Paleo eskirmology


Amongst the many problems caused by the attempt to reconstruct historical combat systems in a modern post-industrial society, there are two core or elemental causes originating from both parts of the subject:

  • the approach of a modern person to an historical source, and
  • the historical source itself

The majority of the problems are derived from the ‘interpreter’ of the data, his mind-set, his experience, and his understanding of both fighting and the historical period which he studies. This initial problem is capable of causing additional problems to the Practice of historical combat systems (primarily the problem of Risk and how to manufacture the Risk of mortal combat in a post-industrial society which sanctions ‘sport’ or ‘recreational’ behaviour rather than ‘life-and-death’ training), such as transposing an historical combat system into a modern sport. This problem itself is quite evident in modern attempts to recreate combat systems.

Here we shall identify just three of the subsequent problems displacing a ‘true’ historical reconstruction:

Disparate teleology between reconstruction aims and original aims

Risk was a driving factor for our ancestors, because the opponent presented a credible and explicit threat to our ancestor’s life. Failure to stop an opponent from murdering meant instant death. The defence for murder was one’s own proficiency in combat, and therefore one’s actions, behaviours and operation in combat was crucial to survival. It cannot be stressed enough how Combat Systems (besides being measures and reflections of machismo and prowess) were ‘Life Protection Systems’. Just as the airbag protects from injury in the event of a car crash, or the fire-alarm the protection against property fire; the Combat System was protection against violent death in interpersonal conflict. As necessity is the mother of invention, so Risk of violent death the mother of the invention of Combat Systems.

The problems with a field of study such as Paleoeskirmology are derived from the attempt to recreate a Combat System outside of its original context and without its original pressures. Just as an animal flourishes within its natural environment, but is less likely to survive outside of that environment; so too does the Combat System. Any recreation of an extinct combat system must inevitably begin from identification of the primary factors which restrict and/or inhibit the practice of such a combat system outside of its original context.

  • Combat System A was practice by the social group X during the period P
  • Combat System B is developed by the social group Y during the period Q.

Let us imagine that System A is the combat system of the knight of Europe, and is therefore developed by the bourgoise upperclasses during the period 1100-1600s. It was a primary concern to them that their system keep them alive. As Vadi stated in the 1480′s, it was to guard oneself from the gates of death. Any technique, any action and strategy which could meet with objective of survival was of use to them, and the small subcategory of Actions and Strategies which continually helped a conduit (i.e. ‘practitioner’) of that System to survive was passed on as part of a Combat System. This is what we term ‘Functional Selection’ - or the survival of combative information by exposure to those risks, and the subsequent passing on of that meme to form a ‘tradition’.

Let us assume that Combat System B is developed by the middle classes of the 21st Century, and is based upon the works of those abovementioned Knights. The core problem is that the most immediate function of the system is removed. The need to live by means of this System no longer applies – and therefore the most fundamental predicate for such a system does not exist.

Other problems are derived from approaches to sources. John Clements’ article on ARMA discusses some of these problems, but does not identify clear solutions. Perhaps, the solution is to understand combat intrinsically from the outset.

Parallels might be drawn with the modern military or police services who must practice combat systems for the very real necessity of survival. Everything they learn and practice is based upon the understanding that such material will be applied in future events when required. The practice of military combatives outside of the military almost always experience a depreciation of quality, simply because the function of that system is less immediate. Likewise, when our original practitioners are separated from the reciprocal practitioners by means of chronology rather than profession, then we encounter even more problems.

The written word reflects complexity not utility - Volume does not equal Precedence

Complexity requires greater explanation. This fact is undeniable. Although a mechanics manual about a car might fill 200 pages, a disproportionate partition of that manual will divulge the complexity of the engine, despite the engine being only a physically small part of the car. Likewise, a manual on dance might describe only a single paragraph on timing, but entire chapters upon the technique, despite the latter being wholly dependant upon the former. Moreover, a manual on Karate might compose a few pages on stances, stepping and basic movements, and be filled entirely with discussions about Kata; or a Shaolin manual have only pages on principles and basic motions, and a further thousand pages on Forms (Xing, Hyung, Tul, Kata et al) despite the actual time spent on the practice of Forms being less than that on Basics.

Statistically speaking, complexity will require greater space to expound it’s range of variables – the greater the number of variables, the more space is required to explain them. For this reason, preliminary instructions should be considered the primary sources of behaviour in combat, and conditional phrases (such as ‘if the opponent does X’) should almost always be considered as contingency plans. In effect, 80% of encounters may be successful based upon the preliminary instruction of ‘hit and keep hitting until the opponent is neutralised’, yet in the case that the opponent is able to demonstrate resistance to that plan, then we must consider a different course of action.

Recreating an account rather than the System

Another problem opposing the modern research is the number of accounts he attempts to work from. Being selective, such as attempting to reconstruct the Combat System from a single source, means that we are prone to miss any discrepancies between accounts (i.e. ‘manuscripts’). It is quite logical that our ancestor’s might have only had access to a single source, and therefore that practitioner was only able to understand the world of combat as it was articulated via that source, yet this will inevitably only account a ‘perspective’ of combat.