True Victory and the Warriors Path – Part 1

He is truly wise who’s travelled far and knows the ways of the world.
He who has travelled can tell what spirit governs the men he meets.
Hávamál 18

Anyone who studies a martial art for any length of time will one day stumble upon or eventually be referred to the statement “True Victory is Victory Over Oneself, In a Single instant”.

Like most esoteric phrases and statement we encounter in martial arts, it is impossible to capture this in any single aspect and the beginner student will doubtlessly take something different from it than the long-term martial artist. However, while an individuals interpretation of this, or any other training maxim will alter, it does not necessarily lessen from what was first realised. Instead the understanding will grow from that point of first meeting and assimilation of the phrase and it, like the student will change and reform over the years until what you have is the same, but intrinsically different in terms of not only meaning, but also application. Different, yes, but only in the way that we as individuals are now as different in this moment as from when we were first born.

The warrior philosophy that is contained within all martial training, grows with us in every aspect of our lives. Often in very subtle ways in which we are not aware until a moment occurs where we draw upon either knowledge, thought, or technique to improve an issue or situation. Not merely in terms of combat, but in relation to life itself.

The concept of martial training. and the benefits it will bestow upon us, is the first thing that many who enter into this most unique martial art encounter, and indeed is often the draw that encourages any one individual into a Glima hall in the first place. The need to know that one can protect oneself from danger. However what we must also realise is that this desire to defend oneself is pure sympathetic nervous system response to perceived or real hazards and is a perfectly natural thing to occur, especially in the world we now live in where danger is prevalent at every turn, physical, material, emotional, and even social. The need to defend and protect, and the embodiment of a ‘warrior spirit’ is an enticing and exciting prospect and this is the greatest hurdle that many new (and sometimes old) students must overcome. For the concept of what makes a good warrior differs greatly from culture to culture. Likewise what is expected from that culture as being a ‘real fighter’ is likewise affected. For most newcomers, and those with a limited viewpoint, only those who ‘win’ in competition can be good fighters. But is this an accurate statement as a competition is (while having its own dangers) preset by rules, rounds, referees and regulations of accepted levels of violence and somewhere in the process unless a series of unfortunate events leads to a more serious condition, the event can be stopped by those in charge or who have responsibility for ensuring safety of the participants. here is where the line between ‘fighter’ and ‘warrior’ gets drawn. In truth we are all mostly fighters, the concept of war, and the implications of what that means on the psyche and focus of any individual as a different place entirely.

War and the warriors path gives rise to contemplation that life may one day cease abruptly, and therefore every moment, every person we meet, and every situation we encounter is not to be seen as a boon or a handicap to our plans, but is a precious learning tool and should be savoured and acknowledged as part of our path. To go on regardless of the task, or the odds, or the likelihood of failure. To never give up and to strive to be the best you can in the situations and places you find yourself. To truly be the best version of yourself in every moment, for one day those moments will cease. For the warrior then, is not the ‘win’ derived from continuation of Self and worth, despite the odds?

This is where the understanding of the difference between the warrior arts, and the sport arts begins to shine forth. Essentially all good martial training seeks to subconsciously derail a students confidence from day one, breaking them down with lack of success, lack of understanding, and movements contrary to anything they had previously encountered. It becomes clear that this is not a ‘quick-fix’ course where a few simple punches and kicks will suffice and slowly confidence and even interest begins to ebb. Particularly where you have a path before that may be relatively easy to pick up, but almost impossible to master, where the path also has a mindset and a philosophy and a rich interpretative tapestry of techniques and concepts to try and grasp. For the Vikings, this philosophy was capture in the Hávamál (the ‘sayings of the high one’) which contains lore, advice, and guidance on not just life but also war and the world. Each saying, like many sources of wisdom, can also be interpreted many ways and one person will invariably take something different from it than another. ( We will look into Hávamál and Warrior Spirit in Part 2 of this Blog).

It soon becomes clear that Glima is not a simple 3-trick pony but a complex system of movements, thought, and understanding that will not be easily taken into the real world for a considerable time. Yes, like all arts there is a basic element that may be applied immediately and effectively to the benefit of the students (such as strikes, basic throws and escapes, concepts of getting up from the ground etc) should they find themselves in physical danger. However the capability to apply these skills in a fluid and aggressive moment will take time and practice before they work as planned.

In addition, for all beginners is the added fact that in attempting to understand, assimilate and label these new movements it also becomes clear that in order to confuse a grown adult, all one needs to do is ask them to move in a straight line while holding a practice sword above their head and to cut down on a specific movement. The simple addition of a tool or equipment takes the individual out of the place they have mostly existed and into a new direction, one that is different enough so as to derail everything that had gone before, including even basic tasks and motor functions. In these moments there is no glory, no victory, no raising oneself above others, in fact we often leave classes feeling less masterful than we entered. This is as it should be, for what we are training for in the martial arts is a marathon, not a sprint.

For the beginning student embarking with excitement on the Warriors Path, the way ahead seems extremely rocky indeed and the aforementioned ‘True Victory’ in any instant at all seems unfeasible and out of reach and grasp. Success seems always to be just over the horizon and the path to it filled with constant failures.

Yet here is the first lesson and application of the path ahead. In being presented with the impossible task, does the student turn and walk away or do they continue? This is similar to the old adage of many a 70’s and 80’s martial arts movie where the the student is waiting patiently for days outside the home of a prospective Sensei in the hope of being accepted. In this case the student and Sensei are the same, both are awaiting the arrival of the other in radically different terms (again as in the saying ‘when the student is ready the master appears’) and so begins the first steps on together the path to a further Self-enlightenment and quest for truth about themselves, where student and teacher merge into the same person seeking the same goals – and only they can both choose to stay and struggle and seek to overcome the difficulties, or one can go and that potential future is broken.

In this moment, fighting against all that their mind, body and mastery tell them is the driving force of the smaller self – that little voice that always tries to set you on the path to failure in expressing to them the first trial in the warriors path – knowing and accepting the difference between what they want and what they need. Very often wisdom is gained not by staying to the safe and obvious, but from a deviation from ones intended course. It may be hard earned wisdom, but earned nonetheless.

At that point, for all of us, we achieve that first, albeit very small true victory over ourselves, and the journey into our chosen art begins and the real trials and work can start to unfold …

To be continued in True Victory and the Warriors Path – Part 2

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