The Unarmed Traditions of Morrowind
by Kevaar Asurani
Morrowind is home to three recognized unarmed and unarmored fighting traditions. Although perhaps not as famous as their counterparts in Elsweyr or Akavir, the Golden Reed, Marshmerrow, and Salt Rice styles have their own equally fascinating histories and theories of practice.
The fighting style that has garnered the most attention in recent years is that of Marshmerrow. This style's roots can be traced back to one practitioner, Taren Omathan, the Master-Student of Elsweyr. It is due to this Dunmer's peculiar history that this tradition has spread so far and so fast, comparatively, to the other ancient traditions.
Taren Omathan had the unfortunate occupation of being a sweeping-servant in a Khajiiti temple for many years. During this time he would watch the techniques of the Khajiiti students, waiting until he had an opportunity to fight in their bloody war arenas. When he finally had the chance to prove his worth to the Elsweyr heathens, Omathan won handily, proving Morrowind's superiority. Omathan has since returned to Morrowind to teach his art, where his fighting style mimics the same watch-and-wait philosophy that bore him through many years of outlander oppression. Rumors of this honorable master joining the Dissident Priest movement should have no bearing on our esteem for his martial accomplishments.
The Marshmerrow tradition carries many similarities to its grandmaster. Marshmerrow is a flowing form, weaving willpower and the physical manifestations of the practitioner's spirit together with precise hand, leg, and foot techniques. Many opponents would deem the dance-like movement of Marshmerrow laughable, at least until they ended belly-up on the fighting mat.
Although many styles in Akavir make use of forms based on animals, Marshmerrow is mostly absent of these. Instead, a number of Marshmerrow techniques recall the movements of plantlife caught in wind and water, as the name of the style would suggest. Many forms are also based on honoring the ancestor spirits, making Marshmerrow a favorite among Indoril priests. In more recent years, as the reputation of the Master-Student fell into disfavor, the Imperial elements in Morrowind have taken up the style instead, particularly the Mages Guild and Imperial Cult. These practitioners consider Marshmerrow to be a useful addition to their offensive repertoire, claiming that the forms that "invigorate the spirit", in Omathan's terms, in actuality also help them replenish their Magicka. Perhaps if these outlander elements were more in tune with their ancestors instead of blindly following Akaviri fads, they would realized that Magicka and spiritual energy are one and the same thing!
Despite its vaunted roots, however, Marshmerrow is not the most widespread nor the first tradition to have developed in Morrowind. Golden Reed takes that distinction, and is commonly understood to be a conglomerate of familial traditions from the Redoran, Dres and Ashlander warrior castes. Golden Reed is considered a well-rounded tradition, with a mix of heavily rooted and agile evasive stances. Special attention is paid to those techniques that can be used against armed and armored opponents.
For this reason Golden Reed is particularly popular amongst the Temple, where Ordinators will often spend a year or two studying the art before graduating to learning how to fight with pike and sword. That the style has passed from the traditionally antagonistic Ashlanders to the Temple speaks to this style's long history and association with the most honorable sects of Dunmer society.
Of final note is the style of Salt Rice, a discipline first developed by the Morag Tong to prepare their assassins for the more up-close-and-personal aspects of their job. Like its creators, Salt Rice is considered the most brutal and competitive of the traditions, in which throws, disarming and grappling techniques, and even a variety of cheap shots are common. Salt Rice also contains a number of stances involving stepping out heel-to-toe, believed to teach its practitioners how to move silently even while in battle.
In more recent years, Salt Rice has filtered out to other elements of the criminal underworld. Although many of the Morag Tong scoff at these connections, classic forms such as Ducking the Guar and the Removal of the Jewels have remarkably similar counterparts in Camonna Tong street fights. Nor do the Morag Tong seem overly concerned with fighting knowledge passing back in the opposite direction; Salt Rice continues to evolve as it absorbs bits and pieces of many other styles, primarily brought to Morrowind by traveling pirates or the more combative victims of Morag Tong justice.