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Entertainment / April 27, 2009

Warriors On TV - Eileen Jones - The eXiled

There’s a new TV show called Warriors running on the History Channel that’s a current favorite of mine. I hesitate to mention it, because no doubt it’s pretty basic stuff. I hate to think what Gary Brecher would say about it—the merest ABCs of warfare!—but it can be riveting for those of us who never got a lot of schooling in war, for all sorts of reasons. These are some sample reasons:

1) You check the box marked “female.”

2) You, like Dick Cheney, had “other priorities.”

3) You bought the crazy notion that even thinking about violence is bad.


Fortunately, these impediments to warfare-knowledge can all be overcome, and Warriors is a good place to start. The show investigates a different warrior culture each week, Vikings, Spartans, Samurai, all the usual suspects. Host Terry Schappert, a former Green Beret, is sent around the world to examine key battle sites, interview the experts, test out the weaponry, and recreate scenes of combat. The weaponry/combat parts are the best. Schappert is supposedly a Special Ops guys now and knows several martial arts and all sorts of badassery like that, but it doesn’t help him much with some of the old-style weapons. Trying to shoot an arrow using a samurai bow, for example, he sucks at it so hugely he winds up apologizing, through a translator, to the master at the art who’s showing him how.

samuraibow

(To be fair, it’s a crazy bow, with the grip not in the middle of the bow curve but lower down, so there’s two-thirds of the bow above the arrow placement and one-third below. That’s so you’re not whacking the bottom of the bow on the horse you’re riding while shooting at your enemies, if you’re a samurai. They do a demo with a guy in full samurai gear galloping down a rutted dirt path firing arrows at small wooden targets and hitting them all, just in case you’re inclined to say it can’t be done.)

hoirsebacksamurai

It’s a consistent highlight of the show, Schappert getting his ass kicked by some quiet little combat expert who actually knows what he’s doing with a jo staff or whatever it might be. These quiet little combat experts always, always radiate greatness of soul. Why can’t we start a new religion based on the behavior of quiet little combat experts patiently teaching schmoes how to handle weapons? Because if that isn’t god-like, I don’t know what is.

Schappert’s willingness to get his ass kicked for the good of the show is his best quality. He comes across as big, loud, and dorky, nobody’s idea of a warrior. Well, not mine, anyway. He talks too much, he’s embarrassingly sentimental, he’s got that exclamatory Howdy Doody American taint that makes people from other cultures seem calm and dignified by comparison. But I have to admit, he cranks up the proceedings. His lemme-try eagerness around weapons and his gee-whiz reverence for bravery punch across what’s riveting about big historical battles better than more sophisticated approaches.

english-knights

Take the Battle of Agincourt, for example. I must’ve seen three different versions of Shakespeare’s Henry V and never got what the big deal was, even with all that splendid we-few-we-happy-few-we-band-of-brothers stuff. Something about Laurence Olivier’s snooty delivery, maybe, but somehow the salient details never came across. Like how Henry V bet everything on archers vs. cavalry—how the English were hopelessly outnumbered and figuring on dying, and Henry had his crown welded onto his helmet and stood in the center of the line with his men, making himself the obvious target—how the English won by breaking the rules of chivalry, using maneuvers like getting a French knight on his back so several English guys, definitely not knights, could swarm him and stab at his unarmored points, like dispatching a helpless turtle.

I know, old stuff, no fresh meat here for the War Nerds among us, but for newbies, it’s pretty exciting.

This week they’re doing the Zulu warriors annihilating the Brits at the Battle of Isandlwana. And who can resist such a heartwarming spectacle?

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22 Comments

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  • 1. Baked Dr. Luny  |  April 27th, 2009 at 11:07 am

    It’s actually a fairly interesting show, despite the horrible host and the History Channel-ness.

  • 2. wengler  |  April 27th, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    This show would be better if Schappert didn’t come across as such a frat boy.

    That said it is still worth watching, though I liked the other fighting show with the MMA guy and football guy better. I don’t remember what that was called but they did all sorts of modern fighting styles too, like Israeli and Russian military hand-to-hand combat.

  • 3. Ashcroft  |  April 27th, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    you mean fight quest? watching that big jock get pwned all the time was awesome.

  • 4. Nergol  |  April 27th, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Why can’t we start a new religion based on the behavior of quiet little combat experts patiently teaching schmoes how to handle weapons?

    Uhh, we did… it’s called Shinto.

