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Abstract – Since antiquity, hunting (the pursuit of large game with dogs, swords, spears and bows) has been advocated as the best means of training men for war. The cognitive, psychological and physical demands of hunting in this fashion develop a fundamentally different skill set from that of standard modern Western Martial Arts training. Still legal in the United States, hunting wild boar employing medieval weapons and methods provides insights into swordsmanship readily available nowhere else.

“For a knight should always engage in anything to do with arms and chivalry, and if he cannot do so in war, he should do so in activities which resemble war. And the chase (hunting) is the most similar to war for these reasons: war demands expense, met without complaint; one must be well horsed and well armed; one must be vigorous, and do without sleep, suffer lack of good food and drink, rise early, sometimes have a poor bed, undergo cold and heat, and conceal one’s fear.”

-King Alfonso XI of Castile (1312 – 1350 A.D.) Libro de la Monteria (Hunting Book of Alfonso XI) (Cummins, 2001: p. 4)

…What is the best way to train for the actual use of a sword?

  • Drills in the salle?
  • Strength and flexibility conditioning in the gymnasium?
  • Test cutting?
  • Sparring?
  • Tournaments?For thousands of years, the unequivocal answer to this question has been:

• None of the above

Rather, the answer has been…

II. HUNTING

Certainly, this was not the modern hunting paradigm of sitting concealed somewhere with a firearm, waiting for game to happen by. Hunting was synonymous with “the chase” — the pursuit of large, often dangerous game over natural terrain with dogs and weapons of war: spear, sword and bow.

Since antiquity, hunting has been regarded as an excellent means of training men for war. Although the specific areas of emphasis vary from one source to the next, the tone is surprisingly consistent over the course of two millennia. Again and again, seasoned commanders wrote more highly of hunting than of any other method as training for the profession of arms.

 

-Richard Swinney, “Medieval Hunting as Training for War, Insights for the Modern Swordsman”, Acta Periodica Duellatorum (Emphasis added)

Meditating on Richard Swinney’s article, one can arrive at few practical considerations for martial artists of any style:

  1. Hunting trains us cognitively, emotively, and sensorially. When one hunts, one is required to look, listen, smell, and even feel things in ways that modern life does not typically require. Hunting also requires mental alertness, and courage, and grants us experience with processing the meaning of shedding blood and taking life. Anyone who has hunted can remember the first time they took life, and what that felt like. Finally, (to a lesser extent in most modern hunting), one is subjected to potential personal danger, and must process the complex emotions that arise from such an experience.
  2. Hunting trains us physically. The average hunter must be able to hike, and posses the strength to carry gear. Some hunts require additional physical skills and some hunters seek out ways which require less, but the more “raw” the hunting experience, the more like war the experience will be, and will serve therefore as good training. Sleeping on the ground, slogging through mud, carrying heavy gear or dead animals, braving the elements, crawling, climbing, running over varied terrain is all great training.
  3. Hunting trains us spiritually. Swinney’s article doesn’t focus on this idea, but it is there nonetheless in the source material he uses, as well as elsewhere. Our worldview and character are challenged by the physical and mental realities of the hunt. What we personally believe will affect the decisions we choose to make before, during, and after the hunt. A modern person, who does not see a natural order behind the hunt, ordained by God, that requires a reverential obedience in our way of attendance, may end up processesing violence in a way that breeds mental disorder. This lack of relgious perspective and embodied sanctification is part of why there are so many cases of war-related PTSD today, why we are dealing with domestic terrorist threats, why PETA exists in the dramatic state it currently operates in, and what is really fueling the antagonists in movies like The Hunted. While these are complex issues with numerous contributive factors, we cannot ignore that a person who’s heart is not in the right place will be more vulnerable to disorderly thought and conduct. Secularism does not offer healthy answers for those who must process violence. While hunting does not guarantee positive spiritual training, it provides the lived experiences where such positive training can be employed. Violence is not largely understood by academic reasoning; and while sparring grants us very important encounters with martial violence from which we can glean many important mental and moral lessons, its necessary qualities of safety rob it of some of the truths taught through the taking of life that hunters engage in. For those who cannot hunt, and/or who wish to increase their opportunities for moral martial formation, one can commit oneself to the reading of combative stories, both fictional and non-fictional. (Or hunting stories!) Rational discourse must come after experiential training, if it comes at all. But I digress…

Finally, a word about training with one’s gear. What do you carry/posses as gear for potential martial application? Do you use it when you hunt? If your gear is so specialized in application that there is no crossover between what you use to hunt with and what you have for combative purposes then you are doing yourself a disservice.

What kind of knife do you carry for self-defense? Do you carry it when you hunt? Do you use it to dress animals? Do you know what that blade feels like when it bites flesh, and when blood flows over it?

Do you carry a pistol for defensive purposes in your daily life? Do you carry a different pistol when you hunt? Is that really necessary? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

 

Is a battle rifle something you train, or a shotgun? Could you possible carry it when you hunt? The 5.56 round is almost identical to the .223 hunting caliber. The 7.26 is similar enough to the .308. People hunt with AR-15 platforms and SKS rifles. Are you missing a training opportunity here, because modern consumerism has sold you on the need to have a million different tools for a million different purposes?

What can you carry from your defensive/combative toolset when you hunt? It is important to test your gear, both to ensure its function, and your ability to function it.

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Hunters with modern boar spear from Cold Steel.