A Historical View of Training

Posted by Ryan Tibben on

"That as the security of the lives, liberties, and properties of the inhabitants of this province depends under Providence on their knowledge and skill in the art military, and in their being properly and effectually armed and equipt...and that they use their utmost diligence to perfect themselves in military skill..."
-Provincial Congress 1774

     The "art military"...What does the term mean?  The quote above establishes that the "art military" is, in fact, quite relevant since the preservation of our "lives, liberties, and properties" depends upon it.  With the stakes so high, then, one might question why the text offers so little insight into the definition.  The answer is quite simple.  At the time these words were penned no definition was needed.  Everyday people knew exactly what it meant.  The more troubling thought is that we, as a whole, no longer do.  I submit that by examining history, we can identify the specific things that saw America through the hard times from the colonial  period to the birth of our nation.  I also submit that in doing so, we can chart a training path for ourselves grounded on a principled foundation.

     Living in early America wasn't easy.  Threats abounded in the large, dark "old-growth" forests that many families carved their homes out of.  Potential conflicts with both natural and human predators were an every bit as real as planting crops, tending livestock, and raising children.  Considering also that goods were transported via long and hazardous overland and riverine supply routes, the both proxy and actual wars that European powers were waging throughout the backwoods, and the lack of infrastructure beyond large towns, it becomes evident that Americans from the earliest days needed to provide their own solutions for threats to their "lives, liberties, and properties" at the local level.  Here is where we begin to take a finer look at the tenets of the "art military".

     First, I believe our forefathers valued individual skills.  This is evident in many historical sources.  Emory Hamilton's unpublished manuscript, Indian Atrocities along the Clinch, Powell, and Holston Rivers, 1773-1794, gives us one such example with the following words:

"James, who was perhaps the oldest son, was one of the most noted Indian Spies of the area, and one contemporary who served with him, says he was chosen, 'Because of his dexterous use of the rifle.'"

In his publication, Narrative of William Biggs 1788, William Biggs tells us,

"I thought it would not do to be killed running like a coward and so no other way to make my escape than to face about and to catch the tomahawk from the first that attempted to strike me, and jerk it from him, which I made no doubt but I was able to do."

Both of these examples provide a small sampling of how high levels of individual skill at arms/physical fitness were both needed to survive and implicitly included in the "art military".

     Second, after achieving high levels of individual skills, early Americans began working together in obtaining collective skills.  Stephen Halbrook quotes a letter from 1775 in the American Archives, 4th series, volume 3 in his book, The Founders' Second Amendment.  The quote is as follows:

"We are all in arms, exercising and training old and young to the use of the gun.  No person goes abroad without his sword, or a gun, or pistols....Every plain is full of armed men, who all wear a hunting shirt, on the left breast of which are sewed, in very legible letters, 'Liberty or Death.'"

This example illustrates more than just target practice.  It entails moving in formations, using cover and concealment, fire and maneuver.  These concepts were not new at the time, but a recalling of knowledge/experiences from the societal memories of individuals viscerally familiar with life and death struggles defending themselves and their families. This is further evidenced by Brigadier Earl Percy's own words following the British retreat from Concord.  Percy wrote, 

"They have men amongst them who know very well what they are about, having been employed as Rangers against the Indians & Canadians, & this country being much covered with woods, and hilly, is very advantageous for their method of fighting."

Major Robert Rogers Rules For The Ranging Service explicitly outline specific tactics relating to collective skills from the period of the Rangers in the French & Indian War that are still widely acknowledged.  Clearly, early Americans were not only individually proficient, but also collectively sound in their tactics.

Lastly, real world leadership ability mattered.  Merit determined the right of someone to lead.  Mastery of the aforementioned skills and sound leadership practices held people together in the most desperate of situations.  Mark Baker gives us yet another example, albeit one generation removed, when he quotes a man named William Martin who wrote about the exploits of his father, Joseph Martin, on the 18th century frontier.  William wrote that 

"...in him was combined what rarely happens in any one individual--that is, physical and mental powers of a most superior order--and a spirit of the most energetic, romantic, intrepid and daring."

Yet lest we focus too much on a romanticized notion of what it means to lead, Major Robert Rogers tells us in his own journals that

"Such in general are the rules to be observed in the Ranging service; there are, however, a thousand occurences and circumstances which may happen that will make it necessary in some measure to depart from them and to put other arts and stratagems in practice; in which case every man's reason and judgment must be his guide, according to the particular situation and nature of things, and that he may do this to advantage, he should keep in mind a maxim never to be departed from by a commander, viz. to preserve a firmness and presence of mind on every occasion."

So what can we glean from these descriptions of aspects pertaining to the "art military"?  We still live in a country filled with human predators.  We still have a need to protect ourselves, our families, and (in a larger sense) our neighbors and communities.  We should focus on what we can control.  We ensure that we are "armed and equipt" properly.  We seek out individual training from reputable instructors in the use of the handgun, rifle, shotgun, and unarmed self defense.  We practice our individual skills both in dry fire at home and in live fire at the range.  We seek out collective training pertaining to the environment we live in from reputable instructors.  We cross train our receptive family members/friends/neighbors.  We interact with each other in all these ways and build a sense personal responsibility for the neck of the woods we live in.  We learn to lead and work together in support of each other.  We become more self-reliant at both the individual and local level.  We regain a sense of our identity and a connection to our American history.  Ultimately, we gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of what it means to be a citizen.

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