  • 5. geo8rge  |  April 27th, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Roman infantry were called legionaries, and fought warriors. Warrior, someone whose purpose is making war, was a slur similar to today’s terrorist. Legionaries had a higher purpose, killing people and destroying things was an unfortunate byproduct of their civilized ends.

  • 6. prch  |  April 27th, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    I’d like to know how Eileen managed to write in a style that people can relate to easily, and I’m stuck in commentland?

  • 7. Frankenblank  |  April 28th, 2009 at 6:59 am

    Hey Geo8rge, that’s pure frigging propaganda … and *old*! (like nearly 2000 years old). The Romans are on entirely the same level as the British: that ‘civilization’ shit was just an excuse to plunder. Remember that we are talking the ancient world, and 9 out of 10 people, neccessarily, lived a rural existence, so ‘civilization’ was irrelevant. Roads? Baths? Who cares? Most people never saw them. Oh yeah, and it was the Gauls and the Germans who had soap (and were clean), and the Celts who ate beef (and were well fed)(as opposed to some sardines and a shitload of bread, your standard Roman diet). It’s *all shit*. The Roman Empire was a violent rip-off par excellence. (Again, it was the uncivilized ‘warriors’ you complain about who put an end to the vile but civilized practice of gladiatorial combat. They thought it sucked.)
    No wonder we should all die out. Two thousand years of complete pro-Roman bullshit, and everyone still buys it. Christ. It’s not like there aren’t historians telling you it’s all shite now. There’s no excuse.

  • 8. Solomon  |  April 28th, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Frankenblank, you’re full of shit. Archeology has proven your unsupported conjectures to be false. Even the single statistic you cite is probably incorrect, unless for if the population of the ancient world was many times as large as modern historians estimate.

    Your view was actually popular during the nineteenth century, in the UK, Germany, and Austria, among those who saw their country and/or race as superior to anything that came before, or came from those diabolic lands around the Mediterranean. (Revisionist histories casting Rome as a villain more barbaric than the barbarians arose around the same time as the intensely insulting term “Byzantium” came into general usage to refer to the later Roman empire in the east.)

  • 9. Orthodoxy  |  April 28th, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Solomon, Byzantium was indeed the name of the city that later became Constantinople and Instanbul until the time of Constantine, and the (at the time) non-insulting term “Byzantine” was used for the eastern empire for its entire seperate existence. Seeing as the population of the Roman empire at its hight was 60 million, Frankenblank seems to be claiming that roughtly 6 million of them lived in large cities, which is actually a quite reasonable assertion.

  • 10. CB  |  April 28th, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    “Hey Geo8rge, that’s pure frigging propaganda …and everyone still buys it.”

    So someone pointing out how a term we use to glorify people (as the show does) used to be a form of slur used to separate the “uncivilized” killers from the “civilized” legionnaires who of course only killed because they had to for the sake of Civilization, means that they agree with this characterization and believe the 2000-year old propaganda?

    Wow, that’s rich. Frankly George’s post conveyed the idea that it was propaganda far better than yours did. If you missed that aspect of his post, then I’m thinking you missed a lot of what those historians were saying too.

  • 11. aleke  |  April 28th, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    I like when communication fails and people devolve into squawking buzzards that nitpick every little rotting thing because that means my job of being a snarky jerk is so much easier.

    I like the article, wish it was longer.

  • 12. Mike  |  April 28th, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    By the way, main English battle line consisted of just the same knights as French. “Stake on archers vs knights” was done MUCH before Agincourt – Cressi, namely. By the time of Agincourt French knew English tactics well enough to try both dismounting knights and using (mercenary) missile troups themselves. They still lost, not because of chivalry. And they still won the war later.

  • 13. Anonymous  |  April 29th, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Arguably Zen Buddhism as it is known to whites already is a “religion based on the behavior of quiet little combat experts patiently teaching schmoes how to handle weapons”, to the extent that it has roots in the book “Zen in the Art of Archery”.

    The trouble is that hand-to-hand combat and archery and sword fighting took thousands of years to develop to that level of patient, calm perfection, and since the invention of the musket, all our weapons technologies have been changing so fast that this hasn’t happened with muskets, or machine guns, or tanks, or rockets, or even jets. Even jet pilots, who need enormous physical skill, do their job in a way that’s emotional, aggressive, and not utterly calm and spiritual at all, and tank drivers and machine gunners work with even less control and finesse. If we kept using manned jets or even tanks for another thousand years, the best schools of jet piloting or tank driving probably would develop to that level of calm spiritual perfection, but the odds of us doing that are nil. And if the old-fashioned fighting techniques that have developed to the level of Zen are useless against more sloppy, high-tech, modern techniques, then they’re not going to be any more interesting to the masses than some religious practice entirely unrelated to violence, like yoga.

