Last week I covered the Samurai vs Viking matchup, with Samurai coming out on top. This week I think we have an even harder challenge to face: Spartan vs Ninja.
Let me tell you why I’m personally conflicted about this week’s matchup on Spike TV’s Deadliest Warrior. By heritage, I am half Greek (including my namesake). As such, I feel a natural affinity toward Sparta and the ancient Greek civilization as a whole. I find their mythology fascinating and contributions to modern day society priceless.
On the other hand, ninja are a part of Japanese culture, which I have spent a good portion of my life studying. The ninja are easily among the most mysterious, misunderstood, and just plain cool fighters of all time.
What to do?? Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons for each, and see if we can’t draw any conclusions.
Spartan Pros: The first thing that stands out to me is the rigorous training a Spartan warrior had to go through. “Naturally Selected” from birth, only the strongest and most hardy infants would make it to childhood. Training would begin as soon as physically possible, and only got harder once the preteen and teen years hit.
Ultimately, a young Spartan lad would be sent out into the wilderness on his own. If he survived, he could come back and begin his training as a Spartan warrior. If not…well…
the entire Spartan culture was based around combat. They eliminated art, literature, and basically all kinds of non-combat pursuits in order to focus on the purity of fighting.
Spartan Cons: The Spartan arsenal was actually fairly limited. They relied heavily on the spear/shield combination, but also carried around a short sword for when their spear broke or combat became too close quartered. Rather than become proficient in other weapons, they stuck primarily to these few tools.
Ninja Pros: In stark contrast to the Spartans, the ninja had a vast array of weapons. In fact, I can’t think of any other warrior in history that utilized a more diverse and surprising array of deadly doodads.
Utilizing the element of surprise, a ninja could throw (literally) something at his enemies that they had never seen before.
The ninja also benefited from a rampant break-the-rules policy. A ninja would do whatever necessary to win a battle and had little concern for fairness.
Ninja Cons: All of the ninja’s weapons relied on speed and cunning – if a ninja were to be cornered by an overpowering weapon (such as spear and shield), he would have a difficult time navigating around it.
Furthermore, the ninja had virtually no armor to speak of. His entire body was vulnerable should he be spotted.
The Problem With 1-on-1
Some people may be surprised to learn that a 1-on-1 duel is actually a weakness for both Spartan and Ninja! Neither of these warriors wanted to fight ANYONE single handedly.
Spartans dedicated an obsessive amount of training to working as a unit. the big secret that made the Spartans so great was their ability to augment each other and create an almost impenetrable line of death and destruction. No unit throughout history was better trained to adapt yet stay together during combat situations.
With this cohesive mindset, Spartans spent little time on their dueling abilities (although they certainly didn’t neglect it entirely).
Ninja, on the other hand, weren’t worried about the battlefield at all. In fact, face-to-face fighting usually indicated a failure on their part. A ninja’s value came in his ability to sneak around undetected and make a kill without notice.
The ninja did not want to confront Samurai or guards if he could help it. That’s why he developed his myriad of devices for infiltration and escape. As deadly as the ninja was, he certainly wasn’t a duelist.
My first prediction is that the ninja will win the specialty weapons portion. ‘Specialty Weapons’ is when the Deadliest Warrior hosts allow each team to select an unusual weapon that might come in handy for each fighter. The ninja had such a wide variety of specialties that the odds are clearly on their side.
Whatever the Spartan spear gets paired against, the spear is likely to win. The Ninja just doesn’t have anything equivalent to it in length and power, especially if they take armor and shield into consideration.
Short range combat could be a toss up as the Spartan uses a short sword while the ninja uses a tachi.
Who Will Win?
This is an extremely tough matchup, but I believe my vote is going for the Spartan.
Now for the moment of truth, who do YOU think will win?
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The other day I was watching a presentation by Garr Reynolds. Garr currently resides in Japan and is a big exponent of Zen Buddhism. During his presentation he provided a bunch of really eloquent and insightful quotes from artists of all different backgrounds. These quotes really spoke to me and made strong connections in my mind to the martial arts.
Here is the catch though…
His presentation was about Powerpoint! More specifically, how to conduct great presentations using Powerpoint, handouts, etc as tools.
Amazingly, the principles he was sharing with his audience to make them better speakers would have been equally valuable if he had wanted to make them better martial artists.
Who is Garr Reynolds?
Garr is the best selling author of Presentation Zen, a book about increasing simplicity and effectiveness in presentations. He was also a guest speaker at Google’s impressive Authors@Google series, which can be found on youtube. For anyone who does presenting/teaching/powerpoints in their day-to-day lives, I highly recommend watching the full thing.
Garr is also an American living in Japan. He is Associate Professor of Management at Kansai Gaidai University located in Osaka.
So What Were the Quotes Used By Garr?
There are three quotes that Garr used that I would like to share with you. I’ll provide the quote, the context with which he was using it, and my opinion as to how it relates to the martial arts.
Quote #1: “Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means.” – Dr. Koichi Kawana (Architect of Zen and Tea Gardens).
Garr’s Context: This quote was used to define simplicity. Garr was trying to explain how simple slides in powerpoint can be much more effective than clutter filled ones.
Simple doesn’t just mean ‘less’ though. In order to achieve the kind of simplicity Dr. Kawana is referring to, one has to increase the impact of the message while decreasing the information given.
