HUMINT: Drunken Style

HUMINT: As a student of Chinese culture and war, I seldom mention my preference for Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching over Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Why? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly not to hide my love of universal wisdom in order to emphasize my learned theories of war. On the contrary, my favorite moments are spent with enlightened souls who appreciate consuming and producing contemporary versions of ancient wisdom. Ancient Chinese philosophy and superstition is unique in its ability to condense knowledge, history, lust, love and experience into snappy little phrases.

Ancient Chinese texts are fascinating. They tend to organize words and images, as though they might become keys in the right hands… keys to a spiritual dimension where time becomes irrelevant; where the past, present and future join together and are at one with wisdom. I suspect much of the universal wisdom and superstition held by the ancient Chinese came through spilling the blood of their enemies. Wise men do not gain their wisdom without challenging themselves or facing their greatest challengers. In the rich history of China, there have been many great fighting styles that merge observations of nature and society to facilitate the only conceivable resolution of conflict to warlords, victory! One of my personal favorite ancient fighting techniques is Drunken Style…

There are many stories about the origin of Drunken Style but none speaks to its effectiveness or even its enlightened meaning in terms of combat. To my mind, Drunken Style is a philosophical place where the Tao Te Ching and the Art of War meet. Drunken style is deceptive to an opponent, rendering a combatant numb to the attacks of his adversary, fluid in his attacks but the accuracy may be impaired – or so an opponent may think. Drunken Style contains moves that are nearly impossible to achieve when one is impaired by alcohol, so the thinking goes, the style was used primarily by sober fighters. Therefore, it is most probably a style that seeks to hide something --- and or express something --- that could not be hidden or expressed otherwise.

Sober or Drunk, Drunken Style is a frame of mind. Like many ancient Chinese fighting styles, the combatant takes on the role of a character, transcending their own. It’s as if the Chinese understood the concept of traumatic stress and shock so well that they developed ways to preemptively split their personality before entering combat. If true, there are undoubtedly benefits and drawbacks to an individual’s psyche. Instead of getting too carried away with therapeutic repudiations of how the Ancient Chinese prepared for combat may have adversely influenced their relationship with their mother, for the sake of this essay, it is sufficient to say the benefits must have outweighed the risks. If choosing a fighting style kept a combatant winning over rivals, that fighter would be better off suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than being dead. Lest we forget, Ancient China existed in a near constant condition of war and conflict.

Fortunately, average Americans are not burdened with the pain of existential war or the need to study martial arts as a means of survival --- or at least that is what we have come to believe. Because it seems unnecessary to some, my fascination with ancients at war may resemble a tourist taking photos of a fatal car accident to them. Be assured, my intellectual journeys through time, space and culture are a search for broader wisdom, not a Barnum & Bailey search for spectacles. The lesson gleaned from China’s Drunken Style are many but probably the most important is that manipulating ones identity during combat is an effective approach to dealing with inescapable horrors of war.

Here’s an illustrative, albeit fictitious example. In the 2001 series about World War II, Band of Brothers, a short dialog occurs between Private Albert Blithe and Lieutenant Ronald Spiers. It’s a dialog that contains all of the inherent wisdom of the ancient fighting techniques of Drunken Style. Spiers says to Blithe, “We're all scared. You hid in that ditch because you think there's still hope. But Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you're already dead. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you'll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function. Without mercy. Without compassion. Without remorse. All war depends upon it.”

To be sure, there is no other way to approach an enemy. To illustrate the point; with regard to all aspects of life but war one should live life in pursuit of liberty and happiness. When it comes to war however, a separate identity should replace the main; an identity able to accept the worst case scenario as if it had already happened, and continue functioning normally, or almost normally. Every student of martial arts should know that there is no combatant more capable of destroying their enemy than one who appears drunk --- has abandoned all hope of survival as if he were already dead --- yet continues to strike his target, blow after blow. Without mercy. Without compassion. Without remorse. Victory depends on it.

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