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It is funny how things connect and come back in loops. I’ve dedicated a good part of the last decade of my life to the study of historical European martial arts, including researching the 19th cent HEMA pioneers who sought to recreate these martial arts in the 2nd half of the 19th cent and early 20th cent.

Recently I decided to put more serious focus and time into another older interest of mine; outdoors life and nature, something I have neglected ever since I moved to the city I now live in. Being the old fart I am, I of course also have old ideas on certain things, prefering simple, low tech gear that is reliable, and I try to both refresh old knowledge as well as learn a few new tricks for what is today commonly called bushcrafting. Doing so, I am looking at the 19th cent writers on the topic, men who wrote about “woodcraft”, and it is striking how “bushcrafting” too has its 19th cent “pioneers”, trying to revive or recreate knowledge that was largely lost by their time.

Ernest Thompson Seton writes

Woodcraft is the first of all sciences. It was Woodcraft that made man out of brutish material, and woodcraft in its highest form may save him from decay.

and then

For over 25 years I have been giving the talks and demonstrations that are gathered together in this book…

All are merely parts of a scheme I have always considered my life’s work, namely, the development or revival of woodcraft as a school for Manhood.

These men felt similar concerns to how we do today, concerns about an increasing disconnect with nature, about society’s impact on it and all the problems that come with big cities and modern life. As George Washington Sears puts it:

For brick and mortar breed filth and crime,
With a pulse of evil that throbs and beats;
And men are whithered before their prime
By the curse paved in with the lanes and streets.

And lungs are poisoned and shoulders bowed,
In the smothering reek of mill and mine;
And death stalks in on the struggling crowd—
But he shuns the shadow of the oak and pine

Similar concerns had already been raised by Rousseau, Thoreau and in Sweden Carl Jonas Love Almqvist, all seeking a more natural life, much like hipsters, survivalists, preppers and bushcrafters and many others do today.

Both Seton and Sears spoke highly of the “Indian” and their way of life, having experienced it closely and having learnt themselves from the natives, therefore also seeking “justice” and respect for them. Seton states:

He [“the Indian”] asks only the same rights as are allowed without question to all other men in America – the protection of the courts, the right to select his own religion, dress, amusements, and the equal right to the pursuit of happiness…

There are a few good lessons to be learnt from these men, not least in these days where more and more restrictions are placed on people and as we carelessly and thoughtlessly let it all happen, at the same time as we let go of centuries of hard-earned knowledge, knowing less and less about how to handle ourselves outside of the safety of a well-functioning society.