What is Pammachon

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By Costas Dervenis, President of Pammachon
Pammachon – what’s in a word?

Since 1999 I have been using the term “pammachon” (πάμμαχον) in regard to both the martial arts and the warrior’s path expressed through these arts. There are clear indications that the word “Pammachon” was used by the Ancient Greeks to define the martial arts, as they were fully aware of the distinction between the Martial Arts and Combat Sports. However, beyond the historical and documented use of the word until the palaeo-Christian era, it is obvious to both hoplologists and linguists that the words “machaira” (μάχαιρα – knife), and “machi” (μάχη – battle) originate from the same root word “mach-” (μαχ-). Thus the word “machi” (μάχη), essentially describes a martial confrontation that includes both the use of close quarter combat weaponry (e.g. knife, sword, spear, lance, club etc.), and (the somewhat more important in contemporary times) unarmed combat against the aforementioned lethal weapons. Hence, a proper translation of the word “pan-machon” (πάν-μαχον) would be “total combat” (ολική μάχη).

Martial Arts and Combat Sports

Anyone with a more than elementary involvement in the martial arts and combat sports is able to tell the difference between the two. A combat sport is, by definition, an athletic contest between two individuals, the main intention of which is, in the end, to assure the participants’ safety. Wrestling, judo, taekwondo and boxing are principle examples of combat sports. Techniques that are by definition hazardous to the participant’s health and continued wellbeing are (or should be) prohibited. It is plainly understood that contestants are not allowed to (nor desire to) attack one another’s eyes or genitals, bite through each other’s flesh, or attack the spinal cord and skull using lethal strikes, locks, or other techniques. Killing or permanently disabling the opponent is not the objective of combat sports, though injuries abound. In true combat situations, however, the aforementioned conditions, unfortunately, do typically apply – when one fights for his life, there are no limits, and one’s intentions center on killing the enemy as quickly as possible. Consequently, both the training methods and the applied kinesiology are different for martial arts and for combat sports, and always have been. The very reason that martial arts were developed in the first place was defense against bladed weapons (and against other weapons) in battle, while combat sports were developed as a bloodless means of developing the speed, power, technique, accuracy, and other elements necessary for the application of martial arts.

But what is it that defines a martial art and practically differentiates it from combat sports? There are three specific differences:

  • A Martial Art deals with conditions and situations of true combat. A combat sport of necessity only simulates them, and sets limitations for safety reasons.
  • A Martial Art must, by default, be the product of people who have survived actual combat.
  • A Martial Art must use the same type of movement whether the practitioner is armed or unarmed, wearing armor or unarmored, whether facing an armed or unarmed opponent, whether there is one opponent or many.

What happens to us when we fight for our lives

Whenever we enter into conflict, there are specific biological effects that come into play, an inheritance from our primate ancestors. When an infuriated man actually decides to attack another, an entire series of biological “symptoms” appears:

  • His face will go pale (during the confrontation, blood will leave the skin and direct itself to the larger muscles and internal organs in order to enforce and protect them).
  • His lips and mouth will shut firmly to protect the teeth.
  • His breathing will become fast and deep to hyper-oxygenate the body.
  • His shoulders will drop, and his balance will shift to the toes. He may additionally shift his weight from one leg to another.
  • His jaw will tuck in to protect the throat.
  • He will “squint” to protect the eyes.
  • His fists will clench automatically.
  • He will begin to look over his opponents’ body, searching for weak points.
  • Most of his comments will be monosyllabic, as the more primitive regions of the brain take over before and during combat.

Without proper neurological and cognitive conditioning, we can’t really avoid reacting as described above, since this is how we have been programmed by nature. It would be safe to call this biological sequence our “natural aggressive response.” Similar manifestations to the “response” mentioned above can be seen in dogs, cats, monkeys, and gorillas, in fact in all animals. As human beings, however, we do have the capacity to control our physiological reactions during combat, as we differ from other animals in terms of self-control and logic. However, this can only be achieved though conscious effort and discipline (In other words, the logical and conscious elements of our brain, the cerebral frontal lobes, must impose themselves upon the more primitive parts of our brain, the autonomic nervous system and the limbic system).

