Restoring the martial prowess and passion of the Cossacks

The Cossacks were a symbol of freedom and military excellence in Russia until they were banned by the Soviet regime. Restored after the fall of the USSR, the movement is now reviving its military and cultural traditions.

The Kuban Cossacks – one of the most well-known groups living in the Kuban region of Southern Russia – have been particularly keen on resurrecting their traditions. The group is not only famous for its cultural festivities, but it also promotes various community development programs such as volunteering for crime prevention and sports education.

However, resurrecting their original style of martial arts is a question of honor, many Cossacks say.

In 1990, Cossack communities were revived. But only recently have Cossack martial arts started reappearing. I would say not more than 10 years ago,” says Mikhail Litvinenko, instructor and member of the Federation of Cossack Martial Arts.

Cossack fencing techniques cannot be learned from any written rules or picture guidebooks, so for a beginner the process may look easy to pick up. However, wearing the uniform and carrying a razor-sharp Cossack sword may give one an illusion of strength, it but will not be enough to win the fight.

Even a simple technique may take hours to learn. Agility and dexterity are vital, as dropping the sword is strictly forbidden.

If the Cossack dropped the sword during the training, he would be punished by caning,” explains Mikhail Litvinenko.

The group that Litvinenko helps to train is one of the few groups that practice Cossack fencing and its members have ambitious plans to promote their style.

At a recent tournament in central Russia, the group competed with traditional oriental schools, like Kung Fu and Karate.

There were two main groups: on one side we had the Slavic martial art called ‘Sambo’; ‘Izbor’, which is an ancient Russian style; and Cossack fencing. And on the other, there were the Eastern styles. And I’d say that our techniques are much tougher than theirs,” Igor Gurov, a Cossack martial artist, says proudly.

Although the following for Cossack fencing is still in its infancy, perhaps one day it could surpass the way of the samurai.