Elric turned his stern gaze on [his apprentice].
“As a group we seek wisdom. As individuals we can be eccentric, peevish, perverse, opinionated—apt to take offense upon small occasions. Act with restraint. Be courteous. We get along best at great distances from one another.”
“Every convocation has its confrontations, its challenges. You’ve been sheltered in the past. Once you’re initiated as a full mage, you won’t be under my protection any longer. Others may challenge you, to test your powers or prove their own. Do not rise to the fool’s challenge to be a fool yourself….”
— Casting Shadows, Chapter 1
…In fact, if there was one thing I thought they needed, it was more drill in full gear. A [modern] soldier in the field would probably be wearing body armor that weighed about twenty-five pounds. Plus a field pack and other equipment that could mean he’d be carrying sixty pounds. Throw in gloves and goggles, elbow and knee pads, and what you got was someone who had to move in completely different ways. Balance would be a problem. Nobody was going to do much kicking—it’s hard enough to carry that weight on two legs, never mind one.
I was reminded of one of the more obscure kata in judo—kojiki no kata. The moves are odd and stilted, very different from the other forms that judoka practice. But that’s because that particular kata rehearses movements that would be made in full armor. It’s a holdover from the days when the samurai in armor still stalked the battlefields, and a recognition that the mechanics of fighting can change technique considerably.
It may be that all this training is paying off. I went home that night uneasy: I felt some sort of psychic barometric shift taking place. It was not a good thing. The Japanese describe seme as the type of pressure and intimidation a master swordsman can force on a lesser opponent, without seeming to do anything. It’s unseen but nonetheless real. I had that sense of something pushing against me, probing my weaknesses.
— Sensei, chapter 10
Conventional martial training did not follow a common structure throughout [feudal] Japan; every clan had its own methodology and philosophy. Many clans had certain individual soldiers serve as group teachers, working with younger, newer troops. As a comparison the modern army, where new recruits learn from more experienced veterans on a fairly informal basis, is a similar system.
Some clans actually took the next step, establishing formal dōjō, or martial arts schools, to provide instruction to their men. Veterans of many campaigns, whose skill had been noted, would serve as instructors. This became their duty, and they lived to perfect their skills. They were more like drill instructors training recruits rather than modern teachers of martial arts. These sensei were teaching their charges how to kill and survive, not how to score points with flair and panache.
The philosophies that became a major part of martial arts as we now know them may have been in place, but only nominally. The subject of instruction was tricks and strategies to be used in defeating the enemy, not inner peace and self-control.
Another unusual martial art still practised in small numbers is armoured wrestling. Grappling with the enemy while in full gear is very different from conventional wrestling, and it needed practice. Related techniques included seizing and dismounting a rider while passing him.
D’Artagnan:When I became a Musketeer, I was told that each time I drew my sword, I should consider not what I was killing but what I was allowing to live.
— “The Man in the Iron Mask” (1998)
In the martial arts, the really good teachers cultivate in their students an acute sensitivity to various stimuli. Your nerve endings are teased and jolted, your reflex actions made more subtle, and, for some of us, the result is a change in the ways we see the world and exist within it. The true masters are both brutal and refined, compassionate torturers, and guides who lead you to places where you will stand alone, confronting age-old fears that snarl in the abyss.
Once you’ve gone into that void and come through to the other side, it changes you. You glimpse it sometimes in people who’ve had a similar experience. I see it in my teacher’s face in his rare unguarded moments. And I see it in the mirror. It doesn’t make us better than other people, just different.
The martial arts sensei is very much like a Zen master; he has not sought out the student, nor does he prevent him from leaving. If the student wants guidance in climbing the steep path to expertise, the instructor is willing to act as guide—on the condition that the student be prepared to take care of himself along the way. The instructor’s function is to delegate to the student exactly those tasks which he is capable of mastering, and then to leave him as much as possible to himself and his inner abilities. The student may follow in the footsteps of his guide or choose an alternate path—the choice was his.
The instructor first teaching technique (waza) without discussing its significance; he simply waits for the student to discover this for himself. If the student has the necessary dedication, and the teacher provides the proper spiritual inspiration, then the meaning and essence of the martial arts will finally reveal themselves to him.
— Zen in the Martial Arts, p. 5
“The selection of a primary disciple is not an easy thing. It is often marked by blood.”
Yamashita looked at me significantly. The founder of his style, Ittosai, dealt with this issue centuries ago and had left his successors through the generations a ruthless model. The master, blessed with two remarkable students of apparently equal skill, had brought them together. He had placed the scrolls of the style and the document of succession on the ground, along with a ceremonial sword. Then he had calmly informed the two disciples that the individual who left the room alive would be his successor.
