Articles by Graham Butcher
Practical Skills, the Karl Bind Rune January 2017
Stav Training: Technique, Method and Principle December 2016
Why I do Stav November 2016
What does it mean to be a Warrior September 2016
Ten Thousand Time July 2016
Martial Arts and Civilisation May 2016
Essentials of Stav Training January 2016
Stav and Self–defence December 2015
How to Train in Stav October 2015
What Lurks in the Shadows? January 2014
Making it Happen December 2013
Are you a Spider or a Fly? October 2013
Practical Skills, the Karl Bind Rune
Bind runes are very simple ways of recording and communicating the principles behind a given activity. By reducing the principles to six runes and arranging them around the Hagl two things are achieved. The person creating the bind rune is forced to think through a process of simplification down to the essentials of a subject. The person learning from the bind rune is presented with the essential principles in a form they should be able to remember. A lot of thinking and work will have to go into actually using the principles in a constructive way. However, the principles are all you really need if you are prepared to think for yourself.
The Karl bind rune is concerned with the practical skills involved in making and building useful things. This bind rune is laid out as a balanced pattern. That is, each line connects two corresponding runes which express a principle. The alternative is a progressive bind rune such as the Ethical example which is read around the sequence like an analogue clock. As you can see from the diagram the Karl Bind Rune is made up of As matched with Yr , Laug matched with Kreft and Ur matched with Nod . Sometimes Bjork matches Ur instead of Nod. In a sense it does not matter as both are feminine runes. Nod is more concerned with spinning, through Verdandi, also symbolised by the spider. Bjork can symbolise the Tein or stick, twig or stem of growing things. This could include flax and hemp (cotton too except that cotton was not imported into Europe until the late medieval period). So Bjork can mean thread and the spinning of plants but it can also mean vegetation of any kind.
A good starting point to understanding any bind rune is to have a good look at the six runes it is made up of. As is associated with Ash, a very useful wood for making all kinds of things including spear shafts, handles for all kinds of weapons and tools. Ash is strong enough for building and making furniture but possibly not as long lasting as oak for building frames or elm for furniture. But even this gets you thinking about the various woods available and what they are most useful for. Yr means Yew tree. We do associate Yew with bows for archery. However, Northern European Yew isn't particularly suitable for bows, too many knots and usually not straight enough. (The Yew bows used in the late middle ages and early Tudor times were usually made from Yew staves cut from trees grown in Spain. In the Mediterranean area Yew trees grow taller and straighter.) I used to think of the relationship between Ash and Yew as being strong hard wood from the ash tree and more flexible wood from the Yew. Yew wood is actually extremely hard and Elm was actually more commonly used for bows in early medieval times. The other possibility is the contrast between the cut and seasoned wood for manufacture and other uses as represented by the Ash, and living trees providing wind breaks, hedges and shelter as represented by Yr as Yew. The first line of the Yr rune poem says that 'Yew is the greenest of trees in winter time.' That means that Yew will provide an effective hedge and windbreak all the year around.
If Kreft is taken to be fire and Laug water then a wide variety of activities are covered which require an interplay of fire and water. Even before we consider the relationship between fire and water there is the skills and knowledge needed to build, light and maintain a fire and which woods are useful for which purposes. The second line of the rune poem for Yr even says that, 'when it burns there is singeing.' Yew wood does indeed burn with an extraordinarily hot flame. There is also the principle of charcoal making which involves a fire which does not actually burn up the wood being converted.
Knowledge of water as represented by Laug might include knowing how to dig a well, build a dam and create an irrigation ditch or a storage cistern. The flip side but still vitally important is understanding drainage, both to make a field usable for agriculture or protect a building from water damage. You would be surprised how roofs get built and how many gutters get fitted by people who do not seem to know that water flows down hill. The clue is in the first line of the Laug rune poem, 'Water falls from the mountains as a force'. This in turn suggests knowing how to harness the power of water by constructing a water wheel and using the force to drive a mill of some kind.
Once you start using fire and water together a whole range of activities are suggested: Blacksmithing with metal heated to forging temperature and then quenched to temper it. Ceramics, where wet clay is converted to all kinds of useful objects by firing in a kiln. Brewing, baking and simple cooking all require fire and water combined in various ways. The important thing is that access to plentiful clean water and the means to create intense, but controlled, heat will enable a huge range of useful activities.
Then we have Ur and Nod or Bjork. Ur suggests the Auroch and can represent pretty much any part of or product from animals. Meat, leather, milk, bone, horn, hoofs, wool and gut are just some of the possibilities. On the Nod or Bjork side there is all the things that come from plants including flax and hemp. Spinning means thread and thread can be woven or knitted, both a process of creating a web. Combine leather with strong thread and the ability to sew and boots, shoes, jackets, bags and purses become a possibility. Spinning and knowing how to tie knots also applies to rope and nets so boats can be rigged and fishing nets constructed.
Hopefully you can begin to see that when you really start following the connections offered by the Craft Bind Rune you can see that it covers anything that can be made. Some combinations are quite surprising, take ash from burning Ash wood, mix it with water to make lye. Filter it through a finely woven cloth and heat the lye with animal fat and you have soap.
Another way of looking at the Craft Bind Rune is as a model for the most basic principle of making anything. As and Nod represent wisdom and necessity. Laug and Yr represent the raw materials of earth and water. Kreft and Ur represent energy in fire and wind and in the life force itself. To create anything you need materials, you need energy and you need a design driven by need and wisdom.
The scale on which the Karl Bind Rune is expressed does not really matter. The absolute essentials of survival are fire and water, food from vegetables and meat (surviving from nature in Northern Europe as a vegetarian would be quite a challenge), shelter and simple tools and weapons. Some basic clothing comes in handy too even if it is just a couple of animal skins crudely sown together. Hence the Nod rune poem, 'Need makes for a difficult situation, the naked freeze in the frost.' At the other end of the scale even the most advanced power station either uses, 'water falling from the mountain as a force.' if hydro electric or there is a fire of some kind heating water, making steam which drives a turbine, Kreft and Laug working together. Stav is a system of self education, therefore, bind runes do not intended to provide answers. The real purpose of a bind rune is to prompt the right question. Once the bind rune has prompted you to ask the right question then you will initiate the process described in Stanza 141 of the Havamal. 'Then I began to quicken and be wise and to grow and to prosper, one word found another word for me, one deed another deed for me.'
Stav Training: Technique, Method and Principle
In early December I led a Stav foundation training course. One of those who attended is new to Stav but has a huge experience and knowledge in Martial Arts. At one point during the day this person said. 'Would I be right in thinking that Stav isn't so much a martial art, rather a philosophy of life, which can be expressed through martial training?' To me that was a very astute observation.
Reflecting on the conversation later took me back to training with Ivar in the early 1990s. Ivar had returned to Europe from Japan and settled not far from my home at the time. I found out about Ivar, made contact and soon became one of his students. At first we trained with Jo and Boken and I learned to cut and strike with a good deal of accuracy. This admission often leads to accusations that Stav is just a rehash of Japanese martial arts. It has never been a secret that Ivar is highly graded in traditional Japanese weapon arts and he is pretty handy at the unarmed stuff too. If you believe that a martial training system consists only of its techniques and the equipment used to train them then, yes, I was pretty much learning Jo Jutsu and Ken Jutsu at that time. However, I was also learning the practice of the Runic Stances as I developed my knowledge of the runes. Another Stav aspect was working with traditional two person drills which explored the five principles of Stav.
For myself, I developed a daily practice of doing the stances (as I still do today). I also developed a method of practising with the Jo using the stump of a cut off branch on a tree as a target. A hundred of each of four strikes a day and I developed the ability to strike with consistent accuracy. I also practised with the boken too.
