Monday, November 11, 2013

MP5s, Dueling Scars, and Cauliflower Ear

(with Gary and Johnny, both at EIGHT back then, and MP5s/SIGs.  I think the funky web gear we used was all from London Bridge Trading Company.  Taken on 35mm in Virginia in the mid-90s, the photo was originally captioned, from left to right, "King Cocksman, ENS Marcinko, and CarlosDJackal")

Walking down memory lane and perusing some old photos, I came across several that depicted some training time on the H&K MP5 SMG.  While many readers of a tactical bent no doubt know that the use of the 9-mm. subgun for CQB applications has long since been overtaken by modern indoor-dynamic skills with the 5.56 carbine (indeed, this was already starting to happen even back in the Paleolithic when the photo was taken), I think rather fondly of the MP5.  Perhaps this nostalgia is largely due to the influence of various Joel Silver films I enjoyed as a teenager in the 1980s.  I mean, really, who can forget these iconic movie tough guy images featuring the venerable German piece:

(for some reason, I really wanted the bad guys to get away with it in this one.  Was this a common sentiment?  Still, Willis did a fine job)

("You're using mercenaries, for Christ's sake, tell me I'm wrong!":  ex-CIA paramilitary contractors of "Shadow Company" understandably expressing alarm at being shot at---many of them killed--- by lethal weapon Martin Riggs)

 ("Sexual Tyrannosaurus" Jesse Ventura, BUD/S Class 58)

Going beyond the MP5 specifically, Heckler & Koch ultimately became seared in our pop-culture consciousness as the choice of professionals.  Professionals including tough, vicious, possibly insane men like this guy from an old ad:

(Look at this awesome maniac, with his clear unwillingness to compromise and his Echanis-like cosmetics and swamp-wraith costume design.  I find myself so intrigued and wondering what the backstory is here and, more importantly, what he will do next)

The Mensur and the Schmiss

Keeping with the overarching Germanic theme and international hardman imagery, we could consider the facial scar that was at one time considered a badge of manhood in various elitist European dueling societies.  

From the Wiki entry:

Modern academic fencing, the Mensur, is neither a duel nor a sport. It is a traditional way of training and educating character and personality; thus, in a mensur bout, there is neither winner nor loser. In contrast to sport fencing, the participants stand their ground at a fixed distance. At the beginning of the tradition, duelers wore only their normal clothing (as duels sometimes would arise spontaneously) or light-cloth armor on arm, torso, and throat. In recent years, fencers are protected by chain mail or padding for the body, fencing arm, fencing hand (gauntlet) and the throat, completed by steel goggles with a nose guard. They fence at arm's length and stand more or less in one place, while attempting to hit the unprotected areas of their opponent's face and head. Flinching or dodging is not allowed, the goal being less to avoid injury than to endure it stoically (!!!). Two physicians are present (one for each opponent) to attend to injuries and stop the fight if necessary.
The participants, or Paukanten, use specially developed swords. The so-called Mensurschläger (or simply Schläger), exists in two versions. The most common weapon is the Korbschläger with a basket-type guard. In some universities in the eastern part of Germany, the so-called Glockenschläger is in use which is equipped with a bell-shaped guard. These universities are Leipzig, Berlin, Greifswald, Dresden, Tharandt (in the Forestry College which is now part of Technische Universität Dresden), Halle on the Saale, Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, and Freiberg. In Jena, both Korbschlägern and Glockenschlägern are used. Studentenverbindungen from some western cities use Glockenschlägern because their tradition had its origin in one of the eastern universities but moved to West Germany after World War II.
The scar resulting from a hit is called a "smite" (German Schmiss), and was seen as a badge of honour, especially in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. Today, it is not easy for an outsider to identify Mensur scars due to better medical treatment. Also the number of mandatory Mensuren were reduced in the second half of the 20th century. Most Mensur scars are located on the left temple of the forehead. Scars on the cheek and chin are rather uncommon today and sometimes due to accidents.

(Otto Skorzeny, the commando operations mastermind of the Third Reich, had, during his youth, apparently been really enthusiastic about dueling with live steel)

In an age in which quintessentially male rites of passage are very difficult to come by, the Mensur and resulting wounds have a certain romantic appeal.   They evoke a violent, necessarily social event in which men happily participate and come away from the experience and the suffering equipped with special insights about themselves and with an esprit de corps that non-participating men may envy. 

...But Do Chicks Actually Dig Scars?

Men involved in high-risk physical activities have long rationalized away the potential for incurring damage with the glib slogan that "Chicks Dig Scars."  The claim as commonly expressed and explained is that a facial scar on a man---assuming that it is not a disfiguring one---provides evidence that a man has engaged in exciting rough-house pursuits such as war, bullfighting, and Muay Thai.  The fact that he is still alive after having been through such an experience is meant to connote a special, "survivor" mystique on him and make him also seem more worldly and experienced. 

