Pammachon – what’s in a word?

Since 1999 Kostas Dervenis has used the term “pammachon” (πάμμαχον) for both the martial arts and the warrior’s path expressed through these arts. Establishing a name for the martial art of the Greeks has been problematic since ancient times. In the Iliad, Homer calls the techniques of grappling and joint-locking deployed by Ulysses against Ajax in their contest as kerdea, "ways to win." The word "Pammachon" which Kostas has chosen may be older than the commonly used pankration, and is a better translation for "martial art." Beyond the historical and documented use of the word beginning in the palaeochristian era, it is obvious linguistically that the words “machaira” (μάχαιρα – blade), and “mache” (μάχη - battle) originate from the same root “mach-” (μαχ-). Thus the word “mache” (μάχη), essentially describes a martial confrontation that includes both the use of close quarter combat weaponry (e.g. knife, sword, spear, lance, club etc.), and (the somewhat more important in contemporary times) unarmed combat against the aforementioned lethal weapons. A proper translation of the word “pan-machon” (πάν-μαχον) would be “total combat.” In essence “pammachon” describes what we call today “close quarter combat,” and so Kostas chose the term carefully to differentiate Greece's martial art from its combat sports wrestling, boxing, and pankration (MMA). 

Martial Arts and Combat Sports

There is a distinct difference between the martial arts and combat sports. A combat sport is, by definition, an athletic contest between two individuals, the main intention of which is, in the end, to assure the participants’ safety. Wrestling, judo, taekwondo and boxing are principle examples of combat sports. Techniques that are by definition hazardous to the participant’s health and continued wellbeing are (or should be) prohibited. It is plainly understood that contestants are not allowed to (nor desire to) attack one another’s eyes or genitals, bite through each other’s neck, or attack the spinal cord and skull using strikes, locks, or other techniques. Killing or permanently disabling the opponent is not the objective of combat sports, though injuries abound. In true combat situations, however, the aforementioned criteria do typically apply – when one fights for his life, one’s intentions center on killing the enemy as quickly as possible. Consequently, both the training methods and the applied kinesiology are different for martial arts and for combat sports, and always have been. The very reason that martial arts were developed in the first place was defense against bladed weapons (and against other weapons) in battle, while combat sports were developed as a bloodless means of developing the speed, power, technique, accuracy, and other elements necessary for the application of martial arts.

There is thus one specific criterion that is necessary for any art that wants to call itself “martial”.

A Martial Art must use the same type of movement,

the same tactics and the same strategy,

whether the practitioner is armed or unarmed, wearing armor or unarmored,

whether facing an armed or unarmed opponent, whether there is one opponent or many.

What happens to us when we fight for our lives

Whenever we enter into conflict, there are specific biological effects that come into play, an inheritance from our primate ancestors. Depending on the level of violence involved, when an infuriated man actually decides to attack another, an entire chain of biological “events” takes place. Click on the image below for a detailed analysis, based on a presentation developed for NATO and presented at the 2016 Annual Conference of the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Center.  It will take you roughly 30 minutes to watch the entire lecture. If you have a scientific background and would like an even more detailed explanation, please click on the image that follows to read our academic publication “The neurophysiological and evolutionary considerations of close combat”, which received an honorary distinction at the 4th International Medical Olympiad:
Without proper neurological and cognitive conditioning, we can’t really avoid reacting as described in the presentations above, since this is how we have been programmed by nature. It would be safe to call this biological sequence our “natural aggressive response.” Similar manifestations to the “response” outlined above can be seen in dogs, cats, monkeys, and gorillas, in fact in all animals. As human beings, however, we do have the capacity to control our physiological reactions during combat, as we differ from other animals in terms of self-control and logic. However, this can only be achieved though conscious effort and discipline (In other words, the logical and conscious elements of our brain, the cerebral frontal lobes, must successfully coordinate with the more primitive parts of our brain, the autonomic nervous system, the primal complex, and the limbic system).

