The berserkergang has no forms, no
"kata". Forms create expectations, but are only really appropriate in a limited number of circumstances. This can lead to
counterproductive reflexes and missed opportunities. Instead the berserkergang concentrates on the three basics of all martial
art: strength, speed, and right action. And the primary way it does this is through wod.
Wod (pronounced "wode") is a complicated
concept for which there is no one exact english word. One one level wod means "fury", and it is an experience of that emotion.
Indeed, part of the process of going berserk is by working up this emotion. In part it means "possessed", which of course
refers to the experience most berserks have of becoming possessed by some sort of spirit or other. It can refer to a state
of being, but it also is form of spiritual energy, analagous to the chinese "chi". Like a fiery chi.
In essence, the act of entering the
berserker trance is simply a matter of simultaneously being in a deep meditative state and raising up an enormous amount of
wod. Once a certain critical threshold of stress is reached (and it can be any kind of stress: mental, physical, or emotional,
though a mixture works best) the berserker enters the berserker trance, which is a type of unitary state.
"Unitary state" is a term from neuroscience
that describes an unusual state of physiology. The researchers who studied it described it as a stress response, an evolutionary
adaptation that all people have to one degree or another. When stress occurs a person's sympathetic nervous system is aroused.
This is the half of the nervous system that is responsible for "fight or flight" matters. When the stress is extreme that
half of the nervous system is near overload. Once a certain critical threshold is reached the brain instinctively does some
desperate things in an attempt to stop the overload. One is to shut off the forebrain and certain other parts, the only parts
of the brain that can be shut off. This not only reduces the overload of the nervous system, but it luckily has some other
benefits as well. The forebrain is the part of the brain that describes things, names them, compartmentalizes them, analyzes
them. In short, the part of the brain prone to "overthinking". It also shuts off the part that distinguishes what the self
is and what the rest of the world is. Once this part of the brain goes offline the person in the unitary state simply perceives
everything purely and directly. The person reacts by instinct, which is the fastest sort of reaction and because the "thinking"
parts of the brain are shut off, there is less danger of taking the wrong action in response to the outside world, for there
is no danger of thinking wrong about something there is no possibility of thinking about at all. The other thing the desperately
stressed brain does is awaken the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the other half of the nervous system, the half responsible
for healing, resting, relaxing, balancing. Because these things are the opposite of the actions of the sympathetic nervous
system (revving up, tensing, focusing, energizing) it is very difficult for the body to do both at once, and so usually when
one is active the other is shut down. But in extreme circumstances, such as the stress that triggers the unitary state, the
two of them find a way to be active at the same time. This allows the natural healing of the parasympathetic nervous system
to have access to the great energy of the sympathetic nervous system. It enables that healing and balancing to permit the
stress of an active sympathetic nervous system to be endured for much longer times, and at much greater levels, than normally
This does several things. One is to
increase the length of time adrenaline is in the bloodstream, another is to allow a greater than usual level of adrenaline
to be tolerated before its debilitating side effects (loss of coordination, shakes, bad judgement) show up. The length of
time the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) dulls or eliminates the sensation of pain increases too, as does the level of pain
that can be tolerated. This state also synthesizes the functioning of all the different parts of the brain, makes it function
as one. Such supreme focus is never possible in a normal state. Because it is the ultimate synthesis of SNS and PSNS (parasympathetic
nervous system), of right and left brains, it causes the experience of inspiration. It is the unitary state that gives rise
to the eureka moment.
Whatever the emotions are, whatever
is in the mind, at the moment that mind and body make the transition into the unitary state sets the tone and nature of the
experience of the unitary state. Unitary states created by intensive religious ritual often result in a vision of or the experience
of hearing the voice of the practitioner's god. Unitary states created by the stress of a life and death emergency, like a
car suddenly swerving into your lane right in front of you tend to give you a burst of the reflexes and skills of a profesional
race car driver. And when the ritual is designed to work up furious emotions and is concentrated upon an enemy or some other
danger the berserker trance results. With the force of the whole brain behind it the fury becomes a transcendental emotion.
(And this is part of why berserkers need a lot of training, to be able to safely handle such things.) Adrenaline levels shoot
through the roof, for adrenaline is the body's primary response to either fighting or fleeing. It is a chemical in the blood
that temporarily increases strength and reflexes. It is often caused by furious emotions, and it tends to fuel feelings of
rage and fear. It is this chemical that most berserks believe is at least partly responsible for the sensation of wod.
Wod amplifies the strength. Development
of strength is one of the three pillars of the berserker style of fighting. The boost of raw strength from the heightened
levels of adrenaline is one of the berserk's most basic weapons, as a fight can be ended simply by causing enough damage in
a short enough period of time, or by grappling with and completely subduing an attacker, or just knocking him out. But reservoirs
of wod are not limitless, and expending it in striking or moving drains the berserk, making him or her unable to call upon
it again for some variable time. This can leave the berserk vulnerable to a sudden counterattack. One of the most important
things for the berserk to learn is wod management. This involves raising the wod to a high enough level that it can amplify
strength when used, but so that it is not all spent on the attack. Learning also to increase the maximum amount of wod that
can be raised and learning to decrease the time it takes to raise it are critical to the fighting berserk, as is learning
to hold high levels of wod in reserve, without using it for physical action.