That first summer we took a break from weekly classes for maybe six weeks. I carried on with the Stances and my weapon striking practice on a daily basis. I also practised the five principles drills on my own several times each day.
When we resumed classes in the September my weapon technique had continued to improve, which was good. However, it took Ivar weeks to train out the bad habits I had incorporated into the five principles drills. This was the effect of training them on my own when I didn't really understand what I was doing. I was beginning to realise that there is a crucial relationship between technique, method and principle. Technique is what you do with your body, with a weapon or with a partner. Method is the way in which you train and develop your techniques. Principle is the underlying meaning of the training you are doing. This relationship is a dynamic process of learning technique, using technique according to a method, discovering a deeper understanding of principles, developing technique which further reflects the deeper understanding of principle, perhaps modifying the method to apply the technique according to principle and so it should continue.
It isn't what you know that matters, it is how you use what you know and, then more important still, then what you learn from using what you know. What you learn then feeds back in to deepening your original knowledge. This process should continue throughout your life. Indeed, grasping that life is an on going process of knowledge (technique), application (method) and understanding (principle) will enrich all aspects of your life. Just as practising Stav for twenty five years has enriched my life.
Technique, method and principle is fundamental in Stav training and practice, not least because, we would not have the modern discipline of Stav without it. Ivar grew up in post war Norway with Stav as a family tradition of education for life. The martial part was certainly there in terms of the techniques of using staff and other weapons. The basic principles were passed on in an informal way. However, there was no systematic method of training and teaching Stav. Ivar found this frustrating for two main reasons. Firstly, he could not learn and develop as much as he wanted to in the martial aspect of Stav. Secondly, it was obvious that the Stav tradition would die out as lifestyles changed in modern Norway. When Ivar got the opportunity to live in Japan for fourteen years and train seriously in martial arts he was looking for a method of perfecting his technique and thus being able to express the principles of Stav. His Japanese teachers were aware of Ivar's intentions and encouraged him. In modern Japan traditional masters are well aware of how vulnerable their own traditions are to being lost so they respected and encouraged Ivar's intention to save his family system.
When Ivar settled in the UK and began training he was always completely open about the route he had taken to mastering martial arts and developing a method of teaching others. The traditional basis of Stav is in the runes and rune stances. The runes and stances should not change if you want to practice Stav. However, the variety of methods by which you apply or interpret the stances is only limited by your imagination. I will write another time about the many ways that the stances have inspired techniques and training methods. In martial training the key principle is an understanding of the web and how the lines of the web intersect in time and space. Techniques of cutting and striking are as much for learning to see the lines as for hitting people. Stav methods of training encourage regular cutting practice, mainly in the air but chopping wood or clearing undergrowth is useful practice. Butchering an animal or even cutting up vegetables is cutting practice too.
In Japan Ivar learned how to cut and strike with Jo and Boken. As Ivar's teaching developed in the UK I designed training weapons based on traditional European weapons such as the axe, staff and cudgel amongst others. Techniques and methods were then developed to use these new/old weapons in accordance with the lines and with the five principles of Stav. The five principles are traditional responses to conflict situations. Each principle can be explored using a particular weapon (technique) according to a carefully designed drill (method) so that the principle can be genuinely understood. Once the principles are properly understood then it should be possible to develop techniques and design methods to train with any weapon according to the five principles. Or it may become clear that a specific weapon has limited application for resolving some conflicts but is good for others. This is why Stav training generally uses five sticks of various lengths and is not too concerned with specific weapon technology.
What can be gained through Stav training? Technique without method will never develop into real skill. Method without technique or understanding of principle will be inefficient at best and dangerous at worst. Principle without skilled expression through technique is just fantasy. Stav teaches that relating technique, method and principle is a dynamic and life long process. There is nothing fundamentally unique about Stav, every human activity is a combination of these three factors, perhaps what matters is the degree of awareness of this fact.
If you would like to actually train and see how Stav works for yourself please visit my Calendar Page for current list of training opportunities.
Why I do Stav
I was born in 1959 so I was the right age, early teens, when martial arts suddenly became very popular in the early 70s. Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon and, well it made quite an impact at the time. I had the opportunity to learn Karate from the age of about 14 and I grabbed the chance. I am not athletic, I have always had slightly limited cardio vascular capacity, perfectly okay for everyday life but I can't run all that far or fast. Today I would probably be labelled dyspraxic (we just used to call it clumsy and thus useless at ball games). As a young child I was a little overweight and always seemed to be twisting an ankle or suffering from a stitch. So, I certainly wasn't competitive in sports even when I did take part.
In martial arts training I found a way of developing physically at my own pace and according to my own needs. I found that I could effectively defend myself on the fairly rare occasions that it was necessary. I also discovered a sense of integration that did not seem to come from any other source.
Even as a child I noticed that many people seemed to have a rather fragmented approach to life. If they wanted to be fit they went to the gym or played sports. Some people went to church or followed other religions or practices for their spiritual life. For intellectual progress they would read books and undertake some form of education. Rarely did people seem to really see the relationship between the development of the body, the mind and the spiritual aspects of their lives. Sometimes people even seemed very keen on two aspects of life and yet actively despised the third. Sport and education but dismissed the spiritual. Or very religious and intellectual but no interest in physical fitness. It all seemed a bit odd to me.
Although for me martial arts training brought a sense of integration I also realised that not all martial artists were looking for the same goal. There has always something of a divide between those who do martial arts for sport and fitness, those who want to become deadly combat machines and those attracted by the exotic mysticism of Taoism or Zen. Again there was that separation. Yes, there was the benefits of physical fitness through training, which has served me well all my life and still does. Yes, there is the confidence that comes through knowing what to do if I should be unlucky enough to get into a violent situation. Yes, it is good to know that martial arts is a vehicle for learning and expressing spiritual principles. However, I also realised that without the appropriate language skills and cultural references I wasn't going to understand the authentic relationship between philosophy and practice. To really integrate through martial arts I was going to have to find a way of training that connected me with my own culture and ancestry.
Then, in the early 1990s I met Ivar Hafskjold and began to learn Stav. Ivar had recently returned to Europe after 14 years in Japan where he had studied martial arts to a very high level. When I asked him why he had come back he said that he had realised that he was never going to be Japanese and it was time to come back to he roots. Ivar was ready to teach in the UK and he wanted to see if he could integrate his family tradition of training, Stav, with what he had learned in Japan. At that point I began my exploration of Stav and I knew that I had found what I was looking for. I had not found answers, but I had found the opportunity to ask the right questions. Questions that included: What is my body really capable of if I engage in the appropriate practice every day? Is it possible to learn to see a problem so clearly that the solution always becomes apparent? How can I know what values matter most in a situation and then act accordingly?
I came to realise that we have to find our answers within ourselves. We must learn how to look for the answers and trust ourselves to recognise them when we find them.
So, is Stav just another kind of mysticism then? Not really, we live in a physical world and physical realities confront us every day. As physically embodied beings we must engage with these realities every day. How well equipped are we to see reality and think clearly about what we see? Are we capable of making decisions according to the values we hold to be the most important? Can we act effectively in accordance with our highest values? Having acted once can we do it all over again, each time gaining more insight into who we are and further confirming our purpose in this world?
If you have read this far you might be looking for the same things I have spent my life searching for. Maybe Stav will help you too.
What Does it Mean to be a Warrior in the Norse Tradition?
The content of this article was originally delivered by Graham Butcher as a talk at the 2016 Mercian Gathering
What is a warrior? The first image that comes to mind is usually of a fierce man with a bloodstained sword. It might be updated to a muscular man in combats, camouflage paint and a machine gun, al la Rambo. Popular media may have subverted that image even further with the shapely woman equipped with guns and supernatural agility. The traditional view of the warrior is more nuanced than that.
