Monday, October 11, 2010

Intellectual Honesty

Folks, without intellectual honesty we cannot have meaningful discussions. Without meaningful discussions, we cannot explore important areas of our art that are unclear. As one example, admit when you are wrong! Everyone makes mistakes, everyone spouts off comments “from the cuff” in informal discussions, and everyone of us is misinformed about certain areas of our art. None of these things marks you as an idiot or a failure, so admit to them when they are pointed out. Case in point, here is a conversation I just had on a discussion list:

He: “Unlike Fiore, [the Germans] NEVER [emphasis his—HTK] wait to counterstrike/exchange thrusts.”

Me: Yes, sometimes they do. I provided specific examples of the Sprechfenster, plays of the 3rd guard of the halfsword and others, along with a link to my blog entry giving a detailed analysis of this issue.

He: Your analysis is flawed. You do not know what you are talking about (no evidence, no citations, just the blanket statements).

Me: Direct quote from von Danzig telling us to assume Long Point *before* the combat starts and wait to see what the enemy will do. I cited the exact page where the quote could be checked for accuracy.

He: Claimed that was a threatening guard so it did not apply. What he *really* meant was that the Germans never do it the way *Fiore* does it, but he did not specify how that was different. (To make it worse, he confused Döbringer with Liechtenauer, thus demonstrating his lack of familiarity with the material, but I let that pass with only a polite correction after he had made the same mistake several times.)

Me: Deep sigh—here we go. First, showed him Fiore’s Long Guard which is exactly analogous to our Long Point, so it was clear Fiore *did* do it that way. Second, gave him a link to a video clip of a technique from the 3rd guard of the halfsword in which you do not threaten, you merely wait, and documented this with a clear citation for the technique. Next, showed a very similar technique in Fiore, thus clearly proving that, while I do not believe the German and Italian systems to be at all similar, the Germans *do* do some things that the Italians do, too.

He: Well, I am not going to take your undocumented video of a technique as evidence. Besides, I do not agree with your Sprechfenster argument. Besides, your video was poorly done (but no statement as to why).

Me: Well, I *did* provide a citation for the technique, but here is the text for you to examine so you do not have to look it up. And the Sprechfenster *does*deny your original argument, but I gave you a different example so as to deny your ability to twist the argument around. And the video is well done, but even if it were not well done it still proves the point because it matches the text exactly. None of this is open to interpretation: I have shown you an almost exact match of ideas proving that, at least in a limited number of cases, the Germans use the same approach of waiting that Fiore does.

He: Well, you are just an egotistical jerk.

Me: Let us leave personality out of this and avoid ad-hominem attacks. What is your response to the example from the 3rd guard I provided?

He: I will retreat into lofty silence to prove you are a jerk for being so insistent because I am a *real* scholar while you are not. What you should have done was to simply agree to disagree. That you did not proves you to be a jerk.

Me: When an issue is debatable or open to question then we can agree to disagree. When someone is patently wrong he should admit it; you have not supplied any evidence or documentation to contradict what I have written, nor even addressed most of it.

The funny thing is his signature line on his e-mails is from Mark Twain: “Far better to remain silent, and let others wonder at the extent of one's ignorance, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.” If only he had thought about that!

So folks, when you are wrong, admit it. Do not try to turn things into an ad-hominem slugfest; all that does is to prove that you have no more arguments to make and cannot respond to the ones on the table. And if you do, and your opponent responds in kind, that does not prove him to be a bigger jerk than you—he probably sees no reason to keep providing you with evidence when, clearly, you have no interest in it nor in reasoned debate. I have to admit that when I am attacked personally I often respond in kind merely because it is so much fun, but I acknowledge that it is unprofessional. Fortunately, in this case, I avoided the temptation.

This was a clear case of a guy who spouted off about a subject about which he was un- or misinformed. No harm, no foul—that applies to all of us in at least some areas, including me, and besides, this issue (Germans waiting to be attacked) is one about which very few people know the facts. In fact, as regular readers of this blog know, I actually *post* my mistakes here for all to see because I would rather admit to an error than to continue to be wrong because while ignorance is both inevitable and forgivable, blind obstinacy is not.


