“He held his arm too stiffly, and so was thrown back repeatedly, until at last I seized his forearm and snapped it back against itself. His training suffered while the arm healed, of course, but I felt this was a lesson he must learn early, and well.”
— Spartan Kel, “Honing the Ki”
Doctrine: Flexibility is the technology that unlocks the oceans of Planet. You can build the foil chassis, which enables the creation of colony pods, formers, and military units that travel on the water. It’s a second-level tech that relies on Doctrine: Mobility, and it lets the faction that discovers it build Pressure Domes that enable their bases to not die instantly when they are underwater.
Depending on the map, this can be very valuable. Units travel very quickly over water compared to land. Bases built in the deep ocean tend to be very rich in nutrients and energy, though this comes at the expense of mineral production. And, of course, if you want to settle other continents or islands, you need to be able to sail there.
But it’s the quote that always stuck with me. On the surface, it’s just a little story about martial arts training. You could imagine this scene in a bunch of cool martial arts movies and it would fit right in. That impression is cemented by the little detail that this quote is from a fictional work called “Honing the Ki”.
However, it turns out there’s a lot more going on here when we stop to dig more deeply. First, the choice of this particular technology to accompany this quote is interesting. Obviously, the nameless student’s failure was in his inability to remain suitably flexible. His arm was too stiff; that was the weakness the teacher was able to seize upon to break his arm. The necessary, painfully-earned lesson the student takes away in the story is the small-scale version of the larger one the entire faction learns by putting this doctrine into practice.
Second, we get confirmation of our previous supposition that the Spartans place a great emphasis on the personal martial arts. Clearly, the expectation is that every citizen is expected to train as a crucial part of what it means to be a Spartan. And this training is considered more important than any of his other duties. In the early days of colonization, when resources are tight and each person’s efforts are critical, breaking a man’s arm to teach him a lesson is a much bigger deal than it might otherwise seem.
Third, it’s interesting that the Spartans are training in a soft style. They aren’t striking at each other; they’re grappling, instead. That’s why the teacher is throwing the student back repeatedly before he delivers his dramatic lesson. It’s a nice little touch that we see a student being taught to flow like water when the technology to enter the waves is unlocked.
Naively, one might expect that as the warriors, the Spartans would put a big emphasis on machismo. As such, they’d hold fighters who directly beat their opponents down in the highest regard. Think about what became of the Klingons by the time of Star Trek: The Next Generation to see what direction Reynolds could easily have decided to go. And it’s worth keeping in mind that his audience would have totally gone for that.
But, from all the evidence we’ve seen so far, the Spartans aren’t like that at all. Their leader is a woman, for one. Even disregarding that, we see in their discussions of doctrine that they venerate mobility and tactical coordination above all else. Presumably, they like heavy firepower and thick armor, but they consider those less important than mobility, training, and morale. This is really insightful of Reynolds, as the history of warfare shows that the traits the Spartans most highly prize are the ones that correlate the best with victory.