An oft-quoted section of Neal Stephenson’s SNOW CRASH states that, until a man is twenty-five, he believes that, under the right circumstances, he could be the biggest badass in the world. Stephenson, who was only a few years past twenty-five when he wrote those words, fails to specify what men believe after they have passed that age. As an example, might a thirty-year-old man believe that he could still be one of the top hundred badasses in the world? Could a forty-year-old man be the biggest badass in Tacoma?
At the age of fifty–double Stephenson’s ultimate-badass deadline–I decided to find out whether, with some hard work, I could at least not suck at the various martial arts that go into Bartitsu. No detailed explanation of Bartitsu will be supplied here, since there is plenty about it on the Internet.
To summarize, the objective is to not suck at the following arts:
- practical shooting with a .45-caliber revolver
- self-defense with a walking stick or cane against armed and unarmed opponents
- Medieval longsword
- 19th-Century military saber
- bare-knuckle pugilism
Readers with a superficial knowledge of Bartitsu will find the inclusion of the medieval longsword somewhat jarring, since it was not part of the original Bartitsu curriculum, but those who have really geeked out on the topic will be aware that the Bartitsu Club was, for a brief time anyway, the headquarters of the historical swordfighting movement in England, and that people like Captain Alfred Hutton could be seen there practicing with longswords, etc. A more verbose rationalization.
As background: as recently as five years ago I was going to the gym during late morning several days a week and working out using weight machines. This was in addition to sword practice a couple of times a week in the evenings. I thought of the gym workouts as stupid and boring, but basically harmless.
Later I began to suffer pain and nerve twitches in my left side and arm, traceable to bad posture that was causing cervical radiculopathy. The style of workout I’d been pursuing was a contributing factor–so it seemed that the gym workouts weren’t so harmless after all. I started to look for other ways to stay in shape.
At the same time, I was doing the math on my martial arts pretentions. Almost all authorities agree that it is necessary to perform thousands of correct repetitions of the moves in order to achieve a basic level of competence–this is a simple matter of building muscle memory. I didn’t have time to do all those reps of all of those moves while still spending time at a gym. So I began thinking about ways to integrate martial arts practice into my daily living patterns.
The result, to make a long story short, is what I am calling the Bartitsu As Lifestyle Experiment, chronicled in this blog.
We begin in medias res in mid-July 2010, after the experiment had already been going on for a while.