The warrior understands violence and weapons. A great many western people are insulated from violence on a day to day basis. This is an achievement of Western civilisation which is to be applauded on one level. Law and order and comfortable living standards mean that violence in every day life is rare and its use is strongly discouraged for many modern people. In fact direct experience of violence seems to be so rare that no one thinks it is worth even learning basic self-defence let alone any real expertise in martial arts. Hence, for people in the modern West the warrior is a comic book character and violence is not a reality in their lives. This is an illusion and the veneer of civilisation is thin and can break down with alarming suddenness. We only have to look at the way previously stable societies degenerate into chaos when their governments and infrastructure are destabilised. Until relatively recently people understood that security and protection of self, family and wider community was there own responsibility. Everybody had to be a warrior to some extent and the higher your status in society the more that was expected of you as a warrior. This would include such roles as: Protecting the tribe and it's territory, showing leadership to others in active defence and maintaining peace and harmony within the community.
This suggests a dual role for the warrior, being able to actively engage with violence against threats to the community while also maintaining peace and harmony within society through leadership and judgement.
The Havamal provides some interesting insights into the role of the warrior. At the end of the poem there are eighteen 'spells'. Sometimes these are considered to be eighteen magical events which a magician would know how to bring about using the runes. The question is, which runes and how would you do it? Another way of seeing the last part of the Havamal is that these are simply a range of skills that a competent and well educated warrior or Jarl should be able to perform. Some of the spells describe skills in leadership and caring for those who are led. Others are practical abilities including calming rough seas and putting out fires. There are also references to necromancy and flying witches and a great deal could be (and indeed has been) written on this part of the Havamal. For this article we are primarily interested in two stanzas, one to discuss now and the other to come back to later.
Stanza 158 can be translated as:
'This I can as the 13th if I shall a young man throw water upon: he won't fall even if he gets into battle that man won't drop dead (collapse/stumble to the ground/be killed) by swords.'
On one level this seems simple enough. A magical spell involving the throwing of water will make a young warrior impervious to danger. You just need to know the right magic. It reminds me of the Native American idea of Medicine Shirts which would make warriors impervious to the white man's bullets. That didn't work very well in the 19th century 'Indian Wars' and I doubt it worked in dark ages Scandinavia either.
We need to look a little deeper. Throwing water upon a young man could be taken to mean a kind of baptism, adoption or the simple recognising of son by father in public. Something along the lines of; 'If I accept this young man as a son and train and influence him to be a real warrior...' Then the second half doesn't necessarily mean being impervious to the danger of swords. Apparently the verb hnigr which is usually simply translated as 'fall' or 'die' has more complex meanings than that. It can also imply to bow or even 'curtsy' in a submissive way. The suggestion being that the true warrior, properly selected, acknowledged, led and trained will always stand firm and proud in the face of danger and even attack. This is both realistic and, as we shall see a little later, being made genuinely impervious to harm may actually be the worst thing you could do for a true warrior.
Of course there is an association between warriors and violence. Why do people use violence? Because they can get what they want by scaring people into submission or simply eliminating them if they will not readily submit. Even those who live in apparent peace and security may be unwilling to address glaring injustices simply because they are afraid of the instability that may result from change. So, even in apparently peaceful situations the threat of violence is still a method of control.
If violence is going to be managed for good rather than used for evil purposes what are the guidelines for the warrior? Stav teachings have come down to us through the runes, and in some cases, bind runes.
The Ethical Bind Rune shows the right reasons for using force and the potential cost of resisting force if you know how to interpret it. If we start with Thor at the top we have the rune of protection. Thor is the protector of Aesgard against the Jotens (frost giants) and of Trels (peasants) everywhere. So the first rune suggests that protection of self against harm and attack can be considered a good thing. But should our personal protection and our selfish well being be our only concern? Going clockwise around the bind rune we come next to Mann . Mann is associated with sexual love and generation. The rune poem goes 'Mankind is the increase of dust.' So this rune refers to immediate family, 'significant others' wife, husband, parent or child. Blood kin as we would once have said. Protecting oneself can be relatively easy, all you have to do is get out of harms way in what ever way is possible. Standing up for someone else, especially someone who has been foolish enough to get themselves into some kind of trouble, is always going to be a risky thing to do. However, the Ethical Bindrune suggests that just taking care of ourselves is not enough, we need to care for others too. There are four more runes to go too. The next is Bjork which suggests the wider relationships, tribe, extended family, local community, those you have a sense of belonging to perhaps ethnically, or religion or culturally. It may also be a matter of context, if travelling in a foreign land, you may feel obliged to assist a fellow countryman or woman whom you may have nothing to do with back home.
Tribal loyalties are not the ultimate obligation. At the bottom of the Bindrune we have Tyr which signifies law and justice. There may be protection in belonging to the tribe but that may not mean justice for those who do not belong. Law is meant to provide justice for all within a jurisdiction regardless of who they are. The Herse or warrior role may be to know, respect and enforce that law for the benefit of all. The problem with laws are that they are blunt instruments made by fallible men and women. With the best intentions a law will have unintended consequences, prohibition legislation passed in early 20th century USA may be a good example of this. Maybe the intentions are not even good in the first place if law was intended to discriminate unfairly against minorities and specific groups. Either way, a degree of judgement and discretion is always needed. The next rune is Ur which signifies the life force, the value of life itself. If the law is used to threaten life then the law itself is the threat. The warrior here has two responsibilities, speaking out to get laws repealed or amended and protecting those threatened legally by representing them or, in an extreme case, actively defending them even at risk to oneself. Because the final rune is Rei which here signifies death, the implication being that if you really mean to defend something, a person, a community, an ideal, life itself you need to be prepared to die for it. Which is the paradox of being a warrior, being committed to life enough to be willing to die for what is right.
As well as the Bindrune Stav also provides the guidance of the Five Principles of Stav. This returns to the importance of context. Just because you can fight does not mean that you always should. For our own survival we must know when to pick our battles. More than that, we will cause more problems than we solve if we involve ourselves in situations where we have no real understanding of what is going on and no real stake in the issue. In Stav terms, when it is none of our business then we are in a Trel or slave role. This does not mean we cannot help if we are asked but we are also free to walk away if there is no reason to be involved, perhaps especially if there is a risk to ourselves. Back to the Ethical Bindrune, this is the Thor situation.
The Karl principle suggests that we have space, property, maybe community to protect. This means defending a specific place and people we know. Once that responsibility is fulfilled our obligation ends. This is indicated by the Mann and Bjork part of the ethical bind rune.
The Herse principle is the warrior and is represented by Tyr . This may mean taking physical action to defend a place, thing or person. Or it may mean speaking out and representing them. It may mean application of law or questioning the validity of a badly thought out law.
Which leads into the Jarl level which means the judge, priest and law giver. This is the level of judging between life and death suggested by Ur and Rei .
Finally there is the Konge who only involves himself when he or she believes it is absolutely necessary. If involved they take full responsibility for their actions, knowing that life is only meaningful once you are unafraid of death and willing to act accordingly. So the Thor rune looks both ways towards life in love, family and community and also towards death in the service of the life force. The true warrior has accepted this paradox.
Can the mythology teach us more about what it means to be a warrior? That may be one of its main purposes. There are three stories in particular I would like too consider here. These are my choice and I would recommend reading further for yourself.
