As the Olympics continue, we see some sports that were originally martial in origin. This reminds us of the Laches, in which Socrates is asked whether practice fighting in armor can actually build the courage needed for real fighting in armor. It was a critical question to Greek city-states whose survival depended on producing that kind of men: it remains a critical question.

The video is from A Knight's Tale, which (by the way) I suggest as an entertaining film. The film makes a highly risky choice in its musical score: so-called classic rock, in a Medieval setting. I fully expected to hate not only the music but the movie as a consequence, but in fact it comes off wonderfully. The film uses mostly tracks that are frequently used in modern American sports, and the effect is to make the emotions felt by Medieval characters immediately relevant to modern audiences. The film has a small amount of the usual Hollywood preaching about how we ought to feel on social issues, and a somewhat overwrought ending; but those are minor flaws. It is generally a good film, one you'll enjoy viewing again and again.

The part relevant to this discussion begins at 07:25 (although some of you, most especially Cassandra, will enjoy the earlier parts). Notice how, when "Ulric" is to strike, he does so at first with care, in a martial fashion: but after his first victory, he becomes increasingly flashy, showy, doing things (like turning his back on his foe) that no one would do in combat.

It is just that quick that the spirit of the thing is lost. Masters have made this mistake.

In Autumn Lightning, Dave Lowry writes about being instructed in Japanese swordsmanship by an old teacher from Japan. One night, after long practice, the sensei tries to convey the point.

"The swordsmanship we do, that is nothing. What is cutting with a sword? If I have an atomic bomb now, it will melt your katana and you.... We keep the Yagyu Shinkage tradition alive for another reason than fighting. Because it is like--" he paused, reaching for the right word, "it is like an antique that is living. Because we have the ryu [school of teaching], we have something of the past. We can depend on it. All the bugeisha in the old days, they are just like us. Same problems, they loved and hated, just like we do. Since they went before, they are an example for us."
In fact, the man who practices a fighting art to preserve it, as a moral guide, is doing nothing like what the samurai was doing. The samurai wanted to kill. He would change anything about his technique, in an instant, if it gave him an advantage. The man who carefully preserves kata is the opposite of him. The man who seeks to preserve unchanged the techniques as a moral lesson is nothing like the man who would change any technique for a momentary advantage.

Yet it is possible to be "like" the fighting men of old. It is possible to learn courage by practicing fighting in armor. In coming days, we'll talk a bit more about this: and perhaps I'll finally get around to answering Eric, who has long said that "chivalry" was largely a romantic ideal, whose forms we have mostly of the 19th century.

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