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How did the AEGIS Martial Arts System come to be...and why you should know

Why 'AEGIS'?

The name AEGIS (pronounced Eejis) is taken from Greek Mythology. According to the ancient Greek myths, the hero Perseus set out to prove his worth by slaying the Gorgon Medusa. The Gorgons were a trio of female monsters whose appearance was so horrific that one look into their faces would instantly turn you to stone.

They were immortal except for Medusa, who had been cursed by one of the gods and her punishment was to be changed into a Gorgon and it was Medusa that Perseus set out to kill.

With the help of Athena (the goddess of wisdom) who Perseus had requested to help him in his task, Perseus tracked down the Gorgons. The Gorgons were not without weapons and the fact that one look would turn you to stone was backed up by claws, bronze scales and vicious looking wings. They lived at the edge of the world; an inaccessible place, desolate yet full of dangers.

After a savage fight Perseus slew the Gorgon; by using his polished shield as a mirror so as not to look directly into her eyes, he managed to sneak into her lair, attack her and cut off her head.

Making very sure not to look upon her face which was just as deadly even in death, he put her head into a bag and carried it back with him. He presented the head as a gift to his sponsor the goddess Athena who had helped and prepared him for the ordeal.

Athena presented the head to her father Zeus, the king of all the gods. Zeus placed the head on his shield which was known as the AEGIS. The AEGIS became his protection against any attack. Nowadays AEGIS has come to stand for ‘anything that protects’. Together with his weapon which was a thunderbolt and the terrible AEGIS, he was invincible.

The AEGIS Shield of Zeus
Zeus's AEGIS

We adopted this name for our style of fighting to represent our philosophy that we were not limited like Boxing, to only use fists or Judo which only used Throws and locks, or Karate which did not have hooks or uppercuts. We wanted a system that would respond to as many self defence situations as possible; not limited by a system that was just for sport or didn’t use this or that technique for no obvious reason. We wanted a system that could respond like the meaning of AEGIS; ‘anything that protects’

The Greek connection is more than just the name being derived from a Greek myth. At the time I chose the name I was eager to be separate from the oriental arts which I saw only as some kind of poison that had infected the martial arts of the west.

A popular theory of the evolution of martial arts states that ‘Alexander the Great’ brought the Greek art of Pankration (the forerunner of Boxing) with him when he conquered India. The native Indians learned the art from Alexander as he was the kind of leader that believed in working with the indigenous peoples he had invaded: more an approach of ‘we freed you’ than ‘we beat you’.

India was the place where Buddhism developed and the Buddhist monks travelled around spreading the word. The story goes that a monk called Daruma Bodidharma travelled to China as a missionary and as he and his converted followers travelled the country he noticed that his fellow monks were increasingly fatigued and unable to keep pace with him.

To get them fit he taught them a series of exercises which we know today a Tai Chi, this early Tai Chi was the fore runner of Shaolin Kung Fu. Shaolin Kung Fu spread into the various forms of Chinese Kung Fu which spread to Japan and Korea and eventually became Karate and Tae Kwon Do which came to the west along with Kung Fu in the early to mid 20th century.

Back in 1982 when I was putting a name to the style this was the current thinking in the development of martial arts. It is however, too simplistic to be true; the fact is whilst martial arts have been influenced by the arts of many different nations, each nation has developed its own method of fighting distinct from any other. Even villages and families had there own way of fighting.

At this time I was coming up with a name for the system and I wanted to return to the origins of martial arts based on the legend above. Back to the Greek Pankration, a system based on what worked rather than what looked good. I wanted to show that the West had its own distinct and more effective approach to armed and unarmed combat.

My initial training was in Boxing, one of the most effective martial arts, however, it obviously has its limitations as it has no grappling or kicks, but this was not always the case. Boxing had once been complete.

In 1730 James Figg proclaimed himself the heavy weight Boxing champion of England and is still recognised as the father of modern Boxing.

He taught his art to anyone who would pay his price and gained such notoriety and acclaim that his business cards were designed by William Hogarth one of the most famous artists of the day. On Figg’s business card he advertised pugilism (the old word for Boxing) short sword, cudgel and quarter staff. Pugilism at that time was ‘the ‘Noble Art of Self Defence’. It was bare knuckle, rounds ended when someone was knocked down and grappling, throws, kicks, trips and headlocks were all allowed. The winner was declared only when one side could not ‘come up to scratch’ and the winner took all the winnings and often the loser got nothing.

Image of a Pugilisit Boxer
A Pugilist Boxer

It was a more complete art perhaps without the finesse and training methods of today but it was fight to win and ‘anything goes’. This is what I wanted to return to; the effectiveness of Boxing but with all its old techniques added back.

Boxing in Figgs’ time was adopted by the gentry who betted heavily on it and many even began training in it. But this was the time of the ‘Fop’, the Dandy, and the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ sort of character: they wanted to practice the manly art without looking like a ruffian, as Johnny Cash said it ‘Kickin and a gougin’ in the mud and the blood and the beer’. The first Boxing gloves were designed for these wealthy students to wear so they didn’t mark each other too severely or hurt their hands too much.

The gentry weren’t into all this untidy ‘anything goes’ fighting they wanted a clean cut stand up contest of two men pitted against each other using only their fists. So out went the grappling and in came the rules.

Boxing was not the only martial art to suffer at the hands of nobility that wanted to see a change from a working system to a less practical but more aesthetically pleasing one with form and etiquette. At the same time England saw the disappearance of the short sword in favour of the stand up French and Italian systems which are generally acknowledged to be inferior to the ‘rough house’ old English method. The traditional short sword often accompanied by a buckler (small shield slightly bigger than a tea plate) or dagger was a dangerous combination, plus the combatants would add clinches and kicks; this too was a no rules contest. Sadly the system has dropped out of use and been lost through lack of use.

So Boxing became clean cut and stand up just like Fencing and if you compare diagrams of the old styles of fencing and Boxing you will see marked similarities in the stances. I wanted a return to a complete system; an effective system without all the deep stances, inferior punching techniques or kata. A system based on what works in reality not what looks good.

The AEGIS Martial Arts Logo

AEGIS is the result and whilst I have since come to respect many of the Eastern systems more than I did then, we still retain the Western approach to training and development, but with an Eastern discipline and respect. A system of martial arts must be effective in a real life defence situation and too many systems have lost this reality. It must be effective otherwise it is not what it sets out to be. It becomes a lie; and its students won’t know that it doesn’t work until they try and fail to use it in the street.

AEGIS continues to develop and evolve; to find and use new methods whenever and wherever we find them and adapt them to our method of application; and to change the application if it ceases to work; that is in real life street defence. AEGIS continues to adhere to using techniques because they work and not because they look good; to retain the original tenet of ‘anything that protects’.

Chief Master Tony Higo Founder of the AEGIS Martial Arts System

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