    And Frankenblank, I’ll come right out and admit it, I just admire the Romans because they were more effective than most of their neighbors at conquering and holding territory, and had generally better technology, not because life in the Roman empire was particularly nicer than life out of it.

  • 14. Solomon  |  April 29th, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Orthodoxy:
    The word Byzantine was actually never used to refer to the later Roman Empire until centuries after its dissolution by the hands of the Turks. It is insulting when you use it to refer to the extremely Christianized empire, the term Byzantine was actually used by opponents of the Patriarch of Constantinople because of its strong pagan connotations. If it weren’t for the fact that Western Europe has historically been so hostile to the orthodox Christianity, Byzantine would probably still be considered derogatory today. This article may interest you: http://www.romanity.org/htm/fox.01.en.what_if_anything_is_a_byzantine.01.htm

    As for population in cities, I believe the number was much higher. We can all but prove that more than a million people lived in both Alexandria and Rome, as well as that a number of cities, like Antioch or Ephesus, which exceeded the half a million mark, and that a great host of cities had more than 100,000. Not to even mention the literally hundreds of cities with between 10,000 and 100,000. 6,000,000 simply isn’t a large enough number, a much greater proportion of the population must have been urban. I’m just writing this from my memory, but I’m sure any recent treatment of Roman cities or population in particular will agree with me.

    Anonymous:
    Materially, life was better within the Roman Empire than the barbarian (using the term to refer to the non Asian or Caucasian neighbors of the empire,) even in the fifth century. Judging by the pottery record, the number of new building built, surviving records of trade deals, new construction from the period, and surviving goods of all kinds, as well as contemporary accounts, Romans enjoyed more and higher quality things than barbarians, and right up until the mid fifth century it seems that most household goods, even in rural communities, were produced in specialized workshops and factories. I would personally estimate that the Roman society was the most materially wealthy and prosperous of all time until the late nineteenth century.

  • 15. staghounds  |  April 30th, 2009 at 3:36 am

    Aleke:

    “were”, not “was”.

    Anonymous 13 and others-

    Don’t you think that the “patient, calm perfection” might result from the fact that the practitioners of these arts know they will never have to use them in combat?

    You’ll find the same control and finesse on the smallbore rifle range, or in the shop where wooden carriage wheels are made at taxpayer expense.

    Separation from risk is a great way to slow people down.

  • 16. False Prophet  |  April 30th, 2009 at 5:07 am

    staghounds is right: the calm, Zen approach to personal combat didn’t fully develop until the Tokugawa era in Japan, also known as the two centuries of Japanese history with no significant conflict and almost complete isolation from the rest of the world.

    When you had a caste of knights (the samurai) with no wars to fight, a lot of them focused on the martial arts and fought a lot of duels. Of course, just as many pursued painting, poetry or calligraphy.

  • 17. Krind  |  April 30th, 2009 at 7:27 am

    On the other hand we have snipers and military divers that use “patient, calm perfection” to do their job.
    Especially the mine-divers couldnt work without that approche, any of the recless ones die pretty quick in that profession.

  • 18. aleke  |  May 1st, 2009 at 2:01 am

    AHH THANK YOU STAGHOUNDS, MY DEAREST POSTE #15, FOR CLEARLY DEMONSTRATING THUSLY:

    “Aleke:

    “were”, not “was”.”

    BRILLIANT! oh forsoOTH! I TREMBLE AT YOUR GRACE-NESS! FLOWER ME WITH YOUR WILTING MOVING FORM, SHOWER ME WITH YOUR STUPID ASS

  • 19. Salahuddin  |  May 2nd, 2009 at 2:59 am

    Solomon, sorry to disappoint you, but it was the Islamic caliphate under Suleiman The Magnificent that was the most prosperous society in the pre-industrial age.

    Prior to that, Spain and Sicily also achieved an unprecedented level of wealth & lifestyle when they were Islamic states.

    On the subject of soap, – toothpaste, soap, lipstick, hair dye, perfume, and deodorant were all invented and used in the Islamic caliphate between 7th-12th centuries, before Europeans acquired them.

