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  • Were many techniques of HEMA and pre-sportified wrestling and Bare Knuckle Boxing truly "lost" before Asian martial arts revived them in the West? If so, how come prisoners could rediscover them on their own without interaction exposure to MMA and Asian m

Self Defense/Were many techniques of HEMA and pre-sportified wrestling and Bare Knuckle Boxing truly "lost" before Asian martial arts revived them in the West? If so, how come prisoners could rediscover them on their own without interaction exposure to MMA and Asian m


I can't find the Facebook page where you quoted it right now, but I remember you said that a lower class farmer girl once told you the people who were the most  pragmatic about violence tend be people of manual labor and violent upbringing (raised in Ghettos,etc).

So one thing I've been wondering about. As you probably know, historians and fencing enthusiasts in recent years have been trying to reconstruct so called "lost" techniques of the European fencing and unarmed fighting. Just seeing the manuals, you can see some similarities to many recent popular Asian styles such as techniques that look like the Muay Thai clinch and Knees, using legs to pin an enemy into  the ground,etc.

One of the things many of these historians, renactors, and fencing enthusiast often state that sort of makes me scratch my head to no end is that they often state that these Western techniques were lost for centuries and were only recently revived by the explosion of Asian martial arts in the West.

In fact that notion has gotten so ingrained  in anyone who practises fighting sports that more often than not many renactors-especially of styles that have almost no existing comprehensive sources available eg manuals such as the Greek Pankration- RELY on Asian martial arts reconstruct techniques available and even shoehorn in techniques that no existing evidence of the art ever shows. To point out to Pankration, a documentary I saw  some scholars began to try to reconstruct something shown on a vase painting simply because it looked similar enough by using Asian martial artists (even though we don't have enough information to know how the technique was done step for step) and indeed many Pankration practitioners even ended up literally pulling their asses out of Asian repertoire to "revive" Pankration including techniques not shown in a single mural or Greek painting or text.

So even these so-called Western techniques that are lost, many HEMA enthusiast admit they had no choice but to get oriental experts because of the lack of information and it is for this reason they say that without Asian arts they could never have revived lost stuff like using a swinging style weapon like Nunchuks or elbowing someone.

Now bringing a source not related to martial arts, I really got a problem with these notions. They ignore the fact that PRISONERS who never got involved in the martial arts sure know as hell to use oriental techniques. While its true nowadays some major gangs have someone  smuggle in dvds and books about Oriental fighting techniques to incarcerated members and its quite common for MMA and TMA fighters and enthusiasts to be recruited by the major ruling gangs ASAP they enter prison, this doesn't explaint he fact that a good bulk of prison inmates who aren't in gangs nor have ever taken a karate lesson before-in fact I'm shocked in some studies and documentaries that most of them never even heard of the famous Eastern 3s (TKD, karate, Kung Fu) and morseo most of them can't even tell a hook from a jab.

Yet even without getting into contact with the HARDCORE Gangs and witnessing an armbar or MT clinch, after a few months of experience and with constant fighting, these guys are able to learn techniques of such finesse and skill, often as complex (or more than) as Asian martial arts, if not out right resembling them! And many of these inmates in at least one documentaries stated they just learned these techniques either from random instinct int he heat of the moment  (IG slammed to the wall and couldn't punch so they knee out of nowhere even though they never thought of it before) or after observing fights they didn't get involved in and deciding to toy around with prison equipment and test some variable scenarios and techniques in a sparring season with buddies in the same cell.

I mean for christ's sake despite lacking medical manuals and not learning stuff from a gang, one angry prisoner just knew from experience how to disembowel a pedophile! Not to mention I saw one prisoner learn how to make an improvised swinging weapon using a sock and a lock or other hard object like stone or batteries. I was shocked how much it looked like flailing techniques from Medieval War manuals that Knights used when he demonstrated it to the documentary crew and just as much  how at some moment some of his swings look similar to Nunchucks (such as the thrusting).

I thought at first maybe they are copying what they saw in movies before they got locked up so they are using memory to relearn techniques even if they don't have physical learning material like books and DVDs at hand.

However in another documentary taking place in the 60s-70s, just when the Asian martial arts craze was entering its phrase, I saw a murder scene where an Aryan Brotherhood guy literally hit a black guy all in weak points and ended the fight disemboweling him. This specific event took place mid 60s LOOONNG before the Asian invasion came and the documentary goes no further than very early 70s, right before the Bruce Lee craze came. There is literally NO WAY this guy could have learned some Japanese knife art because not only was instructors still so damn few in North America at that point but the guy was incarcerated sometime in the 50s-early 60s and he wa sjust a mere robber before he joined the Aryan Brotherhood when it was formed in the mid 60s.

Another fight shows an inmate doing an armlock to an inmate. Granted this specific prisoner was a wrestler before he got into jail but IIRC the armlock wasn't part of sports wrestling and only became a common fighting technique in the West after the introduction of judo and other Asian styles in North America.

I'll end specific examples here but I was just shocked at how prisoners-without the help of Asian gurus or medieval manuals-were able to learn techniques similar to what you see in MMA and TMA as well as HEMA and Medieval self defense and fencing manuals back in the 1950s-late 60s before the martial arts craze of the 70s. The worst part that got me was not all of these prisoners were ever violent hardened streetfighters like you were, a good number were actually fairly descent people who rarely got involved with direct  violent crimes and were locked up for drug possession, theft, traffic violations, those kind of victimless crimes so they weren't already veteran streetrats who knew lots of tricks.

