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The Berserkergang

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Berserker Basics

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Once the stage of learning the basic skills is past it is time to get down to the nuts and bolts of training the specific berserker abilities. The primary manner we do this in tends to be in the Celtic style. Or at least a Celtic style. A Celtic style member of our forum made the suggestion that the Celtic warriors who practiced the riastradh likely used what they called cles to train in that style. "Cles" means "feats". These feats were things like jumping great distances, cutting the buttons off a man's shirt with a sword without cutting the man, lifting enormous weights, balancing on tightropes, etc. He thought that such feats required something special on the part of their practitioners to perform correctly, so they would encourage traits of the gangr to come out. This fit with the natural inclinations in training that many of us had, so we tend to train in our school of the berserkergang by practicing various feats. The information on training below is presented in the form of feats specifically designed to call out different aspects of the gangr, arranged by type. Going berserk through whatever means you have developed first and then attempting a feat is an excellent means of increasing your skills at different aspects of the berserkergang. This will tend to make you a better fighter.

 

Whatever it is you do to train, it is important to remember that strength is a skill, not just an inherent attribute. That means that how you practice is of great importance for gaining strength. And this means that it is important not to practice your failures. Alwayss back off just BEFORE muscle failure. (1 rep before.) Going past muscle failure, to the point where your form goes to hell and your moves are sloppy just trains your nervous system and muscles to coordinate poorly. Weakly. Only practice as long as you can perform well. There is value in pushing yourself, shattering all your limits, and finding a way to break through to a new level of strength. But this does not need to be done often. No more than once a month.

 

Strength

Stone Feat:

This one is simple. Find a large rock. At least 50 pounds. Many of us who have done this use 100 or even 150 pounds. Lift it up. Throw it. This will teach you to raise and focus your wod in the best way to boost your strength. It will teach you to sharply spike your wod for long enough for one incredible burst of wod and conserve it at other times. (The rest makes the spike possible.) It will teach you to hold high levels of wod ready without using them, which is not easy to do, but necessary if you are going to build up enough to really increase your strength. This feat makes for a good way to measure your progress and the results of your experiments with techniques, as you can compare the lengths you throw the rock each time you try something different.

Running Feat:

Run for great distances, preferably with weighted clothing on. Don't just jog but periodically sprint. (And when you stop sprinting and go back to jogging, do not slack up on speed any compared to what you were doing before the sprint.) This interval training builds up great endurance of the sort fighters need. It also teaches you to manage your wod, so that you can both use a lot of it and hold a lot of it in reserve so you can keep going. It teaches you to constantly summon up more on the fly, while doing other things.

Handstand Feat:

Stand on your hands and do pushups. This forces you to lift your entire bodyweight with just your arms. It forces you to raise and control a lot of wod for purposes of strength. It particularly will force you to develop your core muscles, which are key to any martial artist's success.

Broadjump Feat:

Jump for maximum distance from a standing start.

Healing Feat:

One of the ways that a berserk increases his or her strength is by learning to increase the effectiveness and speed of his or her body's natural healing capacities. While most berserks tend to heal rapidly indeed (such as cuts that should take weeks healing in days) there are somethings that can be done in the immediacy of combat with healing that can directly affect a berserker's strength. One is pain tolerance. Learning to increase this can allow you to strike harder, as if you feel little to no pain when you hit then you can use more of your strength to hit harder. (This does, of course, increase the likelihood that you'll injure yourself and not feel it, possibly until it's too late to prevent it from becoming a much worse injury.) The other major effect it can have on strength is through relaxation. If the berserk can amplify his or her ability to quickly relax muscles, then he or she can throw a great weight, or a hard punch, with so much force that his or her muscles become rock-hard immoble knots of agony and then instantly cause them to smooth out and relax like they hadn't been used in days. This too allows much more of the berserk's inherent strength to be used. Most people do not use anything like the full strength they are capable of physically, even when they feel like they are. I have heard exercise physiologists say that even advanced athletes rarely use more than 20% of their true strength. This is where the berserker's enhanced strength comes from: learning to tap into the birthright we all have. The trick of relaxing the muscles is, of course, also quite dangerous, and prone to causing serious injury.

Learning to access these healing systems deliberately is a bit tricky. Most languages weren't really built to describe things like this. It's a lot like learning to wiggle your ears. It can be done, but no one can really tell you how. But the key to it, as with so many other berserker abilities, is carefully applied stress. Push yourself to your limits, physically. And then try to go just a LITTLE farther. When you hurt too much, when your muscles are seized up, then lift that rock one more time. It takes the right sort of emotions, the right sort of will. It requires true commitment to growing to spark the combination of feelings and thoughts that will bring these things out. Practice, though, should eventually show you how to squeeze out that extra bit of strength by healing yourself in the right way. Note: trying to push yourself TOO far in this manner is simply stupid. It will likely put you out of commission before you get any benefit out of it at all.

