Going Powhatan #2: Bathing Cold

Rountree’s “The Powhatan Indians of Virginia”

The first book I read about the natives of Virginia was Helen C. Rountree’s The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture.   It’s the most referenced book on the subject written to date, and Rountree is the foremost living expert on Virginia’s natives.  You can take issue with some aspect of Rountree’s work if you like, but you cannot sidestep her.  Read and contend with Rountree or you don’t know squat.

And the first thing I learned from Rountree about the Powhatan that deeply impressed me was the bit about the cold baths. According to her historical references, the Powhatan were as clean as people living in huts could be, mainly because each morning they all migrated down to the local water source to bathe – regardless of the weather. She also said that, to harden them to the cold, babies were bathed as well.

Allow me to insert a paragraph break so you can let that sink in a second.

Cold baths are no laughing matter. I had previously done cold baths indoors as part of various training regimens I’ve tried over the years. Let’s just say that the subject comes up in martial arts circles. Armed forces from the Spartains of Ancient Greece to the Seals at Naval Base Coronado attest to the power of cold water to awaken the warrior within. But outdoors? I started this program in an October considerably warmed by climate change. Even so, bathing cold outdoors in the winter seemed a little nutty. And yet there was a resonance I couldn’t deny, a strange synchronicity I couldn’t ignore.

The original Cabal Fang Temple before the new paint job in 2019

In my suburban yard I have a 9’ by 14’ shed that is finished like a tiny house with insulation and heat that we’ve been calling “the temple” since moving to the property 20 years ago. We started calling it “The Cabal Fang Temple” when I founded Cabal Fang martial arts in 2009, a name we borrowed when we founded our the 501 (c)(3) non-profit Cabal Fang Temple, Inc. Cabal Fang is Hermetic martial arts (for more information please visit www.cabalfang.com) and, on the surface of it at least, has very little if anything to do with primitive skills, my love for Frontier Rough ‘n’ Tumble martial arts, or the “Going Powhatan” project at all.  Although, due to lack of money, Cabal Fang has always been taught on the grass at local parks 12 months a year, so there’s that little bit of overlap in terms of “outdoorsiness” I suppose. But there was also a strange coincidence.  At the time I was reading Rountree’s book, I was struggling with what to do about remodeling the temple. The plan was to transform it from a hybrid space into a proper chapel, to make it a purely spiritual building and move my martial arts training to a new building to be constructed elsewhere on the property.

The stumbling block was money. I didn’t have the funds to construct a new building. And yet I was feeling the call to move forward in a powerful way. And so, when I read about the Powhatans’ daily bathing in cold streams, I had my answer: suck it up and train outdoors. What was the big deal? That’s how we train in the Cabal Fang club. At the park there’s a picnic shelter for refuge from rain, sleet and snow, and I have covered patio here at the house. The whole problem was in my head. Cabal Fang is always practiced outdoors. Why would Cabal Fang ever need an indoor training space? And why should a Frontier Rough ‘n’ Tumble martial arts instructor and primitive skills expert like me ever whine about the loss of indoor training space? But this is how human beings can be. We fear change, we miss the obvious, and we like our lives soft and cushy.

Powhatan bath

My “Going Powhatan” wash basin

I immediately went out and bought one of those heavy-duty resin storage sheds for a couple of hundred bucks and moved all the martial arts gear out of the temple so I could start the renovation. My next purchase was a one-gallon galvanized pan which I put that on my patio table, and next to it a watering can. Every morning about 6 AM, before I start my martial arts training, I pour a little water into that pan, strip to the waist, and wash up.

Next Time: Training the Hunter

If you liked this post…

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