— Sensei, Epilogue
Horses and men were kept fit both physically and mentally by hunting. The men learned military tactics and stalking techniques which were useful when they were sent on scouting patrols, and at the same time enjoyed a day’s exciting sport, although in the context of the Strategikon hunting was a means of teaching manoeuvres and supplying meat to the camps. The Byzantine military hunt was a major undertaking, with 800-1000 men per mile spread in a line across the country to be driven for game. Using the whole army, drawn up in similar fashion to a battle line with centre, right and left, and according to total numbers from one to four horsemen deep, game was trapped in a gradually closing circle, the right and left divisions eventually meeting, passing each other and tightening the circle till the centre was filled with animals ready for slaughter.
If infantry were present they came into the circle stationing themselves in front of the inner circle of horsemen, using ‘their shields to prevent small animals escaping through the horses’ legs. If no infantry were available the rear line of horsemen dismounted and lined up before the front line. Only then was permission given to designated officers to dispatch quarry, the circle being large enough for safe shooting and the trajectory from mounted archers directed downwards.
Apart from exercise and food shot, soldiers learned to negotiate any type of country while maintaining position in ranks. Powers of observation and physical responses were also honed. The horses had their tendons, bones and muscles toughened and their minds and responses sharpened at the same time, getting enjoyment from the chase with minimal chance of being injured.
To train in the martial arts is like being apprenticed to frustration, to the burn of effort, and the unattainable criteria of perfection. There’s no glamour, no reward beyond the ones you create in your own heart. You struggle along the path and your teacher goads you or challenges you, always three steps ahead and always waiting, his eyes betraying nothing but demanding everything. And you try to give it.
Hunting animals was the absolute passion of the medieval upper class, and the only activity recognized as a real recreation. It served several social functions. It confirmed power, wealth, status, and prestige as the king or aristocrat went out with his retainers, horses, dogs, and, sometimes, trained falcons. It brought men of similar social background together and was good training for medieval warfare, keeping men and horses fit. It developed strategic thinking as the men hunted elusive and often dangerous quarries, such as wild boar, bears, wolves, and red deer. Late summer and, especially, autumn were the usual times for hunting, which was often dangerous. Accidents were common, especially among immature, testosterone-driven, risk-taking young men. The Annals of Saint-Bertin reports that in 864 [C.E.] the sixteen-year-old Charles of Aquitaine, the son of King (later Emperor) Charles the Bald
whom his father had recently received from Aquitaine and taken with him to Compiegne, was returning one night from hunting in the forest of Guise [nowadays Cuise-la-Motte near Compiegne]. While he meant only to enjoy some horseplay with some other young men of his own age, by the devil’s action he was struck in the head with a sword by a youth called Albuin. The blow penetrated almost as far as the brain, reaching from his left temple to his right cheekbone and jaw…. He suffered from epileptic fits for a long time, and then on 29 September  he died.
Hunting accidents were also convenient ways of eliminating rivals and were sometimes used as plausible covers for assassinations.
Any sensei is a bit mercurial at times—they do it to keep you guessing. Part of the mystery of a really good martial arts teacher is the way in which you’re perpetually surprised by things, kept just slightly off balance. I had a karate teacher years ago, and every time I thought, OK this guy has shown me just about everything he’s got, he would waltz in and do something I had never seen before. Then he would look at me like he could read my mind.
— Sensei, chapter 4
In Japan, white is the color of emptiness and humility. Many of us had started our training in arts like judo or karate, where the uniforms known as gi were traditionally white as a symbol of humility. Most mainline Japanese instructors I knew frowned on the American urge to branch out into personal color statements with their uniforms. The message was clear: a gi is not an expression of individuality. People wanting to make statements should probably rent billboards and avoid Japanese martial arts instructors. They are not focused on your needs. They are concerned only with the pursuit of the Way. You are free to come along. But your presence is not necessary.
You have to get used to that sort of attitude. In the martial arts, nobody owes you anything, least of all your teacher. The assumption is that you are pretty much worthless and lucky to be in the same room with your sensei. You do what he says. You don’t talk back. You don’t ask rude questions. You don’t cop an attitude—that’s the sensei’s prerogative.
— Sensei, chapter 2
A dojo is a miniature cosmos where we make contact with ourselves—our fears, anxieties, reactions, and habits. It is an arena of confined conflict where we confront an opponent who is not an opponent but rather a partner engaged in helping us understand ourselves more fully. It is a place where we can learn a great deal in a short time about who we are and how we react in the world. The conflicts that take place inside the dojo help us handle conflicts that take place outside. The total concentration and discipline required to study martial arts carries over to daily life. The activity in the dojo calls on us to constantly attempt new things, so it is also a source of learning—in Zen terminology, a source of self-enlightenment.
