We are looking into courage in the knightschool and in SSG Riga we are starting to spar. For sparring a certain amount of courage is needed. The Lion in the Fiore system symbolises the bravery, courage and the chivalrous virtue of the fighter.
In the segno the Lion holds a heart and it is my belief that the Lion truly is the heart of the matter. Here are is an article posted by my mentor and friend Colin Hatcher in the SSG Riga google group.
DEVELOPING YOUR LION
Some thoughts on developing Fiore’s Lion attributes of courage, daring and courteousness within Fiore’s martial system by Colin Gabriel Hatcher
Fiore’s martial system has four animals representing four combat “virtues.” In the old Italian language, Fiore’s Lion represents the martial virtue of “Audatia” or “Ardimento” The modern English word from these words are “audacity” and “ardor.” Audacity means boldness and
daring. Ardor means passion. Fiore’s Lion also stands for Courage. Finally, the Lion is the symbol for chivalric Courtesy. The attributes of Fiore’s Lion only really come into play when
students of Fiore begin live sparring. Suddenly students find themselves in a competitive environment, where they might win or lose an engagement. While such engagements are not literally life or death engagements (as they would have been on the medieval battlefield), they
evoke the same kind of emotional reaction from participants: fear, panic, adrenaline rush, over-aggression, etc. On the medieval battlefield, over-coming the fear of death would have been standard preparation (through prayer and blessings by priests, for example). The Lion, in medieval philosophy, represents the spirit and to overcome the fear of death requires faith. For the modern Fiore longsword fighter, the worst we can expect is bruised ribs and bruised pride (from losing or looking foolish). Nevertheless, in order to be able to fight effectively, one must be able to overcome the fear of being struck, and of losing or looking foolish. This too is a Lion attribute. Faced with a live opponent, who is now attempting to strike without being struck, and who is no longer cooperative or helpful, the student new to sparring may well find themselves seriously lacking in the attributes of Fiore’s Lion. Students may approach live sparring with plenty of technique, strategy and drilling (the realm of the Lynx), with plenty of strength, stamina and stability (the realm of the Elephant), and with plenty of speed, flexibility and agility (the realm of the Tiger), only to find themselves caught paralyzed and flat-footed in the live sparring environment, when they face an opponent who is more comfortable in the realm of the Lion (hyper-aggression) than they are.
In the case of these students, the fear and panic brought on by the pending confrontation, the nervousness about facing the opponent, the fear of losing and/or the risk of looking foolish (not knowing what to do) before the watching gallery, all combine to cause a massive surge of adrenaline, and the student’s body goes into what is known as adrenaline shock. The result: paralysis (“adrenaline paralysis”), in which the ability to think and plan (symbolized by the Lynx) collapse, eyesight and hearing deteriorate, and breathing becomes shallow and fast, resulting in insufficient oxygen to the muscles. This has two effects: stamina and strength (symbolized by the Elephant) collapse (both need oxygen) and the body’s fast reactions and agility and flexibility (symbolized by the Tyger) slow down. In other words, the mighty Lion defeats Lynx, Elephant and Tyger! The panicking student thus loses the initiative, is defeated before the engagement even begins, is intimidated and dominated by the opponent, and spars passively and without intent, just trying to survive the bout. The fear of not knowing what to do becomes a reality, as the student’s mind blanks out, and faced with “fight or flight”, the student chooses neither, since he or she is rendered unable to make any choice at all.
The Lion also governs courtesy and chivalric ritual, but these attributes can suffer also when the student is intimidated and paralyzed by fear and adrenaline. Often the intimidated student
(deficient Lion) avoids too much chivalric ritual before and after a live sparring engagement, almost as if they do not believe they merit such ritual. Thus the engagement becomes sloppy and un-chivalric, not because the student is not a courteous person, but because they are
embarrassed to be too openly “chivalric” lest they cannot thereafter produce the fighting performance to match the pre-fight ritual.