Tyr and Fenrir tells the story of a strange beast, the offspring of Loki the trickster and Angabora, a giantess whose name means literally, 'bringer of anguish'. There were two other, even stranger, offspring from this ill starred relationship but those are other stories. When Odin recalled his blood brother Loki to Aesgard the all wise one thought it a good idea to bring Fenrir along too. Odin already had two wolves as his companions and must have thought that Fenrir would be equally biddable. However, the adopting of Fenrir proved that even the wisest of God’s and men have their off days where sound judgement is concerned. Fenrir grew in size, appetite and aggressive nature to the point where it was impossible any longer to consider him a suitable resident of Aesgard. So, it was decided that Fenrir would be restrained with a chain for the good of all. No doubt the option of simple execution and the procuring of a new fur coat for a lucky lady was discussed. Such an idea would have been quickly dismissed on the grounds that Fenrir was both an invited guest in Aesgard and, since Loki was blood brother to Odin, almost family. So, murder, whilst a convenient and simple solution would have been against all the customs and obligations of hospitality.
Dwarf craftsmen were discretely engaged to make a chain of such strength and quality that Fenrir would be effectively restrained. The required equipment was promptly delivered and Fenir chained while sleeping soundly. The next morning the beast awoke and almost without noticing his shackles broke the chain as he set of to look for breakfast. A guarantee was invoked and the dwarfs redoubled their efforts. A second chain of even finer workmanship and quality of materials arrived and again it was surreptitiously attached to the wolf with the same result. However, Fenrir was getting suspicious of his hosts intentions and took to sleeping with one eye half open, it was not going to be possible to catch him out so easily again.
By now the dwarfs were getting a little embarrassed at their failure to deliver satisfaction to their best customers. So, they put their heads together, added a little magic to their craftsmanship and delivered a third chain. This one they said was made from such things as the footfall of a cat, the roots of a mountain, the breath of a fish and many other unlikely things that do not actually exist in any of the nine worlds. What does not exist cannot be broken said the dwarfs. The Aesir could not fault the logic and were too desperate to restrain Fenrir by this stage to argue.
The dwarfs may have finally fulfilled their part in the story but there now remained the challenge of actually attaching the chain around a very suspicious Fenrir's neck. Thor and Tyr were assigned the task and they suggested to Fenrir that a hunting trip in the wilderness would be a pleasant diversion and the wolf would be very welcome to join them. Their path led to a lake and a boat was borrowed which conveyed the hunting party to an island in the middle of the water. Here they stopped for lunch and while they were sociably eating and drinking Thor produced the mysterious chain which the dwarfs had made. We were wondering said Thor, trying to sound immensely reasonable, if you would test another chain for us. We have a bet with the dwarfs who made it that it isn't nearly as strong as they claim it is and that you can break it easily. Fenrir knew something was planned that was not going to be in his best interests. He also didn't want to appear afraid of showing his strength. So, he made a deal. 'You can chain me.' He said. 'If one of you puts your hand in my mouth and leaves it there until I am released again in the unlikely event that I can't free myself.'
Thor and Tyr must have looked at each other wondering who would be the one to make such a bargain. Tyr stepped forward and placed his hand in the wolf's mouth. Thor swiftly fixed the chain through a hole in a huge rock and around Fenrir's neck. The wolf tried his utmost to escape and when he realised he would not be getting free again he made sure that Tyr fulfilled his part of the deal. Fenrir then let out a howl so loud that it shook heaven and earth so, Thor jammed a sword into the wolf's mouth and then, with Tyr nursing his wound, they left Fenrir on the island and chained to the rock. There he would remain until he gets free on the day of Ragnarock and takes his revenge on Odin.
In this story we see that the problem of Fenrir could have been quickly solved with murder but that would have been dishonourable. Even though the wolf was effectively tricked at the end a fairly agreed bargain was still kept and Tyr paid the price for the rest of his life having sacrificed his sword hand. The example of Tyr is that the warrior puts honour before convenience and it is self-sacrifice that restores order and harmony to the world.
There is a second story which is instructive on the theme of being a warrior. It tells of an occasion when Thor visited Utgard. In this tale Thor and Loki set off to accept an invitation to a feast hosted by a giant called Utgard Loki. They have various adventures along the way and the climax of the story is when Thor is confronted with three challenges. These were tasks which the mighty Thor should have been almost insulted to accept. The first is emptying a drinking horn in one draught, the second picking up a large cat from the floor and third, wrestling with an old woman.
Things were not quite what they seemed and in each case Thor found himself humiliated, the drinking horn cannot be emptied, only one foot of the cat will leave the floor and the old lady proves a formidable opponent and she eventually forces Thor to his knees and is declared the winner. The next day Thor discovers that the drinking horn is the sea which can never be emptied, the cat was the Midgard Serpent, the largest creature in all the nine worlds and the old woman is old age to whom we all succumb eventually.
The warrior tries as hard as he can against all odds since we can never be certain what we are actually up against. What seems like failure may in fact be a remarkable achievement against impossible odds.
The third story with a useful lesson for would be warriors is the story of Baldur. More specifically the role of Baldur's mother, Frigga, in attempting to keep her beloved son safe from all possible harm.
Baldur has dreams in which he foresees his own death. Odin seeks advice from a dead Volva and hears a prophecy describing Ragnarock. Frigga takes a more direct approach and attempts to get all things, animate and inanimate, to promise never to harm her son. She is very successful in her mission, but not completely. She overlooks asking the Mistletoe but excuses her mistake on the grounds that this parasitic plant is puny and does not even have its own roots. Loki discovers Baldur's remarkable ability to resist harm and wonders if he can test this apparent invulnerability. Why did he want to harm the beloved Baldur? Maybe he just liked a challenge. Loki visits Frigg in disguise and Frigg reveals that the Mistletoe is the exception to the universal agreement not to harm her son. Loki's next task is to fabricate an arrow with a point fashioned from the parasite plant. Blind Hod is persuaded to draw the bow and loose the arrow at Baldur and tragic death results. The story then continues with futile efforts to bring Baldur back from the dead.
The point here is that Baldur is made invulnerable but not safe. The more certain you may be that you cannot be harmed then the more reckless and arrogant you are likely to become. There is always a chink in the armour somewhere just as Frigg overlooked the Mistletoe. The Thor rune in the Ethical Bindrune represents protection. One meaning of the Thor rune is the thorn. A densely grown hedge of thorn bushes will provide an obstacle to intruders but the real protection that comes from a single thorn is the pain it causes when it pricks the skin. That discomfort, if not actual pain, reminds us of the vulnerability of flesh and blood. Being aware of his or her own vulnerability is the best protection a warrior can have. Being reminded of our frailty also brings humility which may lead to compassion for others too.
The greatest concern of the Havamal is that people should coexist in peace and community. A lot of the advice contained in the Havamal relates to how to behave on social occasions and how to build and maintain friendships. Stanza 153 is the eighth 'spell' and this verse can be translated as:
'This I can as the eighth, which for all is useful to learn: Where hate grows among warriors/chieftain's sons I'm able to amend it quickly.'
So, bringing peace rather than fighting wars is the intention of the warrior. In his book 'Mind My Back' Geoff Thompson describes how he had a long period in his life when he attracted enmity and violence every day. He realised eventually that it was his own energetic state which was attracting the anger which led almost inevitably to violent confrontations. As Geoff changed his mind and began the process of cleansing his energy. He then discovered that he had become a man of peace rather than an agent of violence.
The strange paradox is that consistent martial training will equip you to fight if needed. That same training also cleanses energy and develops mental focus to the point where you can turn hate into peace just with your presence. Really dedicated training in martial arts means that you will probably never have to use it. Or, if you do you will have the control and compassion to do the minimum damage.
To be a warrior you need to understand violence and inner conflict. Yet, by working on the self, not being daunted by challenges, willing to sacrifice for the common good and having a humble awareness of your own vulnerability you can be at peace with yourself and bring peace within your sphere of influence.
To learn more about the runes described above see my Introduction to Runes Course.