  • 20. veracity  |  May 4th, 2009 at 8:05 am

    This is a snarky report that doesn’t begin do justice to the subject. Yeah, Terry is corny and sentimental. SO WHAT?
    True warriors often are.
    (I believe even the ‘tough-guys’ here at Exiled posted that story about a former Green-Beret chasing down the car load of young thugs who randomly shot his dog – a Lab puppy that had been given to him by other SpecForces guys, after he was the sole survivor of an Afghan firefight, to help him get over his survivor’s guilt complex.
    (A real-life survivors guilt complex, that was the central theme of the Nicholas Cage WWII movie, “Windtalkers.”)
    My main complaint with the show is that it is too short to do more justice to the subjects.
    For example, in the recent Zulu episode, while Terry mentions that the British commander warned his officers that the Zulu should be regarded as Calvary (not infantry) – they moved that fast, despite not having horses – he doesn’t mention that a Zulu right of passage was the REQUIREMENT for warriors to run – 50 miles in one day!
    (BAREFOOT, at full run, and with very little water.)
    Those guys WERE TOUGH!
    I’ve read lots about Henry V’s invasion of France, but until I saw “Warriors”, I didn’t realize that the emphasis on archery was so much of Henry’s doing – up until then, I thought it had been an organic, evolutionary development of all English war-kings. The comment that “for years after the invasion, you couldn’t find a goose within 30 miles of London” was a great illustration of how Henry prepared in advance for the war, the longbows only using goose-feather arrows, stocked in the Tower of London by the tens of thousands as Henry dreamed and prepared for his invasion.
    If that doesn’t give you some INSIGHT into Henry’s STRATEGIC genius….
    And if you can’t understand the terrifying reality of being an invading English soldier, forced to withdraw after your own brutal siege Harflour, and then being caught before your escape by an army 2, 3, or 4 times larger, a French army bent on vengeance with the benefit of fresh supplies and rest, then you have no business commenting on anything to do with “warriors.”
    Shappert oversimplifies the whole “end of Chivalry” story a tad – there wasn’t much “chivalry” in the even deadlier, far more murderous 30 years war which over-ran much of Germany, laying waste to entire regions for years at a time – little quarter asked or given.
    But the “Warriors” clip of the English foot-soldiers dispatching a dismounted knight shows the banality of war – just tag-team the knight, get the SOB on his back, and stab him in a weak-spot.
    That was the fate of _10,000_ French knights and soldiers that day, we learn, as Shappert pays homage to the extremely humble memorial marking those 10,000 KIA Frenchmen.
    Even the mythic “Sir Lancealot” of Camelot would have been dispatched like a pig in the mud, by the murderous, outnumbered English bowmen.
    And it wasn’t until I watched Shappert’s “Samurai” episode, that I learned that the fierce warrior Musashi defeated & killed Japan’s best swordsman – who was using an even longer, special-made Samurai sword – with nothing but a wood staff (pole) carved out of a boat oar!
    PUT THAT in your pipe, the next time you hear about all the time & expense & mastery poured in to the forging of a “sacred” Samurai sword!
    the “Barbarians” episode was certainly informative, as was the one on Viking’s smelting their iron ore from their peat bogs.
    I loved it when Shappert pretends he is an English officer, surveying the empty countryside, “Nope, no Zulus here.” The very next moment, THOUSANDS of warriors line up at on the small ridge in front of Shappert – they had, all thousand of them, been hiding on the reverse side.
    Unfortunately, the camera missed the defining moment, as Shappert cringed while thousands of spear-armed warriors ran by him, almost trampling him just in the mass confusion of dust and sweaty men, at a full run, charging by with razor-sharp spears.
    “Let me tell you, that was terrifying” Shappert says as the warriors charge past.
    Unfortunately, the high camera angle missed the truly terrifying nature of that last, closing moment… a virtual wall of black warriors and shiny spears, about to envelop you like a tsunami.

  • 21. aleke  |  May 5th, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    I don’t think you guys get this. Eileen, here fulfilling the role of in-house TV critic, is obviously taking an outsider’s perspective. I mean the Exile has the War Nerd column, after all, Gary could’ve written something about it instead.

    It’s good to remember that an outside, even critical perspective is very helpful. It seems to be, in fact, that a critical perspective is what we come here for. I suspect it’s why we like Dolan’s autobiographical writings, that’s why we like Ames’ investigative journalism. It’s a large part of the Exile. War is exciting and all, but this is hardly a war nerd site/publication. The Exile’s nihilist, right? Why not slaughter some sacred cows

  • 22. Michael  |  April 1st, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    How is Eileen not John Dolan? Her themes and tastes are pretty much exactly the same. They should get married or something if they are different people. Their kid would be like a modern Dostoevsky.


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