On the other hand, the “deficient-Lion” student may be very courteous indeed. The pre- and post-engagement rituals do not involve adrenaline surge, and the rituals of a pre-engagement can be easily learned. Indeed the student, even though lacking in the Lion attributes of courage and aggressiveness, may well take their courtesy attributes into the engagement itself. Such a student may well lose the engagement often, deficient in the Lion as he or she is, but at least they lose
At the other end of the Lion spectrum we have the hyper-aggressive reaction to adrenaline surge. This kind of student responds to the fight or flight adrenaline surge, not only with “fight”, but also with “fight hard”, and in doing so responds over-aggressively. The sparring engagement then becomes a fight to the death, where the need to “win” dominates the mind of the over-zealous student, and blanks out the need for restraint or courtesy. In short, with muscles over-loaded with adrenaline, this student fights fast and furiously, strikes with too much impact for the armour standards of the engagement, and with little control or apparent concern for the opponent’s well-being. The fear of looking foolish is overcome by exceptional aggression, and in engagements like this, when an opponent is “excessive-Lion” (or Lion not tempered by the prudence of the Lynx), injuries can and do occur. This student is bold to the point of foolishness, rushing at the opponent without fear, to be sure, but flailing their longsword wildly, without technique and without good judgment either. In other words, Lion-deficiency can be shown by lack of courtesy or lack of passion (aggression) in fighting.
DEVELOPING THE LION ATTRIBUTES
How best then to develop the key Lion attributes of Courage & Boldness, Aggressiveness and Courtesy? My notes below are for the new student approaching live sparring, perhaps with excitement, perhaps with trepidation.
A. COURAGE AND BOLDNESS
Courage or boldness is an essential attribute for any student to develop for live sparring in a quasi-competitive or competitive environment. It forms the essence of the Lion, and is hard to develop unless The student is willing to spar at every opportunity. Thefollowing tips may be useful in the development of courage:
(1) Spar competitively whenever you can
Courage cannot be developed outside a quasi-competitive or competitive environment. In order to develop it, you must enter the realm of the Lion, which is the competitive field of combat. Only by sparring will you learn to cope with bodyshock and adrenaline surge. Seasoned fighters still experience adrenaline surge – they are just better able to channel it into controlled aggression and action, rather than allowing it to paralyze them. This is simply achieved by lots of sparring.
(2) Try to avoid long discussions during sparring
Sparring is a kinetic learning process. Courage is an emotional attribute – it is about how you feel – and it can be developed kinetically, but it cannot be developed by discussion. You cannot develop courage and boldness by talking about it between bouts. Courage evolves from the kinetic experience of competitive fighting. Don’t talk about it… DO it!
(3) Face your fears
You can develop courage by regularly facing your fear. First identify your fear, then face it. To begin with this will be difficult. But, as you develop courage, it will become easier. To face a fear requires willpower. For example, when given a choice of who to spar with, stand proud and tall and boldly pick the most fearsome looking opponent, or the biggest, or the strongest, or the fastest. Timid students often prefer to pick someone who looks like they will be the easiest to fight. This will never develop your courage. There is no shame in acknowledging your fear, but you must not allow your fear to dictate your choices. When faced with choosing an opponent from a group, ask yourself “Who am I most afraid to face”, or “Who do I believe would be the most intimidating or challenging person to engage in combat sparring?”, and then pick that person to spar with. Use your fear response as a method of choosing your sparring partner, not as a way to choose who to avoid, but rather as a way of choosing who to spar with. This is true
(4) Work on overcoming your fear of losing
The Lion does not fear losing in competition (nor death on the battlefield), because the Lion has faith. As students, your fear of losing or looking foolish may well inhibit your sparring ability. To
develop your Lion attribute of courage and boldness, it will be necessary to overcome your fear of losing. Sparring is your opportunity to lose and yet to realize that losing is not a catastrophe, but an opportunity to show grace and courtesy in defeat, and to gain renown in its own right, not to mention an opportunity to learn and improve your technique. Only by sparring repeatedly in a supportive environment can you develop this approach to combat. It really does not matter who wins or loses. What matters is that the play itself was conducted in the manner sought by your Schola, that is, with chivalry. Students ask me how they can become good sword fighters. I often answer “You first need to lose 5,000 engagements, so get going!”
B. PASSION (AGGRESSION)
Passion or Aggressiveness in a chivalric combat context does not mean violent, hurtful, destructive and malicious conduct. Aggressiveness means a combat willingness and readiness (a joy of combat), a driving forceful energy intended to dominate or master the opponent, and a
willingness to attempt to seize and hold the initiative, coupled with a strong desire to take back the initiative if it is lost. Here below are some of my thoughts on developing the Lion’s attribute
(1) Follow the advice on courage and apply it to aggressiveness!
Aggressiveness and courage/boldness are closely related. All of the advice above regarding courage applies to aggressiveness! You cannot develop the Lion’s aggression if you never spar competitively.
