Is Pankration for real?

Tim's Discussion Board: Martial Arts - Miscellaneous: Is Pankration for real?
   By kenneth sohl on Friday, January 17, 2003 - 08:01 pm: Edit Post

Is Pankration for real, i.e. is it traceable back to ancient Greece, or is it a modern "rediscovery" (hodgepodge fabrication)? I can find little info on it, but it looks fascinating.

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   By Tim on Sunday, January 19, 2003 - 02:05 pm: Edit Post

The idea of modern Pankration is traceable to ancient Greece (all-in fighting), however, since there are no unbroken lineages of ancient Pankration into modern times, it's doubtful Pankration fighters of today are doing exactly what the ancient Greeks did (and, nowadays, the participants don't fight stark naked).

The rules of most modern Pankration events allow striking with the hands, feet and knees, all manner of takedowns and throws, groundfighting to submission with limited strikes on the ground. There are some variations in the rules depending on the event.

I'm not sure if "hodgepodge fabrication" is a fair assessment of the modern fighter's abilities, since there have been and are only so many (realistic) ways of striking, throwing and grappling. I'd reserve judgement until you participate in one of the events.
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   By kenneth sohl on Monday, January 20, 2003 - 04:24 am: Edit Post

No disrespect meant, just wondering if the techniques were actually taken from what we know of the way the ancient greeks fought. I came across a book of ancient greek martial arts recently, that included sword, spear techniques, battlefield tactics, etc. taken from engravings and old scrolls and such. Among the different things discussed were boxing and wrestling, with some examples of techniques, and translations of old eyewitness accounts. It was a very general work.
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   By kenneth sohl on Monday, January 20, 2003 - 04:32 am: Edit Post

I thought it was a style, your answer indicates it is a type of match. You mentioned you were sending a team to participate. Do you train your people in pankration or can they simply do what they know in the matches? Does it differ significantly from NHB competitions?
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   By Tim on Monday, January 20, 2003 - 05:09 pm: Edit Post

We will adjust our training somewhat to fit the rules of the particular event, but the basic skills are all the same. Usually it's a matter of fine tuning the training to a particular event's legal techniques, use or non-use of protective gear, scoring and length of matches. We have the same philosophy you talked about in one of your other posts; it's a good idea to participate in various forms of combat sport in addition to traditional training methods.

There is quite a body of extant knowledge on the particular types of techniques and training of the ancient Greek Pankratiast. For the interested, the book "Combat Sports in the Ancient World" (by Michael B. Poliakoff) is an excellent resource.
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   By Mike Taylor on Wednesday, January 22, 2003 - 11:20 am: Edit Post

In the old movie, "The 300 Spartans," the Persian enemy ends the battle by shooting arrows at the Greeks (rather than wasting more of his own men in hand-to-hand fighting); however this is typical Hollywood; the history books have it that the battle did end with hand-to-hand fighting: biting, scratching, eye-gouging, etc., etc.

And yes Tim, Hollywood did have them better dressed for the movie. Usually a typical Greek soldier was naked but for a few strips of leather around the hips, a helmet, & maybe some shin-guards; cloaks were for cold weather. In sport competition they were usually completely naked.

Lucky for us this isn't the modern way.
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   By Steve James on Friday, January 31, 2003 - 11:43 am: Edit Post

Hi Mike,

here's a page with some commentary on Thermopylae from an "early" source.

There are also some pictures/statues of Spartans --who were armed somewhat differently than other "Greeks." I hadn't heard that historians had discounted Xerxes didn't use archers to finish them off --not that it made any difference from a military standpoint. Anyway, just my .02.

Steve James

   By kenneth sohl on Friday, January 31, 2003 - 07:12 pm: Edit Post

Great site!

