I’m not a religious man. I’m not particularly superstitious either. Sometimes, however, you get the impression life, God or the universe is trying to tell you something. This may be one of those times. I’m going to apologise in advance for the convoluted nature of this post, since I’m more thinking aloud than posting. Please bear with me.
As you may or may not know, the Chivalric Fighting Arts Association recently saw the light of day. This initiative, spearheaded by my good friend Christian Tobler, seeks to provide a gentlemen’s club-like atmosphere of like-minded groups to share and exchange ideas about training, equipment, philosophy, etc. away from the public fora where the signal to noise ratio is relatively high. It also aims to provide a contact point for the various groups, and is a way of saying we all approve one anothers’ schools.
Inevitably, this led to a discussion following the announcement on the forums as to what, precisely, chivalry meant in the name. This discussion was also held in private between members of the group. To be brief, it means different things to different people, and even within the group, we do not see it all in the same light. This is not to say we are radically different, but everybody takes from it what he needs or wants, and part of the good thing about the CFAA is that everybody else respects that.
To be honest, for myself, chivalry was a loaded word that reeked of grown men playing at being knights. I did my best to distance myself from everything that was Ren-fair-ish or LARP. I avoided wearing historical clothing outside of demonstrations where it was deemed necessary. Slowly, however, I’ve lightened up. Our uniforms are professional and clean, but inspired by historical designs. There is value in that, since it distinguishes us and our martial and cultural heritage, giving us a “look” or a “brand” all our own. People take notice, and it looks professional and serious. But I digress…
The fighting arts we strive to recreate were practised by men who held an ideal of chivalry. Whether or not that ideal was met or even practised is another matter. Technically speaking, it really only means “chevalerie” which of course means “horsemanship” which became associated with mounted knights. The arts were associated with a certain class of person, and manuscripts across the board warn not to teach these methods to people of low stature, criminals, etc.
This, to me is what the “chivalric” in the CFAA means, principally. They were the fighting arts of the warrior class of Europe, and thus rightly considered the “chivalric fighting arts.”
Does this preclude acting in a “chivalrous” manner, as loaded as that romanticised modern concept sounds, with its association to the church and all the pejorative meaning associated with it? Good or bad, the answer is “no.” As modern practitioners, we can also idealise those concepts, using them as positive beacons in an age where honour and respect seem to be sadly lacking. These chivalric virtues were many and varied, with different Orders espousing different, albeit similar virtues. In keeping with that, I think we can adopt some of those virtues for ourselves as a tool for personal development.
Strangely enough, it would seem we already have to a degree. Our mission and values statements, that have been a mainstay of the school since its inception, already espouse several of those virtues we seek to uphold.
In a separate but related matter (you’ll see the relevance as I progress…), Sean Hayes posted a video of a mini-documentary on armizare and how it affects his life, etc. Of particular import to me was that his use of the martial arts, and in particular armizare as a vehicle for personal development. While true, and yes, we do use it in this manner, it has never been the focus of our training, and not much onus was placed upon that aspect. This is something I’d like to change, and have been mulling over ways to do so. We’ve already formalised class structure a little more, introduced uniforms, etc., but I’m sure there’s more to be done.
This brings me to that other convergence I had this week. Yes, all this was trotted out before me in the space of a week. No small wonder I’m thinking out loud. Last weekend, my son did his rank test for his green belt in karate. He did splendidly, but while I’m inordinately proud of his work, it was in particular the Sensei’s work that impressed me. With no less than 40 kids, many kindergartners, he manages to keep discipline and order in his ranks. He appoints team captains, senior students to accompany others and help keep order and discipline. They recite a pledge or oath, citing the benefits of karate and the spiritual nature of their art, etc. There is also a sense of tradition and ceremony that is lacking in our practice. And kata. Solo forms that practice specific movements and mechanics. At 10 years old, their mechanics and movements and balance are remarkable. Would that I were so lucky!
The first three items relate back to my thoughts on chivalry and personal development. I think instituting a Companion’s pledge would be a good way to start, adding a hint of tradition and ceremony to our proceedings, and it is entirely historic in nature. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to cheese it up, nor do I want to go the eastern arts route, since western culture is distinctly different, but since we practice an art where our forebears *did* stand on ceremony, it would at least be a nod in their direction, and a fitting tribute to the Arts they so kindly left us. Appointing team captains would help order and discipline, add a sense of belonging and camaraderie to a smaller unit, and would enable senior students to help more junior ones in a more organised manner. This would also act in accordance with our own rules whereby an Apprentice is supposed to be teamed with a senior student to prepare him for his Companion rank. all of this, of course, speaks to the ideals of chivalry and of personal development.
And more solo drills.