— Zen in the Martial Arts, p. 4
Victory in ancient battle did not go to the ‘big battalions’, as the processes of combat were very different to the mutually devastating firepower duels of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries [C.E.]. Fatalities from missile fire or mêlée seem to have been remarkably light until one force turned tail and exposed itself to one-sided slaughter. When victorious armies did suffer significant losses, these were usually concentrated in parts of their force that had given way before the eventual triumph. Hence, raw numbers were much less important than fighting spirit and a fearsome reputation, as good troops could stand firm even against great odds and could sometimes panic less-resolute adversaries into flight even before physical combat was joined. By far the most important variable in the model is troop quality, to reflect this psychological factor and also to show how good troops like Spartan hoplites and Roman legionaries could use their superiority in drill and discipline to achieve tactical advantage.
…Although combat did not involve heavy mutual fatalities, it does seem to have revolved around shorter-term attritional mechanisms such as wounds, exhaustion, psychological strain and ammunition depletion, so the distinction between fresh troops and those who have become ‘spent’ becomes a key means of tracking the progressive loss of resilience.
Attention is selectivity applied to perception. It is an inward decision, usually made unconsciously, about what is worth perceiving and what isn’t. Attention both finds meaning and creates meaning. When we adopt the principle of “separate the subtle from the gross,” we are deciding on purpose where we want our attention to go, temporarily withholding it from what is obvious and bestowing it instead on what is inconspicuous and elusive.
In the world of spirit, attention is the equivalent of physical movement. It carries us toward the knowledge and acquaintances we seek and away from influences that we have determined to be harmful or useless. If you can’t control your attention, you can’t move properly, can’t get where you want to go when you want to go there. To the extent that you allow your attention to be jerked around by whatever happens to be manifesting most insistently, you look to other spiritual beings like a spastic. Control of attention is thus the first skill an aspiring magician must master, and perhaps the most important.
— On Becoming an Alchemist, pp. 52-53
Because attention determines what will or will not appear in consciousness, and because it is also required to make any other mental events—such as remembering, thinking, feeling, and making decisions—happen there, it is useful to think of it as psychic energy. Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done, and in doing work it is dissipated. We create ourselves by how we invest this energy. Memories, thoughts, and feelings are all shaped by how we use it. And it is an energy under our control, to do with as we please; hence, attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.
The remarkable accomplishments of Hindu fakirs and other practitioners of mental disciplines are often presented as examples of the unlimited powers of the mind, and with more justification. But even many of these claims do not hold up under investigation, and the ones that do can be explained in terms of the extremely specialized training of a normal mind. After all, mystical explanations are not necessary to account for the performance of a great violinist, or a great athlete, even though most of us could not even begin to approach their powers. The yogi, similarly, is a virtuoso of the control of consciousness. Like all virtuosi, he must spend many years learning, and he must keep constantly in training. Being a specialist, he cannot afford the time or the mental energy to do anything other than fine-tune his skill at manipulating inner experiences. The skills the yogi gains are at the expense of the more mundane abilities that other people learn to develop and take for granted. What an individual yogi can do is amazing—but so is what a plumber can do, or a good mechanic.
I have previously posted on Hunting as War Training. Both this and that excerpt reference the medieval European experience, but the concept is not exclusive to that period.
Hunting in all its forms was strongly recommended by chivalric writers as the perfect preparation for military life. The typical argument was put forward in the first half of the fourteenth century [C.E.] by [King] Alfonso XI, who found time between ruling his kingdom of Castile and fighting the Moors to write a book about the sport.
For a knight should always engage in anything to do with arms and chivalry, and if he cannot do so in war, he should do so in activities which resemble war. And the chase is most similar to war, for these reasons: war demands expense, met without complaint; one must be well horsed and well armed; one must be vigorous, and do without sleep, suffer lack of good food and drink, rise early, sometimes have a poor bed, undergo cold and heat, and conceal one’s fear.
Different types of hunting required different skills, all relevant to warfare, including knowledge of the quarry’s habits, handling a pack of hounds, complete control of an often-frightened horse and the use of various weapons, including spears and swords to perform the kill.
All [medieval Japanese] warriors, regardless of rank, were trained in swordsmanship. Those of the upper ranks, of course, had more time to devote to the pursuit of excellence in this art, and to the pursuit of superior instructors—which explains why a retainer of lower rank, notwithstanding his longer exposure to the hardships of military life, was usually no match for a higher-ranking bushi in a duel. This type of situation…resembles that of Europe during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries [C.E.], when hardened veterans of countless battles were still no match for a well-trained aristocrat with a sword—the noble’s weapon which, with the rise of the bourgeoisie to power at the end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, became known as the gentleman’s weapon.
— Secrets of the Samurai, pp. 254-55