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[personal profile] eosin
I originally didn't want to make this post, but some things have changed. So here goes.

Stav is a system with Norse martial arts, philosophical, and metaphysical components. It was created by Ivar Hafskjold, and is allegedly a system that has been passed down within the family line since the middle ages, and only in recent years has Ivar revealed the family secrets to others. Aside from the comic-book storyline which already casts doubt on its legitimacy, there's a lot more that creates problems.

Ivar didn't start teaching the stuff until after his 14 years of training in Japan in traditional Japanese martial arts. He studied long enough in those systems to get those credentials. The problem is that when he first started teaching Stav (after returning from Japan), he made the claim that the martial art system was a Norse/Viking art passed on from one generation to the next within the family homestead, for many centuries, but done secretly. Aside from the atrophy issue (more on that below), the techniques he taught were recognized by others as the Japanese arts he studied, rather than anything historically Norse, and I remember seeing this discussion on other online forums rather than on the Stav website. Over time, I've seen the radical claims get reduced, so now instead of a secret Viking martial art in an unbroken line since the homestead was founded, it's claimed that the techniques are based on an ancient system of philosophy handed down through the ages. And the Japanese techniques from the arts he studied abroad? Oh, that's just a bit of cross-training using Norse Stav philosophy with Japanese technique, and Japanese stick-fighting to teach Norse sword technique. Yeah.

Except that every assumption in the argument is factually wrong. Every martial art in the world taken out of its original combat use atrophies over time, within individuals and within lineages, and there are numerous examples of this. Human nature introduces ideas and habits that distract from the realities of combat, and regular use in combat usually corrects this very unforgivingly. Yet somehow that one family preserved dark-age combat technique solely within the family without degrading. And somehow missed all the realities of warfare, technology, and resulting evolution happening all across Europe. In fact, the classic weapons of a Norse warrior (double-edged sword and round shield/buckler, seax, throwing axes, etc.) are completely absent from Stav, including the sophisticated systems of use that lasted across Europe for centuries. This also includes Glima and its variants, done widely across Europe, which again are completely absent. There's only Japanese stick fighting, using the jo stick as a substitute for sword technique (minus the shield, of course), which isn't how the sword was used at all, and shows tremendous ignorance.

Conversely, the historical record of archeology, technical martial manuals, contemporary treatises and commentaries, iconography, etc. together with modern science in metallurgy, physics, kinesiology, and so on have given us a clear picture on what really happened in Europe long ago, including the Viking era. The combat systems of Europe were comprehensive and very effective, and were put to use in places all over the world (e.g. all of Europe, the middle East, Africa, Russia, the Americas, Japan, Philippines, etc.). They have different weapons, different core movements, and different priorities from the arts of Japan. They also lack several recent misconceptions that have crept into modern Japanese arts as well. And when Europeans went to Japan during its famous feudal era, they took notes on everything they saw, yet were not impressed with their martial arts. Conversely, feudal era Japanese scribes actually noted how devastatingly effective European technology and warfare were. Hmmm...

And for the philosophical and metaphysical components? Nothing like what was actually recorded in historical sources, yet strangely similar to many modern New-Age inventions and conflations conducted at various metaphysical bookstores and workshops. Centuries, ago, runes were known, studied, carved and painted, put into building frames, and so on, yet were never used in the particularly different way Stav presents them.

Of course, to be fair, I've checked the recent Stav videos to see what they're up to, and it's a joke. The martial techniques are not only done against an opponent who freezes in place like a mannequin, but the techniques presented are suicidal in actual practice, and bear no relation at all to the ones documented in historical sources, other than a few vague similarities that lack essential core movements. And the 'runic' body exercises not only have no relation to documented exercises done back in the day, but they are counterproductive to any application to actual historical European martial arts, even though it's claimed that the martial techniques are based on the runic postures. Even the philosophical components don't match what historical masters actually wrote, and they wrote plenty.

So why the rant? Because this kind of fraud disrespects the art, the people who lived and died by it, and the people who diligently practice it today. It also grossly misinforms people on actual combat (which can get them killed or seriously injured), history, original Heathen practices, etc. And the desperation I've seen to support it in the face of history and science borders on the kind of fanaticism usually seen in cults. It's the Norse version of an 'Ancient Book of Shadows' in Wicca with modern New-Age additions.

