Cossack fighting

Discussion in 'Western Martial Arts' started by Kozak, Nov 22, 2011.

  1. Kozak

    Kozak Valued Member

    I've noticed that this area is suprisingly lacking, so I will contribute.

    Europe has many styles of martial arts that have survived through the ages. Although not well thought of or acknowledged in North America, it is the basis of our fighting techniques outside the Asian influences.

    The style I bring to light is that of the cossacks in Ukraine. Being from a land wanted by every major power in Europe and Eurasia, native Ukrainians had to develop some way to protect themselves. It started with the ancient Slavs in what is now Poland, Western Ukraine, and Belarus with highly skilled warriors from each tribe. When the Kyiv'ska Rus empire was founded hundreds of years later, the Rus (Swedish vikings who founded the empire) kings hired errand knights and other special soldiers to protect the borderlands. After the fall of Kyiv'ska Rus by the Mongols, the famous cossack hosts began to appear.

    As early as the mid sixteenth century, the Zaporozhian cossack host founded its fortress on the Dnieper river. Here, men came from all over the land seeking refuge from tyrants. In order to deserve their status as free men, they had to fight, and possibly die, for their comrades and their new soil. At Zorozhye, the cossacks trained every day the art of war. When war came, they marched off under the infallible command of their chief (the Hetman, or Kosh Ataman). At times of peace, the Hetman and the rada (council) had little to no power over the cossacks.

    Many of these men were already master horsemen before they arrived. Life on the steppe, the forests, and the mountains of Ukraine was unforgiving. They were hard men who brought many skills to the table. On top of that, they practiced sabre drills and horsemanship daily. Later on, the cossacks adopted new weapons into their arsenal. Cannons and arquebusi eventually replaced bows and arrows as the chief missile weapons. A cossack man would raise his son to be a warrior from the time he was a baby. He learned to ride, shoot, and fight well before he was fifteen. Also, a cossack had to know how to survive with no provisions on the steppe.

    Today, the cossacks have long since broken apart and new hosts were formed all over Eastern Europe. We know so much about their original fighting style from simply looking at the influences. Also, the various cossack dances showcase ways in which they fought. Walking around squatted allows for leg muscles to build, thus assisting in riding the horse. The high kicks were literally for kicking enemies in the head. The various ways the sabre and lance are used in the dances say a lot as well.

    There is so much to the European fighting tradition, yet, sadly, almost no one cares.

    I myself am attempting to recreate this art. I practice every day how to wield a lance, how to fight with my fists, how to properly utilize a sabre, and how to ride a horse effectively.
  2. Hannibal

    Hannibal Cry HAVOC and let slip the Dogs of War!!! Supporter

    This sounds genuinely interesting.

    Are you using texts and documents from the period or is more a case of preserving the spirit as much as the actual techniques?

    Is your focus preservation or are you concerned with applicability in a modern context?
  3. Kozak

    Kozak Valued Member

    I am using a few historical texts, looking at the techniques of modern cossack hosts, specific forms of Ukrainian dance. I hope to somehow recreate the spirit of the way the cossacks fought instead of seeing it "just" as some other way to fight. It was specific to the places the men came from. A few even came from Turkey. It helps to research the known places of origin.

    My focus is both preservation and useage in a modern setting. There are various schools in Ukraine that teach a modern version, which they call "byovyy hopak" (battle hopak, hopak being a type of cossack dance). The idea is to be able to actually defend myself, not just show form.
  4. Hannibal

    Hannibal Cry HAVOC and let slip the Dogs of War!!! Supporter

    Awesome! There is a WMA group here in Calgary and one of the Instructors posts here all teh time. They may be interested/able to help out
  5. Kozak

    Kozak Valued Member

    There is a deep spiritual aspect to how the cossacks live. The idea of warriors defending the borders and lands of their people is an ancient one in Ukraine. Basically, the term "cossack" means "free man" or "roamer" in old Ruthenian and Ukrainian. Before the Christianization of the Slavs, tribal warriors would swear an oath to the god of their tribe to defend their people at all costs. Should they fall, the gods would recognize that as a good death and give them a seat in the halls of their ancestors. It's very similar to the old Norse ways.