Why is this? Considering even you admit you would need the help of a genuine instructor with years of experience and nonstop continuous training beyond well beyond a few hours a day to become proficient with killing techniques, I am just so shocked pre-Asian MA invasion prisoners learned how to knee or disembowel someone Samurai style just by fighting other prisoners (a good number who weren't violent criminals before joining).

If uneducated prisoners could learn this stuff on their own without exposure to Asian culture, how come outside even many "street fighters" didn't use such pragmatic techniques like elbowing or swinging a sock with hard objects inside like a flail? I mean most of the criminal records about gang violence and street fights pre-Bruce Lee era that took place outside of prison often describe fights as merely punching with occasion dirty improvised tricks like throwing sand to the eye or  cutting with a broken beer bottle. From police records and picture and camera footage I saw, most street punks and even violence professional didn't even know how to do basic boxing punches and wrestling pins and throws, even their knife techniques seemed to be described as sloppy.

So I ask your take on why outside of prison no one was ingenious to think of kneeing someone as you slam him on the wall or why knife techniques were more on brute force especially since you were born in the 50s and had a violent childhood.

Or is there something very missing from these crime reports, eye witness, and photographs and camera footage?

For example, did your Mexican step-dad ever teach you how to elbow someone or block attacks using your legs a la Muay Thai style or stab with a knife a la Chinese fighting arts techniques?

Did you ever fight a completely untrained person in your teen years who knew how to use a palm fist against you?

I ask because all existing street violence testimonies by policemen and recorded by the police stations before the Bruce Lee craze took over describe fighting as lacking any strategem and technical skill at all and being all about flailing and brute force. Even techniques thought to policemen were limited to boxing, baton, and wrestling and I haven't seen a single manual show a police man how to do a leglock while grappling a larger criminal or how to knee a thug  who pinned you on the wall. I have no reason to believe policemen would not mention rats doing a roundhouse or stuff like that.

Yet prisoners who should have less exposure to the real world already knew stuff like triangle choke, how to hit someone's weak point with a stick like weapon in a similar manner to Escrima, etc as early as the 60s before Bruce Lee's rise to stardom.  Which I don't understand?

The way the historians and enthusiasts of HEMA makes it sound like people COMPLETELY forgot a technique as simple as kneeing someone as a lost old thing of the West until Muay Thai and other Asian arts brought it back to Western fighting.

I have a friend who calls HEMA types necromancers.

I prefer to think of them as Jurassic Park geneticists. Splicing the DNA of extinct things with living things so they create things that look like something long dead.

Is it the original DNA? No. Does it create problems? Yes. Does it actually matter? No.

Lost is also a relative term. Human beings are very clever monkeys. Something we're really good at is coming up with better ways of killing each other. Now that has a direct relationship to technology and environment -- including, believe it or not, clothing.

Simply stated, these things were not lost. They were made obsolete -- usually because of gunpowder. See there are certain things that made victory more likely through out history. One of which is bigger numbers.  Two is better health care (It doesn't matter if you have more numbers if they're all sick with dysentery,  cholera and half starved). Three is better tactics. But overwhelmingly what works best is one side's ability to kill better at a greater distance. First arrows, spears and darts (yes, they were originally weapons). Then catapults, cannons, artillery, planes and now missiles.  The object was to kill as many of them from as far away before you had to get into -- at first -- sword, later rifle range. There is an old Murphy's Law of Combat that sums up close quarter fighting perfectly -- if the enemy is in range so are YOU!

Up close, you NEED certain defensive aspects that either don't matter or can't be done at a distance. You can't block a bullet from a sniper's rifle. You not can, but you have to, block a sword. This is what I mean when I tell people a pistol is not a defensive weapon -- you can't block an incoming attack with it.

What we think of as the 'martial arts' we most common among people who either could not afford guns (at the time) or were not allowed them (or other dedicated weapons). Oddly enough places of limited technology, poverty and tyrannical dictatorships fit the bill the best. They kept these skills alive because they were still relevant.  (Remember it wasn't until 1850 that Japan was forced 'open' by Commander Perry).

So, yeah, that's often the best place to go back and try to create DNA splicing with extinct Western fighting arts. But quite frankly a lot of what they've come up isn't how things were actually done back when. It looks like it, but there's lots of frog DNA spliced into it.  

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Marc MacYoung


Street self-defense, crime avoidance and personal safety


I grew up in the streets of Los Angeles in 'situational poverty.' I have dealt with criminals and violent people all my life -- both personally and professionally. I have written 15 books and 6 videos on surviving street violence. I was originally published under the name Marc Animal MacYoung. (Animal was my street name). I've taught police and military both internationally and within the US. I've lectured at universities, academies and done countless TV, radio, newspaper and magazine interviews. I'm a professional speaker on crime avoidance and personal safety. And I am an expert witness recognized by the US court system. My bio is at My abridged CV (Curriculum Vitae) is at

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Read "In the Name of Self-Defense" the streets don't give a Ph.D in scuffle.

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