So please, anyone who's interested in these subjects--read, read, read, and read some more. Check facts, original sources, archeology finds, scientific discoveries, and anything else that informs one on how things really were and how things really work. We have a rich heritage worthy of study. Respect it through honest inquiry and diligent practice.

Date: 2010-01-23 08:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] leafshimmer.livejournal.com
many thanks for this! I don't have the temperament for martial arts study, but it is very interesting--and of course rather sad and pathetic--to read up on this sort of thing--the historical reality and the modern fraudulent attempt to reproduce it and then claim some sort of faked lineage for it.

I recently saw some drawings of wrestling positions in a book by Nigel Pennick on the Northern Tradition--have of course not the slightest clue where or when the drawings originated, but saw that you've been exploring this in a practical way--again, fascinating for a mere scribbler such as myself to read about.

In Frith,


Date: 2010-01-23 09:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vanirpriestess.livejournal.com
It's the Norse version of an 'Ancient Book of Shadows' in Wicca

Don'tcha know? It is totes their FamTrad BS BOS written in Old Norse with illuminated diagrams of the postures, preserved in an attic through the Burning Times... >.>

Date: 2010-01-24 12:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thelettuceman.livejournal.com
There was a quote from one episode of NCIS, when Gibbs and DiNozzo were sparring in the gym, and DiNozzo asked Gibbs if he had "been taught boxing when in the Marine Corps" and that he should pick it up when Gibbs replied in the negative. After being pounded to the ground, Gibbs replied that the Marine Corps taught how to "fight".

I think it puts a lot into perspective there. Specifically, people forget that advanced Martial Arts are, still, arts. They're scripted maneuvers that are conducted under carefully organized and choreographed rules and regulations. Even sparring and tournaments aren't "Fighting".

I had a couple friends at Uni that did some MMA for a while. Specifically amongst themselves, just to pass the time. We introduced a new member of the group, a 9-year tournament fighter who had trained in Shodokan.

He got his ass whooped because he was trained only in Shodokan. He couldn't predict the maneuvers that my friend Vinny would throw in at him, and Vinny moved completely differently because he brought in his history of being a break-dancer.

When you take any aspect of a culture out of context it degrades and loses its form and function. Cultural preservation, then, is impossible. People want to hold onto some aspect of cultural purity, and they can't comprehend that it is impossible. When you strip it down, there's nothing recognizable left.

People get funky around the lack of weapons in modern Martial arts, too. There's some stupid concept of honor based on the weapons you use, or disuse. Somehow bare-handed fighting is more honorable than fighting with a weapon, and killing with a sword is different than killing with a rifle. The fact is, these weapons were all designed to kill. You can hide behind your katas or your stances and maneuvers, but at their core, they are weapons of war.

A sword is useless outside of warfare. Yet they are consistently thought to be superior in terms of "honor" to that of a rifle or firearm. Why? Because somehow the act of getting up close and personal to do the deed is inherently more honorable than doing it from range. It should be noted that bows are not considered to be, generally, a dishonorable weapon. Is it because they required skill? Does honor equate to skill? Not in my opinion. Honor is the equal to acting, to feeling, to thinking, and to moving in a specific code.

It should be noted that firearms are inherently more useful than a sword, too. Something that people like to forget in their fear of annihilation. I think people get so wrapped up into fitting into these tropes of perceived honor and duty that they neglect their own personal actions.

Also, the ignorance goes without saying. People want to rush to something new, damn the man for trying to get them to think about it. Ugh.

Date: 2010-01-24 12:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wakingbear.livejournal.com
I can certainly respect (and agree) with the historical lack of integrity inherent in Stav that you point out. My biggest beef with it, however, is the actual practice, which, as you also pointed out sucks. Sucks hard. Sure its an ancient combat art...if combat consists of broken movements applied against completely lifeless rag doll attackers (makes the uke of the Bujinkan look dynamic). Ye gods what a mess.

What baffles me is that ANYONE studies it, let alone promotes it. People mystify me.

Date: 2010-01-26 01:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] freyaw.livejournal.com
If I may, I'd like to derail for a moment to point out that there are different strains of Bujinkan throughout the world - and the people I know who practice here in Adelaide, Australia (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUx9_vPRrUY) tend to look askance at the Americans for a lot of the reasons [livejournal.com profile] eosin has mentioned regarding Stav.

