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Philopoemen
Training for combat vs training for combat sports with New Ledord
Training for combat vs training for combat sports
New_Ledford
Fri, Dec 11, 7:23 PM (18 hours ago)
Mr. LaFond,
Came across this reading Plutarch's Life of Philopoemen (died 184 BC). Thought it was an interesting point of discussion for modern agonists. Does training for competition make you "soft?"
"Because he was naturally fitted to excel in wrestling, some of his friends and tutors recommended his attention to athletic exercises. But he would first be satisfied whether it would not interfere with his becoming a good soldier. They told him, as was the truth, that the one life was directly opposite to the other; the requisite state of body, the ways of living, and the exercises all different: the professed athlete sleeping much and feeding plentifully, punctually regular in his set times of exercise and rest, and apt to spoil all by every little excess or breach of his usual method; whereas the soldier ought to train himself in every variety of change and irregularity, and, above all, to bring himself to endure hunger and loss of sleep without difficulty. Philopoemen, hearing this, not only laid by all thoughts of wrestling and contemned it then, but when he came to be general, discouraged it by all marks of reproach and dishonour he could imagine, as a thing which made men, otherwise excellently fit for war, to be utterly useless and unable to fight on necessary occasions."
Hope you found that interesting.
Regards,
New Ledford

Thank you. This source was part of my original 1998-2000 reading on ancient boxing for the Broken Dance project.
Philopoemen was a giant in the period of the social disintegration of Hellas and much civil war and coalition warfare in Red-Face-Island. During this period numerous pentathletes, who competed in wrestling and 4 other events, were effective leaders at regimental level. Note that pentathletes, were the welterweight and lightweight and middleweight wrestlers of the age. Being "suited to wrestling" in agons meant that you were a giant physically, as there were no weight classes. Smaller, and more useful militarily, was the pentathlete, the only top level athletes of the age, who would be effective war leaders. In past ages, wrestlers would fight in the front ranks and turned the tides of battle. But in the later Hellenistic Age, wrestlers, boxers and MMA fighters had become professional, touring athletes of the cosmopolitan world, actual internationalist celebrities and some times the bodyguard and drinking companions to politicians, in a world in which military contractors, not citizen soldiers, fought wars. Philopoemen was trying to recreate a citizen militia in a mercenary world, about to be conquered by the professional citizen army of Rome.
The point in this passage, which was written during the later Roman decadent period when the same degradation of athletics into something that only genetic freaks competed in while the normal man watched or pursued other lifeways, is a sign of end stage decay, such as out time, when almost no one wrestles, but millions watch wrestling and MMA.
There had been a change in war-fighting to focus more on light troops and horsemen, and, as in the later Roman period, big beefed up gladiators, while fighting good against legions in street fights and on walls and bridges, were useless for maneuver warfare, because they were too big, required rest, etc.
We have to be careful not to change the meaning of "the professed athlete" to fit our understanding as someone who practices and competes in a form of sports or ritual combat exercise.
Athlete only meant one thing "prize-seeker," and the professed athlete was a full-time celebrity fighter who did nothing for his community and had as a modern analog the touring golf pro.
50 years before Philopoemen an elite wrestler was the only man of his town who fought against Macedonian rule in a battle in Thessaly, where he died defending a city that would not defend itself. But, these heroes would rarely ever be currently competing athletes. The war-leading athletes where more like university quarterbacks who go into military service instead of the NFL, with their proven grit and intelligence in competition at the highest level serving as a recommendation for them as an officer or ambassador for their small hometown once they had reached their 30s. By the time of Philopoemen, and then again in a later cycle of Roman decay, the professional athlete had become a spectacular symbol of sloth, of his egotistical excess and the spectator's sloth.
This story and many others is in All-Power-Fighting.
Also, keep in mind that when we hear or read boxer, wrestler, MMA fighter today, we think of someone who practices that discipline. In the time of Philopoemen, all free men boxed and wrestled as part of the youth training and physical fitness [pankration was only standard among the Spartans]. So when an ancient book is translated to say "Theogenes, the boxer," the modern translator has failed to convey the actual meaning "Theogones, famed for fist-fighting," in a world where every free man boxed.
For the modern man not in military service, the counterpart to Philopoemen and Plutarch's "professed athlete" as indicated by the text, would be the competitive bodybuilder, who requires much rest and nutrition and is generally not an effective combatant.
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New LedfordDecember 12, 2020 7:57 PM UTC

Thanks for the historical context, I'll read your book. The translation is John Dryden's from 1683. Probably wrestlers in his day traveled from town to town taking on all comers, a form of entertainment.

War itself is now almost a spectator sport, in the age of nuclear weapons. No need for mass conscription and training. A handful of pilots and special forces operators fight whatever foreign wars there are.

Martin van Creveld writes about Western children growing up indoors, and being thus at a disadvantage in any violent encounter with former free-range kids. Being shuttled to baseball practice and jiu-jitsu class isn't the same.
responds:December 13, 2020 2:45 AM UTC

The translation is better than more current ones from the 19th and 20th century.

Thanks, this is a fascinating area.