Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: war

A Sword’s Sole Purpose

March 16, 2016

[Bronze Age] weapons are horrifying and beautiful, repulsive and attractive in the way the Iliad can be, for their lack of sentiment, the unadorned facts they represent, but also for the perfection with which they are made, their seamless match of purpose and material. The swords that have been found in Mycenaean graves are always exceptionally well-balanced things, the weight in the pommel counteracting the weight in the blade so that they feel functional in the hand, body-extensions, enlarging the human possibilities of dominance and destruction. The lances would have been useful in the hunt, to be thrown or to jab at cornered prey, but these swords mark a particular horizon in human history: they are the first objects to be designed with the sole purpose of killing another person. Their reach is too short for them to be any good with a wild animal thrashing in its death terror. A sword is only useful if someone else agrees to the violence it threatens; it will get to another man who is prepared to stand and fight. Some of the most beautiful decorated swords are found scarcely used, ceremonial objects to be carried in glory. But most of the rest show the marks of battle; the edges hacked and notched where another sword clashed onto them, worn where those edges were resharpened for the next time.

Adam Nicolson, Why Homer Matters, p. 121

Emphasis mine.

To Train in the Martial Arts

August 17, 2015

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.

John Donohue, Kage, chapter 2

Swords Were Items of Regular Dress

June 19, 2015

The sword enjoyed another important advantage over bow or spear: it could and did become an item of regular dress. Scabbard, hilt and belt provided eye-catching fields for decorative display, connoting taste, wealth and above all the personal autonomy, courage, or sanction of higher authority openly to wear a lethal weapon. It was a warning, challenge or threat, symbolizing status, rank, or profession as a fighting man. Here we move beyond mere functional considerations to the symbolic value and meaning of the sword. Highly prized material objects of great physical and symbolic power, swords were widely selected for religious offerings in ancient Europe (a key reason we now have so many in our museums). In particular, they were deposited in watery places, inspiring the legend of Excalibur. It is hardly surprising, then, that the sword was also widely used as a metaphor in antiquity, not least by the warlike Romans themselves.

Simon James, Rome and the Sword, p. 19

Swords Were Prized Because They Were Expensive

June 19, 2015

Swords were also prized because, of all elements of the pre-gunpowder panoply, with the possible exception of the composite bow, they were the most technically demanding to make, with consequent expense in materials, expertise and time. In thrusting or slashing, a blade must withstand huge mechanical stresses, flexing to a degree yet not bending or snapping, while retaining sharpness of edge. By comparison the spear, itself a fearsome weapon, was simple and cheap to produce.

Simon James, Rome and the Sword, p. 19

Swords are Specialized Instruments for Killing

June 19, 2015

Among pre-gunpowder weapons of offence, arms such as the axe, spear, javelin, bow or sling had origins or alternative uses as tools or hunting equipment. The sword was different. From its Bronze Age invention it was a specialized instrument for killing people. Further, while weapons such as the powerful composite bow, shooting iron-tipped arrows, rival it in lethality, the sword demands that its wielder approach a foe closely; it is a murderous extension of the fist, yet also puts the wielder in reach of a similarly armed opponent. Par excellence it connotes both aggression and courage, and an especially personalized source of terror quite distinct from the danger of a distant, semi-anonymous bowman. For, instead of the relatively small puncture wounds of arrows (lethal though they may be), it threatens cloven skulls, dismemberment or disembowelling, injuries more devastating and hideous to behold than those inflicted by most other hand-wielded weapons. Of all common arms, it offers the highest likelihood of instantly killing, or at least incapacitating, foe or victim.

Simon James, Rome and the Sword, p. 19

Haragei

December 22, 2014

The nonverbal elements of communication and perception are highly valued by the Japanese; they prize their ability to grasp the essence of people and things using methods we can only guess at. They call this ability haragei. Yamashita has it. He can cross swords with a complete stranger and know the skill level of his opponent before they’ve begun. You can argue that it has to do with subtle physical clues people give off: a look in the eye, posture, breathing rates. The longer I train, the more I tend to agree. But there’s also more to it than that.

On days when he’s really cooking, it seems as if Yamashita can actually read your mind. What’s scary is not that he knows what you’re going to do before you do, but that he does it by getting inside you somehow.