Standing upright to tame the animal within

Even so, the notion that the most efficient martial art would be that which follows the parameters of our natural aggressive response, is not a foolish one. Thus, a combat sport such as kickboxing, where the execution of the techniques and body posture follow the model of our natural response in battle, has much to commend it. However, in practice and under real combat circumstances, such a stance is ill-advised. In contrast with expectations, during the past 10,000 years (as far as the archeological record takes us back), martial artists, have insisted on an upright posture. Why is this the case?

a) The first reason, as mentioned earlier, is the possibility that the combatant is wearing armor.

When one wears body armor (or carries modern military equipment) the center of weight shifts upward. The warrior must keep his body upright to maintain his balance. The posture becomes “heavier”, and part of the weight shifts from the toes to the heels in motion. The practitioner’s stance must of necessity become somewhat wider for the same reason. This explains why we see wide stances in most traditional Eastern Martial Arts, as well as in the Martial Arts of the ancient and medieval Western world.

“Great! So what does that have to do with us?” you may wonder. “Isn’t armor ancient history?” Well… actually, no. The armor worn today by police and the military is merely an indication of what is to follow in the next decade or so. Perhaps in the future, given the fact that all electronics may be disabled by a heavy electromagnetic pulse, controlled field or concentrated beam (and such weapons ARE being constructed), future soldiers may go into combat wearing armor like their corresponding 15th and 16th century colleagues. Of course firearms and explosives will continue to exist, but recent developments suggest that materials science will see to it that there is corresponding armor for soldiers in battle. In essence, war in the future may see a much greater extent of hand-to-hand combat than exists today, perhaps somewhat like 16th century medieval combat. And, of course, armored combat is already (and will be far more in days to come) a crucial element for police forces in riot control.

b) The second reason is that we think with our bodies.

One factor that most ancient civilizations understood, and that modern science has only begun to verify over the past 10 years (note microtubule theory, post-transplant personality effects, etc.) is the following axiom: we think with our bodies. A great part of our unconscious mind is hidden within the consistency of the body’s cell-group functions. This is reflected both in traditional Chinese and in Hippocratic medical thought. Ancient peoples were well aware of the difference between combative dueling and the high demands of the battlefield, and – if one is inclined to look at things in a philosophical extent – the very demands of living life itself in this context. As one concentrates on his movement, whether he is dancing, working in construction, or practicing martial arts, he is essentially programming his unconscious mind – there is no way around this. One may observe the following phenomenon, then: Martial Arts that rely on the body’s natural aggressive stance are capable of inducing corresponding changes to the practitioner’s personality, leading the individual to become more aggressive (this is a generalization, of course, not a rule). This aggressiveness may constitute a problem, both in living out a normal life in society, and by inducing a strategic mistake in war, personal combat, or even a combat sport. It is no simple coincidence that the most successful athletes in combative sport adopt a more upright posture over time that allows for more refined and less aggressive movement.

The connection between the way a practitioner moves during combat, and the philosophical dimension inherent to each civilization and culture, is a link established by the historical and archeological record all the way back to the Neolithic age. We will examine this point again further on in this article – at this point I will limit myself to simply pointing out the psychological and spiritual origins of movement in methods of martial arts and/or dueling sports in general.

Proven in Combat

Moving on to Difference #2 now (that a martial art needs to be the product of people who have actually survived combat), which is a factor directly related to our efforts to reconstruct Pammachon, the following is pertinent:

We are quite fortunate in our day and age that historical archives have preserved the methods and techniques of past civilizations regarding both their combat sports (such as submission grappling), and their actual martial arts. These archives are very important, as they express the judgment of people who actually participated in wars throughout history, and thus understood what happens during combat very well. It is also extremely noteworthy that the martial arts documented in the archaeological and historic archives of diverse peoples throughout time portray an evident likeness among themselves. This is clearly no coincidence. Ancient peoples, as well as medieval and Renaissance societies, clearly chose what was truly useful in combat – martial arts trends and fashions are the result of times of peace, not times of war and turmoil, where what is practical is kept and propagated.

