Following Poliakoff’s introduction to the ancient combat sports, he proceeds to provide a basic outline to the world of ancient combat sports in a series of sections within the chapter, including: The definition of a ‘combat sport’ and its relation to recreation and training; similarities amongst combat sports, training methods and common practise; the premise of athletic festivals, and the organization of said competition.
The first area that Poliakoff studies is ‘General aspects of the ancient combat sports’ is the definition of a combat sport, which he splits into two explanations. Firstly, the idea of sport or athletics, Poliakoff believes, is an “activity in which a person physically competes against another in contest with established regulations and procedures, with the immediate object of succeeding in that contest under criteria for determining victory that are different from those that mark success in everyday life”. Furthermore, he explains that sport cannot exist without opponents and the measurement of success or failure, and that most forms of physical recreation could become athletic competition when performances begin to be compared. Following on from this line of thought, Poliakoff excludes a number of forms of combat under these conditions: fencing, armed duelling and gladiatorial events.
This stating of terms of the definition of sport is arguably the most prominent of arguments in this chapter. As Donald Kyle, author of Sport and Spectacle, rightly suggests, some may indeed question his approach to the exclusion of fencing, duelling and gladiatorial combat. Whilst other reviewers such as Stephen Instone comment on Poliakoff’s general lack of argument, and some just waive this chapter as satisfactory, Allen Guttmann focuses a little more of his review on Poliakoff’s definition.
Although Guttmann does note Poliakoff’s relegation of the discussion of gladiatorial combat to the appendix as a means to make things easier to manage, the reasoning behind the exclusion from the definition of a combat sport does throw up a number of flags; “gladiator fighting to kill or disable his opponent and save himself in any manner possible is not participating in a sport but in a form of warfare for spectators.” The ‘form of warfare for spectators’, I feel, does not sufficiently explain the exclusion. Combat sports and warfare for spectators are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and the opinions of the difference between them are variable on the opinion of the spectator or competitor.
Furthermore, Guttmann suggests that “Poliakoff’s stipulation that the criteria for determining victory in sports must be “different from those that mark success in everyday life”...one can nevertheless assert that the rules...were sufficiently different from the rules of war...to allow us to distinguish the two forms of combat.” Combat sports in the modern world benefit much greater from this definition, considering the rules of modern warfare don’t hold...