I’ve experienced hints of it. The feeling is a weird, emotive certainty that washes up from the base of the neck and creeps over your scalp. It is often totally unexpected. And distracting.

Sensei, chapter 7

Any Sensei Is a Bit Mercurial at Times

December 22, 2014

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 the Martial Arts, Nobody Owes You Anything

November 28, 2014

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

Emphasis mine.

Time Is the Most Neglected Dimension

May 31, 2014

Time is the most neglected dimension in existing battle reconstructions, focusing as they do on static diagrams of force dispositions. Our more dynamic model [discussed in the book] shows that time was just as important as force and space in shaping the battles concerned. The great majority of the engagements involved some form of ‘race against time’, be it a surprised army rushing up reinforcements before the forward troops were overwhelmed, an army in a ‘revolving door’ battle striving to break through and roll up the enemy line before its opponents did the same, or a Roman or Punic army trying to win the infantry contest before the enemy cavalry encirclement took effect. Deployment may have taken many hours, and we know that cavalry and light infantry skirmishing could continue almost indefinitely as long as the troops had a safe place of refuge where they could recover before sallying forth once again, but once both sides’ heavy forces came into action, the pace of events quickened and battles could reach a decision with remarkable speed.

The ‘battlefield clock’ created by wide-ranging grand tactical manoeuvres gives us some idea of how long it might take for combat to be resolved. In large battles, it would obviously take longer for troops to cover the greater distances, but combat itself also seems to have lasted longer because of increased formation depth, so the two factors largely cancelled one another out. Heavy cavalry and Greek hoplite combat were usually much quicker than clashes between other troop types, and it was rare for such contests to remain undecided until other contingents intervened. Roman legionaries, by contrast, could hold out for a lot longer thanks to their stubborn resilience and their multiple line system. It was always possible for shaky or disordered troops to collapse at the first shock, but the generally longer duration of Roman infantry combat helps to explain why cavalry double envelopments became such a characteristic feature of battles during the Punic Wars.

Philip Sabin, Lost Battles, pp. 223-24

Standard Battle Array of Ancient Armies

May 31, 2014

Ancient armies faced a perennial tension between breadth and depth of deployment to avoid the twin perils of penetration and encirclement. However, even small armies used many more ranks than would allow the men at the back to fight directly, and depths increased greatly in larger forces. This was a key reason why raw numbers were less important than other factors, and it also meant that battle line frontages did not vary anything like as much as the size of armies themselves. There were some cases in which one or both sides were caught by surprise and deployed their forces piecemeal, but most big ancient engagements involved the prior arraying of the opposing lines in a remarkably formalized fashion. The standard battle array placed the heavy infantry in the centre, with light infantry and perhaps elephants in front, and cavalry on the flanks. Each army would usually attack with some parts of its line, while resisting enemy superiority elsewhere. Offensive elements that achieved a breakthrough might turn against the flank or rear of other enemy contingents. Defensive sections of the line might be held back in an oblique order to delay combat, or they might retire in the face of enemy pressure in order to trade space for time and perhaps draw the enemy forward into an encirclement. Greek and Hellenistic armies tended to attack on one flank and defend on the other (producing either a head-on clash or a ‘revolving door’ engagement), while Roman and Punic deployments tended to involve a more even balance between the two wings, leading to more symmetrical double envelopments by the side with cavalry superiority.

Philip Sabin, Lost Battles, p. 222

Emphasis mine.

Dojo Storming

February 24, 2013

“In the old times…a young warrior would learn all local sensei could teach and then seek out ‘instruction’ at another dojo. A truly skilled fighter could go from school to school, challenging the best students and even the masters.” A sip of air as he paused. “It was known as dojo arashi.”

Dojo storming. I could imagine what it must have been like: hard young men clomping down the packed dirt roads of Japan with battered armor and well-kept weapons slung over their backs. They churned up the miles like hungry predators, hunting down new masters to defeat and new towns to prove themselves in. The good ones earned reputations. The less skilled, in the best of situations, learned to limp away quietly. Sometimes, only their ghosts moaned in phantom processional down midnight crossroads….

