Svebor

Svebor is a martial art originating in Serbia. The word Svebor can mean either “srpske veshtine borenja” or “sve vrste borenja” which translate as “Serbian martial arts” and “all types of fighting”, respectively.

Before the advent of firearms, soldiers in the Balkans used martial arts to assist them in fighting their enemies. Svebor is based on these martial arts used by Serbian knights in medieval times.

The ancient battlefield techniques of Svebor were passed down from one generation to the next in Serbian village culture where it was irrevocably linked to the Serbian Orthodox religion and its monasteries.

The leading authority on Svebor is Predrag ‘Bata’ MiloÅ¡ević, a professor from Belgrade University who has devoted most of his life to researching martial arts.

Svebor is a highly adaptive form of hand-to-hand combat which also includes weapons such as knives and axes.

It is best described as a “rough and ready, no-nonsense” martial art intended to be used on the battlefield, with none of the artificiality of many martial arts in which attacks and defences are so stylised as to be worthless in a real fight.

The emphasis is on effectiveness, not on looking pretty. Its footwork includes leaps, falls, and rolls, and takes into account that real fighting can happen while the combatants may be running, possibly on an uneven surface. Svebor includes low kicks, punches, strikes, head-butts, throws, wrestling, and even stone throwing.

Some basic strikes with Svebor:

  • Danga – a direct strike forward with the palm
  • Dandara – slap with fist
  • Žandarska Å¡ljaga – a slap with thumb tip supported at the root of the pinky finger, executed with a thumb-knuckle
  • ÄŒuburski udarac glavom – head-butt
  • Dvoručni udarac – holding one hand in other and swinging from hip up and across the opponent (could be used to knock a horseman down)

The Founder, Professor Bata Milosevic: Professor Milosevic, from Belgrade University’s Department of Languages, Literature and Philosophy is an Aikido expert, and has spent 25 years researching and piecing together the various martial art disciplines that existed in Europe (and particularly the Balkans) before the advent of firearms. He is the founder of Svebor – a martial arts system that translates loosely as ‘all types of fighting’ and which has as its goal, the resurrection and perpetuation of these almost forgotten martial arts.

Professor Milosevic also stressed the importance of physical conditioning and gymnastic ability for real fighting. He stated that in a real fight all techniques are forgotten and one must rely on the agility, speed, power and reflexes that one has (hopefully) developed from regular, hard training.

Keeper of the Flame of Balkan Medieval Fighting Arts: Today the term ‘martial arts’ is generally used to refer to oriental martial arts. As everyone is aware, these arts are many and varied and include both empty-hand and weapons arts many of which have evolved into sports and now have wide-spread popularity. It is therefore easy to forget that western societies had developed a variety of fighting styles from long before the birth of Christ.

Over a period that lasted until the development of firearms in the mid-14th century these fighting methods were refined and honed to maximise their efficacy on the battlefield. Although in principle these arts existed for the sole reason of waging war, warrior traditions developed in step with the fighting disciplines. Practitioners were referred to as knights and followed strict codes of behaviour.

As fire-arms displaced hand-to-hand combat skills, the arts that had for better or worse shaped history, faded into obscurity – often never to be heard of or seen again. This is where Professor Bata Milosevic, a 65 year old martial arts historian at Belgrade University’s Department of Languages, Literature and Philosophy, comes in. Professor Milosevic is an expert in Japanese Aikido, but has also spent the last 25 years researching and piecing together the various martial art disciplines that existed in the Balkans (and particularly Serbia) before the advent of firearms. He is the founder of Svebor – a martial arts system that translates loosely as ‘all types of fighting’ and which has as its goal, the resurrection and perpetuation of these almost forgotten martial arts. Put simply, Professor Milosevic, his instructors and students are the ‘keepers of the flame’ of Balkan mediaeval martial arts.

During a recent visit to Australia Professor Milosevic met with Perth-based martial arts instructors Nenad and Dejan Djurdjevic and agreed to hold a hands-on seminar for their students. At a subsequent interview with Nenad the professor told his story and shared his knowledge and opinions.

Professor Milosevic’s interest in Balkan martial arts started when it came to his attention that some aikido throws were for all intents and purposes the same as certain techniques of the traditional fighting methods passed down from one generation to the other in Serbian village culture. Intrigued, he took every opportunity to find out more about these traditional peasant fighting methods and make comparisons with what he knew of oriental martial arts.

Taking advantage of his university position he studied old books and manuscripts in libraries and museums many of which described the fighting methods of medieval knights in surprising detail often including illustrations. On frequent trips to the countryside he visited remote villages, churches and monasteries and found a wealth of information that all added missing pieces to the jigsaw puzzle he was putting together.

