and cash on our part, hell, even the film and photos cost money vs. digital technology today. Having to spend energy and income to go about from place to place gave one a certain level of respect for both the project and its outcome. It also gave us the opportunity for close proximity with the actual weapons and artifacts, something less likely today in view of their increased popularity (which is why “noted authorities” routinely rip off my photos without credit, permission, or reference).

We were not imitators nor were we following a fashion; we were breaking new ground. We did not, for the most, base our results on popularly available translations, but sought out academics for same. The very small group of us that was involved with these studies back then was searching for answers, real answers to questions that bothered us some, not fame; Facebook and youtube did not exist, hits and like were not counted, and we were not engaged in a popularity contest.

To give you an idea of how the community viewed historical European martial arts, in 1986 when I published a photo of myself holding a German two-hander and a Turkish sword and shield in the most popular Greek martial arts magazine, I was openly mocked by its readers.

Today, HEMA are growing in popularity around the world, as well they should be. As for me, I got lucky with my efforts several times over the years. I offered some theories on Bronze Age Mycenaean hand-to-hand combat that turned out to be accurate (Bettany Hughes, Helen of Troy). I suggested that Pammachon was something separate from pankration long before most people had even heard the word, based on simple etymology; Sofie Remijsen of Leuven University later proved that theory correct by translating an ancient papyrus. I made it clear that pankration was a combat sport and not a martial art, and, together with Nektarios, offered perhaps the most comprehensive analysis available today of its techniques, based on the ancient records: this book has been accepted as a reference by the US Army War College. I stumbled onto 19th century Pammachon much to everyone’s shock, including my own, and was stunned to find that it had been practiced in my own village and by my own family members (It was like a scene from a movie: imagine two sweaty men tearing up a stone floor in a 400 year old family farmhouse and stumbling onto a pack of photos, old letters, contracts, official documents, etc.). And all that hoplological work served to enhance my perception as a martial artist: in the face of the popularity of BJJ and the Gracies, I was one of the few people worldwide who had the backbone to openly state that the 2003 US Army combatives system, based on Brazilian jiu-jitsu, had serious tactical flaws involving its stances and the presence of bladed weapons (Guess what? I was mocked.); seven years later, the US Army, after spending millions of dollars and after 900 cases of hand to hand combat, was forced to capitulate and admit that their system had the flaws I had identified from the very beginning. So, am I so great? No. Rickson and his kin can most likely beat me up in the ring. But in the course of my life I have come to understand and learn from the lessons of history, and that is something that is not very common after all. Whole governments and nations often fail bitterly in the attempt, as we have seen, and individuals far more often.

All the above grant me a pat on the back every so often, and, together with one euro, will buy me a cup of coffee these days, since I don’t teach professionally. But these little laurels also give me the right to make a few observations, and those observations are the purpose of the rant today.

See, I’m disappointed with the HEMA community.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very happy to see the art grow, and happier that students and students of students and friends and students of friends have contributed towards making the community blossom, and hope for a great future. I am often stunned by the observations made by the (typically) young men involved in HEMA today and, believe me, there have been many times when I have sat back and said, duh, why didn’t I think of that? Or, damn, that kid is goooooood.

But I believe we are missing the point. I don’t think the “founders” of the school would be pleased.

Let me explain. I am disgruntled for reasons of both philosophy and technique. Let’s begin with the philosophy.

We must be able to separate fact from both fantasy, and fact from wishful interpretation. It is possible, if I bend the rules, to mathematically prove that 1 plus 1 equals 2. And if I want to present history in a specific light that will be useful for my own purposes, well, it’s the easiest thing in the world, right? But is it correct? Must we not, as martial artists, insist on integrity first and foremost from ourselves, before we ask it of others?

We must do better. We deserve better. We must be grounded in fact. We must operate with complete integrity at all times, and demand it of the world around us.

I have often commented on the work done by Bowdoin professor Thomas Conlan in clarifying the world of the samurai. The myth of the Samurai is just that. The folkloric vision of the Samurai — a loyal warrior, ready to die for his cause, riding into battle with his sword — never existed.

The ideal of the samurai with which we are so familiar was born in peace. The image was created by the Samurai themselves, during the 17th century, when they felt a need to justify their own existence.

By translating 1,302 military documents, Conlan was able to re-create entire battles and gain an understanding of the life a warrior in 14th-century Japan that scholars previously lacked. The documents are narratives of battle including mentions of wounds, fatalities, and who had witnessed them.