Ten Thousand Times
There is a Martial Arts related joke which goes something like: 'How many self defence instructors does it take to change a light bulb? At least 50, 1 to change the light bulb, 49 to say that it will never light up on the street.'
The big issue in the past decade or so of Martial Arts training has been whether a training system is 'traditional' or 'reality based'. Traditional implies that a training system is done that way regardless of whether or not it works 'on the street'. Reality based training has been developed by someone with 'real' combat experience and those who train under him or her will be 'invincible street warriors' or something like that.
My personal take on the subject is that the key is not in your training system so much as your willingness to sacrifice for what you want. We live in a very risk averse culture where there is a strong desire for guarantees and a certainty of outcomes. I am all in favour of people keeping their word and delivering what they promise as far as it is within their power to do so. When it comes to combat and self-defence there are absolutely no guarantees. Anyone who tells you that training in their system will ensure that you will never come off worse in a violent confrontation is talking nonsense. To be fair I don't think anyone does make such a guarantee very often, too risky for obvious reasons. Yet some people are surprisingly willing to state with great authority that a particular training system will definitely not work 'on the street' and you would be much better training in a method they do approve of (and possibly teach).
The issue is not what you know but what you were prepared to do to learn what you know. How much effort, how much commitment, how many times have you practised the basics of your system? Geoff Thompson is fond of saying that there is no need to fear the person who knows 10,000 techniques. Rather fear the person who has practised one technique 10,000 times. Does it matter what that technique is? Yes, and no. Obviously some 'moves' appear to be more effective than others so punching a heavy bag with a right cross 100 times a day is going to be more use than, say slapping your hand on the surface of a bucket of water the same number of times. Hitting a punch bag is a bit like fighting and slapping water is, well, pointless right? Again, it depends. What really matters is what you learn from the practise itself. Learning how to do a particular thing is not usually all that difficult in a technical and intellectual sense. The act of long term repetition, eg 100 times a day for 100 days (about 3 months) makes 10,000 reps, will bring about certain changes in the body and certainly in the mind. The greatest effect comes from the commitment to do and keep doing, the actual thing done is secondary. The mind develops focus, the spirit or will develops commitment and the body both relaxes and becomes more supple while developing strength and stamina. This combination of focus, will and relaxed strength will increase your effectiveness in doing whatever it is you need to do.
The first Karate kid film made in the early 1980s has the famous 'wax on, wax off' sequences where the 'Kid', Daniel is instructed by his teacher Mr Miyagi to polish the cars, sand the deck and paint the fence.
Eventually Daniel protests. 'When am I going to learn Karate?' To which Mr Miyagi replies. 'You learn plenty.' and indeed he has done.
Yes, the movements he has been using do translate into karate moves. The much more important point is that the repetitive discipline of doing the work has changed the young man into someone who can actually train and benefit from what he has learned. That and Mr Miyagi has got his cars clean, deck sanded and his fence and house painted. That is okay too, everything has a price.
That protest 'When am I going to learn ...' and the reply is one we have all heard and probably voiced ourselves. 'What good it this doing me?' 'This is boring.' and 'No pain, no gain.' Are common responses to any long term training that is both easy to do and yet, hard to commit to. We learn and develop on many different levels. Some levels are obvious and easy to see or feel, especially if we are getting physically tired and working up a sweat. Some levels of learning and development are more like planting seeds deep in the earth and then having to wait weeks for the shoots to appear.
Simple and repetitive training is rather like waiting for a seed to germinate. It can be many months later that you actually realise what has changed. When I started doing Stav I found certain drills, especially the Trel drill with the axe very difficult. Then I had a long period training by myself. Most of my practice consisted of daily stances and a couple of basic axe cuts 100 times per day. Then, a year of so later I found that I could do the Trel drill correctly, I could 'see' and feel the lines I needed. It wasn't that Ivar had not taught me correctly. Rather that the seed had been planted but it was up to me to enable it to germinate by simply continuing my practice.
If you are serious about learning a discipline such as Stav remember that although a teacher is important all that an instructor can really do is plant seeds of knowledge. That knowledge only develops into genuine skill and ability if you are prepared to put in the real work of daily practice.
Martial Arts and Civilisation
I followed the TV series Sons of Anarchy up to about season 5. SoA is about the trials and tribulations of a California Motorcycle Club. The context is closely based on the Hells Angels and the plot is heavily borrowed from Hamlet. SoA is brilliant story telling through the medium of a TV series. Most episode plots are based on some act of violence which would then be avenged in some way until the body count got into double figures.
The members of SoA are meant to be hard men, unflinching in their use of force against those who oppose them. Then, in series 4 as I recall, the gang is relocated to Northern Ireland for a few episodes where even these California Bikers are disturbed by the level of violence and cruelty on daily display. Being an outlaw in California is one thing, the unpleasantness that is commonplace because of the troubles is on a whole other level.
I stopped watching SoA when I could no longer see the upside of belonging to this biker gang. Such were the levels of mayhem and size of the body count in each episode. Lots of TV series have lots of violence. SoA is different in that it showed the reality of violence and how much human beings can suffer as a result. The series made clear that the value of civilisation is in seeking to curb violence and thus reduce suffering.
If you are reading this then you probably live in a relatively civilised place. You probably regard yourself as civilised human being. You probably also think that civilisation is maintained by civilised behaviour (using means other then violence to resolve conflicts). That violent and aggressive behaviour needs to be appropriately resisted and controlled. So who is the right person to teach 'realistic' self–defence? There is a lot of social media discussion as to which instructors are 'lying' to their students about what will and will not work in martial arts and self-defence. Here are my seven key points for civilised people who wonder what use martial arts may be.
1. Do not use the word 'fight' in relation to self–defence and conflict resolution. If you go to Spain you might see a man in tight trousers and a red cape being chased around an arena by a bull. That is a Bull Fight. If you are on a country walk and you get chased by a bull in a field (not nearly as common a risk as it once was) you are not in a bull fight. You are in a survival situation. Please refer to encounters which are likely to lead to people getting hit as: Potentially Violent Confrontations or Violent Confrontations. Then talk about satisfactory, or unsatisfactory, resolutions rather than winning or losing. This is more than semantics, the way you talk will influence the way think which will, in turn affect the way you behave under pressure.
2. The purpose of the law is to maintain a civilised society. Thus, the law does not permit the use of violence against another person. If you lay hands upon another person then a charge of assault may be pressed against you. Depending upon how much harm you have done will depend upon the charges that may be pressed. These charges can range from Common Assault all the way to murder if someone dies. Self-defence using reasonable force is a justification for having laid hands upon another person. However, if you do hit someone and charges are pressed, the person who decides whether or not a crime was committed (senior police officer, magistrate or Crown prosecution service) needs to be satisfied that whatever you did had justification. A good start on this is to be able to say, 'It was my honest belief that the action I took was absolutely necessary to facilitate my escape from a violent confrontation. I would also like to add that the confrontation which was not of my choosing.' That statement is going to sound a lot better than. 'We got into a fight and I kicked his a***** because the b****** deserved it.'
3. Martial arts is really very simple. There are just three principles, Action, Intention and Movement working together. If your intention is to escape from a situation then an initial action maybe needed to break free and facilitate movement. If your intention is to defend a fixed position you will need to move into the position and then take action to defend the position. Should you find yourself in a situation where your action or movement is unexpectedly constrained then you probably need to change your intention. Whenever an application doesn't seem to be working don't try harder or faster or get more angry. Instead, look for the optimal balance of Action, Intention and Movement. That is how the real experts make it look easy. That and many years of training of course.
