Digression…or is it oral history?

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Do you ever tell a story and say, ‘But I digress?’

How many times has your teacher digressed…what have you missed by letting him get refocused? Why did you not push that story and learn more?

Martial artists know it too well. I remember living in LA and going to AikiExpo and meeting so many people, with so many stories to tell after. I tell these stories, to many laughs by my ever-patient friends. I often say, ‘I digress…’

But, what is digression, in the combatives and martial art world.

We should never be afraid to digress. I just had a birthday and I was telling a story and I said, ‘I digress’ and my friends said, ‘No, digress, digress.’

I have a history degree. I tried the master’s route. My thesis was on Russian style and it’s history. My other papers spanned many different stories of American Civil War history. I know digression too well – from interviewing WW1 and WW2 vets, to speaking to experts about massacres in long forgotten but often visited mill towns of Georgia. I have seen from Europe to Russia, from master’s in school to drunks in bars, hearing stories of martial art and physical culture greatness. Men who could lift kettlebells larger than another man to my own grandfather digressing about his cigar while he caught the largest bass any man in his small Alabama town had ever seen.

The truth is, digression is a form of oral history. Oral history is passed down differently than written history. Written history tends to lose the flavor, the personality, the ambiance and larger-than-life aspects, grounded in truth but told in story that oral history gains.

I remember being told of great men who used broad swords not in combat, but against the legs of charging cavalry in battle because their steel was not quality enough in production to match blade on blade, so they switched to smaller kindjal’s in hand to hand combat to save their sword.

But, I digress.

We can never forget the stories of days gone by, be it 15 years, or 1500 years. I have always been a man of story and a man of physics and science.

But, it is in these digressions, the oral history, where lessons are learned, not only in the stories of combat of old, but in the lessons learn by the survivors, giving us small pieces of history not covered by a historian or a history book. We learn not only to be students, but we learn to be teachers – to tell stories to draw our students in, to correlate between themselves and those we tell stories about, and to show them that feats of courage, foolishness, discipline, and substance that still matter in this world where we too often look at the bias of news – versus the personalities of the story teller.

There is a certain truth in oral history, passed down and altered by generations. I have trained with Apache and Cherokee on their tomahawk skills, to the descendants of settler’s who speak of the Bowie knife and tomahawk. I have trained with American and Russian special forces, and seen the commonality in story and love of a good story.

But I digress.

In the world we exist in, be it lifting heavy kettlebells, doing 200 push ups, executing the perfect throw, throwing the perfect hook for a knock out in the 1940’s, or dragging a drunk person through rough streets, or the small dog who won the big fight…

We are left with stories of men who base things in the fact, but it is the flavor of digression that teach us about the form of the kettlebell lift…the military competitions that led to 200 push ups…the sambo master that taught the perfect throw…the ship in the Pacific theater of WW2 that taught my grandfather the perfect hook, or when I was in NY and pulled a celebrity through the roughest club and mass attack I have seen…or my dog Audie who at 9 months got the best of a scrap with a 120 pound dog who towered over him.

I remember being fitted for my Kadochnikov School uniform, the pride my teacher took in photographing me in this uniform at military parks, on T-34 tanks. It was a proud day…but I digress πŸ™‚

We should never view a great story as digression – we should look to the insight of oral history and learn from them.

Great stories are rarely made up from scratch, as rumors have a grounding truth.

Next time someone says, ‘But I digress,’ push them to expound…you’ll be surprised by what you learn.

And take pride in that knowledge…you never you when you’ll digress and create a legend all your own.

One digression – a goofy American kid named Matt in a Kadochnikov School uniform. πŸ˜‰

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