Having said that, I have my own issues with how Bujinkan is taught here in Adelaide. Amongst them being that they don't train up their ukes, ukes are just picked from amongst the dan ranks, so the technique is not always demonstrated in the best way to the students - the guy teaching in the video I linked to, for example, usually picks as his uke a dan ranked person who is big enough to make it not look silly (he's 6'6"). But he's very into stuff that works - there's this one technique he told me about a while back which makes no sense in today's world, because it's really only a worthwhile technique if you're wearing traditional Japanese armour. He has taught it, but he taught it as something that works against someone wearing that type of armour, not something that works in today's world.

I stopped training with them for other reasons, though, which I will cheerfully rant about at the drop of a hat - poke me if you want to hear those reasons. They're friends, but I choose to put my energy into something where I learn more.

Date: 2010-01-26 05:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eosin.livejournal.com
Poke. ;)

Bujinkan was the last Asian art I did before finding reconstructed renaissance martial arts. It was also the most comprehensive in approach, including dealing with guns. I remember a long time ago asking the instructor about Western sword technique, and he replied very honestly about it being very different.

Date: 2010-01-27 12:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] freyaw.livejournal.com

Point one: The majority of Bujinkan instructors in Adelaide are martial artists, but not teachers. I learn better from a teacher; I learn (martial arts) best from someone who is both.

Point two: I started Bujinkan training having done no martial art of any kind, ever. I was unprepared for the brain repatterning it would cause. And I got no support whatsoever after the teacher I was learning the most from ceased taking classes. I needed minimal support; instead, I felt abandoned. Prevailing attitude amongst the non-teacher instructors here is that it is the students' fault for not being dedicated if an instructor has no students. I really would have liked, at the time I stopped going to classes, for the instructors to show in any way shape or form that they were happy I was there. I disagree with them that continuing to teach the class shows that they're happy to have students.

Point three: I still don't have it through their (the instructors, not the teachers) heads that if I ask a question (for example) about where my feet should be to make a technique work, I don't want to know where my hands should be, even if the instructor thinks that is the most important part of the technique. As a beginner, I didn't know enough about my body and how it worked to figure out for myself what my body positioning should be; my body could be positioned in many different spots with my hands in the same position. I needed to know about body mechanics before I could get to the level of understanding at which they were answering the questions they thought I ought to be asking instead of the questions I actually was. I knew what I didn't have the faintest clue about, and I knew I needed to ask. I would have liked to have had the courtesy of the person I was asking listening to me as well as themselves.

Point four: The guy teaching in the video I linked to is 6'6". The majority of students I trained with are also over a foot taller than me (albeit not by as much as Ed). No matter how often I asked "how do you modify the technique to get it to work if you're as short as me?" he wouldn't remember that I was asking for a reason. Example: a throw where you use the attacker's arm as a lever and your shoulder as the fulcrum. The person I was practicing the technique with was 6'4" and I'm 5'2". I can walk under his arm without touching it if the arm is held out straight. Ergo, ask for help modifying the technique, as I didn't have enough experience to know how. Ed demonstrated how to do the technique on this person who was shorter than he was. I asked my question again. He demonstrated again. I got my training partner to hold his arm out, demonstrated why it wouldn't work for me the way he was demonstrating, and asked my question again. Then I got an answer. If I went to class today, I would still be the shortest by close to a foot.

Point five: As the only female-bodied person in the class, I had to fumble out for myself how to modify techniques to work with my non-male-bodied physique. The teachers have other females in the class, and will willingly help when necessary. The instructors do not, and in fact view (or give the impression that they do) this as coddling. One spectacular failure of technique/body type mismatch occurred in a (mostly female) class where my fellow female students found that if you had large breasts, you needed a lot of upper body strength to do the technique as described (we were doing counters to being grabbed from behind that day, the idea in this particular technique was to break the hold over the arms and move it upwards). The instructor had never considered that this might be an issue... We went on to a different technique, and never did learn any counter to that particular hold which would work if you had Epic Boobs (not including pain-causing techniques which may cause a hold to loosen).

Point six: Testosterone poisoning. Boring and stupid and widespread. And encouraged by default, because the climate of the class and the mindset of the students is Not Their Problem.