Wod also amplifies the berserk's speed.
This increased speed of movement allows excellent use of stop-attacks, where an opponent's attack, just begun, is countered
not with a block or evasion but by making a more rapid strike of the berserk's own. For this reason the berserk must learn
to move as efficiently as possible, to make no unnecessary movements of any kind. The fewer the wasted movements, the faster
(and stronger) the motion. This increased speed also allows the berserk to make use of various tactics of deception. One such
is standing out of distance, or what would be out of distance for a non-berserk fighter. This will in many opponents cause
them to lower their guards at least a little to conserve energy, allowing the berserk to suddenly and surprisingly rush in
and hit home. Shootfighting berserks would do well to emphasize speed in their approach to training.
The third pillar of the berserker
style of fighting is right action. This is attaining the knowledge to take whatever action is most right, most appropriate,
for the circumstances of the fight. This is why the berserkergang makes no use of forms, as forms create expectations and
assumptions about a fight and your opponent that aren't always right. Berserkers tend to cultivate an open observing state
of mind, free, flexible, ready to do anything. It is a concept similar to why professional drivers "float the suspension"
by stepping on neither gas nor brakes over rough patches of road. When things are prone to changing rapidly and any action
at all might be called for, and if the car (or body) is busy doing the wrong thing, there is that much more energy and momentum
to be overcome before the proper remedy can be applied, and this additional delay could mean the difference between victory
The berserker gains this knowledge
of right action through various means. One way right action is gained is through heightened senses. Possessed by an animal
spirit, the berserk has the sharper senses of that animal. (That's me speaking as a spiritual man. Speaking as a scientist
I might say that the rapid processing of the sensory data going on in the mind in the unitary state of consciousness produces
the appearance of sharper senses by more accurately and rapidly analyzing them and their meanings.) Sharper vision allows
for even slight flaws in the stance of an opponent to be noticed, and for the line of the opponent's attack to be predicted
from just the slightest initial twitching of his body as the attack just begins. Sharper hearing can allow for increased indications
as to the opponent's intentions, by picking up on subtly shifting stances or tensing muscles from the sounds of rustling clothing
and shuffling feet. Sharper smell can allow for the opponent's emotional/spiritual state to be determined, as the berserk
in the unitary state has the ability to smell subtle hormonal changes like some animals do, enabling the berserk to smell
fear, aggression, weakness, etc.
This faster mental processing is at
least partially caused by elevated adrenaline levels, increased electrical energy in the nervous system, suppression of activity
in the forebrain, and reliance upon the much faster processes of the hindbrain. Mind, body, and spirit functioning as one
increases this processing speed by increasing the amount of physical resources being pumped into the processing (more parts
of the brain than usual, powered by more parts of the body than usual, work to process each and every thought/reaction). This
higher reaction speed makes the berserk more capable of mounting an effective defense to any attack as well as becoming quick
enough to take advantage of small weaknesses in an opponent's defense. It also allows for the highly aggressive fighting style
of the berserk to be safely performed. While many non-berserk scholars think that berserks just pressed their attacks madly
with no thought for defense, in reality they were taking advantage of their extraordinary reflexes to make attack and defense
one. By immediately reacting to the flaws and weaknesses in the opponent's defenses (mental, physical, and spiritual) berserks
are able to make attacks that because of their lines do not allow the opponent any line of attack himself. Attack and defense
in one motion. This creates a highly energetic, furious, aggressive attack, one that is continuous for long stretches of time.
This circumvents a weakness many other martial arts are prone to, that of waiting, reacting, and backing up, things encouraged
by many styles but vulnerable to manipulation by a knowledgeable opponent.
The effect all this increased rate
of neural processing has is called psychetachia. This is the impression the berserk comes to have that time in the outside
world suddenly seems to slow down. In its extreme forms falling objects seem to float to the ground, opponents seem to move
as if through molasses. It is critical to the development of the gangr as a martial art that the berserk learn to control
this sense of psychetachia.
Natural berserks generally can only
enter the berserker trance in response to some great external stress, like the danger of a fight, or a mugging, or a car accident.
Some few can enter and exit the state at will without any training. But they are very rare. Most berserks need an initation
to gain control over entering and exiting the state at will. An initiation is the deliberate creation of a stressful, even
dangerous situation, with the intent to go berserk. It is the intent that seems to be the critical feature. When the unitary
state is once created with such intent in mind then it seems to learn something important, to pay attention to how things
felt, how things happened, to sufficient degree to allow the state to be duplicated in the future.
