Phobos: God of Fear, Ruler of the Battlefield

by Nicholas Henkey — on


Phobos was the Greek god of fear. You are familiar with the term “phobia” used in words such as arachnophobia, claustrophobia, or agoraphobia. Phobias are, of course, irrational and extreme fears. Most frequently, exposure to the subject of a phobia (spiders, for example) will drive the sufferer to a visceral response; it is difficult to get these people to face their fears.

Playing with Cats

When I was young, we had an orange cat. He was on the small side but when he became an adult, he was the best fighter in the neighborhood. Neighbors would ask others, “who owns that vicious orange cat? He keeps attacking our animals?” He was feared. Other cats would not dare to cross within his line of sight… one time I saw a cat 30 yards across the street completely panic and run away after being seen by him.

Francis loved to fight. One night some raccoons were posturing to attack my father and me. We threw a couple rocks to scare them but they kept getting closer... and closer... snarling... and ready to pounce. Francis came out from the bushes and they were afraid. They moved back to reposition, but he cut them off from their new posture. God knows what kinds of diseases he saved us from.

Cats are a joy to play with when they are kittens. They don’t yet have the strength to do too much damage and will engage in long battles with your hand and fingers. When Francis was a kitten, his claws were razor sharp. It was a nightmare to pull my hand away because his hooks would sink deep into my skin. The best way to get him to let go was to push my hand toward his body, which was away from the sharp end of his claws; this put him into a panic and he would stop fighting. Maybe he learned lessons from this technique.

One of the interesting things about cats is that their weapons are designed to hunt animals that are afraid of them. Feline claws hook back toward their bodies, the very thing that prey is likely to be running from. Rats and mice are felinophobic and cats use this for easy kills.

Greek Mythology

I recently finished listening to “Kings of Kings” part of Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” series. He went into detail about how the soldiers faced each other in a phalanx. This form of battle was surely terrifying: locked side-to-side back to shield marching into enemy spears and swords. In the series, he went into detailed lamentations of the scenario of classical period battle; there has never been anything like it.

During the Biblical era, the most dangerous part of battle was retreat. During the face-offs in the Greco-Persian wars, almost all of the casualties were at the end of the battle. It seemed as if the armies would have been better off fighting until sun-down. There are a couple of factors that lead to this:

  1. As Carlin notes in the series, fragmentation of the line from panic created breaks in the phalanx; sadly “the last to flee” are the ones that got cut down fastest
  2. Shields are an excellent defense for troops that are facing the enemy, they are not a good defense for soldiers that are running away

Unfortunately for the Persians, the Greeks just seemed to have their number… from the peak of the Persian empire until its collapse. In most of the engagements, the Persian line broke due to fear (phobos) and the Greeks prevailed.

The image for this page is a good example of these battles.

In it you see the Greeks curb-stomping the Persians as King Darius fleeing on his chariot

The conclusion of the wars between the Persians and the Greeks came with Alexander. The Persian lines broke repeatedly as the Macedonian invaded the heart of the empire. Dan Carlin noted in his series on the Persian Empire, the “King of Kings” Alexander fractured Persian lines with panic TWICE. The Persian emperor was afraid to die and that fear spread throughout his armies. In hand-to-hand combat, Phobos was king.

Martial Arts Training

My friends and I train martial arts. We primarily focus on stick fighting but we do some general self-defense as well. Practice is great exercise, instills discipline, and toughens us up beyond ordinary city-dwellers. If you want to learn real fighting, I highly recommend getting in contact with Mike Ritz of “Cannibal Combat” in San Diego.

One Saturday we jumped into the art of “stick grappling”. Normally when someone fights an opponent with a blunt weapon, their first move will be to maintain a lot of distance (if possible). Sometimes keeping distance is not an option, at which point opponents will instinctively drive in close enough to negate the force that the weapon can generate. This is what we call “grappling range”... to understand this better look up videos of “Dog Brothers” but beware that this content is NSFW.

One of the moves we are drilling involves crumpling a person like a soda can. One of the assumptions for this move to work is that the other fighter is also armed with a similar weapon. The techniques seem impossible to defeat and uncomfortable to drill; discomfort is normal for sparring but not for drills. Even when drilling against someone trying not to hurt you, it’s easy to panic once you realize how screwed you are.

I think I can get out of it… do it again!

One day our toughest fighter said, “I think I can get out of it… do it again!”. Skeptically, I locked him up and tried to jam his head between his feet but he dropped his weapon and snapped into a squat to escape. By not responding to Phobos, he was able to overcome the technique.

Guro Mike was not as impressed as I was. He reminded me that the objective of a fight is to defeat your opponent, NOT to retain and use your weapon as he jammed his fingers into my sternal notch, causing me to panic.

This experience reminded me of cats. They fear not being feared. Fear is a tool, a weapon, an asset, and a liability. You can learn the theory but it’s impossible to know until you experience it.

Phobos is King of the Battlefield

No one believes in the mythical god Phobos anymore, but it is clear that fear still plays a critical role in the battlefield. We are tempted to relegate fear to an era of bladed and blunt weapons, in the dustbin of history. I’m finding it easier to resist that temptation as I learn more about combat techniques.

Dan Carlin noted in “Kings of Kings” that there is a special kind of terror in ancient warfare, but I think that carries through to today. Fear will always play an important role in conflict. Throughout time and beyond World War 2 we saw tiny forces capture thousands of soldiers based on the same fear tactics from Biblical times. Today we still see the damage from US veterans’ exposure to 4th generational warfare. When it gets down to it, people are afraid of death and this very fear can and will be used to subjugate them.

Phobos rules battle.