Five principles, or just one?

Published: Fri, 03/10/23

On the 25th of February we had a very good day training in Salisbury. Twelve people attended, which was about the maximum number for the space we had a available and we covered most of the material I had planned to include. We started with staff exercises and stances. Then working with the two person staff drills to introduce the five principles. In the second session we worked with the cudgel/walking stick to explore the idea of AIM, or action, intention, and movement. We then had a session on self-defence, which was mainly concerned with recognising and maintaining safe distance from a potential threat. We also looked at breaking out of a simple wrist grab and creating very different effects simply by varying the movement used. The final session returned to working with the five principles of Stav using knife defence drills.
The five principles are easy enough to list, Trel, Karl, Herse, Jarl, Konge, and a little harder to explain. The best way is of course to physically train with the principles as two person drills. However, such drills can then easily become short forms, patterns, or katas which are fun to work with, and maybe even good exercise, without anyone necessarily understanding the underlying principle taught by the drill.
The ultimate purpose of the five principles is to create states of mind which can be adopted in conflict situations. In any situation it is the mind, and focused intention, which directs our actions. So, training with these concepts is simply providing a choice of intentions, rather than programming automatic responses.
Any kind of training develops on a shallow spiral. We begin with no knowledge and begin to learn. We seem to be moving along a rising track of increasing skill and competence and yet the line we are following loops around and brings us back a little above the point we started at. The first loop may take us through the ability to protect the body (Trel), to defence of space (Karl), to restrain another person (Herse), to deal with multiple opponents (Karl), and risk self-sacrifice if justified (Konge). A second round of the spiral may bring a more sophisticated understanding of the principles. On the Trel level the best thing is simply not to be there by anticipating conflict. The Karl uses the environment to create a defensible space. The Herse uses teamwork to manage trouble makers. The Jarl disassociates from the conflict in order to maintain an overview of the situation. The Konge seeks to be so completely in the moment that
death becomes an irrelevance.
On a yet higher level it may be recognised that in fact there are only two principles which manifest as two sides of a fully developed intention. We must decide whether or not to involve ourselves in any particular situation. If you opt for the Trel response then you are simply deciding to avoid entanglement and engagement. If responding with the Konge intention then a commitment to involvement is made with a full willingness to accept the consequences of such an involvement.
Both the Trel and Konge response are potentially equally powerful in their effect. At a sufficiently developed level of awareness there is possibly only one principle. When we take full responsibility for our intentions we act, or choose not to act, in accordance with what will bring about the greatest harmony. The five principles then become tools with which to manifest our intention. We can choose to be present in a situation, or simply be somewhere else. We can choose to spend our money in some way and it can be even more powerful choosing to withhold our cash. We can lead a team to take action to control a situation. Or we may simply set an example to others by not getting involved. The Jarl may encourage certain beliefs in people, or may discredit a widely held misconception. Perhaps the Konge can practice a divine level of discernment in everything he does, or not do. No one can teach us wisdom, everything we really need
to know about formulating intention is inherent within us. All we need is practice in focusing intention and evaluating the real time consequences of acting out that intention. Real life is of course the greatest teacher. However, learning real life lessons can involve harming other beings. As the father of a three year old I am learning a great deal about parenting each day. However, I cannot afford for those lessons to require my daughter to suffer real harm. (It is bad enough the way she sometimes cries when it time to brush her teeth and simply go to bed.) Some lessons we will not physically survive if we get it wrong.
So, the right kind of martial arts training can teach us to assess situations, formulate intention, and then evaluate the fulfillment, or otherwise, of that intention, and then go back for another loop of the spiral. Those who attended the seminar on the 25th also heard me say more than once. ‘If you are sorting out a problem by hitting someone then something has gone seriously wrong.’ I am not saying that direct and violent action is always inappropriate, sometimes it may be. However, what is too often forgotten is the power of inaction, non-compliance, and ignorance (in the sense of willfully ignoring a situation completely). Action will create a re-action, often escalating a situation from bad to worse. In-action creates, well, frustration in those who think they can push us around, but apart from that, entropy will often just take care of the situation. I am reminded of the slogan from the 1960s:
‘What if they held a war and no one came?’
The five principles may seem like five ways of fighting and, at the most elementary level, perhaps they are. At a higher level these same principles may well equip us to fulfill our intentions through highly focused in-action. What is not done, may be much more powerful what what is done.
PS Dates for your diary:
Training on the 27th May 2023 in Tickton, East Yorkshire,
We have also re-booked the hall in Salisbury for another seminar on the 7th of October. Will plan programme for that event soon
PPS At Stavcamp we will do a lot of practical training to explore the five principles. There will also be the opportunity to discuss the theory behind the principles and discover how much power we really have.
Graham Butcher
21 Beaver Road
Beverley East Yorkshire HU17 0QN

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