Chapter 3; Mercury-Power of Healing and Communication
The Teaching of Physical Education as Initiation
The teaching of Vital Skills, which are the essential skills of martial or “War Arts” (“Mars”=Martial) around the world: how to hit with a hand and injure or cut with a sword or spear, etc.- are those skills which relate directly to both healing and killing. The fact is that these skills are only significant as they are directed toward specific targets. These targets- by their very nature- contain both healing and killing (not merely “harming”) potentials which are sometimes seemingly experienced at the same time by a person. And these targets are usually places in the body where, if punctured a person can bleed to death.
This simultaneous experience of healing and harming or life-and-death is usually present in Traditional Rites of Passage for young adults (Rites of Puberty). It can be imparted in as severe a way as the Indian Sun Dance
or bare fisted fighting to the gentle way of midwifing or birthing a baby. There is usually blood present or the awareness of blood. The smell of blood creates a glandular response in all animals. The human is no exception. The smell of blood can trigger fear and can also escalate into “blood lust” . Blood Lust was written of particularly during the days of dueling in France. The crowd “got into it” during the sword duels. Apparently, the “Veneer of Civilzation” grew thin in the crowd during some of these encounters. And the present phenomena of soccer “hooligans” and raging crowds at various sports still indicates this phenomena. It has been said that half the crowd at car racing events would not be there were it not for the potential for an accident- to observe and “get into”! And so in ancient times we have the presence of blood used in initiation rites-the slaying of the bull in the Rites of Attis, where blood is sprinkled on the Initiates. The Christian Eucharest or “drinking of the body and blood of Christ” is a parallel too.
The targets of vital skills are not only related to blood but also deeply related to Eros or the sense of the erotic or sensual including the sexual nature. This is because these targets maintain potential for pain and pleasure.
Please remember that the actual Greek word “Eros” meant “transcendental” and not merely sexual love. The ancient Greeks understood- in actuality- sex is a subtle thing between people. There are layers of meaning pertaining to both life and death in it. Indeed, sex can help build a fantastic love between people or it can totally destroy the little love which exists between them!
Vital skills and their targets are extremely important on every level whether physical, psychological or philosophical. I would say these areas and their meanings are the most focused points of the spiritual-physical nexus of the human being. From these targets our senses are awakened and acute. We shield them to protect them, we move them to avoid pain or injury. Our whole spatial dynamic – the way we move our body – moves around these areas with an often unconscious but great care.
From the perspective of archetypal psychology I will say the understanding of vital skills and their targets processes the Venus-Mars impulses in the physical body. By that I mean the forces of Venus; those emotions and ideas connected to nurturance and healing in and of the body are integrated with the strong and assertive willful forces of Mars, the essential human volatile activity (and here I must emphasize the separation I draw between action and violence; the necessity of killing is not at all the same as the taking of pleasure in killing). Also please be clear in your mind that a place to pierce with a spear-in order to kill (Mars)-like the throat, or a place to protect with a deflection or hand parry -like the heart- is also immediately and at the same time a place to heal or revive with an herb or a hand (Venus).
Vital skills, correctly taught show both the healing and harming/killing aspect. Both aspects of the target must be taught as each actually helps define the other. Vital skills are also connected to the strength of an individual’s will and intellect. This is because vital skills carry intense, emotional weight, due to their extreme survival importance and severe nature; it is simple- if you do not protect your eyes you can lose your sight! such skills or merely not having such skills can deeply effect you for the rest of your life.
The emotional impact of the targets which help define vital skills- their psychological importance— comes from their connection to life and death and their deep transrelational nature which is deeply woven to the human nervous system reflexes and the glandular system. A more philosophical person would say the training of vital skills “places us in the midst of our existential dilemma”. We stand on the bridge of life and death when we are using them. Vital skills are deeply connected to the correct calibration of responsiveness in the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. Stress is when the two nervous systems are confused and one overrides the other and you worry and get an upset stomach, break out in a sweat, and get heart palpitations because you imagine a problem. With correct vital skill training the imagination can be put in it’s place as a tool rather than an “evil twin”!
Our survival depends on our ability to protect our vital points on our body.
If we don’t protect our eyes against the sand by closing them we could be blinded. Then we are an easy mark for a predator. This applies to the other four basic senses as well; hearing, touching, smelling and tasting. And these senses have specific body parts which must be protected. Have you ever been to the dentist? Then you know how important it is to protect your mouth and teeth. Ever had an ear ache? Sore throat? Very well then, it becomes very obvious we learn very early from even sucking on our mother’s tit – how important our mouth is. In ancient fencing thrusting the blade through the mouth was an effective place to get to the brain and kill someone. In India the elephants tongue was the target for archer to kill the elephant. So protection and attack of the mouth is part of the training of vital skills.