Sensei, chapter 17

The Principles of War

April 29, 2012

Philip [of Macedon], Alexander [the Great]'s father, said that it is better to have an army of deer commanded by a lion than an army of lions commanded by a deer; Alexander himself told his men that their greatest advantage was that their leader was Alexander. Alexander lived and practiced what modern (Western) military theorists teach to their pupils as the principles of war. The principles were developed out of an analysis of Napoleon's campaigns and today are supposed to guide military officers in the practice of their profession and to guide historians in their analysis of campaigns and leadership. The principles are (in order of importance): the objective, the offensive, surprise, mass and economy of force, security, unity of command, maneuver, and simplicity.

Alfred S. Bradford, With Arrow, Sword, and Spear, Afterword, p. 273

Emphasis mine.

The number and order of the principles varies across countries and cultures. For a sample, see the Wikipedia entry for the Principles of War.

Quality and Resilience Determined Victory in Ancient Battles

April 21, 2012

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.

Philip Sabin, Lost Battles, pp. 221-22

The Shield Is the Earliest Defensive Armor

October 1, 2011

The shield is the earliest bit of defensive armor known. Just about everyone used the shield at one time or another. (The Japanese appear to be the only civilized society in which the shield was not in general use at one time or another.) Bronze swords were not designed to be both offensive and defensive weapons, so what happened when someone was caught without a shield is anyone’s guess. But the guy without the shield was in deep trouble. With the shield, the fighting techniques were pretty much the same as they were a thousand years later, though probably a little less refined. This would be due to the type of armor more than lack of knowledge or skill.

The Book of Swords, p. 20

Armor Was Designed for Protection Against Glancing Blows

November 19, 2010

[Steel] armor was more protective than bronze. A steel sword striking a steel helmet was more likely to skip off or fail to bite, so more effort would be made to hit the enemy in the unprotected area, shoulders for instance, than on the head.

However, with bronze it’s different. Bronze helmets are not as thick and protective. A hard blow with a bronze sword could crack or crush the helmet. The sword would be only slightly damaged, especially if it was one with a thicker edge. Armor and helmets were designed for protection against glancing blows, and not for well aimed full force hits. I imagine in the heat of battle there would be a lot of glancing blows. Blows would be coming from all directions, even from those on your own side. Swords would be knocked aside, bounce off of shields, rebound right and left, and be thrown up in spasms as someone was hit and killed. We know that such combat took place from the Iliad and the Odyssey, not to mention pictorial representation on vases, and from other written sources. In short, armor was needed not only as protection from your enemies, but your friends as well. It could not give you complete protection, but it was a lot better to have some protection than none at all.

The Book of Swords, pp. 20-21

Emphasis mine.

Cavalry Is an Expensive Military System

November 17, 2010

The cavalry revolution originated in the Middle East about 900 [B.C.E.] and had several implications. First, making war from a galloping horse was a dangerous occupation. In order to be effective, the warrior on horseback needed both hands free to wield a weapon; yet letting go of the reins seemed to guarantee that the fighter would end upon the ground, bruised and helpless. The only alternative was to guide the horse with one’s feet and legs, perhaps using the voice to direct a trained horse. Training both horse and rider took time and practice.

Moreover, a horse was expensive, and not everyone had the leisure time to practice. A horse could consume as much grain as 6 to 8 persons, and the owner was responsible for mating and training the animal. Furthermore, the horse was not very useful aside from its war-making capabilities: its meat and milk could not compare to the cow’s, and it could not pull a plow until the Europeans invented the horse collar about 1000 [C.E.] Therefore, civilized societies that utilized the horse extensively tended to have specialized fighters. In some cases, the warriors might be aristocrats, in others, slaves; but always the big question was how to pay for such an expensive military system.

William Wayne Farris, Heavenly Warriors, p. 15

Rarity of the Set-Piece Battle

August 3, 2010

While perhaps the most stunning manifestation of combat and the prominently mentioned events of military history, set-piece engagements…were never quite the norm of war. More often, armed conflict was less dramatic, intermittent, and played out in landscapes not conducive to conventionally marshaled armies and navies, and it involved civilians. We associate the battles of Granicus, Issus, and Guagamela and the fight on the Hydaspes River with the military genius of Alexander the Great, but he spent far more time fighting irregular forces in counterinsurgency efforts throughout the Balkans, the Hindu Kush, and Bactria.