Date: 2010-01-27 12:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] freyaw.livejournal.com
The issues I have are, in general, not with the style, but with the people. And in my experience, people tend to attract people like them, or at least like the image they present, so an atmosphere becomes self-perpetuating. I can enlarge upon these points if you want, and I'm sure that there's more in the back of my head, but that's the major points I can remember right now.

And can fit within the character limit :P

Date: 2010-01-28 09:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wakingbear.livejournal.com
I chose the Bujinkan as an example because it is, where ever I have studied it (including Japan), notoriously guilty of employing the fine art of taking a single lunge punch and then not retracting the arm, leaving it for the tori to manipulate extensively without reply or retaliation from uke or slowly and with great ballet-like beauty tying up three or four completely unresisting, uncommitted attackers who graciously comply with whatever the tori demands of them.

I have a certain respect for some members of the Bujinkan (it was the first martial art I every studied...began in the mid nineties) and I agree that it can be very comprehensive (though I find it utterly lacking in any competent manner of striking).

But I also find it deeply flawed, not so much in what it brings to the table, but rather in teaching methodology it employs to set those things on the table. The efforts of the herd to copy Hatsumi Soke without putting in the decades of harder resistance based training creates well...this...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBPMbwgopZg .

If the individuals goal is philosophy, preserving Japanese Budo, physical and spiritual fitness, then I find the Bujinkan a fantastic resource. If the goal is combative self-preservation, I think the seeker would be better served elsewhere. But again, that's simply one man's opinion.

Date: 2010-01-28 11:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] freyaw.livejournal.com
I can definitely understand your point about the teaching methodology there - and the issue of giving non-beginners so much time to play :D

I will add, though, that when I was training, we did multiple attacks as well as single attacks (punch punch kick punch for example), all of which had to be countered (where countering means 'don't get hit'), and when I was training with an experienced partner, I was expected to not leave the attack out there (once I'd been taught to punch straight instead of following at slower (non-realistic) speeds). So we'd run through a couple of times to get the feel of it, then speed up a little, then a little more - certainly with me, this was necessary to prevent instinct taking over which would have resulted in me getting hurt (I found that if my training partner went faster than ultra slow the first few times I did a technique, I'd flinch, forget the technique, and try to hit him in the head; depending on the guy, this could mean their reflexes taking over. Sometimes it took a bit of repetition to get it through the head of a new training partner that I really did mean slooooooooow for me, and whatever speed they wanted for them).

I have seen people who never speed it up past a certain point. I have also seen more experienced students than I got to be learn techniques to use on (for example) the punch they've just dodged which is withdrawing. Or techniques to use on someone who is about to stomp on you where you are lying on the ground. I have seen people who refuse to punch unless they are stepping with the 'correct' foot at the same time, and I have seen techniques taught for when you aren't on the 'correct' foot.

And yes, the efforts to copy without going into the basis for what's there - the Boss recommends doing some kind of dancing and/or soccer for footwork and balance (yours and your partner's) and so forth. There are three people locally I can dance with, out of all the people training. Well, two now that Ed has gone to Japan again. One of those started dancing because he's my partner and he would never get to see me otherwise (dancing having triggered my obsession point), and the other started Bujinkan after having met us at dancing (he was looking for a martial art to cross-train in). There may be other dancers amongst the training people, but they sure don't move like it. Here, we try to ensure some level of basic fitness in our instructors, and encourage it in our students - most of them have to be doing some kind of running training to pass that portion of the testing - and try to encourage strength training and leg flexibility.

If you would like to bring up any other issues you had with your time training with Bujinkan people, please do; I'd like to get my local people to improve over time, if I can.

Date: 2010-01-25 10:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ciarin.livejournal.com
You should totally post this in the Feohterna Gildscipe, hehe.
From: [identity profile] winterlion.livejournal.com
I'm just thinking of a historical martial art which is still practised, taught and maintained... Roman legionnaire tactics are still the primary training method of riot squads - and are still brutally effective. (source: a group of mad SCA fighters that used to help the RCMP train their riot squads by providing hordes of armed enemies)
Watching them in action (I've also seen videos) you can see how 1000 Roman legionnaires could take on - and defeat - 10 000. (Rome versus Bodiccea's army, if I remember the odds right)

it's not really THAT related, beyond a historical martial art that's survived.
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