One of the outcomes of Vital Skills training is honed instinct. One could almost say clairvoyance. One begins to know and know very clearly when conditions are escalating – when they are “building up” to a fight. Or “building up” to a nervous breakdown. Or “building up” to a rape. This can often be sensed quite early by a trained person and the thing can be diverted when necessary. But the ability to feel the “build up” of glandular smells and tensions in the muscles, the tell tale narrowing of the eyes and loosening of the shoulders—this comes from having experienced it – with self awareness and watchfulness—for oneself. With this is the parallel track of knowing when one is safe and can totally relax and play. The evaluation of a safe space occurs through a sense of warmth, protection and familiarity as well as knowing specifics like where is the exit and entrance, the high place and the low place, level of warmth, people involved, etc. The evaluation of the danger of a stranger can come through careful observation of their body movement, spatial orientation, smell, vocal tone as well as a sense of touch –be it handshake or hug- facial expressions, and general demeanor—what some may call “the aura” around a person. Here such phrases as “they give me the creeps” comes to mind. The movements of the muscles around the eyes are very telling here. And too if we self observe we find that we expend tremendous amounts of energy in ourselves maintaing “our mask” or socially acceptable expression- on our face-particularly around the eyes.
When Vital Skills are well trained the confusion of the two nervous systems sympathetic and parasympathetic—which produce stress— and the ensuing diseases of stress are avoided or alleviated. Without knowing when to fight one can live forever in an “On” setting, continually suffering from the stress which has always been a key influence in the diseases of humanity. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a typical example of this same phenomenon on a more intense level.
Vital skills also are educational allowing mature development of the glandular systems which are triggered by the two nervous systems-sympathetic and parasympathetic. These interactions also involve the processing of negative emotions which could come from the memory of trauma, abuse or even hysterical delusions. Without the “vital” element of survival-or literally the presence of risk- death and life-the role of “serving vitality” and serving humanity – is lost. It is the presence of the existential dilemma which the young person needs to be taught HOW to experience. This IS the point of real education. It is an amazing awareness—it is UNDERSTANDING—which is one of the greatest powers a person can possess. For a young person to come to know that the same place or target on the human body –which can kill-can also revive or heal, opens up huge psychological potential for The Good in them..
Sports as they exist today, impart little wisdom. They are no longer preparation for war or self-defense and therefore lack the content and emotional significance which is required by the teaching of vital skills.
After working with children from ages 7-18 for ten years and teaching martial arts for twenty years I came up with the following physical training protocol.
A Paidotribe’s “Vital Skill” Teaching Sequence
A typical example of a vital skill learning sequence for a child around the age of ten;
(in standard Waldorf Curriculum this is the time the brain is mature enough to grasp learning regimented physical techniques…sexual maturation at this point in our history- that is 2006- sometimes occurs four years earlier. The girl in the pictures holding the javelin is about seven her older sister I recall was around 12 at the time-the lesson is most appropriate for around 10-12 year olds. In spite of this I found this particular seven year old was interested in the javelin and very capable. Here karma enters the equation and individuals become more important than mass curriculums, though granted, we must have some sense of sequencing of education according to age).
First, the Paidotribe tells the child, “This is easier than you think”, then the veil of self-doubt begins to be removed from the child’s mind. Please remember, by the age of ten as the intellectual soul develops, the child feels heavy and their head begins to feel heavy and often their posture begins to slouch. With this there is a new mental state-a kind of brooding, and with it, often a kind of depression or melancholy. Doubts become more real as does the appetite for some kind of quest for physical initiation or rites of passage or even simply pure risk. The Paidotribe is responsible to de-emphasize personal doubt in the child and begin the construction of courage. In other words encourage the child to learn through the spirit of play and receptivity. To NOT make learning a chore or a kind of heavy burden. In place of personal doubt is substituted the dawning of correct perception of the intended ability. After putting the child at ease-if necessary- the Paidotribe shows how to hold the javelin
(ideally the child makes their own javelin-the original Greek Spear, according to Connelly in his text on “Greece and Rome at War” states the average spear length as 1.5-3 meters with an average of 2.3 at the weight of 1 kilo to 2.2 kilos. I would take the length and weight ratio and simply reduce them according to the child’s height)
at balance point- as the child mimics this a bond with the teacher is established.
This begins the process of instilling confidence (courage) by increments-as the Paidotribe does an action- the child performs the action.
