For those familiar with some of my writings then you are also familiar with the quote from Thucydides from his treatises on the war between Sparta and Athens known as “The History of the Peloponnesian War”. In it he states that,
“All men are basically the same and he who is best is trained in the severest of schools.”
What was true then is still true today…
You’re either trained or you’re not, it’s really that simple and the sage words of Thucydides ring as true today as they did in 5th century BC.
In his day being a warrior was the highest level of attainment that an Athenian could achieve for no one was nobler and more admired than the man who could stand in the breach and protect his family, his nation, “Athens”.
In some accounts of Greek Mythology, even the lineage of the warrior was one revered with honor for example,
“A god and a human produced a demigod, a demigod and a human produced a warrior, a warrior, and a human produced a man…”
Even today with the resurgence of the warrior ethos you see a return a “yearning” for this way of thinking because in the way of the warrior are imbued all of the noblest traits that are most admired. Courage, faith, loyalty, selflessness, sacrifice.
This resurgence has led to the explosion of programs like CrossFit, Tough Mudder and Spartan Run and a whole host of warrior-like challenges and exercise programs and Boot Camps. All good stuff… Heck, there’s even an entertainment show that explores this called “Ninja Warrior” and the list goes on. This desire to endure challenges, hardships, to have our metal tested, to stand for something greater than ourselves should not be underestimated.
But there is something else that people have also deduced for themselves that the traits of the warrior also enable one to perform at a level that seems to exceed what we think we are capable of. That there is a “mindset”, a thought process that transcends what our physical bodies seem to be able to accomplish, that thing that separates two people of relative equal physical ability yet their performance is literally as far apart as Heaven is to Hell.
It is this mindset, this philosophy that I will speak to because it I what truly separates out what makes something a combative art versus a sport and is the underlying philosophy, the etymology that makes the IWAA unique.
There are perhaps thousands of different systems of martial arts dating back to the earliest man. Granted while in the west mostly due to the aftermath of WWII, the martial arts have taken on the persona as being all things Asian. Any casual reading on the history of the fighting arts and you will discover that techniques that have become synonymous with the Asian martial arts made popular today through movies and sport fighting. Date back and have been recorded on record to the earliest days of the Egyptians and perhaps even earlier than that.
Depending on your definition of martial arts, wrestling is probably the oldest combat technique in history with the earliest depictions of wrestling dating back to Egypt circa 2000 BC – however, wrestling probably dates back to the early days of humanity as statues older than the Egyptian images show what can only be people engaged in hand-to-hand combat.
We know from the bible that Jacob wrestled with an angel in Genesis 32:22–32; this even is also referenced in Hosea 12:4.
From the paper, “Brief History of Martial Arts” we read that,
“…Martial arts are commonly associated with East Asian cultures, but are by no means unique to Asia. Throughout Europe there was an extensive system of combat martial arts, collectively referred to as Historical European martial arts, that existed until modern times and are now being reconstructed by several organizations while Savate is a French kicking style developed by sailors and street fighters. In the Americas Native Americans have a tradition of open-handed martial arts, that includes wrestling and Hawaiians have historically practiced arts featuring small and large joint manipulation, a mix of origins occur in the athletic movements of Capoeira that was created in Brazil by slaves, based on skills brought with them from Africa.”
The point is the technique and concepts that surround the fighting arts are not new and are an ever evolving thing. More importantly no cultural has a monopoly on the truth of what works and why.
You see while there is a plethora of fighting arts dating back to antiquity the one thing that has not changed is the human body. You see folks the human body is the human body and has been that way since the dawn of man, and depending on when you lived, what types of weapons you had to face, the technology available at the time etc. Those are the things that really determined how and why an art either formed or was shaped.
I once had a very interesting conversation with a good friend of mine who is an Internal Arts Master and we were discussing this very thing. And I offered him my theory on why and how certain martial arts developed and why you really need to focus on training in combative arts for life and death combat.
My theory goes like this:
“The fighting arts no matter what the time in history develop out of necessity based on the nature of the threat and the weapons people faced. Over time while technology and weapons changed there were those who clung to the old ways of doing things and training for combat. Many traditional martial arts today have their roots in actual combative techniques whose meaning and application was lost through the centuries due to advances in technology and changes in how to use weapons of war. So what doesn’t make sense to us today as to why a person may train with a certain traditional weapon or continues to train using certain techniques at one time in history they made perfect sense.
The other thing is when you look at a person say performing a form or a technique from an old drawing we always have to remember that we are looking at a 2 dimensional representation of 3 dimensional image so in order to show motion, the images had to be drawn in a way where all of the movements were exaggerated so that we could see there was actual movements taking place. Sort of like how motion is depicted in comic books. In other words, when you are looking at an image of say someone doing a Karate or Kung Fu form or even boxing, what you are looking at is the beginning and end movement of something taking place. What you can’t see and will never know are the 5,000 other things taking place from point A to point B simply because at the time it was not practical to draw an image of every possible movement of what was taking place. In truth with a lot of this stuff when we interpret a form even if we have the written explanation of a technique we are only at best making an educated guess as to what was really happening. Remember when many of these techniques were developed it was at a time before film and smart phones so we really don’t know, we can only give them the benefit of the doubt.”
This is important to our understanding because it is also at the root of why so many people get caught up in the “my Kung Fu is better than your Kung Fu…” and other “dick measuring” contests that have nothing to do with actual fighting. My point is “context” is important and you can’t look at something and automatically assume that just because it has no practical application today that it didn’t at one time in history.
