Pammachon or Greek martial art is being revived by Kostas Dervenis. We can be both god-like with compassion and wisdom, and brutal and deadly as a dinosaur, he tells Poonam Jain.
Martial art is all about cultivating integrity. What do you mean by this?
You must not confuse integrity with morality and ethics; to have integrity is to perform and live with 100 per cent of your being, without doubt, hesitation, remorse or fear. It does not mean you are perfect or always right; it means you act in full accord with yourself and assume responsibility for your actions.
The central purpose of the martial arts is to fuse the various centres of the brain and nervous system into one wholly-tuned instrument, so that everything works together. Different parts of your body react in different ways. But if you have integrity, "There is no try", as Yoda would say. You either do, or you don't.
If you are unified, someone who is not, cannot defeat you in any context; we first defeat ourselves, then surrender victory to our opponent. So people who lie and cheat cannot truly be called martial artists, because they lack unity of purpose. This may appear like an oxymoron, because deceit is very much a part of combat, but once the concept of integrity is understood, the discrepancy fades because those who make deception the central precept of their lives, tend to first deceive themselves, then move on to deceive others.
To thrive despite turmoil, is that the philosophy of 'Pammachon'?
The central tenet of Pammachon is simple: We seek power over no man, but surrender power to no man. As Nikos Kazantzakis once wrote, in the space beyond belief and hope, we are free. The goal in the end is freedom of every kind; freedom from fear, greed, envy, poverty and ignorance. There is a great degree of self-examination involved in the process, of course, and facing the inevitable realities of our existence is central: both death and illness are facts of life and it would be pointless to pretend otherwise.
You've said "muscle mass is too much work, why bother when firearms are used in modern combat". Then why martial arts?
Freedom. But freedom does not mean shirking your responsibilities! But on a more mundane level, the answer to your question is self-defence. If you have access to firearms and have some experience shooting, you will know that a firearm is secondary to the person using it. Without the right training, a person under stress will probably miss a large target with a pistol at short range. Someone without the right physical and mental training runs the risk not only of using a weapon badly, but having that same weapon taken away and used on themselves.
But let's forget about Hollywood movies for a moment, and look at the average person's life around the world. The rude drunk or unruly stranger is likely the worst threat many people will encounter. And yet, the threat of violent crime, limited though it is, is extant. It is far better to be prepared than unprepared, and at the most basic level, true martial arts training can help prepare you for this.
The second basic benefit of martial education is awareness. Being aware of when to use force is a fundamental responsibility. People who do not have martial training often overreact with extreme violence when a more amicable response is appropriate.
Martial education allows the practitioner to know all aspects of their mind, and know that we can be both god-like with compassion and wisdom and brutal and deadly as a dinosaur. It is the monkey brain that promotes fear and worry, lust and anxiety over social (pack) affairs; today we give it far more credence than it should have. I say let the monkey sit next to both the angel and the dinosaur as an equal member of the team, for that is what nature intended, and if it is lucky, it can even catch a glimpse of the mind of God. And that is true freedom.
How does one come to realise Divinity through martial arts?
Introspection can help you come to terms with the Divine, if you are both lucky and skilled; it is a parallel path to that of Indian yoga, with the added spice of physical combat in its repertoire.
Martial arts are indeed an ancient path towards realisation of the Divine Spark within all of us, perhaps the oldest such path still extant. We have different components of our nervous system; each one of these is an independent 'mind' that strives for control depending on the circumstances. Integrating these components is a three-stage process, which, for a minority of practitioners becomes a four-stage process allowing them to come into contact with a part of ourselves not normally encountered.
As in combat, are the principles of timing and distancing of great importance for success in life?
What you truly learn from martial education and can apply to social affairs goes beyond timing and distancing; it has to do with viewing the formation. Only a fool would attack a castle's strongest walls, right? A wise man looks for weak points or flaws and does not attack a castle's strength. The shape of the castle, its composition and layout, the thickness or thinness of its walls, all constitute the fortresses' formation.
Everything in life exhibits a formation in turn, whether we are talking about an individual, a group of people, an entire society, or even a nation. Martial education allows you to view that formation in its entirety.
I'm not really sure what 'success' means in this context however; it is very easy, almost juvenile, to use such skills in the pursuit of money, for example. But I know of no serious martial artist who has done so; material possessions are not something we overly aspire to. And yet we have obligation to provide for both our self and our family, and never be a burden. Also, 'thriving' is a relative term. Balance is essential, as Socrates taught us, and that this balance is the same whether we are talking about nature and the environment in general or human society in particular.
In any case, it would be against our principles to 'deal' with people, as this would be actively pursuing power over them. Again, it is not a difficult thing; for a martial artist, people's thoughts and intentions play across their bodies and faces like lights on a Christmas tree. Instead, we use our skills to protect ourselves and our families, and as our power grows, to protect the society we live in and beyond. Such is our burden.