Unlike the Europeans, the Samurai rarely used swords in battle — swords were very expensive, and were passed on to heirs as a status symbol rather than actually being deployed. Instead the samurai most often used arrows and spears (swords account for 5% of all documented wounds).

The popular image of the Samurai was created by the warriors themselves in the 17th century. Unlike 14th-century Japan, 17th-century Japan was not ravaged by war. The country labored under a centuries-long dictatorship, and, like today, in order to keep peace people willingly gave up many of their rights in service to the law. Because so many disputes in the past had been rooted in land rights, the rulers systematically broke the Samurai’s ties to the land, so even though they remained an identifiable class, they lost their land rights. In order to survive, they had to prove their worth to their overlords. To do so, they created a mythos founded on loyalty and servitude. A whole hierarchy, an entire fictitious tradition was developed in the name of the survival of a particular caste, and became so popular it entered mainstream culture as reality.

You can see that in many traditional Japanese sword schools. Most of the techniques are clearly designed for duels in a civilized environment, combat on tatami mats as it were, not for the battlefield. For the most part, they would not work on the battlefield; I have tested this hypothesis time and again, and am often hated for it (actually, to be frank, I am hated for saying so to the face of the people involved, and they being unable to prove otherwise). Which is not to say that there are not extraordinary masters and swordsmen involved with the Japanese martial arts – I am speaking as a generalization.

And so here we HEMA students are. Are we also going to chase after the Lord of the Rings and the Game of Thrones, or are we going to actually study western martial culture and draw meaningful lessons from it that can contribute to our own future? Are we also going to invent a sub-culture for the express reason of giving our lives purpose? Please. When I want to LARP, I play airsoft, it’s more fun.

Because, you see, HEMA are actually founded in the pursuit of integrity, independence, and human dignity; this spirit of the Renaissance infused their teaching before the Renaissance actually took hold on Western society. Historical European Martial Arts have a very Zen-like spiritual foundation. You don’t believe me? Let’s take a closer look at their very foundation.

Johannes Liechtenauer was a 13th or 14th century German fencing master. No direct record of his life or teachings exists, and all that we know of him comes from the writings of other masters and scholars. The only account of his life was written by the authors of the Nuremberg manuscript MS 3227a, the oldest text in the tradition, who state that “Master Liechtenauer learnt and mastered [the] Art in a thorough and rightful way, but he did not invent and put together this Art. Instead, he traveled and searched many countries with the will of learning and mastering this rightful and true Art.” Liechtenauer seems to have been alive at the time of the creation of the MS 3227a in 1389.

What is interesting to point out here is that the MS 3227a pretty much admits that Liechtenauer engaged in a reconstruction of an art that was almost lost in his own time, something that Alfred Hutton did 500 years later, an art he was trying to save and codify. He was eminently successful.

Liechtenauer was described by later masters as the “grand master” of the art, and a long poem called the Zettel (“Record”) is generally attributed to him by these masters (and many more masters and manuscripts quote some version of this poem without attribution). In short, everyone pretty much admits that Liechtenauer put the method together as a compilation of existing material that was at risk of fading away. The masters of the Society of Liechtenauer were responsible for most of the most significant fencing manuals of the 15th century, and Liechtenauer and his teachings were also the focus of the German fencing guilds that arose in the 15th and 16th centuries, such as the Marxbrüder and the Veiterfechter.

Hans Döbringer, the first master of the Liechtenauer tradition, is one of four authors of a section on the sword in the MS 3227a. The rest of the manuscript is a compilation consisting of treatises on a variety of mundane and mystical topics, including metallurgy, alchemy, chemistry, magical recipes, medicine, and the martial arts. Let’s take a look at the words with which Döbringer introduces Liechtenauer’s teachings. I am going to venture my own version of the translation here, which is a compilation of several translations combined with personal interventions. I would not hesitate to wager that I understand a bit about martial arts and martial ethos, and have studied history somewhat, and so my observations are based on that understanding. I make no pretense of being a scholar of Mittelhochdeutsch (In fact, though I understand German well, no one who has heard me speak it would feel comfortable calling me a scholar of modern German. Or even a competent student thereof.).