Pammachon today is based on the 19th century martial arts that were taught in the Greek educational curriculum until the 1940s. The author has records in his possession demonstrating what this training was like, some of which (family photos) have been released in this website and related books. But to complete the art, we had to delve back into the ancient past and follow the course of martial arts all the way to the modern era.

Beginning our analysis in 2000 BCE, we find that the Beni Hasan graves of Egypt contain hundreds of depictions of submission grappling, which can be readily deciphered by researchers. It is significant that these paintings are noticeably separated from those below them depicting actual scenes of combat in a linear schema, making it clear that the Egyptians evidently distinguished warfare from combat sports, but used the latter as preparation for the former.

From ancient Greece and Rome, there are also a multitude of frescoes and statues depicting combat sports and martial arts. We have documented the majority if not all.

Eighty-five combative manuals have survived from medieval and renaissance Europe, defining and elaborating on the martial arts of the period. Manuals such as Talhoffer’s (Germany, 1467), Fiore de Liberi (Italy, 1410), George Silver’s (England, 1595) include a plethora of depictions and explanations. From the aforementioned 85 manuals we were able to extract hundreds of drawings and text for comparative analysis.

All the above were compared to the relative literary archives (starting from the 16th century AD) and personal instruction received in concrete lineages of several Eastern martial arts traditions (with a documented history of two centuries or more), and specifically Japan (about 15 ko ryu schools both active, and “dead”), China (specific kung fu and taijiquan schools), and India (Indian martial arts and submission grappling schools).

In addition, we compared all of the above to the written archive of 19th century, World War One and WW2 experts in the West (including Russia). Today most people have forgotten that during WW1 cavalry was still using lances, officers used their sword in combat, and battle in the trenches often took the form of hand-to-hand combat, incorporating knives, bayonets and shovels. This form of combat is within recent memory – the author has spoken with men who participated in the Great War.


Example: A comparison of techniques from Italy circa 1410 C.E. (left) and Japan 1650 C.E. (right)

Developing the Training Curriculum

By examining this vast archive of martial arts and combat sports (spanning 4000 years, and including civilizations from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Egypt), pammachon researchers compared the varied methods, and established common techniques, training methods, and principles. The logic behind the experiment was simple: any techniques or training methods that were identical, when used by diverse nations on miscellaneous continents in a variety of periods of time, were considered proven in combat and worth studying. Techniques were “graded” during evaluation: those that were replicated in the historic record in three or more cases were deemed completely proven in combat, those that were repeated twice were ranked at a secondary level, those that were not repeated were suspect, etc. Both the method of analysis and the derived axiom are simply common sense, but, sadly, no one in the world had ever completed by anyone before such an analysis earlier!


For example, in the drawings we observe a similar technique being used both in Egypt circa 2000 BCE and in Germany in the 16th century ACE, and hence arrive at the conclusion that the specific technique must be of combative value. We came to similar conclusions when comparing techniques from Ancient Greece with those of medieval Japan, or comparing medieval Italian grappling to WW2 manuals, etc. In short, we have established the common elements found in the martial arts throughout human history. From this analysis we uncovered data not only about the combative techniques themselves, but also about the physical, emotional, and mental training methods utilized by diverse cultures throughout the centuries, tracing the common elements among them. This research effort literally took the author twenty (20) years, beginning in 1983 and ending in 2003!

Mind is that which decorates all and the reason for all being

After this “mental” level is complete, the student may attempt to move on to the spiritual level (or not as he chooses). In this attempt, each student’s experiences are unique and extremely personal, as he is constantly using his will, emotional and mental “silence” to come in touch with that part of the Divine we all retain within ourselves. The student is free to pursue whatever means he chooses to attempt this path – it is not something that is taught within the school, but only recognized. In Pammachon, there is only one maxim for training at this level, replicated again and again in East and West and found by the author over the doors of a church in a Greek Orthodox monastery in Crete: “Mind is that which decorates all and the reason for all being.

In summary then, Pammachon has re-emerged in its classical form, as a timeless discipline combining a historically proven martial art that has seen global use, with a method of training the mind, beyond dogma and cultural discrimination.