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True Helm

A Practical Guide to Northern Warriorship

by Sweyn Plowright

Available from Rune-Net
ISBN 0-646-39938-1

Phil asked me to review this book a little while back as my background includes over 10 years' Japanese martial arts experience and nearly 20 years' interest in the runes. Whilst it has taken me some time to complete my review, I can only say that I read the book in a couple of days. Sweyn has an easy going, no-nonsense writing style, free from the pretentious pomp and overly mystical dogma that sadly dominate most occult books.

In this book, Sweyn demonstrates a detailed knowledge of both the Northern Tradition and of martial arts. He also shows how the two approaches compliment each other as valid quests and ways of living. I would say that Sweyn has done this successfully and he has clearly avoided the obvious pitfalls of being too literal. There was a place for berserkers during the Dark Ages, but nowadays they would spend their life in jail or on a psychiatric programme of some sort (perhaps doing the odd murder whilst under "care in the community").

The book is divided into two major parts. Part one looks at concepts and practical techniques. Perhaps the most useful of these is that of cultivating an attitude in which one is not a victim. This from a practical self-defence point of view cannot be overly stressed. The victim mind-set usually makes a person a bigger target and invites trouble.

The other most essential concept is that of being aware. We Japanese martial artists refer to it as Zanshin. It starts with being aware of oneself (as Clint Eastwood said "A man's gotta know his limits") and includes being aware of people around one and of both places and situations. Starting from learning to observe obvious physical signs the experienced martial artist goes on to read subtle cues aiming to develop an almost telepathic awareness of potential danger.

Sweyn describes practical uses of runes to increase the chance of victory during a fight. He also describes magical workings to ward away trouble and demonstrates that martial arts success, like the practice of magic, relies on the combination of attitude, awareness, technique, focus and relaxation.

In the second part of the book, Sweyn tells the story of Weland. For those unfamiliar with it, it is an Old English story about a skilled smith and warrior, who after being terribly wronged, exacts a heroic revenge. Sweyn tells this story very well and it illustrates many of his key points, giving the reader much to think about. There is much in this book that makes a lot of sense to both martial artists and students of rune magic. I do have a difference of opinion over a practical technique to deal with energy and pain when being bashed. I would not inhale when being hit. I have been taught to exhale. The use of the out-breath actually helps to dissipate the oponent's energy and helps the abdominal and chest muscles tighten to resist pain and damage. Personal experience has shown that breathing in at this point hurts a lot more. However, this to me is a minor issue. Over all, this book is very credible and to be recommended.
- Ed Richardson