(2) Try to constantly seize the initiative when sparring
It is the Lion who seizes the initiative. When sparring, try to be aware of times when you are passively responding to what your opponent is doing. Boldness means seizing and keeping the initiative. Understandably, for the student struggling to remember techniques, it is difficult to seize the initiative, but this can be developed through sparring itself. If you find yourself only defending without counter-attacking, your opponent has the initiative. Defending at speed
while counter-attacking can only be developed by sparring itself. Spar!
(3) Work on combining technique (Lynx) with speed (Tiger)
A driving forceful energy in combat can be developed by working on Lynx (technique) and Tiger (speed). When these are coupled together in a struggle for the initiative, aggressiveness is seen!
Technique and speed cannot become rooted in your kinetic memory (“muscle memory”) unless you spar, spar and spar some more!
Courtesy for me is an essential Lion attribute, and it prevents aggressiveness from becoming a destructive “win-at-all-costs” approach. Here are a few things to think about:
(1) Spar boldly and aggressively with the intent to help your opponent improve, and with the intent to create beauty on the field.
Practice sparring boldly and aggressively for the purpose of enhancing your opponent’s skills, rather than for the purpose of aggrandizing yourself. Aim also to create beautiful combat patterns that those watching will enjoy and admire. Remember: “The candle does not burn
to illuminate itself”.
(2) “Better to lose honorably then win dishonorably”
While aggressiveness wants to win, courtesy modifies aggressiveness. Courtesy does not want to win at all costs. There is no honor or renown to be gained by winning badly, for example winning by injuring your opponent. When you spar, practice avoiding winning, if by winning you
are forced to act discourteously.
(3) Remember, your opponent is not your enemy, but is rather your colleague
Treat your opponent on the field of combat as you would wish to be treated. Aggressiveness begins at the call “Lay on”, and ends at the call “Hold”. Courtesy, on the other hand extends throughout the bout from beginning to end. Remember, your opponent is not your enemy,
but is rather your colleague.
(4) Seek opportunities during the combat to display courteous behavior.
Speak politely to your opponent at all times, and treat them in the same manner. Never strike a blow with malice in your heart, no matter what. If your opponent falls down, offer them a hand up. Always seek to concede the fight should there be any doubt as to who won. In conceding
a close-call fight, you display courtesy, generosity and humility,three important chivalric virtues.
(5) Practice the pre- and post-engagement rituals carefully and clearly
Practice the pre- and post-engagement rituals carefully and clearly. These will help to place you in a courteous frame of mind.
(6) Wearing medieval style clothing can also help place you into the correct frame of mind
Wearing medieval clothing to fight in is not just “dressing-up” It also helps to place you into the correct frame of mind for combat within the school’s framework of medieval chivalric virtues.
(7) The main purpose of competitive sparring is to improve your own character
Remember that one of the main purposes of competitive sparring is to improve your own character. Thus the main struggle in combat can be seen to be against your own limitations and weaknesses, rather than against your opponent. Seek always to confront your own weaknesses when sparring, so as to overcome and improve them. In this sense your opponent is there also to help you improve, by sparring with you to the best of their own ability. While the framework is the field of combat, the purpose is unchanged: self-improvement. If you won a bout but did
not improve yourself in any way, did you really win anything at all?
(8) Remember you represent the Schola of Saint George, or your own School, at all times when you are engaged in competitive sparring
You do not represent only yourself when you engage in competitive sparring, but you represent the entire school. Others will judge not only you but the school itself, from the conduct of its members. Seeing yourself as an ambassador for the school at all times, and therefore always “on display” will help you conduct yourself appropriately, and will help to place your much-needed Lion ardour/aggressiveness within a framework of equally important Lion courteousness.
Fiore’s Lion carries a heart. To be a great warrior you need the heart of a Lion. The heart of a lion is bold, courageous, has no fear of death, has faith and practices courtesy at all times.
It is my personal opinion that the Lion is the last attribute set that you can begin to develop in Fiore’s system, because the key attributes of courage/boldness and aggressiveness cannot begin to be developed until the student can begin sparring in a competitive environment.
Courtesy of course can be developed from day one, but conducting oneself courteously while in competition and under the pressure of adrenaline pump and its concomitant aggressiveness is also a sparring-related attribute, and is different than practicing courtesy
while drilling cooperatively. Lynx, Tiger and Elephant attributes can all be developed prior to and
without sparring. Lion is different. Lion requires competitive combat. So fight! And embrace the Lion with both arms!
Colin Gabriel Hatcher