An initiation is not something to
be undertaken lightly. In order to have sufficient stress to really trigger this specific type of unitary state there needs
to be some genuine danger. And this is, well, dangerous. (Read the disclaimer on the Home page!) It is very difficult to handle
the high levels of stress the entrance into the berserker trance requires. (For while the unitary state is a possible reaction
to great stress, a more common one is simply shutting everything down in a panic.) It needs a deep meditative state, or hypnotic
trance, and this state needs to be kept even when massive amounts of adrenaline and wild emotions are coursing through you.
If you cannot remain in meditation in such circumstances than you cannot deliberately enter this state, and attempting to
do so is pointlessly risky.
Once a berserk is settled on performing
an initiation ritual he or she enters into a period of contemplation, prayer, and/or meditation. It should, properly speaking,
last at least a month. To go berserk in such a contrived and artificial manner is difficult, and every advantage is needed.
Such a long period of thinking about the gangr, as the berserker trance is called, and of meditating, and praying for divine
aid gets a certain momentum going. The mind becomes very easily moved towards thoughts and feelings about it, and is in a
more deeply spiritual state than usual. (This waiting period also tests the berserk's resolve. If the will is insufficient
to see the wait through then it is insufficient for the initiation.) A special location is usually selected. I used a ghost
town, abandoned centuries ago amid rumors that its inhabitants were werewolves. Others have used places on haunted mountains,
or in a place where other berserks have been initiated. The point to pick a place with a good atmosphere, as this makes the
shift into the gangr easier to accomplish. Ritual tools are usually created during the wait as well. Their presence in the
initiation serves as an immediate reminder to the initiate of all the preparation, and the good meditative, spiritual states
that accompanied it. This makes it possible to get into better meditative, spiritual states. Once the initiation starts it
is usually a matter of uttering prayers and making offerings, or at least making a formal and elaborate statement of intent
to go berserk. The important element is that the initiate swear by whatever he or she holds sacred to endure the coming hardship
and not flinch from it until the change comes.
Then it is simply a matter of the
danger itself. Some berserkers have held their hands in flames. One I know drank 40 ounces of mead (it's about as strong as
brandy), and had never really drunk before in his life, and chased it with 12 ounces of espresso, and then stepped into the
ring for a fight with an older, more experienced berserk who was quite capable of easily beating him even without the stomach
pain of so much booze and caffeine, or the deranged senses the overload of both brought about. Another fought with a man who'd
been beating him in fights for a solid month. Another fasted for days and then went on an extreme hike. As extreme as these
practices seem they are actually toned down compromises for safety with the ancient types of initiation, examples of which
include going into a bear's cave with only a knife and returning with one of its claws and getting buried up to your waist
and having other warriors throw spears at you while your only possible defense is to bat them aside. The extremes of the ancients
don't seem to actually be necessary. Our safer modern rituals work. But some minimum level of genuine risk does seem to be
needed to get them to work.
A word here needs to be said about
initiations. Let me describe to you an example of what they can be like when they go a little wrong. A young natural berserk
I knew from the forum wanted to be initiated, to gain control over the gangr. But unlike the others who had had their initiations
he had very little training in either meditative arts or martial arts. He was careful to flawlessly perform a very complex
and carefully created initiation ritual, taking every advantage he could to make it easier and more likely to occur. Others
who had done it the way he wanted to, with a hand in flames, had ended up without burning or with minor burns. (Resistance
to being burned is a trademark of the somafera state the world over. A scientific discussion of the mechanism of this resistance
exists elsewhere on this site.) He got to the fire part of his ritual. He held his hand in the flames for several seconds.
He screamed eventually, and dropped to the ground, writhing in pain. But as the rite had not yet succeeded he placed his hand
in the fire again. I was taking part in the ritual, one of the drummers who were also screaming and howling, to help set the
mood. I saw his hand literally burst. The flesh, badly burned, split down his whole hand and a bright red burst of blood splashed
into the fire. In that moment he finally entered the gangr. When we finally got him down from the gangr enough to get him
to medical treatment he was hospitalized for days. He did not regain full use of the hand for a year, until after a second
surgery. He is permanently scarred, Freddy Krueger style. Such injury during initiation is rare. But it can happen. The information
on this page is provided for serious practitioners who know themselves and know their limits, who desire to take their training
in this direction. (The only other kind of person who would mess with something like this is a complete idiot.) We at Rillway
Combatives Academy believe that doing so with all the information at your disposal is safer than going into it blind.
Once the berserk has passed through
initiation the basic technique must be mastered. This is usually done by recreating the initiation ritual over and over again,
each time taking out an element until a simpler ritual is obtained that allows the berserk to successfully enter the gangr
with little more than a concentration of will power and some exercises. In my case, I first redid the initiation without the
months of preparation. Then I did it without all the elaborate words and invocations. Then I exchanged the fire for a candle.
Then I did away with the candle. Eventually I had a core of visualizations, memories, leaping, contorting, and meditating
that caused the gangr to occur with sufficient effort of will.