Sunday, July 07, 2013

Never Pick Up A Weapon ...

On Saturday, we spent the entire hour drilling krumphauen.  I was very happy about this, since at this point what most interests me about cuts is the how and why.  The krumphau ("crooked hew") is a sort of windshield wiper movement of the sword - if you suppose you have your weapon in both hands on the right side of your body, imagine twisting your wrists such that the sword cuts down and to the left.  Simply twisting your wrists is not likely to cut anything, of course (and even if it does, it's inefficient body mechanics), so you actually sort of drop into a lunge while dropping your whole arms to help power the sword down, but that basic windshield wiper movement seems to be what ties all krumphauen together.

The obvious use of this cut is to remove your opponent's hands.  Suppose, as he cuts or holds his sword in front of him in what we call "long point" (langenort, which seems to refer to the fact that the sword is at a point that is "long," or far, from the body - not "point" as in the sharp tip of the sword), one lunges to his left.  One can then use a krumphau to amputate both hands at the wrists or forearms.  A man with no hands is obviously still capable of killing you, but you have at least removed a major threat source.

I mention that a man with no hands is "obviously" capable of still killing you advisedly.  This is grade-school stuff for a certain class of nerd, but it bears reflecting upon.  Heinlein puts these words into the mouth of Sergeant Zim:
"Well, suppose all you have is a knife? Or maybe not even a knife? What do you do? Just say your prayers and die? Or wade in and make him buy it anyhow? Son, this is real -- it's not a checker game you can concede if you find yourself too far behind."
So suppose somebody does cut off your hands.  You might run away - surviving is often more important than killing one's opponent.  But suppose it isn't?  Or suppose you can't?  What do you do? Say your prayers and die, or wade in and make him buy it anyhow?

One of the reasons that I think it's so important to think about this sort of thing is that it's particularly hard (maybe impossible) to drill.  Obviously a body with no hands is still physiologically capable of killing an assailant in any number of ways, but of course getting one's hands cut off is likely to be quite the psychological shock, both in terms of surprise and pain.  How do you train for that?  I'm not sure you can.  But you can at least meditate on it.

There are difficulties the other way, as well.  One of the other uses of the krumphau, apparently, is to defeat an oberhau (overhand strike).  As the opponent's blade descends, a krumphau can be used to smash it into the ground.  This momentarily disables the opponent's sword (from the sudden and unexpected momentum change), and places one's weapon on top.  From here, it can be flicked into the opponent's head.

Now, it was made very clear to us that such an attack is not going to kill one's opponent.  The point is simply to wound him so that you have a window for a follow-up strike.  I wonder: will we train that way?  It won't be until August that I can participate in our sparring hour, but I wonder what our rules will look like.  It seems obvious to me that, if we are truly practicing a killing art, a krumphau used in that way should not end the bout.  In fact, most attacks, it seems to me, will not actually kill an opponent except over a period of many seconds or minutes.  I am curious to see what our practice will be.

A related question this brings up: how should a man in the modern world fight?  This is perhaps more philosophical than practical, as a sword is not particularly likely to be at hand in a modern fight scenario, but I think the philosophical point is still important.  Suppose I have successfully cut off my opponent's hands, or flicked my sword into his face.  Neither wound is especially likely to be fatal; neither removes the opponent as a threat.  What should my instinct be?  To attempt to disengage, giving my opponent time to reconsider whether he wishes to continue to attempt to kill me?  Or to follow up with an attack that will actually incapacitate him?

It seems to me that the wisdom of the martial community is that one does not let up - if the opponent removes himself as a threat, well and good, but until that point, his life is forfeit - you continue to strike, or shoot, or whatever, until the opponent is either unconscious, paralyzed, or dead.  This seems to me like it has to be the right answer.  It is a sobering thought, though, to consider that the thing you do to a man whose hands you have just cut off, whose face or throat you have just opened, is hit him again - because he still has a brain capable of ordering your death, and a spinal cord capable of relaying those orders to his body.

Firearms practitioners have an old chestnut that I think is applicable to all fighting: never point a gun at something you are unwilling to destroy.  It's important to remember just what that destruction means, though, in the context of a human being.  If you aren't willing strike down a man whose hands you have just cut off, you shouldn't cut off his hands in the first place - shouldn't even have drawn your sword.  These words, from Weber's Honor Among Enemies, have always haunted me:
"Course, you knew it wasn't real.  It was just training, and you figured - hey, I'm a little, wiry guy, and I've never had a fight, and I'm never gonna have a fight, and I don't want to have one, even if I could.  That about sum it up?"
"It sure does," Aubrey said feelingly, and Harkness chuckled.
"Well, looks to me like you were wrong.  You are gonna have a fight - the only question is whether or not you're gonna win it or get your fool head busted.  And do you know what the secret to not getting your head busted is?"
"What?" Aubrey asked, almost against his will.
"It's busting the other guy's head first," Harkness said grimly.  "It's making up your mind going in that you're not just gonna try to defend yourself.  It's deciding right now, ahead of time, that you're gonna kill the motherfucker if that's what it takes." 

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