The throw is demonstrated by first dropping the javelin straight down, letting it pierce the earth with its own weight. Have the child take note of the tail of the javelin. Please be careful here—-If the child is too quick to bend down to pick it up-he may get the tail in his eye! After this, the javelin is thrown straight down with increasing force at each throw-being careful of one’s feet! This needs to be done for several minutes; 20 or 30 straight down throws instill the feeling of correctly applied power in the body. (I have found memory is aided with 15-35 throws—the same number as repetitions of a word to place it in memory-physically to place the movement into the reflexes you will need about 300 reps according to recent neurological study). Then the throw must be executed with the other hand the same way (to maintain hemisphere balance in the brain which will- in the child’s future- assist in prevention of stroke by virtue of balanced vascular demand in the brain-bilateral action should be emphasized all the way through a child’s developement). The initial sense of torque in the shoulder works it’s way into the throat from the scapulae, and results in the enhanced ability to shout (vocal projection learned from the throwing arm) , initial impact, and depth of penetration of the javelin give the child an immediate and apparent index of their own sincerity and concentration.
(The less dominant hand may take more repetition to arrive at the same approximate skill level as the dominant hand but it is worth it, as it creates a more even blood circulation to both sides of the brain. It also helps develop a better mental continuum of awareness through the whole body. This evenness of attention which is developed through bilateral training of the body and its brain results in a more accurate sense of spatial dynamics around the body and the forces which enter it from different directions).
After the straight down throws, the distance throws are started- about five or ten feet out for another 10-20 throws.
It is best to stay with high reps (20-30) before changing hands. Then begin to throw further and further away, by about a foot each time- until you reach 20 or 30 feet. This is a recommended practice for two or three days. It is always best to eventually train using both hands. On the third or fourth day, place targets, a hoop or balloon or even a leaf. The precision practice can be done each day for an hour at varying distances. After this “Hunter’s throw” (more horizontal as you would use on a low attacking Boar (connected to King Arthur an
d the myths of the Boar and Bear) add the long or “rainbow” throw (as you would use in long throwing contests or certain forms of warfare). Perform a standing long throw, aiming for a good rainbow arc,
and then a running long-throw.
The next stage is performed by having the child run to the javelin, pick it up and run toward or past the target, while throwing. Direct them to throw – without a break in their stride. This is particularly helpful if the child is somehow phlegmatic or does not like to move too much. Further difficulty can be added after this. At high school or college level target and anatomy would come to be emphasized with a thorough study of “what happens if the target (be it human or animal) is hit in the heart” and the long term implications. This stream of mental associations transitions to the surgeons scalpel and the acupuncturists’ needle. This idea would further develop along the lines of how to use a shield or why a shield is at least the size of the heart (buckler) but sometimes the size of the torso (ancient Greek). And why armies practiced running with shields and even why you hold your hands out to stop a ball from hitting you in the chest or head. At one point in my own research I created a padded javelin the kids and I nicknamed “Mr. Wobbly”. The padded javelin was thin pvc pipe with a nerf ball duck taped to one end. With this we practiced how to dodge a javelin throw and even catch a javelin aimed at our head! So eventually both the assertive and defensive aspects were learned and understood. And above all we learned to duck!
Through this process of accumulated experience and physical repetition, clarity of mind, vigor of body and physical expertise result. And though this is a “Vital skill” and connected to life and death issues it also contains an element of “play”. The child and their own confidence in their own strength and coordination is increased. This new self- confidence develops courage to face even more difficult tasks. This virtue, that is courage, then proceeds with the child’s understanding and experience. Moreover, faith in the elders is reinforced, and the value of experience and the handing down of knowledge is nurtured. With this comes a sense of time with perspective on the actual meaning of history. Hopefully the child then, has reason to learn and remember other things in their history training. From the javelin the next step is the atl-atl or levered spear. This leads by progression -both historical and technical- eventually to standing archery. After standing archery the highest difficulty is probably reached doing the archery on horseback and at this point the care of the horse relates the archer to the whole animal kingdom and themselves in a logical chain of responsibilities which can then extend into the local community. In this way the horse-archer completes a full circle of relations and skills.
From archery, the martial curriculum could be extended. One could go to the cross-bow. Then, if possible one could add modern weaponry, proceeding to the black powder musket, thence to the rifle. With each weapon is taught the history of the period that weapon is used. The mystique of the gun and its accompanying fear and fascination, is removed by education and a clear understanding of how these weapons were used and by whom. Other essential forms of physical education (wrestling, hatha yoga, folk dance) are continued during this martial training. All must be integrated together with a complete curriculum of historic and scientific study. All of this would be within the sphere of influence of the Paidotribe and the impartation of vital skills and targets.