May 22, 2014

To Train a Warrior Art - Part I

This is about characterizing one’s training as a warrior art.

Now, I should quickly note here, this is not me drawing a line regarding debates of “Ninjutsu as Koryu” or “Ninjutsu verses Koryu” or the defining characteristics of historical lineages and what exactly, precisely those lineages actually demonstrate. After a while it all starts to sound like a B-movie monster mash up – Ninjuki VERSES Korukan!

I don’t dispute that these debates are meaningful to some or that they are, in and of themselves, meaningful for history. However, my feelings on the matter are best encapsulated by the now family famous words of my late grandmother, who at 90-odd years of age could still rock a solid joke as when she rose after a viewing of the Tom Hanks tearjerker, “Sleepless in Seattle,” to declare her unequivocal review: “BOOOR-ring!!” After the thesis of her argument had been clearly stated, her unassailable reasoning was to go to bed.

It’s true that these arts are invariably referred to as “warrior arts,” due to their historical and/or lineal distinctions and most characteristically due to the fact they were developed and/or refined and used during periods of war.

My purpose here is not to demonstrate which arts are and which arts are not warrior arts – I’m unclear as to how that exactly improves one’s training and even takes on a “my-dad-can-beat-up-your-dad” quality. This is an attempt to show a manner by which to challenge one’s training in order that anyone training martial arts - no matter the art – can approach their training as a warrior art.

Another note is this obvious statement: As martial training is, at the very least, a journey regarding self-awareness, one ought to be prepared to acknowledge that one’s current training may not be one’s final study. In other words, an agnostic may be interested in aspects of theology and may in fact participate in ancillary study of such. But this can only ever be ancillary. The student must acknowledge that only immersion and deep study from within the art itself can manifest the potentials one may be seeking.

I personally don’t feel that the catalog of martial arts as they are known and understood by the general populace covers how I approach training. Due to the art I train in - Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu - and the method I have learned over its years of study, I would grant that the art, such as it is, is really its own catalog – an amalgam of disparate strategies, tactics, techniques, and philosophy. But the difference as I have experienced it is in the manner, the “way” I have chosen to train it. I might call this the “character” of my training. Far from “what” I train – the specific techniques - it is this character that creates the opportunity for distinction. I see three aspects crucial to warrior art characterization: 
1.      Recognize oneself as a protector.
2.      Recognize the root ethic that protectors must defend.
3.      Reconcile this ethic with tactical insight to best maintain martial viability.  
First and most importantly is to embrace the originating role martial arts were discovered for in the first place - that of the “protector.” Protecting oneself and others is intrinsic to human nature and the human family – it is “natural” to us in that the inclination does not require special training. The simple truth here is that without those willing to fight and protect others it is clear there could have been and can be nothing else. So, just as donning the student dogi, uniform, is to feel like a student, embracing the role of protector through training is to activate one's will as such.  

Second, a protector by its own definition must protect something. Thus, the next aspect of a warrior art is the recognition of that which gives meaning, purpose, and authentication to the role of protector.

There are lots of good reasons that people consider themselves to be a protector – for one it just feels right. But no matter how great any single reason is there’s always going to be a glaring issue with it: Conflict between reasons. 

Conflict here is inevitable whether those reasons are different or the same, for different people can define the same reason in extraordinarily different ways – a “subjective” difference. Just take the old adage, “One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” You will never convince someone by your reasons that you’re a freedom fighter if they subjectively define those same reasons as in league with terrorists. So, when it comes to authentication, reasons are not enough. We must, in fact, look toward what justifies those reasons, or in essence, what “warrants” them. It will not be something unique we can all agree on, but instead something universal that none of us can deny.

