Featured image by Rama (Own work) [CeCILL or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr], via Wikimedia Commons
I am a fairly new member of the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (the ARMA, for short). I was drawn to join this organization for reasons that even now aren’t entirely clear to me. Part of it was a desire to understand swordsmanship and historical methodology. Part of it was a dawning realization that I, as a person of European ancestry, knew precious little of the world that my ancestors lived in, in spite of having a college education centered in history.
The decision to become a practitioner of martial arts is a common one. Many martial arts disciplines from around the world are extremely popular. Their purpose today very similar to their purposes hundreds of years ago: how to harm without being harmed.
Studying a martial art is studying to defend oneself from harm. More often than not this means studying to harm another human being and possibly kill him or her. Morality is a key emphasis in many martial traditions. Yet there is always a tension between studying the use of violence and the restraint that comes from valuing life.
I have encountered something fairly distinct about studying RMA. Many martial arts disciplines are still marketed as self-defense training, and the lion’s share of practitioners do so with a pragmatic interest in developing useful skills for modern self-defense. I do not feel RMA studies place as much of an emphasis on this.
I can spend as many hours as I want learning to fight with a longsword, rapier, or short sword and buckler as I want, yet I am not practicing to actually use this knowledge in a life-or-death struggle. If I am ever faced with such, it’s a near certainty that I will not be carrying around a battle-ready longsword. The odds are also fairly good that in that situation, a longsword would simply not do.
I am learning to fight with tools that are no longer used for fighting. There is something paradoxical there but, at the same time, I find something very comforting in that fact—a comfort I did not feel when I went to the shooting range, or when I have, in the past, considered pursuing self-defense training.
I don’t know exactly why knowing I am learning to kill in a way that I will never need to kill makes the violence of what I am learning feel lighter to me.
Somehow I feel, internally, that studying Renaissance Martial Arts is a very different thing for me. It is by no means a sport because there is so much danger in it. It is not at all a game, yet I feel safer in my heart that the knowledge I am learning is somehow less something than what I learned at a shooting range.
I’m just not quite sure what that something is.