4. To be really effective at anything you really need to understand Pareto's law, otherwise known as the 80/20 principle. Eighty percent of the benefits come from twenty percent of possible inputs. Out of all the techniques you know a very few will provide you with most of what you need for self-defence. Very few of us have the time and energy to master every technique taught in a particular style. The good news is that you don't need to master them all, most of the benefit you will derive as a martial artist and certainly for self-defence will come from a small selection of the techniques you could practice. The clever bit is working out which ones are the most useful. The 80/20 principle goes much further too. Most of the trouble in a given area will occur in a small proportion of the venues. Most of the trouble will be caused by a very small number of people. It should be easy enough to find out the places and people to avoid. If you are a teacher then eighty percent of the serious training will be done by twenty percent of your students. You thought the others were just lazy and unreliable? Well, yes, but they are also obeying a law of nature.
5. Violence is transactional. No one invests time and energy in creating violence without wanting some kind of return on their investment. Marc McYoung says that there are three kinds of violence. Monkey dance or social violence. On this level violence is about maintaining status and getting annoying people to shut the f*** up or just f*** off. Violence on this level can be generally avoided by simply not annoying other people and apologising if you do upset someone unintentionally. The second kind is predatory violence, basically robbery. 'Your money or your life.' As Highwaymen were reputed to say. Make it difficult for people to rob you by keeping away from such predators. In the last resort just hand over the money and valuables. Make sure you carry as little cash as possible. Then there is the process criminal for whom the excitement of hurting another person is the reward. If you think you are falling into the hands of a process criminal then any action to escape is justified. The good news is that social violence is easy to find but just as easy to avoid most of the time. Predatory violence can happen to anyone if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wrong places, wrong times and wrong people should be relatively easy to avoid with some common sense. Process criminals are very rare and avoiding them comes back to the adult equivalent of 'not taking sweets from strangers'. Trust your instincts and use your common sense.
6. The spiritual or energetic aspect of training and practice is as important as the physical and mental. In Geoff Thompson's book Watch My Back The author describes how he got into one violent encounter after another. He was working as doorman at rough venues but no one else seemed to have as much trouble as Geoff. Then he realised that it was his own energetic state that was attracting and effectively creating the violence. By consciously changing his emotional and energetic state the violence stopped almost overnight. I personally have never usually attracted violence. Most of the time I have a clear and peaceful energy. However, there was one period in my life when I was very unhappy and my energy got seriously out of balance. I usually get on very well with animals. However during this period perfectly nice dogs would go crazy around me and bark furiously. During this period I also managed to get into a violent encounter for the only time since my early twenties. I still have a damaged finger from that occasion. A cleansed and positive energy will attract similar energy and tend to bring peace. Likewise a dark and angry energy will attract the same and tend to bring conflict. Your choice.
7. The Japanese word we take to mean 'Martial' is Bu, as in Bugei (martial skills), Budo (martial way) or Bushi (the feudal class or warrior gentility). When Bu is written in its ideographic form the symbol represents a spear with additional strokes that mean 'suppressing a revolt'. So the symbol for martial literally means 'quelling an uprising by the use of a polearm.' So Bu, or martial, arts means the maintenance of order, the restoration of harmony and the defence of civilisation by the appropriate use of force. Civilised people need to understand the importance of martial skills for defending the common good. We only have to watch the news to know what happens when a society fails to keep peace, order and harmony.
There is no definitive answer as to who is or is not the right person to teach martial arts and self-defence. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, our insights and blind spots. This is why we need to learn from each other, share experiences and try out each other's approaches to teaching and training. My personal opinion is that a genuine balance of body, mind and spirit development is essential to creating the civilised martial artist.
Essentials of Stav Training
Stav is not for armchair warriors. The process of learning to see the lines of the web of Orlog, the underlying reality of the universe, needs action and has to involve body, mind and spirit. Endless intellectual discussion will not really get you very far. Stav training and practice needs the involvement of the whole person. Stav is not a martial art as such, but martial art training is a very satisfactory vehicle for teaching the principles of Stav. Here are six of the key principles which I believe are essential to understanding Stav. I teach these principles through martial arts training, while doing my best to express these guidelines in my own life.
1. Own your centre within your own web. By definition you are centred within your own web. You cannot be anywhere else in time and space. Where else could you be? The question is. Are you are conscious of this fact? As you develop an awareness of being in the here and now you can become conscious of your true potential to choose actions and direction. The Stav Stances are a very effective basis for learning how to simply be centred in your web. Eventually you will discover that all really meaningful martial arts is just a practice of being centred within your web.
2. You always have options. No one really has control over you, only influence. Control over others is an illusion too. You can influence other people but ultimately their thoughts and actions are their own free choice. Recognising his fact is liberating in itself. The five principles of Stav are strategies for understanding how people seek to influence others and a guide to how we may use influence ourselves.
3. Not that many things in life really matter. But there are certain key factors which can have a massive effect on your life and potential for growth. Pareto's law is quite well known in business, rarely applied to martial arts though. Put very simply, 80% or more of results will actually come from 20% or much less of possible input. So a large proportion of what passes for martial arts training is pretty much a waste of time. A small proportion of that training is extremely beneficial. It is well worth working out how to recognise the most beneficial activities and focus on those.
4. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Taking action by blocking is slow, usually ineffective and hurts even when it does work. Walking away is fine and sensible, except when it isn't an option. Combine Action, Intention and Movement and you can actually work with the chaos points in the web, not just blocking or evading but actually changing the situation to your advantage according to your intention. Easy enough to learn, practice and prove with a partner and two sticks. Probably a little bit harder to actually do in real conflicts, but if you don't train you will never know.
5. Harness your unconscious mind. The rational mind can only focus on one thing at a time. This is fine under ideal conditions. Under the stress of conflict the conscious mind easily becomes distracted and overwhelmed. At that point everything can easily fall apart. Really effective responses have to be supported by a well trained subconscious mind. Remember, garbage in, garbage out and it does take some patience to deeply embed the right programming.
6. The best effects come with the least effort. We may like the idea of being strong. However, it is alarmingly common to put the majority of our energy into blocking the expression of our true power. We don't need to become stronger, we need to learn how to get out of our own way! To put it another way, you are already much stronger than you realise. However, you probably put far too much effort into creating tension and far too little into actually getting the job done. I can show you a training method for letting go of tension and expressing real strength. I am afraid it is rather difficult because it is so easy.
Which brings me to a unifying principle of training in Stav. Are you willing to engage with paradox? You need to know the extremes in order to find the centre where harmony lies. Except there is no perfect centre, only the optimum for that moment. As I said, paradox. If you are looking for someone to give you definite black and white answers then Stav certainly isn't for you. On the other hand if you are willing to find your own path in life and walk it on your own terms. Then Stav training may just help you along the way.
Stav and Self–defence
In my life I have been generally blessed in that I have encountered very little violence. I have had a few nasty encounters, mainly when I was younger but mostly violence and I have rarely crossed paths. In one sense this makes me rather poorly qualified to teach self–defence since I do not have a massive amount of experience of hurting, or being hurt by, other people. On the other hand this may be because I am quite good at not upsetting other people or attracting violence to myself energetically.
What I have done is spent over 40 years training in martial arts and a good proportion of that time teaching too. I have been fascinated by human interaction of all kinds, especially conflict situations. I have studied the psychological, social, energetic and spiritual aspects of human interaction, including a period of several years service in the Territorial Army. I have also attended in depth seminars with teachers such as Geoff Thompson, whose masterclass series I did in 2012 and a weekend seminar with Marc 'Animal' McYoung a year later.
I will admit that I am more interested in avoiding violence, restoring harmony and understanding why a sociopath behaves they way they do than taking instant and brutal revenge on my enemies. I certainly recognise the need for physical skills in self-defence. However, I see such abilities as a means of neutralising another person's intention to use violence to get their own way. If violence is simply not an option because the proposed victim knows how to deal with the situation then other forms of conflict resolution can, and should, be employed.
