What I learned from a 400 year old book on how to kill a man.

You follow the rules of war for you -- not your enemy. You fight by rules to keep your humanity.
Franz Stigler
For many years I have studied Martial Arts and traditional weapons, from the practical self-defense and combat oriented aspect to the historical and theoretical point of view. Man has turned killing into an art form and a science as important to their development as literature or architecture. In some cultures it was actually fashionable to carry weapons while others limited their access to only a select few as a status symbol.

Every time I hear about the debated over right to bear arms, open- carry, and how this dissuades violence, I am reminded of the Renaissance, were all gentlemen would have a dress sword as part of their attire. Can you guess how men would solve most conflicts at that time? Duels, lots of them. Dueling became so popular that it actually became a problem for the Church and State of the time, forcing them to make such act illegal. Basically, if you lost the Duel, you’re probably dead. If you won, you go to jail. And even then, dueling didn’t stop.

It was during this time, where Dueling was at its most popular, that killing science of “La Verdadera Destreza” was developed by Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza. Liberally translated into English as “The True Skill” but most commonly known as “The Spanish Circle”, Destreza is a universal method of fighting, based on reason, geometry, and incorporate various other aspects from your typical Renaissance humanist education. Defined as “the art of killing an opponent when he wants to die”, Destreza focused on positioning yourself for a killing blow while avoiding placing yourself in harm’s way. It is the reason why so many people feared the Conquistadors, why Inigo Montoya was written as a Spaniard, and why the Gun Kata is plausible.

The treatise was divided into four Dialogues. The first three are the technical breakdowns of the Art, focusing on the basic concepts, understanding how traditional fencing works, and the applications of these advanced technics. These have been the source of intense study and analysis by the fencing community, specially the first and the third Dialogue. But it was the fourth book that caught my attention, the ethics of the Diestro, the skilled man.

It talks about the moral responsibility of the skilled swordsman, focusing on how the Diestro can avoid committing aggressions, treachery, and, most importantly, getting killed. It elaborates on the He has the obligation to help himself, his friends, and his enemies. Yes, you read that right, his enemies. These are some of the moral and ethical lessons taught within the same manual that details the Spanish Kiss, attack aimed at serving a person’s spinal cord by thrusting your sword into an opponent’s mouth.

  1. All life is valuable. The Diestro sees life as a gift that must not be squandered on petty vanity or on simple arguments. He understands that from every fight and every conflict, someone will die. He must ask himself if he is willing to die at that moment? Is he willing to kill? He becomes aware of the reality that every time he draws his sword, he has the full intention to kill someone and is giving the other person permission to kill him. This attitude, instead of making life cheap, turns life into a valuable gift that must be appreciated. You never know when you will draw your last breath, or go to jail for taking a life. 
  2. Risk yourself foolishly is the same as suicide. You only have one life to enjoy. Risking it foolishly or brandishing your weapon at any challenge is the same as asking to be killed. And dying because of stupidity is little more than suicide. 
  3. Defending yourself is right. Attacking isn't. There is a very thin line between defense and attack, especially when we are always force-fed the phrase “the best defense is a good offense.” You have the right to defend your life when it is in genuine danger. Actively looking to attack a possible aggressor is the same as becoming an aggressor yourself. You have the right to defend yourself with force similar to scale to the attack. A full blown assault for a minor offense is no longer defense; it was looking for an excuse to attack. 
  4. No material possession is worth killing over or dying over. So they stole you watch or your wallet. Is it more valuable than your life? Is it as irreplaceable as a life, any life? Killing someone just to keep them from stealing something is still murder. Material possessions can be replaced or recovered, a life cannot. 
  5. Vengeance is not justice. If you openly seek to “get even” because someone caused you wrong, you are openly planning murder. The problem is that you become what you hate. What keeps them from continuing the chain going? You got even. You might think it is justified. But now it’s their turn to get even with you. Killing someone for any reason other than self-defense is always murder. 
  6. Let the law handle the unjust. The authorities are the ones in charge of administering justice. Vigilantism is little more than Vengeance in disguise. If you chose to handle it yourself, it’s then YOU who the authorities will be after. We live in a society ruled by laws and order. We can’t complain about chaos and disorder if we are part of the problem. 
  7. Think and control yourself. You are not a beast who lives out of reaction. We are rational beings with full control of our emotions. We are the result of thousands of years of evolution as a society and as a species. ACT LIKE IT. Attacking as a reaction to something is the acts of a savage animal.