Why recognize the universal? The short answer is it’s the best way to reduce conflict. The long and better answer is that it builds trust. First, if protectors don’t deal in universals, then their thoughts, words, and deeds will remain untrustworthy to those who are forced to live by their decisions. The ethical measure of decisions can often come down to how well they apply to everyone equally. This begins with trying to protect everyone in conflict – victims and perpetrators – and then basing decisions on changing circumstances or context. (One of my students is a police officer whose technique for reducing conflict is to handcuff every suspect - for their protection and his - and then listen to explanations. When he figures out who the bad guys are they’re already cuffed.) If they do not treat everyone equally, decisions will be suspect, as will the protector, and more conflict will foment.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, if protectors don’t deal in universals, then they risk their own thoughts, words, and deeds mutating like cancerous cells and working against them. Doing the right thing means knowing how to discover what the right thing is. But if that’s done through disrespect, dehumanization, greed, or even “right-minded” reasons like a subjective definition of “freedom,” or reliance upon any other relative – subjective – value, then protecting actually becomes more like bullying – coercing the weak by force - which can cause confusion, frustration, and even physical sickness to everyone involved. In today’s world it is known as Post Traumatic Stress. Protectors need clarity to trust their decision-making for they are the ones who must ultimately live with the decisions they may be forced to make.

If we reviewed the history of philosophy we would soon learn of the ongoing debate over its "holy grail" - the “source of normativity” or the “high-yield, super-chief, double-whammy,ganga-ganga” answer to deciphering obligatory human nature and its behavior; philosophers have only been waxing on this for literally thousands of years.

Normativity is understood as the standards or “norms” by which we are compelled to act or behave - a sense of "oughtness." And the source of this normativity is most often contrived as coming from within what I call the “big five”: Values, morals, ethics, justice, and rights. But claiming any particular value, moral, ethic, aspect of justice, or inalienable right as the basis of protector authentication is to miss the forest for the trees – we aren’t looking for the particular or subjective here that everyone must agree on. Humans are funny this way – there’s nothing we all agree on, hence thousands of years of debate. Even if it’s the same thing, we’ll figure out ways to disagree on it just to satisfy a drive for individuality.  

We are instead searching for a simple aspect of logic. The “source” or “warrant” for these aspects must be a universally necessary requirement that connects and invigorates all of these contrivances of human nature.

If you think hard enough, you’ll recognize there's only one thing that ultimately satisfies. In fact, it’s the same commonality that also connects every human to every other human by an earthly basis – a universal value of life. This is the immense motivational drive – the very first natural law of human “inclination” that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote of in his epic Summa Theologica - that all humans experience toward their own and most often toward the lives of others they care about.

For this universality to be recognized as true – or for our purposes, such that it cannot be denied - it matters not that some of us do not or will not value all life. Universality only requires the fact that all people do and will value some life, even if it is simply their own or someone else’s. 

If you’re not convinced that the power of duty/oughtness embodied by the big five is due to the value we place on life, then ask yourself: Why do the big five matter anyway? What is it that makes morals, or ethics, or rights valuable in the first place? Is it simply because we agree they are? Do they only matter as much as the prevailing majority opinion that agrees with them? A 51% rule is a dangerously seductive precept to discover obligational clarity considering human nature is flawed and human agreement fallible. In fact, mere opinion drains words like, “must,” “ought,” and “should” of any command.

There is an intrinsic quality that makes these notions valuable even if the majority of us agreed they were not of value. This intrinsic quality that invigorates the big five must be life, for life is what they are recognized to protect and defend. If the value of life – its aliveness and worthiness, the dignity of “being” – were somehow of no importance in our experience, then the big five would simply not exist because they would not have mattered enough to be discovered, articulated, and recognized repeatedly over the course of history. You can’t have ideas about values, morals, ethics, justice, or rights if there is nothing about life ideally worth protecting by bearing values, morals, ethics, justice, or inalienable rights.        

Since we already feel this “life value” connectivity, it’s reasonable to expect it can be extended to the whole of the human community through empathetic “common humanity” allowing us to protect ourselves, others we care about, and voluntarily choose to protect the life of strangers who cannot protect themselves and even those who might oppose us, our enemies. 

Think about it – if under stressful circumstances, life and death even, we could by Hogwarts powers, or Jedi training, or genie magic, protect everyone involved, would that somehow be offensive to our sensibilities, or our human nature? Of course not. Many might, in fact, agree that recognition, respect, protection, and defense of the life value is the "common sense" aspirations of humanity. 

In Part II, I'll detail the physical requirements that reconcile the ethical with tactical training. 

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