Frequently Asked Questions About Stav

Since Stav is a Northern European Tradition are there any restrictions on who can learn Stav?

Anyone with a desire to study will be welcomed, one's race or religion is of no concern to Stav. It might be somewhat more difficult to grasp concepts if you have a non-European educational background, but otherwise there is no problem.

Ivar Hafskjold

Do you do free fighting with protection to see if your training works?

This question came up as a response to a course I was promoting on Facebook. It is a reasonable question as a lot of people think that some kind of free sparring is the ultimate form of combat training. We don't do freestyle training in Stav for several reasons.

Stav is not a sport or duelling system. If winning one on one fights for honour or prizes were our main objectives then that is what we would train for. If you are training for ruled based one on one combat which will take place under controlled conditions then some kind of free play with protection will make sense. However, what we are really talking about is winning or losing a fair fight. I have seen it suggested that if you ever get into a fair fight in the real world you are guilty of a lack of forward planning. In my own opinion, if it gets to the stage that you are sorting a problem out by hitting someone then something has gone seriously wrong.

Violence almost never comes out of nowhere and for no reason. If you have genuine awareness of your situation and you can see the threads of past and future connecting to the present then you should be able to avoid violence affecting you at all. If you do have to manage a violent encounter then you need to consider the principle you will be using. So, depending upon the situation you are in and the opposition you face, you will have to adopt one of the following strategies: You might just back off from the situation. You might have to defend a physical position or boundary. It may be appropriate to seek to impose authority on a trouble maker. Or it might be necessary to disengage so that you can keep an overview of the situation. In extremis you might have to face death with courage for the sake of honour

. In order to know which principle to use you have to be able to see the threads of the web in time and space. I personally feel that free sparring has little part to play in learning to see the web that connects you to past and future and to all the rest of creation. Neither will sport fighting enable you to deeply ingrain the lines and behaviour needed to apply each of the five principles.

The best starting point for learning the lines and principles of Stav will be training with carefully designed drills for each principle under an expert teacher. As you gain experience you can experiment with different interpretations of techniques, try different weapons and unarmed training. Your training partner will need to understand the purpose of training and be able to attack effectively while still being safe to practise with. In a sense we can be safe by wearing full protective equipment and obeying certain rules. However, to me that is the height of unreality since few people wear much in the way of armour these days and an attacker who really means you harm will have no concern for rules of any kind. More likely you will see what your antagonist intends and you will have to decide what response will give you the best chance of surviving the situation. In Stav we prepare for such situations by practising five principles drills with a variety of weapons and unarmed.

Graham Butcher

Stav is just bastardised Jodo.

This was a statement rather than a question but it is still worth dealing with. There is a grain of truth in this assertion as Ivar did spend 14 years in Japan studying traditional Japanese martial arts. These included Jo Jutsu, Ken Jutsu and Aki Jutsu. Did this experience have an influence on the development of Stav as we teach it today? Of course it did and Ivar's Japanese experience and education in the martial arts is always included in any explanation of Stav as a Martial Art.

It is important to state the difference between Do arts and Jutsu arts. At a risk of generalising Do arts have tended to become sport activities, as in Kendo and Judo or are practised for spiritual and personal development although (not in a western religious sense) as in Aikido and Jodo. Jutsu arts seek to retain the battlefield skills of the Samurai warriors and do not usually involve any kind of competitive sparring. These traditional arts do put a strong emphasis on individual practice and two person drills. Repetitive cutting and striking practise in your own time is considered essential to your development if you become a student of a Jutsu art. This requirement has become a part of modern Stav.

Ivar arrived in Japan with the knowledge of Stav that he had gained from his family as a young man. Stav was not taught within his family in any formal or structured sense, the tradition was simply absorbed as you grew up, if you were interested enough to pay attention. This method of transmission seems to have worked quite well for several hundred years. However, by the second half of the 20th century family traditions were largely displaced by modern education, careers, sports, mass entertainment and all the other distractions of modern life. The situation is very similar in modern Japan where teachers of traditional arts find it hard to attract and keep dedicated students. This was partly why Ivar was accepted into a traditional Ryu (school) as a student and later as a teacher himself.

The challenge for Ivar was to take what he had learned in the way of principles and exercises which he had learned from his family and use his Japanese experience to create a training system which would mean that Stav could be taught outside of a family context. When Ivar explained his intention to his Japanese teachers they were apparently sympathetic and encouraged him to preserve and develop his family tradition. The Japanese masters knew they were effectively facing the same situation , or will be soon.

When Ivar returned to Europe in 1992 I began training with him in Driffield. We began training with jo and boken which were the weapons Ivar was most familiar with at the time. Ivar's skill with the sword/boken meant that we could learn how to defend against a genuine attack. We used Jojutsu basics to learn how to handle a short staff, however the two person drills we worked with came directly from the five principles of Stav. As time went on we readopted training versions of European weapons such as the axe, spear, staff, cudgel, sax and tein. Each training drill, with each weapon, needed to work against Ivar's attacks, had to use the lines of the web and express one of the five principles of Stav. This process has been the basis of developing Stav training over the past 25 years. We don't have a 600 year old manual to refer to. Even if we did that would only represent a snap shot of Stav at that particular time, Stav has been a living and developing tradition for at least 1500 years.

As a living tradition Stav is a lot more than just a martial art. However, martial training is a very good way of learning and practising the runic stances, developing the ability to see the lines of the web and manifest the principles of Stav in a practical and effective way. Could Stav training be what it is today without the Japanese influence? I very much doubt it. Thanks to Ivar's Japanese masters and Ivar's willingness to learn from them and then interpret his skills according to the principles of Stav the tradition has made itself accessible to a whole new generation.

Graham Butcher