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Scholars of Norse mythology determined that February 22 of this year was supposed to be the date of Ragnarok, the Vikings’ (frankly pretty awesome) version of the apocalypse. Fortunately we were spared, but it might be time to brush up on your swordsmanship just in case. And if you need to fend off frost giants, or anything else for that matter, there is no better blade to have with you than an Ulfberht.
Ulfberht was a legendary Viking sword, one of the best pre-modern weapons ever made. It was not a single sword, like Excalibur, or a type of sword, like a katana. Ulfberht was actually more like a brand name, only instead of signifying your wealth or trendiness, it signified your ability to kick ass on the battlefield. The name comes from the inscription found on the blade, +ULFBERH+T, which makes them easy to identify and also forms one of Ulfberht’s mysteries.
Ulfberht is assumed to be a Frankish word, though its meaning is unknown. The word may be a “word of power”; which is a word not part of normal language that Vikings believed to be magical. Or perhaps it is a contraction or a portmanteau of some other words that we do not know. The word does resemble a mashup of the Norse word “ulfr,” meaning wolf and the Saxon word “beraht,” meaning bright or shining. So, carrying an Ulfberht may have meant that not only would you survive in a fight, but that you could brag about doing it brandishing a “shining wolf.”
A popular theory is that Ulfberht is the name of a workshop, or the family name of its creator. We know that Ulfberht is not the name of a single smith who crafted each blade, because the swords were crafted over a period of 200 years. So the sword must have either been created by a number of people from the same family or community, or possibly by a Highlander.
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The late nineteenth and early twentieth century United States was a place of rapid change and progress, as you could easily discover by flipping through a history book. During this time, America had been colonized from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, cities were growing at a rapid pace, and social issues were taking place that would change lives forever. During the last decade of the nineteenth century, new forms of mass entertainment were also coming about. In a stark contrast to this modern world, different forms of entertainment were not readily available at a person’s fingertips upon a thought and a whim. So for stimulation, people had to travel to find spectacles to partake in.
The traveling show became a part of American culture in the 1890s with the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair being the basis for them. Circuses, vaudeville, burlesque, and magic lantern shows all began touring rural America not long after. Among the most popular and enduring of these shows is of course the circus, or the traveling carnival. The circus reached it period of maximum popularity from the late 1900s to the 1930s, where reportedly over 300 were in operation. One of the most celebrated and romanticized side acts of the circus was this Athletic, or “AT” Show.
Catch wrestling, in the United States, gained its most prominent fame during these notorious Athletics shows. It was a popular sport that early on featured predominantly veterans of the Civil War who had wrestling and fighting skills but lacked an appropriate outlet in which to showcase them. They would join these traveling carnivals and go from town to town offering to fight the local tough guys. The rules of the matches often varied from carnival to carnival and even town to town. The goal of the match was relatively simple. They would carry the hometown hero through a number of rounds to create a show worth watching for the paying crowd and defeat him using pins, submissions and takedowns.
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Lone Wolf And Cub is a Samurai epic considered by many as not only one of the greatest martial arts stories of all time, but also one of the greatest achievements in comic books. This comic book has inspired an endless host of martial arts themed works, such as Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Frank Miller’s Ronin, and Samurai Jack, just to name a few.
Lone Wolf And Cub is a true high point in the world of sequential art. Told by the masters of their craft, Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf focuses on Ogami Itto and his infant son, Daigoro, as they cut their way across Japan on a quest for revenge. The book delves into the themes of Bushido (the warriors code as it was exercised during the Edo period) revenge and redemption. To this day, it stands as one of the greatest comic series of all time, and is told with such grace and execution that writers and artists alike still study it.
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I think it’s safe to say that anyone in touch with modern pop culture is familiar with Batman. No introduction needed, really. There has been enough saturation of the character since 1939 in various media that the core concept can withstand the changing of any decade. The basic legend for every character iteration is pretty much the same, be it the New 52, the Christopher Nolan films, and so on and so on and so on. Batman was born when his parents were gunned down in a slum area of Gotham City. Billionaire Bruce Wayne used his wealth and resources to train his mind and body to become the ultimate crime fighter who comes out only after the sun goes down to put a pounding (but never a lethal one) on the Joker, Two-Face, the Penguin, and the rest of the many colorful and unique personalities who comprise his rogues’ gallery.
The dark uniform, the gadgets and weapons, the fighting style; it all sounds much like a ninja, right? Well, there are similarities, certainly. But is Batman really a ninja, like the ones he trained with in the film Batman Begins? Not really, no. To understand why, the origin of Ninjitsu must be taken into account as well as what a Ninja actually is.