Kälte Geist said...

Considering that even a primer on Liechtenauer's longsword has numerous examples of counter striking, deflecting, counter offensive techniques and winding, which in itself is a countering maneuver, it's pretty clear that this bloke has a clear case of pretend-to-study-itus.

I mean, one of the defining aspects of the "German style" is the thumb grip, which is primarily utilized to make countering easier.

You know I've found this attitude primarily amongst my fellow American practitioners.
I honestly think i's a culturally derived bias whereby countries affected by Hitlers Germany have an inability to see Germans as passive in anything, and so project those prejudices back into history,rather than discovering the cultural, historical reality.

Hugh Knight said...


No, no, you misunderstand: This guy knew there were counter attacks to be used if you were out-timed, that wasn't the debate. The debate was about whether or not there were times when the German masters teach us to wait and *allow* the other guy to attack first. Do you see the difference?

You may be right as to the general tendency, however.


Kälte Geist said...

Ah, my bad.
I admit I was juggling a toddler and a piece of garlic bread while reading your post, lol, not exactly the most attentive audience.

Even if the historic examples did NOT exist...
I highly doubt a master would tell his students to "Never" do anything so dependent on situation. Especially just because it's "The German way" or something.
That smacks of impracticable, anachronistic backpedaling to me.

We know the German school is more offensive, but the western emphasis on self preservation is still paramount.
"Never" trumps that, and so I doubt it's validity, ya know?

It's curious to me, to think about the extent to which the German masters thought about cultural style.
I mean yes, I'm sure that any given master was aware that the spirit of ambiguity would stylize his particular school.
But it's harder to know to what extent they thought about "German" swordsmanship" over just "My swordsmanship."

Even when they say so, lol... I mean, if one were to say "In German swordsmanship we never do this..." It could simply be due to the fact that they expected their teachings to expand beyond Germany.

In any event...
I think you were correct and eloquent in your response to the guy.
A fact doesn't need emphasis, it just is, and that will wear into his pride eventually. Soon enough you'll find him quoting you, lol.

Hugh Knight said...


You wrote: “But it's harder to know to what extent they thought about "German" swordsmanship" over just "My swordsmanship."”

Well, we do know that—for some of them and to some extent, at least. Even as late as the 16th century, German masters were still calling themselves disciples of Johannes Liechtenauer, even ones who weren’t particularly true to his system (e.g., Meyer, with all his extra guards and his lack of thrusting), at least as it was practiced in the early 15th century. And those closer to Liechtenauer in time were even more adamant: we have the “Gesellshaft Liechtenauer” about which Paulus Kal writes, indicating that Liechtenauer was considered the father of many masters. Even those who taught what might be considered quite a different system, such as Hans Talhoffer, still tried to connect themselves to Liechtenauer; consider the way Talhoffer includes a version of Liechtenauer’s Zettel in his “Alte Armatur und Ringkunst” even though he shows almost none of the techniques described therein in the main body of the book.

Granted, some sources do seem to have a somewhat different style and don’t ever mention Liechtenauer (e.g., the Gladiatoria books), but even where we see differences, we also see a lot of similarity, too. Also, there could be many systems of the art in Germany about which no information has survived.

So, bottom line, we don’t know *exactly* how much of German swordsmanship was “German,” by which I mean culturally distinct, but the extant works we have do seem to indicate a strong sense of lineage and at least lip service toward the Liechtenauer school.


Kälte Geist said...

Thanks for the insight ^_^

But still is that German pride or Liechtenauer pride?

I mean... Today we get terms like "Brazillian Jujutsu" even though that system was established by a few individual schools in Brazil who weren't thinking of national pride so much as effectiveness.
And they became so prevalent due to that effectiveness in that region that OTHER people labeled it that way. A kind of... "That's how the Brazilians fight. It's Brazilian Jujutsu."

And only after that, did Brazilians use the ambiguous term as a source of pride.

Just curious to know how analogous the German history is to that, My own study hasn't come to a point where I can answer. (I live in a HEMA black-hole, lol)

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to talk.