What is Stav?

By Graham Butcher:

Charlie kindly asked me to contribute to this site after our Stav demonstration in the Martial Arts Festival which was held in Bath in May 2010. After a gap of a few months I am very pleased to do so. Members of Ice and Fire Stav were honoured to take part in the Festival and since Stav is a relatively unknown training system it gave us a valuable opportunity to showcase our practice. I am also grateful for the opportunity here to explain more about Stav and shed more light on its unusual origins.

Stav was brought to the UK by Ivar Hafskjold see http://www.iceandfire.org.uk/who.html in the early 1990s. Ivar grew up in postwar Norway where he learned the family tradition of body, mind and spirit training from his Grandfather and elder uncles. Stav had been passed down through the family for many generations but was being lost simply because the post war generation were
finding better things to do such as studying at university etc. There is a similar trend in the orient today where Japanese and Chinese young people would frequently rather play baseball than learn traditional Bushido or Taoist arts. Ivar however had a serious interest and learned as much as he could from his uncles and Grandfather but there was a limit to what his elderly mentors could teach him on the practical side of things. So in his early 30s he went to Japan where he remained for 14 years and during that time made an intensive study of Japanese martial arts.

Stav literally means “knowledge of the rune staves” and these 16 symbols are the basis for the system. See: http://www.iceandfire.org.uk/stav.html They are used most directly as posture, breath and meditation exercises which we call the stances. When performed in their basic form the stances look very much like a simple Tai chi form. The more advanced versions use chants to enhance breath and raise energy levels and these are comparable to Chi gung forms. If you daily practice Stav then your Stav practice is to do one version or another of the Stances every day and these are a sort of Kata. The runes have all kinds of uses beyond the relevance of this article but one of their purposes is to reveal the Web of Orlog. This simply means the underlying reality of a situation. The web is made up of lines. These may be lines of a structure, or lines of effort and energy, or simply lines of intent. In a combat situation there are lines which connect you to the opponent and vice versa. There are lines that matter and
those that don’t. When attacked we need to be aware of the lines of force which can hurt us, so avoid or divert them. Also the lines which are of no importance and simply ignore them. When countering we are looking for the line or lines which will collapse the attacker’s web and neutralise them. This means more than just hitting someone on a vulnerable spot, although that can be pretty effective. We are aiming to take the line through the body and thus disrupt their balance and take them down.

In order to develop an awareness of the lines repeated cutting practice is used.
Actually cutting wood with an axe or sax (Scandinavian equivalent of a machete,
Anglosaxon; Seax) was probably the traditional way of doing it and this is a very effective way of learning to take a clean line very accurately. But we also do the kind of cutting training that comes from Ken jutsu or the striking exercises which come from Jo jutsu. These Ivar learned during his 14 years in Japan where he attained 4th dan in both these arts. We now use the axe and full length staff rather than boken and jo but the principle is still the same. This weapon practice teaches us to work with the lines outside the body while the stances teach us to use them internally.

The third element of Stav training is practising drills which teach the five principles of Stav. Ivar teaches five simple exercises with the staff defending against attacks with sword or axe which he learned from his grandfather. These are our traditional Kata and it is the application of their lessons which makes Stav effective.  I’ll briefly outline the five principles: The first one is called the Trel or slave principle and this one teaches you to back off from a situation where you have no real interest in getting involved. The second is the Karl or freeman principle which is about keeping people out of your space. The third is the Herse or warrior principle which is about enforcing your will on an opponent and taking them under control. The fourth is the Jarl or priest principle which is where you deal with the attacker by disassociation. The fifth the Konge or king principle which is where you take them down simply because you can, or take the consequences. Over the past 20 years we have developed a number of two person drills with different weapons and unarmed which teach the five principles. These are effectively short kata with very direct applications. In all
training we are looking to work with the web and this very often means using one
stance or another, or combinations of them to provide techniques and to interpret the technique according to the principles we are working on.

This has created a very satisfying martial training system to work with and it provides a very practical selfdefence training system too. This works because we learn how to act in a conflict situation before we need to worry about what we should actually do.  Supposing the classic: “Who the **** do you think you are looking at?” scenario starts to develop? If it is none of your business and there is nothing to prove then you adopt the Trel mindset which is solely concerned with avoiding getting hurt, this means being firm and confident but strongly communicating the message that you are not going to fight and simply removing yourself from the situation. If grabbed or punched your response would simply be to put sufficient distance between you and the attacker to render any further attack pointless. Once your tormentor has proved his point that
he is “the man” and you are “not worth it” then hopefully he will cease.

If the scenario is someone trying to force their way into your home or other space for which you are responsible then you need to operate on the Karl level. This basically ensures that an intruder doesn’t get past you. Again you hope that confidently communicating the message that they are not going to be allowed to come in will do the trick and most of the time it will. If they do try to force their way in then shifting your body so that you can block their head and lead foot simultaneously will prevent their entering, once momentum is checked then pushing them outside and shutting the door or calling for help should be possible.

If you do have some responsibility for keeping order, such as being a policeman or a doorman then you are in the Herse role. In this case the key is to make sure that an opponent knows that you have the authority to order them to leave or detain them. If you can communicate this effectively then you will probably manage the situation just fine. But if you do have to get physical then the person should be taken off balance and controlled as decisively as possible. You should of course also have some way of summoning back up as soon as possible.

In the case of dealing with multiple opponents or you have greater concern than the fact you are being attacked, dealing with a casualty for example, then you are probably in a Jarl role. This means you are allowing your sub conscious mind to deal with the attack while your conscious mind focuses on more significant matters. This can be very effective but does require a well trained mind set.

Back to the idiot who was bothering you in the first example. He doesn’t back off when you made it clear you didn’t want to fight him, his mates are blocking your escape , no one around is likely to help you so what have you spent 20 years studying martial arts for anyway? The Konge attitude is: “ a minute from now he is going to be very sorry he picked on me, or I will realise that I might as well have being doing embroidery rather than sweating in a dojo.”

It should also be clear that it is your responsibility to be honest with yourself as to which principle you can realistically get away with any given situation and switch principles when necessary. They are essentially options for choices, you make the choice, you live or die with the one you make.

It should also be clear that although the concepts can be explained in a few hundred words it takes years of correct training and regular practice to get to the point where “seeing” the lines and using them instinctively becomes second nature. I will look at some of the ways we train for this in subsequent articles.

Courses are held regularly at various venues, the next one is near Salisbury on the 5th of February: http://www.iceandfire.org.uk/train.html

And if you would like the opportunity to train with Ivar himself then we hold the Stav Summer Camp in July: http://www.stavcamp.org

 

Note from Charlie: If you would like to find out more about Stav and are unable to attend any of Graham’s courses, then you might like to consider his book.

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