There is also a great deal to be learned about the relationship between body, mind and spirit which comes from practical martial arts training.
This means that my teaching is more about self–development than it is about using force to hurt other people. This is not to say that what I teach is not practical. Hurting other people is not really all that hard when you know what you are doing. However I do believe that not getting hurt oneself and being able to shield oneself from all kinds of violence is the most beneficial result of self–defence training.
I hold self–defence seminars in Crewkerne at least once a month, you can find details and the next date here.
How to Train in Stav
There are three aspects to Stav training and practice.
All three aspects are discussed in this video lecture on Stav Training which was recorded in the Sweden in May 2015.
The Sixteen Stances at their most basic are breath, posture and relaxation exercises. Everything in Stav relates to one of these aspects or a combination of them.
The stances are a daily moving meditation and should be performed daily if you are serious about being a practitioner of Stav. However the Stances also provide the basis for Martial Arts training in terms of basic postures, ways of holding a weapon and postions to work from and to. You can also see Martial Training as a way testing and proving your knowledge of the stances and ability to use them. There is of course a great deal more to the Stances than Martial training including health benefits and knowledge of the runes but the Martial Training is a very good place to start.
The Web means the way that everything is connected together in time and space. When training we learn to see those connections and work with them. Seeing apparently direct connections seems relatively easy. In Stav we are learning to see the indirect connections too. We also discover how to avoid being connected when it suits us not to be.
The Five principles are different strategies that can be used depending upon the situation we find ourselves in. The Trel principle applies for example when a particular situation really isn't our problem and we can simply detach ourselves. The Karl is when we need to protect our space and the Herse when it is necessary to take control for our own sakes or the sake of others. Each principle requires a different mind set and a different way of working within the web.
In the video above you will see how we train in Stav with the Stances, Staff, Axe, Cudgel and for Close Quarter Combat. The Stances are used as different postures for holding the weapons, all strikes and footwork relates to the Web in some way and each drill is an application of one of the five principles.
Stav is far too challenging for most people, not because it is physically particularly demanding, rather because it changes the way you see the world and how you relate to other people and the situations you find yourself in. We hear a lot of talk about going out of your comfort zone but for most people that just means physical discomfort. If your idea of being challenged is doing a couple of extra pushups then Stav will be of no interest to you. If you are willing to engage with a different way of seeing reality then Stav might be the way for you.
The only way you are going to know is by actually training with an open mind. There are opportunities if you have what it takes.
What Lurks in the Shadows? – January 2014
I did something rather stupid just recently. The central heating stopped working properly. It was clear that the problem was the diverter valve head so I set out to obtain a replacement. That should have been fairly straightforward, just as fitting the replacement should have been too, two screws and five wires. Basically a simple screwdriver job. However, sourcing the correct valve head turned out to be more difficult than expected and eventually resulted to a visit to a heating installation company in Sherbourne about twenty miles away. There the parts store man assured me that he had provided me with the correct replacement part. Except he hadn’t, or rather the label on the box was correct but the item in the box was different and had six wires rather than five. So of course I could not connect it. The boiler was serviced and the engineer confirmed that I had the incorrect part. The spares department agreed to replace it and this time I had the correct item. So I installed it and still it didn’t work. I had carefully noted down which colored wire went in which connection and, as far as I was concerned, I had connected the new valve head accordingly. I even had a conversation with the company electrician who gave me some pointers on what to check, I borrowed a multitester so that I could check continuity and power supply. Then this morning I set to to see if I could resolve the problem and... discovered I had put the blue wire in connection number one instead of number three, as per my notes. So I moved it and, as if by magic, the central heating system works perfectly. Why??? I have no idea any more than I know why I ran into a chain on Monday evening I knew perfectly well was there. I was just about to start teaching Stav when I had to go and check on something around the back of the building. I hurried around the back avoiding a low barrier chain in the car park. I actually remember thinking. “If I am not careful I could trip over that.” Then I came back in a hurry and ran right into the chain and fell flat on my face. I have some bruises but nothing serious.
The mind does play some very strange tricks. Sometimes it is almost as though we were someone else at the time we made the mistake. Later the mistake is so obvious that it is quite scary that we could be so foolish and incompetent. At least in my case I survived the fall with no more than minor aches and pains and I wasted some time trying to figure out what I had done wrong with the central heating. At least the electrician did not come out and have to discover and rectify my embarrassingly simple error. So it could have been a lot worse. What I am dealing with is the power of the mind. In particular the subconscious or intuitive part of the self. Sometimes the mind is seen as dualist, the right brain and left brain, or the conscious and subconscious mind. Dualism is usually an inadequate explanation for anything. Three aspects are needed before anything can have any real substance and genuine existence. As I have written before you can see consciousness in terms of the Eagle, Dragon and Squirrel, the Eagle represents the higher consciousness, the Dragon the intuitive self and the Squirrel the emotional self which communicates between the two. The Eagle mind can conceive of great ideas and imagine all kinds of possibilities. The Dragon mind actually brings ideas and dreams into reality. The Squirrel is supposed to carry the communication between the two. This does not always happen reliably. The Eagle mind is sort of outside time and space, ideas and imagination effectively have no limits in terms of what you can dream. The Dragon mind can only function in the present, the act of creation and physical experience happens now. There is no past or future since you can only be centered in your web of wyrd, there is nowhere else you can actually be. Of course remembering the past in order to learn from it and planning ahead in order to prepare for the future are essential activities. These are the responsibility of the Squirrel mind. When done appropriately the intentions of the Eagle mind are communicated to the Dragon mind together with lessons from the past and necessary preparations for the future. However the Squirrel is also capable of storing massive regrets and hurt from the past as well as fear and anxiety about the future. This means that the Dragon mind will get instructions which include responding to danger and risk. The only way that the Dragon can respond in the moment is either by avoidance action causing you to effectively run away or launch some kind of attack on the “enemy”. Or you may simply freeze until the “danger” has past. In either situation there will be a release of adrenaline at the same time. This will create a feedback loop of failure and dis-ease from the self generated stress which will make the Squirrel even more afraid in the future.
This process will be familiar and is relatively easy to identify. There is another aspect though which can be described as shadow parts of ourselves. The shadows are those parts of ourselves which we are barely aware of. The Squirrel knows where they are and when you try and move forward in a way that threatens to expose your shadows your furry friend will go into a panic. At first it will just be fear and attempts to avoid the situation. If however you are determined to move forward with a project which is really important to you strange things may well go wrong. The squirrel mind gives instructions to the part of you which acts in the world to do things which maintain your sense of limitation. If you can then see clearly that you did something that makes no sense you have to make a decision how to respond. You can conclude that you are incompetent and stupid and that your dreams of doing anything special should be dropped straight away. That is what your frightened inner Squirrel wants you to do. Or you have to accept that achieving anything significant depends upon overcoming problems and challenges. Some of those challenges will be from your own psyche. These inner challenges need to be identified, accepted and dissolved with compassion and patience.
In my own case I am trying to establish myself as someone competent to develop my own business and be a Stav teacher. There seems to be a shadow part of me that is afraid of such an achievement. So I find that I cannot even put a colour coded wire into the correct connection, even when I have made meticulous records of what goes where. When I am about to teach an advanced martial arts class I run headlong into a trip hazard I had identified five minutes before. I could quite easily have landed in hospital which would certainly have slowed down my plans to create a Stav Centre.