    The "modern" cossacks were Christian Orthodox. They pledged aleigence to God, the host, and the persuit of freedom. These warriors were prepared to die for any of these factors. I guess you could say that this was their warrior code.
  6. Kozak

    Kozak Valued Member

    Oh wow, that's really neat. I'll have to track him down.
  7. Hannibal

    Hannibal Cry HAVOC and let slip the Dogs of War!!! Supporter

  8. Kozak

    Kozak Valued Member

  9. Stolenbjorn

    Stolenbjorn Valued Member

    Just a plea from a fellow WMA'er: Be very clear about the sources you base your interpretations on, and divide between the techniques that are 100% based on a source and what is "inspired" by your imagination of how the cossacs were.

    I live in Norway, the land of vikings that everybody knows a lot about without actually having any sources to back their claims :yeleyes: Thus we have the ex-hippie-vikings, the "oh so blootthirsty berserker-frenzy-testosteron-vikings", the "we are too young to be hippies, so we claim to be druids/shamans/runemasters-vikings" and the plastic-cliche, "let's push as much Hong-Kong-made plastic-trinkets on package-cruize-tourists from USA/england/italy/russia/spain that happens to pass by our genuine viking camp"-vikings

    Sorry if I sound a bit harsh, and I have no problems with interpretations, self made combat-styles "inspired" by something, as long as it is flagged as such, and not presented to the unsuspecting as the ultimate, genuine 100% truth about how the [insert charismatic ethniq group with no source-material here]'s fought :)
  10. Kozak

    Kozak Valued Member

    No, it's not harsh. I'm actually glad you brought that up. I do not want to tell anyone that what I am doing here is genuine, but it doesn't prevent me from explaining the differences between the known facts and my own interpretations. When people ask for resources, I can provide resources. But until then take it as one person's interpretation.

    Thanks for pointing that out.
  11. Polar Bear

    Polar Bear Moved on

    I think you'll find the Cossack Traditions alive and well in Russia and the Ukraine. You'll also find the Cossack fighting style is European sabre which is also alive and well in Europe.

    The Bear.
  12. slipthejab

    slipthejab Hark, a vagrant! Supporter

  13. Oddsbodskins

    Oddsbodskins Troll hunter 2nd Class

    Fascinating subject, can offer little direct contribution but will be keen to see how this plays out, I hope you'll keep us all posted.
  14. Kozak

    Kozak Valued Member

    I'll let you guys know how it's turning out by probable weekly updates to my exercise log thread and this one too. I might even have videos. It'll probably be at least a year before I get a new horse, so none of that for a while.
  15. lorenzodamarith

    lorenzodamarith Project: Chaos!


    cossacks are an interesting lot for sure. have yet to meet a russian or ukrainian man born in the 60's or earlier that does not admire these warriors.

  16. Quincyma80

    Quincyma80 Valued Member

    Taras Bulba

    Hollywood taught me everything I needed to know about the Cossack martial arts tradition and culture in the little-known 1962 movie titled "Taras Bulba" starring Yul Brynner as a Cossack leader and father of rebellious Tony Curtis who was sent to Poland to get civilized.

    The challenge match (riding) horsemanship duel at dawn was interesting - because FYI the worst thing you could do was to call a Cossack a coward. A duel to the death was the only satisfactoy option.

    ...and of course Hollywood always got their historical facts in their storylines validated [sarcasm]
  17. Kozak

    Kozak Valued Member

    With all due respects, are you trying to undermine what I am doing? Unless you say otherwise, I have cause to think what you said was meant to be offensive.
  18. Quincyma80

    Quincyma80 Valued Member

    No offense meant - BTW didn't see your signature line so you know all about the Taras Bulba movie.
  19. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Molon Labe

    Mission accomplished!

    Kozak, you are more than welcome to come train with us. If part of your work is reconstruction, then it might be useful to come and see how some people do it.

    Lucky for you, we are currently doing a unit on the Messer which might transfer nicely to your sabre work.

    There is also a jousting club in Calgary where you can get your lance skills together. Many of the old German texts have extensive instructions on fighting from horseback as well.

    Best regards,

  20. Kozak

    Kozak Valued Member

    Thanks for the reply, Langenschwert.

    I'm going to contact both of the groups this week. Also, I appreciate the welcoming. I hope to get in line with some of you fellow swordsmen at some point.


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