35 Unarmed Combat

‘For God’s sake don’t pull, John; that’s perfect, you would kill me.’

John Stanley-15th April 1355

Lord James gathered the whole household together in the courtyard.

His voice resonated. ‘I have received a letter from the Prince, which makes it necessary to go to Aquitaine much earlier than expected. All of the squires will accompany me, so training must be accelerated.


As the crowd dispersed, Lord James sought out John and took him out through the gates. ‘I must leave immediately to plan transport. But before I leave, I thought I should tell you that I am all too aware of the troubles which plague you here. Such behaviour is not unusual amongst groups of young men.’

John squared his shoulders and looked Lord James directly in the eye. ‘It started almost as soon as I arrived.’

Lord John dropped his head. ‘Ewan does it to create a state of mind whereby if another squire joins this group you will support the newcomer being bullied in return for finally being part of the core group. It reinforces Ewan’s hold on the leadership of the group.’

‘What do you think I should do about it… him?’

Lord James lifted his head and returned John’s steady gaze. ‘Already I can see that you are doing well in your general training, but breaking Ewan’s hold on you will be your first big challenge. There are no rules for this, John.’

‘I will accept any challenge as long as I have some idea of what to do.’

Lord James sighed. ‘John, I really must go now. However, I will give you something. What you do with it is entirely up to you. I do not approve of what is happening but must not intervene on your behalf. I can, however, make a suggestion. Olwain, during your next session of unarmed combat, will criticise your performance and suggest you need further tuition. Pay careful attention to what he says. You might find it very useful!’


Sure enough, Olwain delivered swinging criticism of John’s performance and demanded he return in the evening for further training. The training was not quite what John had expected.

‘We must first build up your confidence, John. I am a big man but if I was giving you a beating you could kill me.’

‘Kill you?’

‘Yes, the point is that if you possess that skill, then in any close combat you cannot be beaten. Of course, when you choose to use the skill is a very different matter. I will show you.’

He thrust out a powerful arm and wound it around the back of John’s neck, pulling John towards him as he did so. He then moved his hand back across John’s chest and turned it upwards, hooking his hand under John’s jaw. John’s arm, which was closest to Olwain, was pinned by this manoeuvre. John was almost choked in the process. Olwain’s hand was now gripping John’s face and nearly reached his eye. Olwain grinned.

‘Stage one complete.’

With his other arm, Olwain pinned John’s free arm to his body and reached across his back to grip his shoulder. Olwain now pulled him even closer, so that their faces touched.

‘Now,’ breathed Olwain, ‘all I have to do is jerk your jaw sideways and at the same time pull your shoulder backwards. When your neck is twisted beyond your shoulder, you are dead. It doesn’t take a great deal of strength and there will not be a mark on your body!’ He released John, who in turn sighed with relief. ‘Now, try it on me.’

John practised the hold several times whilst Olwain offered no resistance. Then once he could find the hold with ease, Olwain offered greater and greater resistance to simulate the real situation. Soon John discovered that the hold could be applied most effectively when Olwain dashed at him and tried to grapple him to the ground. Providing the timing was right, an aggressor’s momentum could be used to complete the hold.

They were both sweating profusely when Olwain cried out. ‘For God’s sake don’t pull, John; that’s perfect, you would kill me.’

John released the grip and Olwain moved away. He reached out and shook John’s hand. ‘Good, you learn fast. If you want to retain the ability to do that you must practice it. You will only practice with someone you know you can trust!’


The practice continued for many evenings until Olwain expressed satisfaction that John had mastery of the essential manoeuvres for unarmed combat. ‘It’s now just a question of courage, fitness, resilience and strength. You don’t have to fight to build up fitness and strength.’Olwain showed how an old discarded hose could hold pebbles and small rocks. He built up the weight until John just failed to lift it and then removed half of the stones. ‘Now lift that twenty times with each arm, then lie on the floor and lift it twenty times with each leg. Put it around your neck and make twenty full bows. Finally, do twenty full knee bends. Do it now.’

John performed the exercises with ease.

‘And again.’

Immediately John understood what Olwain was teaching him. The second set was far more difficult.

‘And again.’

John had to force himself to complete the third set. Sweat leached from his skin as he breathed heavily through the exercises.

‘Good, you should work at it every day until you can complete five sets then add one pebble every day. Only one pebble.’

‘Now it is time to put your skills to the test.’


A week later, Olwain heavily criticised Ewan’s performance.

‘No, no, you are not improving!’And again,’You are not learning anything, just lazy!’ Then, after a moment’s pause. ‘We must have real fights.’ He waited, apparently considering the matchups he wanted. ‘Edward, you will fight Henry and John, you will fight Ewan.’

John saw Ewan smile.

Olwain continued. ‘Now, to give you something to fight for, the winners will have no domestic duties for the next month, all the work will be done by the losers.’

Olwain called on Ewan and John to fight first.