Ian Fleming, probably borrowing from the fencing societies, gave James Bond such a piratical scar in the physical description that he provided for 007 in From Russia, With Love:

 "It was a dark, clean-cut face, with a three-inch scar showing whitely down the sunburned skin of the right cheek.  The eyes were wide and level under straight, rather long black brows.  The hair was black, parted on the left, and carelessly brushed so that a thick black comma fell down over the right eyebrow.  The longish straight nose ran down to a short upper lip below which was a wide and finely drawn but cruel mouth.  The line of jaw was straight and firm.  A section of dark suit, white short and black knitted tie completed the picture." 

Most of the Bond films have not been consistent with the Fleming facial scar description, although variants on it were borrowed for other action heroes.  For example, Channing Tatum proudly sported a Schmiss-type scar in the recent GI JOE film adaptations:

(Tatum in costume to portray American military Special Mission Unit officer Conrad "Duke" Hauser)

...and Oliver Stone used the same Fleming-description for scarring Taylor Kitsch in the movie Savages:

(Kitsch portraying former NSW operator-turned-Cannabis maven "Chon")

However, it would clearly be rather dangerous to extrapolate from the legendary womanizing successes of James Bond, Gambit, and Magic Mike.  What does academic research have to say on the subject?  The results are a bit mixed and may hinge on a man's desirability to women for Short-Term vs. Long-Term Mating purposes:

Reporting on one such study,  Ian Sample at The Guardian reported that:

"They give Action Man a certain ruggedness and bestow instant testosterone on movie heroes, and according to British psychologists, facial scars can also make men more attractive to the opposite sex.

"Men with mild facial scars were typically ranked as more appealing by women who were looking for a brief relationship, though they were not considered better as marriage material, a study found.  In the same experiments, women with facial scars were judged to be as attractive as those without, the researchers said.

"The sexual allure of the facial scar has long puzzled psychologists. Many believe they are seen by women as a sign of masculinity and an exciting, risk-taking personality, though in Shakespeare's All's Well that Ends Well, an old lord, Lafeu, takes a different slant, commenting: "A scar nobly got, or a noble scar, is a good livery of honour."

"Psychologists at the universities of Liverpool and Stirling decided to investigate the effects of facial scars by asking 115 women and 64 men to rate the attractiveness of eight strangers of the opposite sex. Half were asked to look at original face shots, while the other half viewed images that had been digitally manipulated to add scars to their cheeks, jawbones or foreheads.

"While the scars made no difference to the perceived attractiveness of women, scarred men ranked 5.7 percentage points higher in the appeal ratings than those with undamaged skin.  'A large scar is unlikely to make you more attractive, but there are some scars that women do seem to find appealing. There's the whole James Bond thing, where a person is attractive but probably not the best marriage material,' said Robert Burriss, a psychologist at Liverpool who led the study.

 "For each picture, volunteers were asked to guess whether the scar was from a fight, an accident or illness. The men's scars were often blamed on a violent encounter, while those on women were often attributed to accidents.

"When scarring is seen as the result of a violent encounter, it signifies strength or bravery in a guy, or it could be due to an accident, and so evidence of a risk-taking personality. Either way, it's another way of assessing a man's masculinity," Burriss said. Men without scars could be seen as more caring and cautious, and so more suitable for a long term relationship, he added.

"The study appears in the journal Personality and Individual Differences."

Pop-science site LIVESCIENCE, summarizing the same research results, adds that:

"...In the study, women rated scars as attractive for flings because they saw them symbols of masculinity — good qualities to pass on in the genes, if you know what I mean. Men without scars were seen as more caring and better suited for the long haul (suggesting these unscarred men may get saddled swaddling the offspring of the scarred)."

So far, so good.  Based on these reports, should young men immediately start hitting each other in the face with bicycle chains? 

The SCOOP NEWS, a satirical magazine, certainly does not agree:

"The phrase 'chicks dig scars'; has been a popular saying in the United States for over 200 years. It’s believed the phrase was made popular by Viking Neanderthal Samurais who hunted dinosaurs. The phrase continues to be popular amongst assholes and psychopaths."

(Personally, I have always hoped to hear or read conclusive evidence that girls enjoyed facial scars---I am biased because I have a prominent, crescent-shaped one right between my eyes that I wish I had received from a duel with sabers.  Alas, I got it as a child when I jumped headfirst from a sink into a toilet, and it---along with the weirdly bushy left eyebrow that seems to have come with it as a package deal---has been an obvious distinguishing mark for me ever since)

 I think that any generic statements about the attractiveness of male facial scars clearly need to have major caveats:  1)  the scar needs to look like it came from a physically dangerous sport or other activity---scars that result from disease or major surgical operations will not have the same effect;  2) the scar needs to be quite small and conveniently placed so that the normal functioning of the nose, eyes, and lips are not impaired;  3) any boost in attraction is likely to take place in increased qualification of the scarred male as a potential hook-up partner, rather than as a long-term mate (the same may be true of a variety of other "dangerous man" indicators---tattoos, motorcycles, stubble, etc.). 

The Modern Schmiss?

