"I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess." -Martin Luther

Thursday, July 10, 2008

German Longsword: An Academic Pursuit?

Regardless of how tired some of my readers may be of hearing me explain to them in person how much I like Western Martial Arts (WMA for short -- think sword-fighting), I thought it was worth a few minutes to share some visual evidence.

The first of our evidences is a video by "The Real Gladiatores", who appear to be group of longsword enthusiasts. Not only their swordplay, but their costumes, setting, camera-work, and music are impressive.

The second evidence is another video by the same group, in which the camera shows multiple angles of each stage of several sequences, which the makers have reconstructed from ancient German texts written by swordmasters Sigmund Ringeck and Peter von Danzig. Translations are provided in the side panel.

The second video in particular reveals a curious notion which you will soon become acquainted with if you research WMA, that the study of swordplay is to some degree an academic subject. As far as I know, there is no such thing as Swordfightology, yet the makers of these videos, and many others, spend a great deal of time, thought, and study, on their "hobby." Professors of language help them study the texts, and I have even come across written arguments over the meanings of particular German technical terms. There are recognized authorities on the different techniques, and hearty debates concerning old and new interpretations. Given some formalization involving academic papers and titles, we might see the study of ancient martial arts become a legitimate field!

While I am partly poking fun at mine and others' mania, it does raise some interesting questions. All current academic fields were once not recognized as such. I wonder to what degree ancient followers of even more ancient philosophers were considered to be "enthusiasts" pursuing a "hobby," and had to fiercely defend their expenditure of means in its continuance. The sword enthusiast can claim physical, mental, and historical benefits from his hobby. Should it be looked down upon as *sniff* "unacademic" simply because it involves physical exertion?

With this said, there remains the truth that WMA would be absurd as an academic field, reminiscent of the Beverley Hillbillies in a mansion. Why? Because academia has a well-defined look: it must be scientific, well-established, and, well, respectable. Attack any field in academia, and some of the members of that field are prepared to defend themselves with forceful intellectual arguments. The idea of disenfranchising any field has a faint aura of anathema surrounding it on campus. WMA is on the outside of academia, so such staunch loyalty and self-importance is silly applied to it. Just imagine people walking around in coats and ties on a billion dollar campus built for the sole purpose of studying how people in the middle ages defended and attacked with sharp implements!

So the question for today is, would my field, Physics, or any other academic field look the same way if it did not have the academic aura around it? Physicists and their forebears have claimed for centuries that ultimate understanding of the universe is just around the next order of magnitude of magnification, or at the end of the next chain of calculations. Is it not silly that some continue to make such claims, even though they have been wrong every single time before? The profession does not deserve slander; I pursue it with hopes of doing real good in the world and bringing glory to God! But I and others who together are the creators and sustainers of academia would do well to notice and guard against arrogance in themselves and their fields.

Guards. Oh yes, that's something you can learn about with swords.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Creative Tongues

Consider the following article:
New Dictionary Words

Does it seem strange that new words are coming into being? It is quite to me to consider that they are now, but before, were not. If any of us went back in time and used them, they would be meaningless, dead. I find this poetic.

I wonder how much it has to do with being made in the image of of the Creator who spoke the world into being through words, or "The Word." Words, communication, and creation ("and stories!" interjects the author in me) seem linked in the actions of God.

Finally, I wonder if there are articles out there about the words that are disappearing, dying, so that if we went into the future and used them, no one would know what they mean.