Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Battle of Borodino (A Painting to Remember)

During my first trip to Moscow in May of 2009 , David Quaile (Australian Systema Instructor) and I visited the Napoleonic war museum. We were fortunate enough to be in the company of Victor Petrov, a student of Mikhail Ryabko and one of the Instructors at the Moscow school. There were many interesting things to be seen in that museum. But the thing that stuck out in my mind was a large mural, painting on the wall, depicting the battle of Borodino during the French Invasion of Russia.

The Battle of Borodino was fought on 7 September 1812 and was the largest and bloodiest single-day action of the French invasion of Russia and all Napoleonic Wars, involving more than 250,000 troops and resulting in at least 70,000 casualties. The French Grande Armée under Emperor Napoleon I attacked the Imperial Russian Army of General Mikhail Kutuzov near the village of Borodino, west of the town of Mozhaysk, and eventually captured the main positions on the battlefield, but failed to destroy the Russian army. About a third of Napoleon's soldiers were killed or wounded; Russian losses, while heavier, could be replaced, since large forces of militia were already with the Russian Army and replacement depots which were close by had already been gathering and training troops.  Although the battle itself ended with the Russian Army out of position, by withdrawing the Russian army preserved its combat strength, eventually allowing it to force Napoleon out of the country.

                                                     (Only part of the mural)

It was an amazing painting, with details of the battle painstakingly captured with the precision of the artist. You could see everything. Hundreds of men on horseback charging each other with sabres drawn, while their comrades on both sides loaded their muskets and fired at each other. Cannons aimed at the opposing armies with smoke covering the battlefield. In addition to the mural which was very large, small huts had been constructed on dirt surrounding the artwork in order to replicate the scene of the battle. There was even a recording which would play in the background; the sound of the trumpet signalling a cavalry charge, followed by the sound of galloping horses, cannon and gunfire. The effect was incredibly impressive.

Then at one point Victor said "Look over there," pointing at a smaller barely noticeable part of the enormous painting. "Look at that small cottage there." We then noticed amongst all the carnage, the artist had taken the time to paint a small domicile near the edge of the battlefield. It was a simple building, made from chopped down tree's with a straw thatch for a roof. Just outside of the cottage was a little vegetable garden with a few cabbages growing in the dirt. "Back then someone would have had to work hard in order to build that little house," said Victor. "They would have had to chop down the wood by hand. They would have had to find the straw for the roof. And then they would have had to put a lot of effort into putting it all together to make their home." We took another look at whoever's home the little cottage amongst the carnage was. "Now look at that, the roof is now on fire, and there are soldiers jumping over that fence and running through that vegetable garden stepping on the cabbages. That was somebody's home." We continued to look at that small part of the painting, surrounded by the images of war and death. "Isn't it interesting how people are always interested in violence and learning how to destroy, yet rarely ever take any interest in learning how to build and create?", asked Victor rhetorically.

When studying Systema remember that learning about fighting is only a part of the training. Remember to learn how to heal yourself and your training partners, and not just how to rip people apart. 

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

No comments:

Post a Comment