Readers who train in the grappling-oriented fighting arts and/or in MMA have probably become quite familiar with the phenomenon of cauliflower ear, a disfigurement of the outer ear that is the result of repeated trauma (often from headlocks).   What those who are new to the combat sports may not realize is how much the cauliflower ear look may be sought after by guys looking to project a fighter image.

Writing about this scenario for ESPN, in an article entitled "Everybody Wants It", fight journalist Eli Saslow notes that: 

"Whether they wanted to or not, Couture and other elite fighters have turned cauliflower ear into a coveted badge of honor in wrestling, boxing and MMA. What was once an unsightly injury has now become a living trophy that commands respect. (No formal stats exist, but Couture estimates that 20 percent of elite wrestlers have it.) There is a Cauliflower Alley Club for elite wrestlers and online videos that suggest ways amateurs can accelerate their own cauliflower symptoms. (Hint: It involves repeatedly slamming your ear in a door.) Wrestling fans can even buy pairs of plastic cauliflower ears to wear.

"What's crazy is that developing cauliflower ear is essentially a choice, doctors say. If you wear protective headgear during practice and bouts, it's unlikely you'll get it. But if you go without headgear, you might have strange-looking ears for the rest of your life.  'It's ugly and painful, but everybody wants it,' says Cael Sanderson, a wrestler who won a 2004 Olympic gold medal and now coaches at Penn State. 'There's this idea that it puts you in a secret society of tough guys and top fighters. Most of the guys I know would do anything to have it.'

However, revealing a perhaps predictable editorial bias, Michael Brick at THE NYT seems far less impressed:

"A deformity initiated by repetitive trauma, cauliflower ear can crumple an outer ear to a misshapen shell.  Unfazed by the prospect of living life as a walking what’s-grosser-than-gross joke, a nationwide corps of professional fighters, amateur enthusiasts and teenagers have taken to leaving their ears untreated or self-treated, wearing their shriveled, hardened waxen auricles as badges of honor.

“'It’s definitely part of the culture,'” said Dr. John H. Park, a physical therapist in Rockville, Md., who specializes in treating MMA. participants. 'They say, ‘Chicks dig that stuff because they know you’re a fighter.’

"A familiar chasm separates what women dig from what dudes imagine women dig. But for mixed martial arts, a combination of boxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu that has found favor among young men, cauliflower ear has assumed a place alongside such evocative conditions as torn elbow ligaments in pitchers, knee tendinitis in marathon runners and torn anterior cruciate ligaments in female basketball players."

Brick may well be right on thisIf I was forced to bet, I would probably take the position that cauliflower ear does NOT have the same effect on female hook-up attractiveness triggers that those dashing, artfully placed Schmiss scars apparently have.  Going further, I would imagine that having BOTH the highly visible facial scar and the crunchy cauliflower ears would be way too much "violence potential" for the *typical* female.  Still, it would be fascinating to see this studied, and to see how such assessments might change with the male subject's age (I think that "attractive" dangerous-lifestyle scars would be predominantly found on younger men, and that any value placed on these markers would decline as the man aged). 


  1. I lack facial scars, save for the normal split chin that boys used to be allowed to get routinely, and the ill-healed half-inch over my left eye, an unfortunate reminder of an unfortunate (for me) fist fight. But I've had 20+ orthopaedic repairs and half a dozen surgeries, plus one dime-sized thing on my rib cage from an unfortunate (for me) alley encounter in Shinjuku one night.

    An attentive woman will catalog these markings and investigate their origin, and there does appear to be value in them. As in, they believe me when I suggest that it's a shame dueling is outlawed, and they laugh in that very appealing way, nervously (because it's not correct) and happily (because they agree), if I say something as I said a few weeks ago. Context: woman friend yoked to an assholish, pretentious and weak, very rich, "alpha male" ex-husband, abusing their divorce conditions:

    She: "It just never ends...."

    He: "It's too bad dueling is illegal."

    She: "What?"

    He: "In the old days, guys like that just got killed. You couldn't act like this among gentlemen. There were penalties, now there are not."

    She: "---"

    He: "Seriously. I'd just slap him in some restaurant and we'd meet on the Mall in the morning. Then he'd pee in his pants and I'd shoot him. These guys didn't use to live as long."

    She: "Seriously?"

    He: "Seriously. He'd either show up or leave town. He couldn't talk his way out. Better system."

    She: "---"

    He: "---" /eyebrow raised.

    She: "Hee-hee-hee-hee."

  2. (I'm a descendent of Aaron Burr. Sucked to be Hamilton.)

    Anyway, I think the educated woman today prefers a man with scars, as she prefers a man with hands with a crooked finger or two, or shoulders. The other kind are mostly what she knows. Slowly they figure out that the "other kind" are going to call 911 and hide in the closet when some asshole breaks a window downstairs.

  3. “A duel, whether regarded as a ceremony in the cult of honour, or even when reduced in its moral essence to a form of manly sport, demands a perfect singleness of intention, a homicidal austerity of mood.”

    ― Joseph Conrad, "A Set Of Six"

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