Martial Arts Implications: Aikido practitioners should be spitting coffee out of their mouths at this point. As I have come to understand it, Dr. Kawana’s theory is almost word for word the desired effect of aikido technique. But it isn’t just aikidoka who can benefit from this wisdom.
Karate technique often espouses ‘one punch, one kill’, which suggests eliminating an opponent as quickly and efficiently as possible. As such classical karate often does not translate well into tournaments and movies because the desired action of the karateka is sharp, quick, simple, and over.
Quote #2: “In the Beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, In the experts mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki (Soto Zen Priest)
Garr’s Context: With this quote Garr wanted to break people out of their box. The normal, ‘expected’ way to do powerpoint is by utilizing the 1:7:7 rule (one slide, seven bullets, seven words per bullet). Reynold’s suggests that this is speedy passport to snoozeville and in order to keep a captive audience you have to give them something unexpected. To achieve the unexpected, you have to keep an open mind to new possibilities.
A child’s mind (which of course is a beginner’s mind) is not afraid of failure or judgment. A child will do silly, strange things simply because they want to try it and see what happens. Garr suggests that this same mindset can result in amazing presentation material.
Martial Arts Implications: Has anyone here not been told a hundred times to keep a beginner’s mind? It’s a fairly classic martial arts admonishment. This advice becomes particularly poignant as a person approaches black belt and beyond.
Even though a person must stay true to his/her style and pass it down as it was taught to them, they must also be free to explore their techniques and find what works for them. Until a practitioner opens themselves up to experimentation and failure, all they can ever be is a style robot.
Quote #3: “Master your instrument. Master your music. And then forget all that bullshit and just play.” – Charlie Parker (Jazz Saxophonist and Composer)
Garr’s Context: What Garr wanted to express here is the proper way to perform a presentation. All too often presenters are well prepared with good information, but they simply read that information off of slides or cue cards. The result is a boring, slavish dictation of facts and stats that has no emotion or power.
Garr wants you to master your story and statistics so that you can be free to rif on your subject matter, take tangents, and engage your audience in a completely original and provocative way.
Martial Arts Implications: A martial artist must figure out his/her body. They must also study their style vehemently. But when it comes time to become a martial artist all of that has to be loosened for self expression.
Technique must come from instinct, sincerity, and right reason. Everything that makes an artist what they are should be expressed in every technique. A kata, when done with meaning, should be unique and unrepeatable.
Two Analogies: The Mountain and the Tree
There are two major takeaways from the connection between Garr’s speech and the martial ways, and both have a natural analogy that can be used to explain them.
The Tree - The different martial art styles are often said to be different branches of the same tree. Bruce Lee used this analogy from time to time and I am a big fan of it. However, we can also use this to visualize ‘art’ as a whole.
Artists, no matter how they express themselves, are branches of the same tree. Furthermore, practitioners of Jazz, Zen, Ichibana, Tea Ceremony, Painting, Jujitsu, etc can all benefit from the wisdom of masters like the ones cited above.
The Mountain - Even if all art is connected, why is it that masters always seem to draw similar conclusions? After all, Shunryu Suzuki sounds a lot like Morihei Ueshiba, who sounds a lot like Jigoro Kano.
The explanation for that lies in ‘the mountain’. No matter where you start at the base of a mountain, there is only one location to ultimately arrive at – the top. The top is a single point of enlightenment. Needless to say, very very few people make it there (arguably none). But, as you get closer, the territory one covers gets smaller. As things get smaller, there is bound to be some crossover for those who are traveling.
It’s quite possible that Suzuki, Ueshiba, and Kano all tread on the same ground, and would likely have much to discuss given the chance to sit down and enjoy some tea. Perhaps one day we can join in on the conversation too, but until then, let’s enjoy the journey!
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Spike TV has a new show out called ‘Deadliest Warrior’. It pits two historical fighters against each other in mortal combat. Tonight is Samurai vs Viking at 10 pm Eastern (check your local listing for your time).
I’m such a sucker for these shows! I really liked Human Weapon, but also watched things like Fight Science and Dhani Tackles the Globe. I don’t know, they intrigue me. The thing about this new show ‘Deadliest Warrior’ is that they bring in experts from whichever fighting style is on the episode and they examine the ballistic and cutting ability of their weapons. Then, taking various mathematical and logical factors into account, they program a computer to run 1,000 fights between the two combatants and see who comes out on top more often…and why.
Last episode an Apache Warrior bested a Roman Gladiator. It was a little controversial since the fight was one on one and that is what Gladiators specialized in. This week the stakes are even higher because my boy the Samurai is taking on the fierce Viking class.
One thing that seems obvious is the sword advantage the Samurai will have. The katana is definitely going to outperform the viking style spatha. I’m willing to bet my hat on that. But it’s possible the Viking will use a shield in combination with his sword, which could complicate things for the computer.
In the picture above we see the Samurai using a naginata while the viking uses a long axe. I would have to give the samurai the edge here as well as the naginata has longer range as well as various striking methods, including stabbing, cutting, and striking where the axe only really has striking.
The Viking chainmail is probably going to cause a problem for the Samurai. Chainmail is designed to resist cutting and the Samurai is sure to rely on that heavily.
All things considered, when it comes to a one on one fight, I don’t believe any warrior throughout history was better developed than the Samurai. My vote officially goes to him.
How about you?
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