Jung Ritter lere / got lip haben / frawen io ere /
So wechst dein ere / Uebe ritterschaft und lere /
Kunst dy dich czyret / vnd in krigen sere hofiret /
Ringens gut fesser / glefney sper swert unde messer /
Menlich bederben / unde in andern henden vorterben /
Haw dreyn vnd hort dar / rawsche hin trif ader la varn /
Das in dy weisen / hassen dy man siet preisen /
Dor auf dich zosze / alle ding haben limpf lenge vnde mosze /
Und was du trei wilt treiben / by guter vornunft saltu bleiben /
Czu ernst ader czu schimpf / habe frölichen mut / mit limpf /
So magstu achten / und mit gutem mute betrachten /
Was du salt füren / und keyn im dich rüren /
Wen guter mut mit kraft / macht eyns wedersache czagehaft /

Young knight, have love for god and honor women;
so grows your honor. Practice knightly disciplines and learn
the Art which adorns you and will glorify you in battle.
Grappling is good, yet better? Lance, spear, sword, and knife.
Make use of Manliness, which in other hands remains useless.
Strike hard towards, rush towards, hit or let go;
In this the wise hate
the man seen seeking praise.
Understand this, that all things have correct manner, length, and measure.
Whatever action you intend, maintain your good judgment.
In earnest or in play, have a cheerful heart, with decency,
So you may perceive and consider with good heart,
How you should act and move against him,
As good heart and strength
will intimidate your opponent.

These words, which commence Liechtenauer’s lessons and are thus the most important points he wanted to pass on, are staggering. “Young knight, have love for god;” Note that he mentions love for God but not a word about the Church, unlike the Code of Chivalry compiled in the 19th century by wishful thinkers. “And honor women,” he says. Unbelievable! In an age when life was cheap and women had few rights, the Master counsels young knights to honor women. And the rest of the stanza is incredible – he is basically describing the internal formation of a warrior, asking for integrity, asking for decency, asking for a good heart and strength in the face of death and war and terror. He is talking about maintaining one’s center, about limiting excess, about maintaining good judgment. Metron Ariston, as Cleobulus said in the 6th century BC. Wow.

(For all scholars, I have translated “das in dy weisen / hassen dy man siet preisen” as shown because such a translation binds with the rest of the text, as opposed to having the knight trying to curry favor from fairground masters and contest overseers and other such theories.)

The text continues by stating:

He is a brave man who fights his own weaknesses.
der ist eyn ku[e]ner man der synem gleichen tar bestan

So, how many of us follow these directives in our hearts? How many of us apply these directives to our own lives, so that we can say without falsehood that we are employing what we have learned from HEMA in society on a daily basis?

Or, how many of you are simply LARPing? Because you cannot have HEMA without these foundations, and you cannot use Liechtenauer’s name without honoring his instructions. And, if you do NOT honor his instructions, then you have no business claiming you practice historical European martial arts. Period.

Oh, I get it! YOU’RE going to park philosophy by the curb, and just do the techniques outlined in the manuals because you’re cool! Well, I’ve got something for you too, right out of the same book:

their bad parries and wide fencing they
try to look dangerous with wide and long
strikes that are slow and with these they
perform strikes that miss and create openings
in themselves.

mit dem
ho[e]bschen paryrn und weiterumefechten
als sy sich veyntlich stellen / und weite und
lange hewe dar brengen lanksam und trege/
mit deme sy sich gar sere vorhawen und zeu[e]men /
und sich auch do mite vaste blos geben

It is interesting to note that Döbringer (most likely) is already complaining (circa 1389) about the dueling use of the sword as opposed to its use on the actual battlefield. What he is complaining about, and what is already problematic for him, is the fact that use of the sword in formation is rapidly being forgotten in his own era. The reason modern fencing is executed on a strip and not in a circle, for example, is that in battlefield formation there is no circle – a warrior has little room to move around in, and if you swing a sword around widely, you are most likely to cut off body parts from your own brothers in arms. You can only move forward, back, or up and down, or swivel around your own centerline. If you read Döbringer’s text and understand this particular limitation, then his words become crystal clear.

Argh, but, but, but, sputter! There is no but. I’ll give you another tweak: Döbringer never mentions the longsword. He refers to the sword in general. He refers to the Method of swordsmanship. The longsword is a unique weapon that only saw historic use for circa two centuries, plus or minus. It had deliberate tactical advantages and disadvantages and was found to be “cool” as a dueling weapon, which is why later masters concentrated so much on its use. But in the line, it was primarily a stabbing rather than cutting tool, and a shield and single-hander were much better: if this were not the case, you would have seen long swords developed and used before they surfaced historically (Although admittedly, the development of the blast furnace in Europe in the 13th century, allowing for better quality steel, probably had something to do with the longsword’s appearance).