Inner Boiling Feat:

This sounds easy, to the inexperienced ear, but this is actually one of the more difficult feats. It is simply a matter of entering a deep gangr, of summoning up as much wod as possible, and then doing absolutely nothing with it. The gangr is generally a reaction to danger and stress. When there is no external need to spend the wod in strength, the instincts naturally try to drop the wod and exit the altered state, for the berserker trance is highly wearing both physically and mentally. Keeping your wod up (both the state and the energy) despite this tendency to let it run down will teach you eventually all sorts of things about how you work, and will give you much greater control than you ever possessed before. Then when you do need to spend that wod in effort you will have much more of it than ever before, and your strength will be correspondingly greater.

Muscle Feat:

Moving, as any builder of robots knows, is an amazingly complex action. Moving under stress, such as when lifting a weight or throwing a punch, much more so. It would be very easy to apply too much force early on in the move, or not enough later when the arm is slowing to a halt, and end up hyperextending the joint, tearing the muscles, and damaging the bones and ligaments. In order to counteract this problem the human body makes use of complementary muscle pairs. Every motion is a balancing act between the pull of the agonist muscles and the pull of the antagonist muscles. The agonist muscles act to move the way you want. The antagonist muscles fight them just enough to keep the action of the agonist muscles balanced and under control.

If you could shut off or reduce the effect of the antagonist muscles, you would get stronger physically because you would not be fighting against them. You would also, of course, come to be at increased risk of injury, and your coordination would also likely suffer. (In case you haven't figured it out yet, the berserkergang is a risky practice.) And there do seem to be two ways to learn to reduce the activity in these muscles. One is popular amongst some martial artists, and seems to have been pioneered by Pavel Tsatsouline. It is by exercising with dynamic tension. This means pretending to lift weights (with the hands really empty) but tensing the muscles and straining mightily against them. It seems that requiring the antagonist muscles to respond to the brain's directives and turn up their effect when there is no physical stress present also teaches the brain how to reduce their effect when there is physical stress present. The other way is by cultivating an open observing state of mind while in a deep meditative state, moving around, lifting things, hitting things, and feeling how your muscles work, and then learning to just shut the right ones down directly.

Heat and Weight Feat

Wear very heavy clothing and weights on your body. Anything to make action difficult. Then try to run, spar, do jumping jacks, anything. Very quickly your endurance will be exhausted, and you will approach heat exhaustion or heat stroke. This will teach you to use wod to extend your endurance under conditions of heat and fatigue, such as occurs in combat. The risk of heat stroke does, of course, make this a very dangerous feat.

Leg Feat

Sink all of your weight as low as possible while crouching on one leg, and stand back up on that leg. This exercise is called a "pistol".

Arm Feat

Do one-armed pushups.

Air Feat

Construct a mask that blocks your mouth and nose except for one small breathing tube and then work out. The reduced air can teach you to better manage your wod for endurance, and it also serves as good preparation for fighting at high alititudes.

Speed

Hanging Rocks Feat:

Hang a number of decent sized rocks from the ceiling by twine in a circle. Stand within the circle. Start them swinging by striking them with an extended finger or two. Staying within the circle keep them all moving without letting them get tangled up in each other or striking you. Eye protection is probably a good idea. Doing this outdoors while standing on monkey poles (posts of different heights driven into the ground) adds another dimension to the demands placed on your attention and reaction speed.

Catching Feat:

Throw a rock away from you and run fast enough to catch it. At the start the rock will have to be thrown nearly straight up. Progress in this feat is measured by how far down towards the horizontal you can bring it.

Spear Feat:

Have an assistant throw spear-like lengths of wood at you, and bat them aside as they approach. An actual spear tip is not necessary, or wise. As an alternative, throw them up in the air yourself and stand under them. Eye protection is probably wise.

Dodging Feat:

While standing on monkey poles (posts of different heights driven into the ground) have assistants throw balls, rocks, or other such items at you, and try to avoid getting hit. This will require incredible focus and meditative openness, and great reaction speed as well as quickness of movement.

Intentionless Feat

Stand just out of arm's reach of an assistant. Keep as still as possible. The moment the thought occurs to move forward and strike (or touch) then act upon it, so that thought and action are one. The assistant should try to dodge or block. If the act is truly without any prior intention then the assistant will not see it coming, and the movement will be too fast to avoid or block.