   By Mike Taylor on Saturday, February 01, 2003 - 04:05 am: Edit Post

Steve James,

Thanks -- that was an interesting site/article (that version supported the movie's arrow-usage ending); the "alternate" hand-to-hand end I may have read in a military/para-military history magazine (as I'm beginnin' to recall now that my pea-brain memory's kickin' into gear). Arrows are costly & I've still got my doubts about the arrow-shooting ending (do you realize how long it would take & how many arrows it would take to finish off a highly-disciplined, heavily-armored force with arrows -- prior to the introduction of the long bow?); such an ending sounds made up to feed egos (like, "We're so tough, no one dares fight us up close" B.S.). If arrows were so decisive (& plentiful), then armies of the day would have been made up mostly of archers (but they weren't).

The average Greek hoplite was relatively naked (they relied heavily upon their shields as their primary protection); if the Spartans were "heavily armored" as stated in the site's article, then that means they definitely had helmets, shin-guards, leather skirts, & breast-plates* (centuries later -- in the Dark Ages -- the term "heavily armored" would take on new meaning as then many knights would only have a few square inches of exposed flesh). The fact that the Persians had inferior armor gives us a hint that they were probably near naked as well &/or they used inferior materials/makes as armor.

During Alexander the Great's trek, many of his troops wore a rope or cloth around their waists (no leather skirt), letting it all just hang out. Some Japanese samurai dressed similarly in the summer. Fruit-of-the-Loom & Hanes weren't yet all that popular. Thoroughly wrapping one's self in heavy armor was often reserved for the rich (often those with horses) & used for some battles. Walking day-to-day in hot climes in heavy armor was never the norm in ye olden days ('cause heat stroke's a killer & a good soldier, like any Hoplite worth his salt, would rather just drink himself to death).

*The average (early) Hoplite breast-plate left the stomach exposed (think of 'em as football shoulder pads). Of course, some officers were better armored (& dressed) from time-to-time.

   By european on Saturday, February 01, 2003 - 04:14 pm: Edit Post

A serious recontruction of pankration is getting done in Europe nowadays. Martial artists met historians and helped each other very well. The unarmed arts are developed togheter with the armed ones, getting the real stuff raised up from the dust of centuries.
Go see this:

   By Steve James on Saturday, February 01, 2003 - 05:46 pm: Edit Post

Hi Mike,
well, as I said, I didn't know that there was an argument about whether arrows were or were not used. Either way had little to do with the purpose or outcome of the battle. Most people wonder why Demetrius stayed at all with just 300 Spartans to face 10-20,000 Persians. Well, as for how the final moments were fought, we have only the ancient records. None of the Greeks survived :-(. We are unclear as to what the Persians had to say . . . well, one reason is that Alexander destroyed the Persian libraries (in what is now Iran) in revenge for the Persian sack of Athens under Xerxes. Anyway, Herodotus was the guy in the "Western" world who recorded these events in his histories. He worked on 2nd hand info. Maybe someone has gotten closer. At any rate, the part about the arrows isn't so important. (Though, it was a search for arrowheads that led some archaeologists to suggest they'd found the place of the "last stand.") Well, I'm not convinced by your argument about the cost of arrows. Sure, shooting arrows into armed men (but, not heavily armored like a Medieval knight, as you point our) will waste a lot of arrows. The Persians were going to win this time, after they had already lost 'thousands' of men. So, if I were a commander, I'd use the arrows rather than send in my men anyday. I don't think that is very Hollywood. Oh well, but it is academic. As for the outfits, well, yeah, the Spartans were... spartan. As for fighting near-naked, compared to the knights they were. But, if armor served no advantage, they wouldn't have had any. I've put together some sites with pics and stuff. Oh, btw, about the "biting and gouging" stuff. I agree that it can be part of combat, anytime. But, one of the most famous things that Demetrius is remembered for is his response when Xerxes asked him to surrender. Xerxes said, "give us your weapons, and we'll give you a break." Demetrius responded, "Ok, come and take them." I have to think that a Spartan would have probably died holding on to his blade. Fwiw.