(Outraged longsword dude gets up into my face frothing at the mouth, spittle dribbling from his lips and spattering everywhere) Oh yeah? Oh YEAH? Can you prove that, Dervenis?

Sure. Because the MS 3227a also refers to fencing with the long knife (messer, falchion, take your pick). And it says:

Because the sword was designed based on the knife, anyone who wants to learn fencing with the long knife should know that the foundation and principles that belong to the sword also belong to the knife.

Wer do mit dem langen messer wil fechten lernen / wen aus dem lãgen messer / ist / das swert genomen vnd funden / Der sal von ersten / merken vnd wisse~ das daz fundame~t vnd dy pñcipia / dy do gehoren czu~ sw°te / dy gehoren auch czum messer /

Ever try to use a knife like a two-handed longsword? Bit of an issue.

Let me clarify things more. When Döbringer says:

Movement [Motus], note that word well, it is to the fencing
a heart and a crown, it is the very matter
of fencing.

Motus das worte schone / ist des fechtens
eyn hort und krone / der gancze materiaz
des fechtens

he is not referring to hopping around like a bunny rabbit! We martial artists often judge each other by how well we move – the modern word for it is kinesiology. I often use kinesiology professionally to tell if someone is lying, for example. How efficiently, how fluently, how little effort one uses, this is the key to Motus, not moving back and forth and around like a boxer in a ring! Imagine being laden with armor, marching out into the dust in a hot sun, pissing and shitting in your britches, your brothers to your left and right and at your back, dust everywhere, the foe in front of you, intent on killing you, arrows flying, and then hopping around like a boxer in the ring with his trainer in the corner! What nonsense! Motus refers to the motion of the spine and torso, how well you move your hips, your efficiency of motion (allowing for reserves of energy), how well you align the blade, how well you discern and take advantage of openings, how you make use of the opponent’s weaknesses to effortlessly take him down.

So. You have your homework cut out for you, then. Forget about LARPing. Study the source, the original source, and try to track down what the fuss is about.

Then we can talk. Because the world needs martial discipline, since manipulation has been identified as violence per the World Health Organization, and there is a whole bunch of that going around. Determined individuals are required by society, if we are to survive.

The rest? It’s just LARPing. Lightning bolt anyone?


The Zone


On Mayday I went for a brief bike ride with my daughter through the nature park behind my house. A stream runs through this park, making it an island of green in the sea of concrete that is Athens. My neighbourhood is fiercely protective of our little preserve, actively opposing efforts at deforestation and construction, and even, in the past, forcibly arresting the lackeys of developers who tried to set it ablaze.

On May 1st we went to gather flowers, as is the custom in our country, and briefly entered the Zone.

Roughly ten years ago, on return from Dubai, I started marketing the CIS countries as a territory. The firm I worked for was bidding on tax systems in the Ukraine at the time. Looking for local partners, I stumbled onto a small company called GSC, which was developing videogames for the international market. In the end, nothing materialized from this particular project, but I kept the company in mind.

Some years later, in 2008 or 2009, when I was once again marketing the Ukraine, I attended a live show hosted by GSC featuring their videogame “Stalker,” which had become an international success.

The game is set in an alternative reality, where a second nuclear disaster occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Exclusion Zone in the near future and causes strange changes in the area around it. The background and some terminology of the game are borrowed from the popular science fiction novella Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky and the 1979 Andrei Tarkovsky film “Stalker” that was based on it. As a result of the film, the word “Stalker” was later used for the scientists and engineers who explored the interior of Chernobyl’s sarcophagus after its hasty construction in 1986, and that probably inspired the videogame.

The key feature of the Zone in both the movie and the videogame was that “nothing remains the same.” You cannot retrace your steps. Dangers that were mapped one morning were no longer there the next, or had moved to a different proximate location. The key directive for survival in the Zone was that everything constantly changed, and you had to keep your awareness focused in the here-and-now in order to remain alive.

So, on Mayday I began introducing my daughter to the Zone.

As we biked through the nature park’s one and only trail, we found that four large trees had fallen across the path, torn up from the roots by strong winds. We were forced to dismount and carry our bikes over the obstacles. The uprooted trees confirmed the presence of environmental degradation close to my own home (four uprooted trees within a single square mile is not a coincidence); at the same time, the disaster provided an opportunity to explain to my daughter that Nature was forever changing, inconsistent, fickle, unpredictable, and dangerous. Nature is, in short, the core principle upon which the fictional Zone is based.

