Some anthropologists believe that the fundamental unifying quality of men is their knack for warfare. This is what gave them their almost universal status as the dominant sex across many civic and agrarian societies. This is a bittersweet reality. I for one, see it as empowering. The traditional tendency for warfare is to use violence in a way that minimizes risk and damage for ones own society. Sun Tsu and Machiavelli would describe this as knowing when to, and when not to engage in combat. In warfare and fighting, temperance is as much a virtue as berserk rage, fearlessness, and desensitization. Knowing exactly how much force to apply, and doing so with grace is a fundamental principle of martial arts/martial culture.
One of the best embodiments of this is Dioxippus, the famous ancient Greek Olympic pankratiast.
Pankration was the ancient Greek martial art known as “whole fighting” – pan (across) – kratos (fighting…or something like that). It was one of the most important events in the olympics games. It combined both wrestling and boxing, as well as kicks, joint locks, and chokeholds. Fighters engaged one another naked, and the referee held a stick to keep both warriors in check. There were only a few basic rules – forbidding eye gouges and the like. In practice pankration would seem very similar to contemporary MMA, there were even different words used for ground fighting and stand-up. It is even safe to assume that some elements of ground fighting from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu could have been present. Pankration originally came from a tradition of Indo-European martial arts, which spread from India through to China and Japan, giving birth to Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Karate, Kung fu, etc. The main focus of these grappling and striking oriented styles was to cultivate a warrior culture through a game of dominance/submission. Fighters could compete with one another for status, but were relatively safe from lethal injury. Submission was expressed by raising a finger in the air.
However, deaths did occur in the ring, one of the most famous was when a fighter actually won a championship by breaking his opponents ankle in a footlock, immediately before being choked to death himself. The dead fighter was awarded victory, as his opponent was the only one to signal for a submission.
(from wikipedia- “Pankration”)
In an odd turn of events, a pankration fighter named Arrhichion (Ἀρριχίων) of Phigalia won the pankration competition at the Olympic Games despite being dead. His opponent had locked him in a chokehold and Arrhichion, desperate to loosen it, broke his opponent’s toe (some records say his ankle). The opponent nearly passed out from pain and submitted. As the referee raised Arrhichion’s hand, it was discovered that he had died from the chokehold. His body was crowned with the olive wreath and taken back to Phigaleia as a hero.
So Dioxippus was a famous Athenian pankratiast, and a total badass mother fucker. He was basically considered an invincible being and took home a bunch of wreaths at the olympic games by default, every other pankratiast was afraid to fight him. He was also a hoplite in Alexander’s army, a citizen-soldier normally armed as a spearman that fought in Phalanx formations. During the course of the Asiatic campaign, as the alpha lion he was, he inevitably incurred some jealousy.
On one occasion he was challenged to fight to the death in front of Alexander the Great with one of Alexander’s most skilled soldiers, Coragus. Coragus showed up in full hoplite armour. Dioxippus showed up oiled up and naked with nothing but a club/stick, kind of like a modern karate bo. He easily defeated him using the principles of pankration, and sent an important message to the entire army – “No Greek soldier’s honour was worth the life of another Greek soldier; their priorities were to fight the enemy, not each other”. Dioxippus was a cool-headed and very reasonable son of a bitch. What could be a more admirable manly virtue than combining almost invincible power with reserve and compassion?
Sadly, Dioxippus had such a hard on for honour that after he was falsely accused of theft, he killed himself rather than facing the shame of humiliation. Warrior culture and power is a double-edged sword; their lives are often short-lived, and warriors are given status by virtue of their expendability.