Google ‘warriorship’ and you’ll find it bandied about in new age circles – warrior coaching, self mastery, finding the ‘inner warrior’ – but it’s all just mumbo jumbo and clever marketing. No one seems to understand how to even define the warrior, let alone train others in their ways. So, why invoke the ‘warrior’ in such talk? Because of how we associate that strong archetype of the stable, centered, unflappable person able to deflect and defend life’s challenges, and our ideal self. In that sense, a warrior is really a hero.
But there’s something about a warrior that goes beyond even what heroes are capable of. Warriorship is not a complicated thing, but it’s also not an easy thing. Its roots are associated with war, to be sure, but not confined or limited to it. The best definition I ever heard of a warrior comes from Shihan Jack Hoban, an expert in ‘Ethical Warriorship:’
“A fireman is a hero. He protects life, right? At the risk of his own life. Runs into a burning building to protect someone he’s never seen before. Perhaps as a volunteer. And could die saving this person he doesn’t even know. That’s a hero. That’s the epitome of the self and others (value). Which others? All others. And what does he get for it? If he’s a volunteer he doesn’t get anything material. If he works for a town maybe he gets a civil servants pay. But what he (does) get for it is two things: one, he gets to save lives, which is the most noble, best feeling that a human being can get, and he gets the esteem and support of his peers and the people that he saved. He gets the inner and the outer feeling.There is a burden, a responsibility, in learning the ways and means of the warrior. The ‘self and others’ value inherent in Ethical Warriorship provides a roadmap by which to train by. Is it right to be excited by the pomp and circumstance of our training, the scope of our history, the minutiae and relentless pursuit of technical mastery? In a word, yes. This is the ‘self’ side of our training, the ‘selfish’ part we often, perhaps too often, get energized about, because it’s what we can most easily and readily identify – the part that seems to provide fulfillment. But we should be mindful here, not to allow ourselves to be carried away by the best intentions of our enthusiasm, lest it devolve into pride, self-centeredness, and relativism.
So, what’s the difference between them and a warrior? A warrior is supposed to protect people at the risk of his own life, but what he does that (others do not) is kill to protect life; this oxymoronic thing that actually undermines this feeling of nobility from defending others. Yes, I did protect others. Yes, I did protect life, but I had to take life in order to do it. This is an added burden. They almost cancel each other out. And that’s why people get sick from it. And they’ll surely get sick if they do it from the wrong mental perspective, out of anger or fear or prejudice or disrespect or dehumanization – you’ll get real sick. But even if you don’t, it’s very, very difficult. And that’s why a warrior to me is the epitome of human endeavor because even though they protect life they may have to take it which is almost … so dangerous to you … that it can’t be overlooked.”
There is an ‘others’ side to the training as well, steeped in the honesty of movement, the tactical usage of space, and the ethics of the protector. We channel it through the principles of our art – position, leverage, and initiative – giving us the macro view that provides the necessary counterweight to find the stability to reconcile the two halves into one whole. It is our mature side, the ‘adult’ in us, providing perspective to “be real” about our movement, and come to terms with the warrior’s inherent burden and accept it.
We often excuse the absence of thought, word, and deed when it is superfluous, extra, or redundant, but what about when it is not? What about when it is essential, as in the protection of life and the lives of others? When inaction causes death, it exposes that which drives us to begin training, our most innate and primal fear – the grip of hesitancy, helplessness, and inaction, the spiritual nakedness that robs us of confidence to make us responsible or contributory to the death of someone we love. And it is through this we can decipher the imperative of our training, it’s crucial and key points.
Make no mistake, the warrior trains not to become courageous - the opposite of courage is not fear, but submission, a sick thing the warrior can never do. Since fear is an emotional response it cannot be eradicated, but after many years of hard, physical training we can discover its opposite – the assured and steadfast, peace of mind to know when to forgive ourselves for prideful activity, and when “doing” is the only answer, even at the cost of our own life.
Those first six people and I didn’t talk about this kinda stuff way back then. Maybe we had a hint, a sense of it, I guess. We trained and tried to exemplify what we had been taught the best we could. And even though we’re still doing that today, Gasshuku gives us a chance to do it together.
This year, I’ll host our annual Gasshuku on October 8, 9, and 10, at Camp Edwards in East Troy, Wisconsin. Join us for training, for shop talk, for camaraderie.