For example, fire arms believe it or not haven’t really changed in the way they work in over 200 years and there was a time that Napoleonic Warfare or Tactics was the order of the day. But this was because the inaccuracy of the weapons. When the rifle was developed and improved upon not only did accuracy improve but it also allowed people to fire from longer distances. However, due to that fact that these were breach loaded weapons unless you could mass fires with successive waves, in a formation of shooters you were going to be out of luck if the enemy got to close.
When the repeating rifle, along with its greater accuracy developed it resolved this problem however, due to ridged thinking many commanders would not abandon the old style of warfare with disastrous results for their troops. During WWI many a soldier died needlessly all because their stupid commanders could not understand that if you charge “in mass” into the teeth of German machine gun fire that you were not going to win. I don’t care what kind of rifle you have if you charge directly into the line of fire of a machine nest you’re buying the farm.
During the first battle of the Civil War at the battle of Chancellorsville, VA because the Union Army incorrectly believe that you could not get accurate fire beyond 300 yards (culled from an old British military tactic). They were picked off while marching “in formation” by Confederate troops from elevated positions at distances of up to 800 yards away. Needless to say the Union lost.
Well folks I have news for you that same mentality exists even today in the martial arts. On the one hand you have people adhering to old traditions without any thought as to why their fighting systems started off that way. To people creating stupid rules about how a person should fight based on a certain number of techniques that in many cases have no bearing on reality.
Like I said in the beginning the human body is the human body and there are only but so many things you can do with your hands so an open handed chop is no different in Judo as it is in Karate as it is in Kung Fu and on and on. A palm strike is the same in Karate as it is in Boxing during the early period when it first developed in Europe. A punch with a closed fist in Western Boxing is no different than a punch in Chinese Boxing and no different than closed fisted strikes used in ancient Greece, Egypt and probably earlier than that. An open handed slap to the head in Tai Chi is no different than one delivered in Systema and on and on it goes. A neck choke is no different whether in Greek wrestling, Jiu Jitsu or some derivative of some Native American fighting art. Does anyone really think that some member of the Roman Legion in 50 BC didn’t know how to step off line and deliver a blow with either a short sword or a knife or even his bare hands if need be?
Folks, I could site example after example after example of this… the point is none of this is new, these things have been around long before any of the modern systems of the martial arts were even created and will be around long after we’re gone. The similarities are “obvious”, we’re all human and we all can only move but so many ways. No one holds a monopoly on the truth and those people who go around claiming that people “ripped them off” or are “doing their stuff” are kidding themselves, and frankly if they spent more time worrying about their own school and the development their arts and that of their students they would be better off and have more success.
This behavior, this attitude is not only “childish” but speaks to a level of “cowardice” and “fear” and shows on a moral level, that they can’t hack it in the arena of knowledge, ideas and “warrior skill” on their own merit. If you think you have a monopoly on the truth as some do, then this organization is not for you. No room for “moral cowards” in this space.
The truth folks, is it’s not so much that certain martial arts are bullshit as it is the people who teach them, or better yet, teach them in an unrealistic manner that are full of shit. True some things are just no longer applicable to today. I mean you’re probably not going to walk down the street in NY City with a 40” inch katana or a Scottish Claymore, but knowing how to use a knife or a gun is probably a handy skill to have. The key is to focus on effect practical skills and body development to be able to fight effectively with the body you have if you have to. To fight from any position under any circumstances if need be and win! To be able to bring it and crush the bad guy before they get their stuff off. To be able to stand in that space if you have to. To be the warrior on the bridge who is willing to stand and hold the bridge at all costs even unto death. Most importantly to be able to train people in a way to overcome and conquer irrational fear (a lost art amongst many martial arts practitioners and instructors alike).
This is what the IWAA is all about, this is the purpose and goal of this organization, this is who we are, like minded warriors coming together sharing knowledge of the fighting arts for the training, development and preservation of the true aspects of the fighting arts regardless of technique. Are we always going to agree? No, and frankly that’s not the point. The point is to recognize those who are dedicated to training people to the best of their ability to fight for their lives and to share knowledge for the betterment of all realistic fighting arts.
I hope this piece provided you with a better understanding of the mindset and philosophy of this organization. And it is my hope that it serves as a basis or a reminder as to who we really are and what we stand for.
President and Co-Founder IWAA
CEO, Strength From Within, LLC
Creator / Founder and Head of Warrior Flow
Creator of Warrior Flow State
Al Ridenhour is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the US Marine Corps with 28-years of service active and reserve with multiple combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also served as a Law Enforcement consultant to the NJ State Police Special Operations Section, NJ Transit Police Operations Section, The NJ Regional Operations and Intelligence Center, the FBI Philadelphia Bomb Section, and subject matter expert to the US Department of Homeland Security's, Explosives Division. With nearly 40-years of Combative Arts experience, he is recognized as a self-defense expert worldwide and is highly sought out for seminars, workshops, lectures, and special individualized training. Al is the CEO, Strength From Within, LLC; Creator and Founder of Warrior Flow Combatives; Warrior Flow State; author of "Warrior Flow Mind" (2019), Co-Author of "Attack Proof: The Ultimate Guided in Personal Protection (Human Kinetics, 2010) and the Co-Author of "How to Fight for Your Life" (June 2010). He is also the Senior Master Instructor and a 7th Degree Black Belt in Guided Chaos, and is also the President and Co-Founder of the International Warrior Arts Association (IWAA).