Friday, November 13, 2015

A Question of Ethics


This entire posting is based upon a post made by Guy Windsor which can be found here: In this blog he asks some seven questions about the ethics of swordsmanship which I feel are significant and that each and every individual who picks up a sword or any other weapon should consider, regardless of purpose. Had I been a little more prompt, the answers to these questions and this post would have appeared earlier.

The Questions:

1) When is it ok to stab someone in the face with a sword?

I have found two answers to this question, firstly in self-defence. This would, of course, be a rare situation where I would find myself defending my life or the lives of those whom I care about. The second would be in the practice of martial arts where the stab to the face is an essential part of the practice presented in many of the period manuals, and I would make sure that my partner is suitably armoured to ensure the safe practice of such an attack.

2) What is the one thing you find most useful about swordsmanship training outside the salle?

It is difficult to nail down a single thing which is most useful, as there are multiple; tactics, awareness, or the simple health benefits such as muscle strength and cardio-vascular fitness. For myself the essential comes from the ability to problem-solve by looking at things from different angles attributed to reading my opponents.

3) How important is history to you in your practice of swordsmanship

The study of history is essential to the practice of swordsmanship as the texts must be placed in the background in which they are placed if they are to be completely understood. From the simplest point of view, language. Even the Elizabethan texts written in English have seemingly common words which do not have the same meaning as their modern counter-parts.

4) Can a duel settle a matter of honour?

A duel can settle a matter of honour so long as the two combatants approach the combat with the right frame of mind and are set to do so. They also need to act within the combat itself in a manner which gains them honour rather than reducing it.

5) Can violence be beautiful?

When performed with skill, grace and style it can. Where it is two people bludgeoning one another into submission it is simply not.

6) To what extent is the practice of swordsmanship the cultivation of virtue?

The practice of swordsmanship cultivates virtue by teaching virtues in its learning. It teaches patience through its learning and practice. It teaches honour through its practice. Other virtues are gained in similar fashion through the use of the sword and the lessons learnt both from the teacher and the opponent.

7) Is the study of ethics necessary for martial artists?

The study of ethics is not just necessary, it is essential. Regardless of the sword being blunt or not, it is a weapon. Thus there are responsibilities which come with this weapon. These responsibilities are taught in the question of ethics. There are also the responsibilities that each person who wields the sword has to all other martial artists. In our day and age no one really has to die by the sword (literally), nor do people have to use them in anger. The person who does, especially while claiming to be a swordsman or martial artist affects the whole community and stains us all.


I must stress that these are my personal answers to these particular questions and I am willing to discuss and debate any of them with any who would wish to do so. I believe that the questions which Guy Windsor has proposed are extremely important for all combatants and should be given more than a simple cursory glance. We should look past the simple actions which make up the martial components and look deeper into questions of ethics and history which are inevitably bound to the arts which are practised.