The purpose of body, mind and spirit training is to unify these three aspects of the self so that they work together in harmony. This is not a small task. However, martial arts training provides a context where we can challenge ourselves to undertake activities which are difficult and potentially dangerous. There will be mental and physical challenges to meet and engage with. There will also be the part of the self which responds emotionally to the pressure of training. This is the part of ourselves which is likely to attract violence or respond inappropriately to fear and conflict. If exposed and identified in a training context you may avoid having to deal with violence in a “real life” situation. Certainly you will have more idea of why you behave the way you do and how to recognise and control your responses in difficult situations. At the very least you will know that you can avoid making situations worse than they need to be.
Uncovering our shadows and learning how to communicate with the various aspects of ourselves is a lifelong task. There are no shortcuts but I believe that structured and regular practice in Martial Arts can be an enormous help along the way. Check out this programme for training this Spring.
I would also recommend Geoff Thompson's book Hunting the Shadow which goes into much more depth on this theme.
Making it Happen ‐ December 2013
In November 2013 it was twenty one years since I met Ivar Hafskjold and began training in Stav. As you may know I have been teaching most of that time. This has meant travelling all over the place, including parts of Europe and several trips to the USA. I have been some interesting places and met some great people (as well as spending too much time in airports and on planes). I have also hired perfectly nice halls in various locations for teaching evening classes. These rentals have enabled me to teach quite a few people and have provided a valuable income to the institutions from which we have rented.
However, the big dream has been to have a dedicated space for teaching Stav in. I have talked about this on many occasions over the past twenty years and it was all a fantasy really until, well, until suddenly it was a real possibility. Briefly, I have been living in Crewkerne, in Somerset for about five years now. For quite a bit of that time I was running classes in Glastonbury but somehow that never really took off. I was hiring a beautiful hall in the middle of the town but getting regular support from people in Glastonbury never really seemed to happen. My most regular support was coming from Crewkerne and Chard. So last year I had to let Glastonbury go. Then at the beginning of this year it turned out that a friend of one of my long term students had a shop premises that he was willing to let us use for Stav training right here in Crewkerne. It was only going to be for a few weeks until the council were supposed to be taking the place over as a Business Start Up centre. So we were expecting to be out of there by early April. Well into the Summer nothing seemed to have happened. I have to admit that I had started thinking about the place as my Stav Centre, the one I had talked about and imagined, but never actually had. The classes were also being supported by three people from the town even though we haven't actually advertised the class since we are not officially supposed to be there. (shhh don't tell the council since we didn't have planning permission to use it for training).
So I had a conversation with the owner back in the summer and we agreed that he was willing to rent the place to me as a Stav Centre. The main issue then was to get change of use planning permission. I won't bore you with the details but basically we needed a change of use permission to go from A1 retail to D2 Assembly and leisure. Permission was granted on the 6th of December 2013.
So what is the point of taking on the responsibility and expense of having a dedicated premises? It is quite a step and it is probably a good thing the opportunity hasn't come up before. I have learned a great deal in the last five years which will enable me to make a sucess of this project. These are some of the things we can do with a full time centre:
How each of those ideas is going to work out I can't tell at this stage. The advantage of having the centre is that ideas can be tested without the commitment of having to hire a premises specially. I also think that having an actual, physical presence in a prominent part of the town will generate interest from the local population in a way that a class in a church hall never will. But that is all part of what needs to be tested.
Of course just opening a centre and hoping people come through the door for classes is just part of the equation. For the whole project to be viable in all respects, not least financially, there will be two other elements in place. The membership scheme, which will enable people anywhere in the world to learn some elements of Stav through distance learning and hopefully attend a course at the centre from time to time. Also promoting Stav by various means including the internet, camps and events and various forms of publishing. Pull all three together and Ice and Fire Stav should be able to provide the opportunity to learn and practice Stav to anyone who is seriously interested.
So that is where we are as of late October 2013. If you are interested here is a short video of me teaching at the Summer Camp in September. It is an introduction to Close Quarter Combat training with the dagger. I know my style of teaching isn't to everyone's taste but after Forty years of martial arts experience and 21 years of that in Stav I can only be true to what I believe is important.
Are you a Spider or a Fly? – October 2013
The web of life is an important metaphor in the Northern Tradition. The image of Norns being able to spin the thread of life and then cut it off when our time is done is a powerful idea to remind us that we all have a unique wyrd or destiny and we don't have an infinite amount of time. So the question is, are you entangled in your web like a helpless fly? Or are you confidently navigating your web and getting what you want from life as the spider does?
We are all centered within our own web, we simply cannot be anywhere else. So where you are in your life is not a mistake or a problem, it is simply your life and it is up to you to decide where you want to go from here. Of course it may seem like you are trapped in some kind of endless loop of difficulties and frustrations. This is because we make decisions from an unconscious and emotional place rathern than from a conscious and 'rational' basis. There is a model for this in the Norse mythology. The self is represented by the Ygrasill tree. The higher consciousness is an eagle sitting in the tree top and seeing everything. The biological consciousness of the body is represented by a dragon at the roots of the tree. Carrying messages between the eagle and the dragon is a rather unreliable squirrel which represents the unconscious and emotional self.
We do make a decisions on a conscious and rational level to do sensible things which would be to our long term benefit. For example we might decide to lose weight, get a better job or engage with a new social activity. The eagle part of us can actually see what is or is not a good idea and can make a sensible choice on which line to follow. The body will do pretty much what it is told to do so long as the communication is clear. So actually taking the physcical actions necessary to achieve what we have decided would be good for us isn't usally such a problem. We can choose what food to put in our mouths, to write a job application or to walk to the place where we can meet new people. It may seem strange but our dragon or the reptile part of the self is actually pretty reliable so long as it gets properly fed and is permitted sufficient sleep. The problem is that for the eagle to communicate with the dragon the message actually goes via the emotional squirrel. If there is nothing unfamiliar in the instructions being passed on then the squirrel will do it quite calmly and the dragon will comply in the usual way. The difficulty arises when the eagle decides to try a new and unfamilar path. This means that the eagle will have concerns, even legitimate worries, about how things are going to work out. The squirrel picks up on the concerns and communicates this to the dragon as fear. The dragon thinks it is being helpful by releasing adrenalin into the body which creates sensations of anxiety. The eagle finds this sensation even more uncomfortable and becomes more concerned as to whether or not the right course is being followed, the squirrel gets more feaful and tells the dragon to generate more anxiety and the eagle may well decide to revert to a familiar line. This calms the squirrel who in turn calms the dragon and some degree of internal peace is concerned. However the eagle knows that an opportunity for progress has been missed and the squirrel knows that change can be avoided if its fear can stir up enough anxiety in the dragon.
Does that sound familiar? I am using the three animals as metaphors obviously but the image of the tree as home to these three contrasting creatures is a useful model for understanding why we experience so much inner conflict. So what can be done about it? Stav is about knowing the runes and the rune symbols are keys to understanding the unconscious mind. Once we start to understand how our inner squirrel is responding to the challenges of life we can be less discouraged by transient feelings. By working with the stances every day as well as understanding the basics of correct nutrition and a balanced lifestyle we can take care of the dragon and experience a high degree of vitality and well–being. By understanding the five principles of Stav and practising the martial aspects we can gain a physical experience of working with the web as well as the confidence to interact with other people and deal appropriately with conflict. To put it bluntly we can discover the courage to cope with fear and the anxiety that goes with it.
None of this is necessarily easy, although working with the web is really quite simple when you know how. The point of Stav is to learn how to be part of the web of life and to understand our Wyrd (which can be described as our personal destiny).
The Hafskjolds practised and passed on the tradition of Stav from one generation to the next because they found it helpful in living out their Wyrd. Ivar Hafskjold was the first one who taught Stav outside of the family because he believed Stav should be known more widely and that many people could benefit if they used Stav in their lives.