T Nation

Epiphany on Fighting


I don't know how many folks we have here that are well versed in the Civil War, but I had something of an epiphany today whilst watching the movie "Gettysburg."

I'm writing something about the Civil War because of the 150th anniversaries that are going on, so I'm watching the movie for something like inspiration, you could say. I also went to the battlefield last weekend and so it spurred some re-interest on my part.

I've always had trouble when people would relate big texts like "The Art of War" or Von Clausewitz' "On War" to hand to hand combat, to boxing, or whatever. It seemed like to great a leap for me to break something so complicated as mass maneuvers by huge armies down to the individual scale.

But, with Gettysburg, it finally clicked.
Good summary of the battle:

The "sine qua non" of the battle was the ground it was fought on, which heavily favored the Union defenders because they were on a line of hills with exposed fields of fire (generally).

The South's General Longstreet reflected after the first day's battle, which was a tremendous success for the Confederates, that he wanted to see the Southern army NOT attack the union troops where they were, but swing around their line further south and force the Army of the Potomac to attack them instead.

Lee, being the aggressive soul he was, saw the enemy in front of him, and could not help but feel the need to strike at him. Lee, being the commanding general, gave the orders, and so they attacked, and lost.

As I'm watching the movie though, I finally caught on how to break it down to person to person. Longstreet was the type to always look for favorable positions, and let the enemy come at him - and as he described moving to the south, I saw a boxer strike with a sharp 1-2, and the step around his opponent's lead foot and end up perpendicular, making his enemy turn totally around and attack him when HE wants him to attack.

After thinking about it a bit more, I thought of Lee as more of a Pacquiao type - striking from all angles, always looking for the knockout, aggressive nearly to a fault but smart and talented enough that he doesn't get burned as much as a lesser man would.

Grant, I have thought of as Roberto Duran - knows how to act tactically and strategically, but hits so fucking hard, and is so fucking relentless, that he wears you down and just destroys you over the course of 15 rounds.

You get the point.

Either way, I had never previously thought of this in military terms even though I'm well aware that this is not a novel idea, and it's really revolutionizing the way I think about fighting and boxing. Body shots are cutting supply lines - liver punches, the bombing of Dresden. I am hoping that this leads me to be able to interpret works, specifically things like the "Art of War," and be able to apply them better to my own fighting style.

This may indeed have been a totally useless diatribe, but I felt that I should share it.

Any thoughts?



Send a talented writer to a re-enaction and this is what we get.

Well done.

I am exhausted so I might add/edit tomorrow.

First, I always thought Musashi's A Book of Five Rings was more readily transferable to one on one conflict than Sun Tzu's work. Not the least reason being Tzu was a great general and had to preserve forces and secure an overall victory, where as Musashi was a duelist and had had to win every engagement.

I also recommend Takuan Soho's The Unfettered Mind as an intro to the whole Zen-Combat mindset. Followed up with Taisen Deshimaru's The Zen Way to the Martial Arts and Questions to a Zen Master.

On War is pretty much the bible of conflict. Unfortunately, much like scripture it is a long and somewhat meandering text. It never recieved a final edit. Consequently, while I am sure damn near every answer is in there, it can be a life long study to get to the point where the answers spring to hand. The other books I mentioned I have a read them, & now every once in a while re-read them type relationship (I was started on Sun Tzu and Musashi the summer between 6th and 7th grade by my father. Those books in particular will always be dear to me.) On War is more like a constant academic study.

For your boxer/general comparisons:

I don't like the Lee-Pacman analogy.

Lee's real genius was maneuver off the field of battle. His greatest weakness was a lack of support/re-supply infra-structure in the South. He flat out could not afford to waste equipment or resources because he was not in a position to re-supply. As a boxer he would be someone who had craft and could bang, but couldn't really take a lot of damage.

A fighter who had to fight conservatively because ultimately even a take one to land two strategy would turn out bad. The North had equipment, industry, and bodies to spare. So he was facing an opponent who could adopt a take 5 to land one strategy and still win. Maybe Marciano vs the aged and past his prime Lewis? Doesn't really fit.

I think the Pac-Man in the group was Nathan Bedford Forrest (yes that one). He re-wrote the book on how to use cavalry and summed up his strategy with "I got there first with the most men." Used horses in order to race his troops into the positions he wanted. The whole hitting from a ton of angles, speed, speed, speed, and HURT your man style of Pacquiao sort of fits.

He would be a fighter who would come in an angle you couldn't cover. Start damaging you. Press the advantage. And then cut an angle and step away the instant you were in a position to start giving as good as you were getting. Fuck trading. Fuck pretty. Get it done. He also started out as a private, and surrendered his troops as a Lt. General. His doctrine helped make the US army the force it is today.

Of course Forrest was also insrtamental in starting the KKK so, fuck him for that. But you hate Pacquiao, so the comparison might still work.

And Forrest sort of brings us the uncomfortable notion that once the violence starts morals are not the guiding force we wish they were. The notion that I can insult and injure you and when it comes to blood God will grant you the victory that your righteous standing deserves is not born out. Instead the skill/ability to excell at violence is something of an independent factor to being a good, or bad person. I think Forrest is the best on either of our lists, while also being the worst. And I guess that leads us to Machiavelli...

I hope at least some of this makes sense. I am damn near asleep as I type. I apologize for any typos/spelling errors.


Robert A


I always get humbled and impressed the way you guys always dissect and analyze in such a profound and amicable manner about any fighting topics.

I'm starting to be a fan of you two and Sentoguy!


Thanks, but I would give Irish and Sento the credit.

Reading back I notice I made a bunch of spelling errors, and I am pretty sure I used the word "analogy" wrong.

Also, I still do not have a Lee comparison I like. Maybe the old B-Hop that can still get it done by modifying his style? Old George Foreman using a jab and tightening his punches to compensate for his slower reflexes? It is bugging me and my memory is drawing a blank. Someone help.


Robert A


how old are you, if i may ask.

sometimes i think you are an buddhist monk with vast knowledge that sometimes come down from the mountain to shed some light on fighting discussions.


Irish, I think its interesting and cool that you were able to make that connection - especially since it came from watching a live mocked-up battle. I suspect that now you'll begin to see other areas of life reflected in books like the Art of War, as well. Hell, look around at the office, you're surrounded by it.

I discovered this stuff in school when I was assigned to read a biography of Alexander the Great that talked a lot about ancient battle tactics. I was shocked to find myself (19 year old party girl!) completely captivated by the subject matter, and have been ever since.


This thread motivated me to read again the art of war!

I will give my input soon!


that was awesome

If you ever have the time, take a look at The Art of War. It's very similar to your post in that it not only exposes strategy, but gives several analogies, examples, and instances when and/or how to use them.

Of course Sun Tzu was speaking of warfare, but it can easily be used in 1 on 1 combat, or even business settings.
I hear some corporations even make their new and current employees read "the art of war", a version that is adapted for business that is.

I don't remember the exact quote, but Sun Tzu stresses the point of purpose, strategy, and even humbleness in his book. He mentions that a superior should never look down on his soldiers, but treat them with dignity and his soldier will return the favor by fighting with all his might.

I'm with you kaiser, I think i might brush up on my Sun Tzu