Ewan quickly lunged forward, swinging his fists through great arcs. John parried them easily and repaid these failed attempts with closed fist blows to Ewan’s face. After another lunge, as Ewan stumbled past him, John kicked him firmly in the backside, sending him sprawling to the dust.

There was a gaggle of laughter from the spectators.

Ewan’s naturally bad-tempered face glowed full red. He changed tactics, moving more slowly towards John with the intention to grappling with him. It was then that the confidence Olwain had given John flooded into his mind.

He danced around and threw punches at will.

Ewan became more and more desperate. John felt no need to attack. He simply punched when he saw an opportunity but danced away and parried with his forearms and elbows when he didn’t, using very little energy, whereas Ewan was now breathing hard. Ewan snarled and dived at John’s thighs, intending to throw him to the ground but John feinted one way and then the other, bringing a knee up into Ewan’s face followed closely by a two-handed punch to the back of Ewan’s head. That was the end for Ewan. He slumped to the ground, blood flowing in torrents from his face and nose. He didn’t move at all for several seconds.

‘Stop! Fight over,’ said Olwain and asked John to help him get Ewan to his feet. Ewan angrily shook off his helpers and staggered away.

‘Don’t forget you have to do all John’s chores,’ Olwain shouted after him. He grabbed John’s arm and leaned forward so that no one else could hear what he said. ‘Very clinical, I think we might all have underestimated you.’

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Extract from The Prisoner of Foix--Chapter 43 -The EntranceNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley-26th April 1355

 

'Looks like we are going to see a bit of excitement, John. The Captain tried to get an agreement from the Prince that if there is surf running across the channel to Arcachon we will turn back to Bordeaux, but the Prince would hear none of it. Instead, he has offered to provide insurance for all three ships. If they are damaged or sunk, the owners will be compensated and every sailor who makes the passage will be given a bounty payment. What none of this seems to take into account is that if we sink in rough, fast-flowing waters we might all drown.'

John raised his eyebrows. 'But that is what we are going to do?'

'Yes, despite the fact that surf running accross the entrance is not uncommon and the deep water channel moves continually. In the end, the Prince attacked their captains on their weakest point, their professional pride! He threw down the gauntlet. He offered to take the Sally first through the channel, and to take control during the passage.' He raised his brow. 'We are going into the Bay of Arcachon, come what may! '

Extract from The Eagle of Carcassone -- Chapter 24-- A Real GoddessNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley - 22 July 1355

An hour later John walked with Ximene close to the river along the valley below St Feriole. It was the very essence of a summer’s day. The sun was fierce but in the shadow of the trees, it was cool and fragrant. The trees and shrubs along the riverbank hid their progress, from the Château, from St Feriole.

Eventually they reached a point where John thought it was safe to emerge from cover. To his satisfaction the stream extended into a pool with a sandy beach, shaded by trees. Where the stream entered the pool there was a flat grassy area, almost circular. Behind this, the bulk of two mountain ridges provided a splendid backdrop. He looked around once more ‘Not just a good training ground but a great training ground. If the Greek heroes knew about this they might be tempted to join me, to train with me’

Ximene laughed out loud. He turned to look at her. She had removed her outer clothes and was wearing a white chemise, cut short so that it barely reached her knees. Around her waist, she wore a plaited leather belt, obviously fashioned from the multitude of leather straps to be found in the tackle room.

She ran her hands down over her breasts. ‘When you were unconscious I heard you muttering about gods and goddesses, so  I have decided that from now on, for you, I will be the goddess.’

The Prisoner of FoixVol 1 of the series—The Treasure of Trencavel

Aquitaine, an English possession, is in crisis. It is under threat from neighbouring nations and internal dissension.

The Black Prince, King Edward III’s eldest son has been given the task of taking command in Aquitaine.

Suddenly there is an opportunity. Ximene Trencavel is the heiress to the lands of Occitan, to the east of Aquitaine: lands controlled by the Franks. Ximene wants independence, both for herself and for Occitan.

A union between Aquitaine and Occitan would be mutually beneficial. The Black Prince undertakes a secret journey to meet Ximene to negotiate a marriage contract. It is, however, a marriage neither of them really wants.

Meanwhile, the  Franks plot to murder Ximene to prevent ,not just the marriage, but any kind of union between England and Occitan.

The Eagle Of CarcassonneVol II of the series—The Treasure of Trencavel

The loose alliance between Ximene Trencavel and the Black Prince is under threat.

The Prince invades Occitan, to show his support for Ximene but it becomes an invasion which creates more problems than it solves.

The Prince has fallen hopelessly in love with Joan of Kent and Joan is now determined to marry him and become the next Queen of England.

Joan is therefore  determined to convince Ximene that she should not marry the Prince.

Part of her strategy is to encourage Ximene’s relationship with John Stanley—one of the Princes bodyguards—not an easy task as both John and Ximene have doubts about their compatibility.

However, John is grievously injured in a battle and Ximene commits herself to nurse him back to health.