Tarkovsky understood the simile provided by the science fiction novella and used it in his movie. Stalker relies on long takes with slow, subtle camera movement, rejecting the use of rapid montage. Almost all of the scenes not set in the Zone are in a high-contrast brown monochrome, emphasising the monotony of Soviet existence. In contrast, he used bright colours when filming the Zone and portrayed it as filled with verdant nature.

As a follow-up to Mayday’s experiment, I took my daughter into the real Zone over Orthodox Easter: a trip into the wilds near my ancestral home. We visited a small chapel roughly two-hours uphill from our village. But many of the paths were no longer in use, and were overgrown. As a result, my daughter and I made many false starts and had to retrace our steps again and again, an exhausting foray for a ten-year old. What should have taken two hours wound up taking three; it was psychologically daunting to have your goal in sight, and not being able to find any clear way to get there, lost among the trees.

My daughter was exhilarated. It was all the confirmation I needed that what was missing from our lives was, in fact, the Zone.

“Kosta Danaos” still receives quite a few e-mails each week (damn youtube). Most are from Clark Kents who are convinced that, with just the right push, they could spread their wings and transform into Kal-Els (and then they´ll show all the dorks who were making fun of them!). But many e-mails are from people who are just looking for a meaning in their lives beyond their daily routine, a life less ordinary to quote John Hodge.

Here´s an example from a man named Marc:


I read both of your books, they are very interesting. I am struggling with my spirituality along with the rest of mankind, there are so many pitfalls. I am interested in mind training, any books or works you can recommend would be appreciated. My emotions are far from being mastered, as much as I would love to say I am ready to go for the higher teachings, I am choking on the mundane. Hopefully, one day our paths will cross.

To the way,


When I wrote the Magus of Java, I made it very clear in the final chapter that what I personally was looking for were solutions to problems that we as humanity were facing. Most of these problems centre on the loss of Nature´s vitality. Intuitively, I understood back then that what humanity was missing, was staring us in the face all along.

In his 2012 book “2052-A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years,” Jorgen Randers, one of the original authors of the Limits of Growth, counsels us that change was inevitable, and that what we should do is “mourn our loss and get on with our lives.” Over the next forty years, efforts to limit the human ecological footprint will continue. Future growth in global population and GDP will be constrained in surprising ways, by rapid fertility decline as a result of urbanization, productivity decline as a result of social unrest, and continuing poverty among the poorest 2 billion world citizens. At the same time there will be impressive advances in resource efficiency and climate-friendly solutions. There will also be an increased focus on human well-being rather than on per capita income growth.

Professor Randers closes by affirming that, based on the extensive database underpinning the model developed for 2052, it appears that the human response will be too slow. The most critical factor will be greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. These emissions will remain so high that our grandchildren most likely will have to live with self-reinforcing, and hence runaway, global warming in the second half of the twenty-first century.

A summary of Randers model can be found here: http://www.2052.info/o121013%20The%202052%20Forecast%20(Pestel%20Institut)Slides.pdf

The hell I say. I can mourn when I´m in the grave.

Why should my daughter and her children have to live in fear of endless natural decline due to the short-sightedness and selfish greed of every Kardashian prancing around the world in designer thongs as we speak? Give me a break. And what Professor Randers model does not take into account is the decay of the human psyche that such events will inevitably bring into being.

The Zone is very much a part of our minds, you see. We were built for it. We have not evolved beyond it. The Zone is what we are missing in our lives, why so many of us have psycho-social problems, and why people are yearning for a life less ordinary. Living in a controlled, electronically-networked society and relying on others for our sustenance, we have lost the need to focus completely on the present moment because we are not faced with ever-changing dangers.

But since our brains are wired for the Zone, a good place to start solving our problems is by introducing people to the mental state required to survive in the Zone on a daily basis; this corresponds to Level Three in Pammachon, and I know how to take students who follow my method to this state. It is important that we reclaim our hearts and minds. The popularity of videogames and survivalism are both due to the desire of people to see themselves as heroes, defeating the rigours of a particular Zone; perhaps if we could teach a larger portion of the populace to know their own minds, they would go beyond dreaming to actually contributing towards making the world a better place. Who knows?

No Comments
« Older Posts
Newer Posts »