In a situation reminiscent of the Shaolin tradition of China, Serbian martial arts are irrevocably linked to the orthodox religion and to its monasteries. To understand why this was so it is necessary to understand a bit about Balkan history. As Professor Milosevic says: “History exists because of War” and certainly few places on earth have had as much war as the Balkans.

From earliest times the Balkans have been fought over and invaded by successive waves of conquerors including the ancient Greeks and Romans, Alexander the Great, the Byzantine empire, the Ottoman Turkish empire and finally the Austro-Hungarian empire. In more recent times the Balkans were invaded by the Germans in World Wars 1 and 2 and to this day wars still rage throughout the region.

Throughout all of the foreign occupations the Slav people doggedly held on to their religion and culture. In this regard they were helped in no small part by the ruggedness of the countryside. The mountains, with remote villages and monasteries became havens for freedom-loving warriors through the generations. In particular, during the Turkish occupation from 1389 to 1813, Serbian fighters hid in these remote sanctuaries and fought a continuous guerrilla war with the Ottoman Turks. Thus over hundreds of years of continuous conflict, martial arts traditions became irrevocably interwoven with daily life. As a result, hundreds of years later monastery frescoes, ancient manuscripts and remote village traditions still bear witness to these conflicts unlike in more developed and less volatile parts of Europe. It is this relative wealth of information that has enabled Professor Milosevic to resurrect much of the ancient Serbian battle field arts.

To illustrate how these ancient martial arts continue to be perpetuated Professor Milosevic recounted how he discovered an almost forgotten fighting method. A casual conversation with rural doctor revealed that ancient battlefield techniques using long handled, small bladed axes still continue to be practised in remote mountain areas. Apparently the doctor had had routinely treated mountain shepherds for wounds inflicted by practice fighting with axes until ‘first blood’!

The comparison between Balkan martial arts and the Shaolin legend has yet another dimension according to Professor Milosevic. He subscribes to the theory that an early form of Balkan combat arts were brought to India by the troops of Alexander the Great of Macedonia in 300 BC. There, these martial arts blended with existing native fighting arts and/or Yoga to become the earliest regimented Oriental martial art. Tradition then has it that in the 6th century, some 800 years later, an Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma journeyed to the Shaolin temple in China where he taught not only a new, physically strenuous form of Buddhism but also Indian martial arts techniques and exercises and so gave birth to the famous fighting tradition of the Shaolin temple.

Professor Milosevic describes the arts he has re-discovered as the equal of the best fighting arts of today. He has found that these disciplines, while bearing many similarities to oriental fighting arts, also have some unique characteristics that do not exist in any other martial art. For example the footwork, which includes leaps, falls, and rolls, takes into account that real fighting is never stationary but usually takes place while the combatants are running – and what’s more – often on an uneven surface.
The fighting techniques are best described as ‘rough and ready’, ‘no-nonsense’ techniques that rely on a great deal of physical conditioning and a no-holds barred attitude. Although centred around the use of weapons including swords, spears, battleaxes and knives, the European martial arts also contain low kicks, punches, strikes, head-butts, throws, wrestling and even stone throwing. Professor Milosevic pointed out that they have none of the artificiality of some contemporary martial arts in which attacks and defences are so stylised so as to be worthless for the purpose of learning real self defence. He called this ‘L’art pour art’ meaning ‘art for arts sake’.

Professor Milosevic also stressed the importance of physical conditioning and gymnastic ability for real fighting. He stated that in a real fight all techniques are forgotten and one must rely on the agility, speed, power and reflexes that one has (hopefully) developed from regular, hard training. In this regard the seminar was not only vigorous but included many challenging exercises including somersault practice, which was daunting at first, but very satisfying when performed successfully.
As an aside, the Professor remarked that average person spends too much time sitting: “We sit at work, at home, in the car, in front of the TV and in front of the computer”. As such he emphasised the importance of performing warmups and exercises for the lower back to offset the effects of so much sitting and to prevent back problems.

Although Professor Milosevic felt the need to apologise for not demonstrating some of the exercises as well as he would have liked (citing that he was out of form due to two and half months of travelling and thus not training) the general consensus among the members of the Wu-Wei Dao Martial Arts College was that if they could perform as well physically at 65 years of age – they would be very pleased with themselves!

Professor Milosevic is due to return to Perth in about one year’s time and it is hoped he will be able to conduct more seminars on what is a truly unique and fascinating martial art. In the meantime, as the Wu-Wei Dao Martial Arts College is dedicated to teaching realistic martial arts for self defence, health and self-development, many of the concepts and methods taught by Professor Milosevic will be incorporated into the college curriculum.