Stav Weapon or Unarmed Training

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A question about Stav that frequently comes up is: Why the emphasis on weapon training in Stav martial practice when we don’t carry weapons any more?

First thought, man is a tool-using animal, you don’t hear much about ‘tool free’ do-it-yourself or ‘implement-free’ gardening? So, in the real world, unarmed combat is almost a contradiction in terms. If you are going to really understand combat you need to know how to use weapons. In the real world this means guns. This raises all kinds of issues about rights to self-protection and why ordinary people have allowed themselves to be disarmed.

The gun control debate is always an interesting one but that will have to be another time. At least it is pretty much impossible to ban sticks and tools such as axes and these are what we train with. In a really serious violent situation weapons are going to be involved, you need to know how they will be used and, at the least how to use improvised weapons yourself.

But lets assume we don’t train just to be ready for a breakdown in law and order and the end of civilisation. Let us assume that we learn and practice Stav with the intention of making us more complete as human beings. How then should we approach training in Stav as a Martial art?

Stav is a body, mind and spirit training system and primarily martial training in Stav is a context in which to develop this training and practice. That is not to say that Stav martial arts have no practical value, rather that the truly practical value of the training is learning to see the web of Orlog and all other results are simply side effects.

This is in keeping with a Zen approach to Budo arts or a Taoist approach to Chinese traditional arts. It is very easy to become focused on ‘practical applications’ of a martial training method. These may be competition victories, doing stuff that looks good on stage or screen, enhancing the combat effectiveness of soldiers or developing personal security. There is nothing wrong with any of these things in themselves, there may be even some real value in them.

But as soon as your attention is focussed on an outcome such as a trophy in semi-contact karate, or being able to guarantee to drop the big loudmouth who hassles you in the pub, then I think there is a diversion away from the goal of attaining a Zen state of mind, experiencing the Tao or seeing the Orlog in all things. But this is the nature of life itself: there is always the conflict between being practical and effective in the world, and yet still being aware of the most important things in life and seeing beyond the mundane.

To be really effective our, training needs to have an abstract aspect to it which is counter intuitive. It is instinctive to simply use the body. Much harder to learn to work within the web, which our body is always part of, yet extends beyond the body to infinity and we are connected with all of it. We have to learn to be centred within our own web and thus connected far beyond ourselves. I believe it is possible to experience this through martial arts training and years of practice. But the emphasis can’t be on just getting everybody fitter, stronger or faster.

There is a limit to these goals, which can be reached fairly easily. Even if we achieve our maximum physical potential when we are young we will eventually be robbed of it by the advancing years. The emphasis has to be on learning to work within the web. For this I believe weapon training is the most effective way of making progress and maintaining development. For myself, I began training with Ivar using the Jo staff and this educated my body to a high level. I then discovered a particular affinity for working with the axe, in particular using three cuts – vertical, and the two angle cuts from the left and right.

During the early part of the period when I took responsibility for my own training, my practice consisted of the stances each day and one hundred of each of the cuts on most days of the week. I still did some training with sword and spear and staff but primarily it was solo axe training. This eventually brought me to the point where I could ‘see’ the lines without having to think about where they might be. After that everything is the same but seen in a slightly different way. You know where you are and you are aware of your connection, or lack of it, to the rest of Orlog. I believe I got to that point as a result of Ivar’s patient teaching and my own willingness to continue practicing.

There is always a danger of making training too complicated and the goal becomes learning techniques so you can show others what you can do, rather than practicing until you discover you can see for yourself. I have studied and practiced martial arts for over 30 years now. Even from the early stages I practiced knowing that I could discover something valuable from martial arts if I could find the right teacher and keep going long enough. My experience is that very simple and repetitive weapon training is the way it is most likely to occur.

So through the patient application of the right kind of personal training and practice you might come to a deeper understanding of Orlog. But does that mean that there should be no room for a broad based martial training syllabus? If someone were to come to me saying that they have been studying martial arts for many years and haven’t yet found the deeper meaning then, if it seems like they are really serious about finding it, then they should probably be taught the stances, made to do a lot of simple cutting/striking practice and see where it takes them.

But most people have to start from scratch, rather as if we are told that some profound truth can be found in a particular body of literature, which we cannot yet read. To benefit from martial arts training you have to build up a basis of martial arts ‘literacy’, you have to acquire the tools and learn how to use them. This is a long process and there should be space for some fun, fellowship, wonder and excitement along the way. But at the same time the student should be reminded on occasion of the long-term objective, and not to be sidetracked by short-term goals. Increased fitness and wellbeing, strength and agility, self-confidence and an air of authority may all be benefits of martial arts training but they are side effects not the long term goal.

Even wanting to achieve the change of consciousness that may eventually come will probably make it impossible. At the early stages the student is entitled to expect a reasonably broad based training, which will take in the interest, and tangible benefits of fitness training, self defence applications and using a variety of training methods and weapons. But if they are serious about making real progress the student needs to also focus their training onto a very simple practice in order to go deeper. There is also scope for offering a service to the community in terms of fitness training, self defence or for demonstration or stage purposes. Many people only need a very small part of what is on offer and they are entitled to ask for, and take, only what they need. Some however may wish to go further and at the least the word of mouth from a happy customer is by far the best way of attracting more interest.

So the answer to the original question is another question: What do you want from Stav training and practice? If you are looking simply for fitness and self defence then unarmed training may be quite adequate. But if you are looking for a long term path to a deeper kind of awareness then I believe that dedicated and patient weapon practice can be a very effective route to this end. ~ by Graham Butcher