Right Action

Blind Feat:

Hang one or more rocks from the ceiling by twine. Set them swinging. Blindfold yourself. Standing amongst them, avoid getting hit by them, and keep them swinging by hitting them. On one level this feat helps the martial artist by training his or her other senses, such as hearing the creaking of the twine as the rocks swing, and feeling tiny changes in air pressure as they move, and making these perceptions substitute for the absent sight. Outside of being blindfolded these skills can then be used again. On another level this feat teaches the berserk to become one with an opponent. If the berserk can learn to build up an instinctual understanding of the complex patterns caused by multiple pendulums of different lengths and weights such that he or she can move amongst them untouched then the berserk can extend that same skill to an enemy in battle, and become able to predict his moves.

Vision Feat:

Keep your vision unfocused, like you are looking at nothing at all, or are staring off into the infinite distance. Then move about while keeping the vision unfocused. Doing things that make a lot of demands on the attention, like the hanging rocks feat, will be perfect for this. The object of this feat is to develop what martial artists call "eagle vision". In this state you pay no more attention to things in front of you than anywhere else, and so become able to see better in the peripheral vision. Because you aren't focused on anything your mind is freer of attachments. It becomes less blind. (Focus is, after all, a matter of paying so much attention to one thing that you pay less to others.) It is not very easily distracted, or fooled. It notices everything around it in much greater detail. Any serious fighter of any sort must learn to attain this state of vision.

Twilight Feat:

The name for this one is a little metaphorical. It arises out of a name we chose for the default unitary state. We've had quite a difficult time deciding on terminology for the things we learned. Each of us, especially back in the beginning when we were looking around for names all the time, came from a different tradition of martial art, religion, and spirituality. We each had a different set of words we used. We needed terms everyone could agree on, that everyone could recognize and understand. Sometimes we used terms from one specific tradition or another (like "berserkergang" and "chi"). Sometimes we feared that being too free with using terms without necessarily understanding the whole traditional context they were defined in was a bad thing, and so we also made up terms. To describe the default unitary state we chose a term from the runes, a native European alphabet and system of spiritual development. "Dagaz" means "twilight", the moment one thing becomes another. So we called the default unitary state a "dagaz moment".

A default unitary state occurs the moment you first see something. Because no time at all has passed, the perception you have of that thing, whatever it is, is flawless. There are no errors, no misconceptions, no mistakes made from expectations, assumptions, distractions. Because not enough time has passed for subconscious association, much less conscious thought, you are in a sort of default unitary state with whatever it is you are seeing, for that one moment. Action taken reflexively (NOT deliberately) in response to a dagaz moment will be spot on, accurate, perfect, flawless. The ability to successfully respond to dagaz moments is the key for many berserker techniques. Throwing small rocks from a great distance at very small targets is a good way to develop this ability, if the berserk does it by not looking at the target at all and then making looking and throwing one single, seamless action. Another way to practice this talent is by means of stop cutting, where you take a knife or a sword (a sword is better) and swing it at a target full strength, stopping a hair's breadth away from the target. This does not mean pulling back on the cut. The cut is full strength, it just stops naturally at that distance. The best way to do this reliably is to be responding to seeing the target in a dagaz moment. Note: do not practice this feat this way with anyone nearby, as the sword or knife can slip out of your hand accidentally.

Sensory Feat:

Blindfold yourself and try to walk around an unfamiliar area using meditation/elevation to sharpen your other senses enough to help. Try to track someone down through different streets using only your sense of smell. Anything that pushes you to develop better senses of any sort qualifies.

Combination Feat:

One of the ways that a berserker gains the knowledge of what the right action to take is by bringing to bear a great focus of mind. And one of the best ways of developing great focus is by forcing the mind to function efficiently while being pulled in different directions at the same time. Anything that can do this will be a valuable training technique for a berserker. Examples include doing math in the head while balancing on a pole and getting hit with a stick, or having to dodge rocks being thrown at you, and possibly while at the same time paying enough attention to a movie playing in the background that you can discuss its philosophy later.

 

Besides the Feats

 

Any berserker needs to have a thorough grounding in the basics of any style of fighting. How to throw a solid punch, for instance, and how to kick properly. The right way to stand, and the right way to move. Common takedowns, and takedown defenses. A few submission holds. The best way to pick up these basics is to take a few classes in boxing, wrestling, karate, or taekwondo. Not trying to follow these fighting styles, but learning enough from them to get a firm hold on these basic things that any fighter needs to know.

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