I'm going to start reviewing the martial arts books I read. This is my first shot. Feel free to comment or ask questions.

Book: The Martial Arts of Ancient Greece: Modern Fighting Techniques from the Age of Alexander

Author(s): Kostas Dervenis, Nektarios Lykiardopoulis

The aim of this book, as the title suggests, is an indepth look at ancient Greek combat, and the correlation between it and modern martial arts.

The book begins with a preface, where the authors discuss the cultural importance of martial arts in Greece, including into the twentieth century. Of interest to the practioner of Tradional Asian martial arts, might be the fact that the Greeks practiced solo weapons forms "up until the Second World War". There is an interesting picture of young Greek boys training the staff. Sadly, it appears that after WWII these forms were lost.

Chapter One begins with a look at the history of Greek combat. Of note is the authors differentiation between Pankration (an early Greek combat sport) and Pammachon (the battlefield martial art). It is particularly interesting, considering the recent debate over 'sport arts' vs. 'street arts', to see that these debates were held two thousand years ago! Back then, some felt that Pankration was less than ideal for battlefield combat, while others felt it was a more than adequate training method towards that goal. Of note should be the view held by some at the time that ground fighting was useless for the battlefield. Thus, it seems that one of the major differences between Pankration and Pammachon was that Pankration fighters developed highly refined ground skills, whereas the Pammachon solidier was interested in staying on his feet at all costs.

The chapter continues with a look at the relation between Pammachon and the sword and spear. The authors theorize that Pammachon was developed from weapons arts, and that the later development of Pankration also was indebted to the sword and spear. Unfortunately Pammachon is left behind at the end of this chapter, with the authors promising the reader a future publication on that art.

Chapter two begins with a more indepth look at Pankration. An image of a depiction from an Egyptian grave at Beni Hasan, dated at 2000 BCE, shows a variety of submissions that modern day grappler would be quick to identify as still be taught academy's today. The authors then briefly go over the "constituting elements of Pankration;" those being, the different fighting ranges, and techniques of "blocks and avoidance."

We are told that the ground Pankration fighters fought on was dug up dirt, to lesson the impact of throws, takedowns and falls. However, due to the surface, lateral moves are apparently difficult, and therefore Pankration was a more linear fighting style than modern MMA. The author compares the step of the Pankration fighter to the practioner of a "sixteenth- to nineteenth century traditional Japanese" art.

Also, due to the restriction of laterial movements, blocks and parries became necessary. The blocks were of two types: a) hand blows to the limbs of the opponent b) "refined (soft) avoidance, as well as "penetrating moves aimed at capturing the opponents limb" (tie ups from the clinch). The parries were brought to Pankration from Pammachon are related to the parries needed to engage in combat with a sword.

Chapter three is the bulk of the book and it contains explanations of various techniques along with ancient depictions, either from statues, vase paintings, or reliefs. I think anyone from the MMA practioner to the student of a tradional martial art would find something of interest in these techniques. Everything from takedowns and submissions, to hand traps are shown. One particular technique that caught my interest was the "power punch", a strike modeled directly after the bodies position for throwing a spear. Another that I personally found interesting was the "edge of hand strike" which is the same hand position as the taegatana (hand sword) as Aikido, and used in much the same way.

As a matter of fact, although this book was written with the contemporary mixed martial arts practitioner or fan in mind, I would say that there is equal interest for the tradional martial artist, if not possibly more, as it shows that techniques currently considered obsolete for MMA competition were at one time used successfully in a similar venue--such as blocks, standing joint locks and edge of hand strikes. For the modern mixed martial artist, I believe that this book may show the possibility for techniques that are currently under appreciated or used.

I found Chapter four to be the most interesting. Titled "The Inner Path", it examines the psyche of the ancient Greek warrior, and the training of the mind that may have accompanied the physical training. The authors theorize that the ancient Greeks may have possessed a 'qi gong' like body conditioning method. Though basically unprovable, they do not go overboard with this concept, and they relate interesting evidence to back of up this theory, such as the story of Hercules wrestling two snakes in his crib being a metaphor for internal power development. To go too deep into this aspect would require me to write something the same length as the chapter (at least), but suffice it say that the authors do make a compelling argument that this type of practice was done.

The Appendix gives us the authors theory on how, or even if, the ancient Greek martial arts influenced East Asia. They dismiss the theory of Alexander's army bringing Pankration to India, and it spreading from there, quite resonably by providing evidence that Alexander did not advocate the training of Pankration for his troupes, advocating phalanx drilling instead . Although that does seem likely, I still question if this topic could be dismissed so quickly, as it still seems likely that Alexander's troops would have had some training in Pammachon. However, the authors do give a very interesting theory that traces a plausible way that Greek combative arts could have spread to East Asia: through Buddhism. Although the authors admit that they could be accused of reaching, the theory is of enough merit, in my mind, that it should be given some study.

All in all, I found this book to be one of the best books on martial arts I've read in a long time. It is a nice fusion between history, technique depiction, and over all philosophy of the martial way.


Edited by Ames (01/10/09 04:41 PM)
"Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought."