Hoplology is a science that studies human combative behavior and performance. The word hoplology is derived from the Greek terms hoplos (a mythical plate-armored animal) and hoplite, the term for the classical Greek warrior. The field originates in the 19th century with the explorer and linguist Sir Richard Burton; although the origin of the word is often attributed to Burton, there are earlier references to it. Despite the work of Burton and a few others, it was not until the 1960s that hoplology took shape as an academic field of study under the leadership of Donn F. Draeger.
Founded by Major Donn F. Draeger (USMC Ret.) (1922-1982), the International Hoplology Society ("IHS") exists to study the evolution and development of human combative behavior. Draeger, drawing upon research and hands-on experience with classical fighting systems, defined hoplology by the 1970s as "the study of the basis, patterns, relationships, and significances of combative behavior at all levels of social complexity." (Draeger 1982) This study encompasses the segment of human culture concerned with weapons, armor, combative accouterments and fighting systems, in regard to their technical characteristics and the ways in which they interact with the economic, political, social and religious institutions of human societies. Hoplology has three main research areas: technological, functional, and behavioral. Technological hoplology studies the development of weapons, armor, and other combative tools in relation to the contexts in which they are created. Functional hoplology delves into the structure, development, and organization of combative systems and their relationship to the application of fighting and weapons. Behavioral hoplology encompasses the psychological and physiological factors that affect human’s combative behavior and development of combative capabilities such as weapons or fighting systems. The broad subject range of behavioral hoplology means it also includes the effects that culture has had on man’s evolution as a group-social animal. There are three widely accepted axioms in hoplological studies. The first is that human combative behavior is rooted in man’s evolution. The next is that humans exhibit two types of aggression: affective aggression and predatory aggression. Both forms evolved from different survival needs as both a group-social animal and as a hunting animal. The last axiom of hoplology is that the evolution of human combative behavior is directly linked to the use of weapons. That is to say that the use of weapons is linked with and reflects combative performance and behavior.
The entrenched nature of violence in human behavior is generally well understood. The skill and potential of deadly aggression is something within human genetics which predisposes humans to violent behavior. However, the genetics that predispose humans to violence is highly influenced by environmental factors. Humans will only tap into their violent potential once the need has arisen. Human genetics have developed an on-off switch in the brain. On the on side “…the fighting activity itself is stimulated by individual and communal thrill, enjoyment in the competitive exercise of spiritual and physical faculties, and even cruelty, blood lust, and killing ecstasy.” (Gat 2006) On the off-side violence is deterred away by emotions through fear, revulsion at violence and bloodshed, physical fatigue, compassion, and spirituality. So if the environmental factors that cause a man to be violent are present, then he will be violent. If the environmental factors that cause a man to be violent are not present, he will abstain and deter violence.
Draeger's student and colleague, Hunter B. Armstrong, carries on the hoplological tradition as director of IHS. He is a leading authority on combative behavior and performance. He has trained in numerous Asian and Western martial arts from a young age. He has spent a lifetime studying hoplology and related areas, including functional conditioning for combat. He currently trains military and law enforcement around the world in these areas. He works closely with military and law enforcement, and has been central to the most recent recreation of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) program.
In recent years, with the advent of the Modern Army Combatives (MAC) Program in the US Army and the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP), there has been a rapid growth in both scientific and academic research. With Matt Larsen, the father of the MAC program, as a catalyst, research departments are growing at universities across the United States. One of the first such programs was at Kansas State University; the program is currently defunct. While hoplology is still in its infancy, it has become an accepted area of study by scholars in several related disciplines such as combative psychology, killology, anthropology, and military history.
- Wiley, Mark V. "Hoplology and Combative Culture: Part 1". The International Hoplology Society. Retrieved 2009-03-07.
- Gat, Azar. War in Human Civilization. New York: Oxford UP, USA, 2006. Print
- Draeger, Donn F. (1979). An Introduction to Hoplology: Part I of II, Hoplos 1:1
- Draeger, Donn F. (1979). An Introduction to Hoplology: Part II of II, Hoplos 1:2
- Draeger, Donn F. (1982). The Hoplological Glossary, Hoplos 4:1