Standing upright to tame the animal within

Even so, the notion that the most efficient martial art would be that which follows the parameters of our natural aggressive response against another human is not foolish. Thus, combat sports such as kickboxing and MMA, where the execution of the techniques and body posture follow the model of our natural response in battle, have much to commend them. However, in practice and under real combat circumstances, such a stance is ill-advised. In contrast with expectations, during the past 10,000 years (as far as the archeological record takes us back), martial artists, have insisted on an upright posture. The reason for this has to do with evolution: we are tool-using animals who have evolved an evolutionary combat strategy to use technology in order to dominate our environment.

In light of this, there are practical criteria to take into account.

a) The first is the possibility that the combatant is wearing armor.

When one wears body armor (or carries modern military equipment) the center of weight shifts upward. The warrior must keep his body upright to maintain his balance. The posture becomes “heavier”, and part of the weight shifts from the toes to the heels in motion. The practitioner’s stance must of necessity become somewhat “deeper” for the same reason. This explains why we see wider stances in most traditional Eastern Martial Arts, as well as in the Martial Arts of the ancient and medieval Western world.

“Great! So what does that have to do with us?” you may wonder. “Isn’t armor ancient history?” No. The armor worn today by police and the military is merely an indication of what is to follow in the next decade or so. Perhaps in the future, given the fact that all electronics may be disabled by a heavy electromagnetic pulse, controlled field or concentrated beam (and such weapons ARE being constructed), future soldiers may go into combat wearing armor like their corresponding 15th and 16th century colleagues. In essence, war in the future may see a much greater extent of hand-to-hand combat than exists today, perhaps somewhat reminiscent of 16th century medieval combat. And, of course, armored combat is already (and will be far more in the times to come) a crucial element for police forces in riot control.

b) The second is that we think with our bodies.

One factor that most ancient civilizations understood, and that modern science has only begun to verify over the past 10 years (note microtubule theory, post-transplant personality effects, etc.) is the following axiom: we think with our bodies. A great part of our unconscious mind is hidden within the consistency of the body’s cell-group functions. This is reflected both in traditional Chinese and in Hippocratic medical thought. Ancient peoples were well aware of the difference between combative dueling and the high demands of the battlefield, and – if one is inclined to look at things in a philosophical extent - the very demands of living life itself in this context. As one concentrates on his movement, whether he is dancing, working in construction, or practicing martial arts, he is essentially programming his unconscious mind – there is no way around this. One may observe the following phenomenon, then: Martial Arts that rely on the body’s natural aggressive stance are capable of inducing corresponding changes to the practitioner’s personality, leading the individual to become more aggressive (this is a generalization, of course, not a rule). This aggressiveness may constitute a problem, both in living out a normal life in society, and by inducing a strategic mistake in war, personal combat, or even a combat sport. It is no simple coincidence that the most successful athletes in combat sports adopt a more upright posture over time that allows for more refined and less aggressive movement.

The connection between the way a practitioner moves during combat, and the philosophical dimension inherent to each civilization and culture, is a link established by the historical and archeological record all the way back to the Neolithic age. 

Proven in Combat

We are quite fortunate in our day and age that historical archives have preserved the methods and techniques of past civilizations regarding both their combat sports (such as submission grappling), and their actual martial arts. These archives are very important, as they express the judgment of people who actually participated in wars throughout history, and thus understood what happens during combat very well. It is also extremely noteworthy that the martial arts documented in the archaeological and historic archives of diverse peoples throughout time portray an evident likeness among themselves. This is clearly no coincidence. Ancient peoples, as well as medieval and Renaissance societies, clearly chose what was truly useful in combat – martial arts trends and fashions are the result of times of peace, not times of war and turmoil, where what is practical is kept and propagated.

 In Pammachon, there is only one maxim for training at this level, replicated again and again in East and West and found by the author over the doors of a church in a Greek Orthodox monastery in Crete: “Mind is that which decorates all and the reason for all being.”

In summary then, Pammachon has re-emerged in its classical form, as a timeless discipline combining a historically proven martial art that has seen global use, with a method of training the mind, beyond dogma and cultural discrimination.
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