Steve James

   By Mike Taylor on Saturday, February 01, 2003 - 08:47 pm: Edit Post

Steve James,

The commander of the "Lost Batallion" (US Army WWI) gave a similar response (something like "Come and get us") to the Germans when they asked him to surrender his batallion. Thanks for the sites.

I believe that the Persians figuring out a way to envelope the Greeks (via a Greek traitor who knew the mountain trails) is what hurt the Greeks the most (though some would argue those arrowheads, swords, & spearpoints hurt even more).

   By european on Sunday, February 02, 2003 - 03:13 pm: Edit Post


the famous "Moka la!" (Come get'em!) was pronounced by King Leonidas of Sparta, leader of the greek army and one of the 300 Omoioi killed at the Thermopiles that day.

yes, they were betrayed and taken from behind. But the Persians payed it very much, later on with the revenge of Aleksandros the Great.

   By european on Sunday, February 02, 2003 - 03:15 pm: Edit Post


the estimated number of the associated armies of the Persian Empire at the Thermopiles ranges from 100.000 to 200.000 people.

   By Mike Taylor on Sunday, February 02, 2003 - 11:37 pm: Edit Post


Wow -- that many Persians, eh?

Being an object of Alexander's revenge was always a bad thing (he would bypass a troublesome target... unless revenge was involved).

As for the topic question (Is Pankration for real?): the Greeks have had a long-term reputation of being tough fighters.

   By european (Unregistered Guest) on Monday, February 03, 2003 - 04:07 am: Edit Post


yes, so many of them that day.

Aleksandros, as I said before, had them regret their crimes but the only one greek polis who did not partecipate to the invasion of Asia was ..Sparta!

real pankration is being recontructed seriously nowadays but not in Greece, mainly in Italy and south of France. Dozens of experimental fights take place every year, giving highly important feedback.
Supposely the main weapon of pankration was the vertical thumb fist (as in wing chun) and the hammer fist swinging fron a diagonal angle (seen in choy lay fut), besides 'orthepale' (standing grappling) and pale (groundwork included). Biting and gourging were banned but not so groin strikes.
Still, we should never forget that pankration (as for pale -wrestling- and pigmakia -boxing) was the mean to form fighters who would have applied ONLY oplomakia -heavy armoured fighting- on the battlefield. The blade and the shield were the kings, not the naked fist.

   By Steve James (Unregistered Guest) on Monday, February 03, 2003 - 08:14 am: Edit Post

Allo European,

of course you're right about Leonidas. I've always confused him with another story. The numbers of Persians you suggest is more in line with the traditional estimates. (The Immortals, alone, were said to be 10,000). There, I was underexaggerating. As far as Pankration, specifically, if I recall correctly, it is suggested that the events Thermopylae (well, the war) had been postponed (?) because of the Olympics. The Olympic athletic combat-competitions were probably similar. So, looking at the history of the Olympic games might be one way to look at the history of Greek combat arts. Probably been said already, though.

Steve James

   By european (Unregistered Guest) on Monday, February 03, 2003 - 11:21 am: Edit Post

Hi Steve,

war was to be stopped for the olympic games indeed. The games were holy and so war had to wait untill they were over. Unfortunately the Grand King of Persia thought little about greek Gods, so he had his villains devastating the temples in Athens. As said, he paid it later on.

Pankration was introduced much later in the games, while wrestling and boxing were there since the beginning. The reason is very probably 'cause alot of secrecy surrounded pankration, a holy art, which name (all the powers in one) wasn't referred to physical power alone. You can think of the real value of pankration in the classic world just considering that it was never thaught to children; only adults could perform it, same for holy rites.


   By Tim (Unregistered Guest) on Monday, February 03, 2003 - 11:57 am: Edit Post

I think I've recommended this book before on another thread, but for those interested, there is an excellent book on the subject of ancient combat sports, dealing mainly with the Greeks.

"Combat Sports in the Ancient World"
Michael B. Poliakoff
ISBN 0-300-06312-1

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