Nevertheless big battles—or so generals dreamed—could sometimes change entire conflicts in a matter of hours, which in turn might alter politics and the fate of millions for decades. It is with history’s rare battle, not the more common dirty war, insurgency, or street fighting, that we typically associate war poetry, commemoration, and, for good or evil, radical changes of fortune and the martial notions of glory and honor. …

Victor Davis Hanson, The Father Of Us All, pp. 106-107

3000 Years of Combat with Sword and Shield

July 24, 2010

Underlying all or any tactics of battle is one basic art which for nearly 3,000 years remained unchanged, in spite of chariot or warhorse, long-bow or cannon or musket—the art of hand-to-hand combat with sword and shield. The people of the late Bronze Age had large round shields and beautiful cut-and-thrust swords; how they fought with them the vase-painters of classical Greece show us—and in the same way the clansmen of the Scottish Highlands fought, right up to the [Jacobite Rising of 1745 C.E.], with broadsword and targe.

The shield is the most obvious, the simplest and therefore the most primitive item of defensive armour. It does not take much imagination to picture some Palaeolithic hunter grabbing up the first object that came to his hand to ward off the flint spear of an irritated fellow cave-dweller. From this to the fashioning of a wickerwork frame covered with hide is an easy and logical step. A shield is about the most effective piece of defensive equipment one can have, too—hence its early appearance, its universal usage and its survival in the Highlands until the eighteenth century [C.E.]; survival, too, until the present time in such parts of the world where men dwell sufficiently remote from the ballistic blessings of modern civilization. The round shields of the Western Bronze Age are generally flat, with a diameter of about 2 [feet]; they have a small central hollow boss across the inside of which is riveted a short bar for a hand grip. They are of fine workmanship, the most common type being embossed with concentric circular ridges, interspersed with small bosses. The metal is thin, and it would have been backed with layers of leather, put on wet, and pressed into the hollows of the embossed ridges. When dry and hard this would provide an excellent backing for the bronze. Such shields were probably only borne by chiefs and noblemen, but then we may assume that at this time all warriors who bore a sword and shield were noblemen.

The Archaeology of Weapons, p. 24

Cuirass Versus Lamellar Armor

February 26, 2010

There were two types of [Japanese] armor: the solid iron cuirass (tankō) and lamellar armor (keikō). The former may have been introduced from Southeast Asia and is seen on many clay figurines of sixth-century [C.E.] fighters. Although it was composed of separate pieces of metal fastened together by leather or bolts, the cuirass permitted little freedom of movement, and lost its popularity after the year 400 [C.E.].

Lamellar armor was of Northeast Asian origin and was the accepted battle wear after 500 [C.E.] because it was lighter than the cuirass and allowed greater mobility. It was especially well-suited for mounted warfare. About 800 pieces of iron went into each suit….

William Wayne Farris, Heavenly Warriors, pp. 19-22

Bronze Age Greek Art of War

February 16, 2010

…As a group [the Greek hero-kings of the Iliad] represent the Bronze Age art of war. Their hands were battle-wise with blood and calloused from stealing cattle. They could trample the enemy like a carpet under their feet or calm the heart of a nervous army under attack. They knew horses like a stable hand and ships like a boatswain, but most of all they knew men and how to lead them. They could be as smooth as the ghee-and-honey paste with which Assyrians cemented rows of mud brick or as rough as the gnarled limbs of an old olive tree. They knew which soldiers to reward with silver rings and which to punish with prison or mutilation. They could inspire the men to follow on foot while they rode in their chariots and to compete for the honor of fighting bravely in their presence.

They could break an enemy’s lance or deceive him with words. They knew how much flour it took to feed an army and how much wood was needed to burn a corpse. They knew how to pitch camp or launch a fleet, how to debrief a spy or send out an informer. They could draw a bow and split a copper ingot like a reed or hurl a spear and pierce the seam in an enemy’s armor. They shrugged off mud and snow, towering waves or buckets of rain. They could appraise lapis lazuli with a jeweler’s eye or break a merchant’s neck with a hangman’s hands. They could court a milkmaid or rape a princess. They relished ambushes after dark and noontime charges. They feared the gods and liked the smell of death.

Barry Strauss, The Trojan War, pp. 34-35

A very vivid description of a hands-on leader in a brutal era.