Monthly Archives: February 2012

Go Warrior Oddity


On the topic of shashkas, there was a TV series a few years ago called “Go Warrior”. The host, a young American martial artist called Roland Osborne went around the world investigating different martial arts: Korean Taekwondo, Brazilian Jiujitsu… and Russian Systema.

At some point, someone uploaded the systema programme to YouTube in three parts, which is where I first saw it. I had only recently heard about systema and was trying to find out more about it. I had read in William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition that systema had roots in Cossack dance, and these clips online showed me what that was all about. It was from the same segment that I learned that those cool Cossack swords were called shashkas.

There was a lot of really interesting material in those three clips; I would like to have embedded them here, but they appear to have vanished recently. They showed Roland training with Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev in Moscow – a very interesting session because Tabby Cat is there in the background, and because I hear that Alexei Kadochnikov came to visit; a meeting that I see described on some sites as being the only time that Ryabko and Kadochnikov have met, though with all the factionalism that afflicts systema, I have no idea how true that is. It shows cossack dance-fights, a relaxation exercise with a dropped knife, a fight involving a knout… Lots of really good stuff.

It is in fact still available from someone else as one long clip:

Anyway, I do like to see people rewarded for their efforts so, having enjoyed what I saw on YouTube and learned a lot from it, I decided to buy the original DVD from budovideos.com (especially given that it was on sale!). It took three weeks to arrive, but when I eventually got time I put it into my Macbook, got ready to watch… and was very disappointed indeed. It’s almost entirely a different program – plainly from the same filming sessions, but incredibly lightweight, with almost none of the interesting material.

I simply don’t understand – how could the DVD be so different from what showed up on YouTube?

Think shashka

2

A couple of years ago, when I was first getting interested in shashkas, the Cossack sabres, I spent quite a bit of time searching YouTube for clips. I was using Google Chrome as my browser even then, and using its auto-translate feature to find Russian-language videos. I think I searched pretty comprehensively, and found most of what there was to see.

Anyway, that was a couple of years ago, and some good stuff has appeared since then. Here’s some of the clips that I’ve been watching recently:

Dance with a shashka:

Some work with a shashka from the ground:

Keeping the shashka close to the body:

Some basic sparring moves with a shashka:

As some readers will remember, I had some shashkas while I was in China: two stainless steel reproductions, and one ‘real’ shashka that could hold an edge, although I never did actually sharpen it. The first two were a make I’ve never seen anywhere else; very similar to the Denix model, but with big differences in the decoration of the hilt and scabbard. The other one was supposed to be an original Soviet sword, according to the seller, and came with a Moisin-Nagant bayonet attached to the scabbard, which was missing its leather cover. It turned out to be a fake, of a sort that was being sold in large numbers on eBay, but it handled very nicely all the same.

I used to take them to Zhongshan park – slung over by back in sword bags as I cycled through the Beijing traffic – and try out sword dancing of the kind shown in the videos above. I got reasonably proficient, although not to the standard of the women in the clips! Nobody ever gave me any problems, although I was a source of fascination to the Chinese squaddies marching out the barracks in the centre of the park, and on their way to train in the Forbidden City.

Anyway, when I came back to Wales, I decided I couldn’t bring my shashkas; it seemed that they would fall foul of very strict UK laws on the import or sale of curved swords (under the same laws, straight swords are fine, which makes no sense). So, with great regret, I left them with my friend S., along with my Chinese sabres.

Since I returned, I’ve discovered that I probably needn’t have worried; there are plenty of shops selling Chinese and other sabres. Nobody was selling shashkas, though. I found some sites overseas selling them, but they were either the Windlass version (which I wouldn’t buy, as the handle looks completely wrong to me), or Russian makers I knew nothing about. I also didn’t want to run the risk of buying one and then having it confiscated by customs.

However… last week, I found a UK-based retailer selling shashkas from WeaponEdge, an Indian-based manufacturer whose swords seem to get pretty decent reviews – and the shashka, in particular, got a very good write-up on the Sword Buyers’ Guide user forums.

I’m tempted. Very, very tempted…