Old Polish warrior's path - psychophysical and martial preparation of a young nobleman in modern Poland.

        By military preparation we understand martial arts training indispensable for war: in ancient times in Poland martial arts or combat skills, both empty-handed as well as with weapons, were closely related to their use in war, as opposed to the present times where apart from some troops or police they possess a sporting (unbeknownst to the Poles in ancient times, because even tournaments were in the nature of preparation for war), recreational, self-defense character or promote their own physical and spiritual development.

        In the sixteenth to eighteenth century, the pattern of knight training was a continuation of experiences and examples from the earlier centuries, when the sons of Polish knights were undergoing a training similar to their descendants. However, it is fully justified to apply the name "knight training" for the 16-17 and even 18th centuries because Polish warriors continued to be called and considered knights and cultivated knight's standards. The training took place on many levels, both in the development of the spirit and body, physical exercise and combat techniques; it began from an early age.

    - Even in the infant period small children were inured to the hardships, so that they would be strong and healthy - they were given regular baths, also in cold water, sometimes even twice a day, exposed to difficult conditions, well fed; noble children grew up into strong warriors. Numerous foreign travelers had always emphasized the well-built and "war-like" profiles of the Polish nobility,

     - Proper nutrition was the basis, just like nowadays, they ate what provided a lot of protein or omega acids - meat, fish, eggs, groats or vegetables, often as an addition to dishes. According to research carried out not only in Western Europe, in the modern period the largest consumption of meat in the world fell on the European continent. In Poland, prosperous in meats and healthy fish as well, grew the strongest (according to many travelers) men in Europe - and by analogy - in the world. Strong, tall, inured were an ideal "building material" for knighting and met the needs of the field of glory. It is worth noticing that even in the era of Napoleonic wars, Polish soldiers had the deserved fame of the strongest people in the Great Army.

    - Psychophysical development followed the education process. Not knowing the methods of meditation commonly used in martial arts of the East, Poles shaped their minds, tempered them and developed in deep coherence with the Christian faith, love of the Fatherland and devotion to its affairs or even the cult of ancestors as role models.

    - According to the writings of the thinkers and teachers of the 16 and 17th centuries, drawing more from the ancient heritage than from the West, because Poles diverged in the war comprehension from Western Europe, there can be determined physical exercises that affect the development of the body like lifting weights, playing football , running, swimming, jumping, dancing, throwing stones, lifting heads in hand in order to get it used to a saber, walking in heavy armor, jumping on a wooden horse, lifting weights on the back and even digging a ditch or dike and crossing or jumping over them.

     - Martial arts training in modern Poland consisted of many elements, amongst which undoubtedly the most important was sabre fencing. A highly developed collage of fighting methods of East and West, subjected to the battlefield, created one of the most effective fighting methods in the world. Exercises started with the so-called short stick fighting, or armoured inurement with wooden sticks; they were run from early youth. Analogies to other martial arts around the world can seen here. Attack and defensive techniques alongside with more developed fencing techniques were taught. It was a preparation for the saber fight, the basic weapon of the Polish nobleman. When the sabers were trained, there were added various tests of cutting skills, whether it was cutting clay pyramids, cutting tossed silk handkerchiefs or decapitating Muslim Turk or Tartar mannequin heads whilst riding.

     - Wrestling, a hand-to-hand combat training including various levers, breaks and throws, both without weapons, as an independent element of training and as an element of fencing, were inseparably associated with fencing, where advanced wrestling and disarmament techniques were used during the shorter distance combat. Fist fighting was also known, but  was not particularly valued as not very useful on the battlefield there.

      - Another element was horse training, from an early age both as a purely utilitarian, horse riding exercise - as a means of transportation - but also with a warhorse training - an immanent martial art on horseback where the rider with his horse constituted one combat unit, fighting with cold weapons - sabre, broadsword, koncerz or pole weapons, like bear spear, or the most important weapon of the hussar, famous six meter long hussar lance . This is related to the famous ring-chasing, a kind of training, often competitive, quasi-sporting, but still focused on war. There were also javelin and spear throws.

     - Poles were famous as perfect lancemen and many phenomenal victories are due to the skills of wielding a hussar lance. Of course, the Polish warrior also trained in the use of the bow, from an early age, both in shooting at shields and during hunting, which was also emphasized by writers of the period. Shooting from a recurve bow, on foot and on horseback, was an important element of training, strengthened the body and was useful in the battle. Poles were known as excellent archers, together with Turks they were considered the leading archers in Europe. Of course, they were also trained in shooting firearms.

      An important issue was a very modern approach to the training methodology itself, showing that many things so emphasized nowadays are not only a twentieth century invention. It was given to us by a Pole Szymon Petrycy, a professor of the Cracovian Academy in the seventeenth century. It is a division of the exercising method into two types, in strict accordance with ancient patterns. The first of them is a non-recommended, immoderate character of exercises, without paying attention to age, strength, body's ability - leading to exhaustion, ugliness, devastating body and spirit, disfiguring because of excessive loads, cruel and unreasonable. Forceful fencing was also supposed to inhibit the growth of the body, so it was not recommended as well. However, the ideal of the workout that was aimed at was to combine all the elements into one, hence the application of not very strenuous exercises, with attention to age, strength and time, so that the layouts and type of exercises were individually tailored to the practitioner, with strong emphasis on the purpose of these exercises, a conscious training, also with attention to diet. Generally, four hundred years ago, Old Polish training was based on a balanced division into appropriate general development exercises (strength, endurance and fitness, both with body weight and weights) as well as technical ones – again - tailored to the abilities of the practitioner, proper diet necessary for healthy body and spirit development and regeneration, which allowed for the maximum use of the effort put into exercise and ensuring a long and healthy life without injury, which makes the impression even more, considering the lack of current research obtained thanks to modern medicine. The ideal is for the warrior to stay healthy and conduct knightly exercises almost until the end of his life, so that even after sixty he can serve the Fatherland in military terms, transfer his knowledge and skills onto future generations and even after leaving service, teach his sons or grandsons.


       Let us briefly take a look at the stages of the Polish warrior's path, from the very beginning to the fully shaped knight-warrior who in direct combat was, as a rule, invincible on the battlefield.

    - hardening in infancy, exposure to harsh conditions, getting used to hardships,

     - the children's period where together with the teaching of religious and patriotic values the care of knightly education was taken by the father, uncle or grandfather and he introduced the young nobleman into the world of "knight's games". For noblemen, a great example was the example of older, more important, better trained people and their authority to adepts,

      - adolescence, when during school education (outside the family home), in addition to expanding knowledge, the body was exercised in numerous outdoor activities but first of all developed fighting skills with short sticks, which served to obtain proficiency at the beloved weapon of the Polish nation - a sabre.

      - for a part of older youth who have often completed the education stage at schools, further knight training took place either through the foreign trips in the 16 and the first half of the 17th century (where apart from exploring the world, expanding knowledge and acquiring the "splendor" many noblemen trained their fighting skills) or through practical experience of the battlefield, alongside their family or family friends,

     - period of maturity, often a long-term military service, or a gentry or political career, always with the duty to fight in the event of a mass mobilisation in the event of a threat to the Fatherland,

      - the period of old age, where personal examples were passed on to the next generations, and teaching the young martial arts and watching over their correct and comprehensive development.

       It is also worth mentioning that in Poland not only men but also women could surprise with their strength or proficiency at arms, sometimes fighting the enemy with weapons or supporting their husbands or brothers.

       The Polish path of the warrior was a long, not easy but coherent and reasonable and effective way nevertheless. Exercises were conducted with respect for their teachers and respect for the whole martial art, as the great hetman of the Crown Stanisław Żółkiewski wrote to his son - "Do not wish to become a master right away, lest you get lost" - the awareness that the effects do not come quickly, but when they do, the warrior will be both healthy and fit, and for long years.


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