May 11, 2015

The Athlete and the Protector

This is my response to an old friend and his point made on a Facebook thread for my last piece, "Taijutsu Truth: Heart and Sole." It's in regard to how martial sports and warrior arts can use the same principles in very different ways.

You can view the conversation here.


I really appreciate your point here, that the difference between winning and losing at advanced levels in martial sport come down to the very same alternative principles I listed as being reliant for warrior arts. And this could of course, be true. Initiative, leverage, and positioning can all play favored roles in favorable outcomes for competition.

I have great respect for those who train competitive martial sports. The training is difficult and all consuming. But it would be whole cloth to say these principles of mindful initiative, technical leverage, and body positioning were used equivocally in manner, degree, and outcome. Or we could say the way in which it's done, the extent to which it's done, and why it's done at all.


Though there will always be some overlap between all martial endeavor, there can be no true equivalency between martial sport and warrior arts - the two are mutually exclusive and must be. If martial sport adopted the manner necessary for great ability in warrior arts, competition of said sport would stifle and by all measure become impractical as practitioners tried in vain to lure each other into un-counterable, devastating, possibly career-ending outcomes, not to mention death.

This manner would never allow any purely refined form or technique to take shape and flourish like it can and does under the highly controlled and regulated conditions of competition. One of the tremendous aspects of involvement with sports is simply this: it’s a lot of fun. But the above conditions are not fun, they would be dark and oppressive.

And if warrior arts adopted the manner of sport, practitioners would not learn foremost to close off any and all openings and vulnerabilities, since performance of technique would be all consuming no matter the circumstances of their use. Just page through any book of Judo or competition Jujutsu - its basic techniques have all been chosen, designed even, specifically for use in the strict two-person contest model.

But this model fails instantly when taking into account outside variables that make technical performance impractical and dangerous to the user when makeshift weapons, multiple opponents, and attack by ambush are considered. All of which are but a few of the most prominent issues in normal warrior art training.


Warriorship apprentices are trying to attain not simply a “tactical” perspective, but a “viable” one that engenders an advantageous life-protecting ethic for self, others, and all others, including the enemy if at all possible. It is this “viability” in training that directly shapes the habituation of these alternative principles into a broad, creative, asymmetrical, and technically unconventional arsenal of extreme use in extreme conditions to protect life - points and winning, notwithstanding.

Violence of tactics and method is also mirrored by situational awareness, clever use of the environment, and cunning manipulation of the moment for the purposes of escape, intervention for the defense of others, or most dangerously, confronting enemies (and possibly subduing them for arrest or confinement) to be killed to save or protect life.


Martial sports are not defined, do not inherently train for, intrinsically deal with, nor are expected to deal with, the range of variable threats under conditions of life or death. Martial competition is played between willing participants, who normally share similar value for tests of will, camaraderie, and fraternity in humanity’s long-standing warrior traditions. Even the Greeks and Spartans had team games they played involving moving a rock across a field (although death sometimes occurred and might have even been encouraged in doing so).

But getting home to one’s family or protecting them or yourself through violent struggle is not and cannot be considered any game. There is no voluntary participation for a test of will here, or camaraderie, or fraternity. There is only dealing with the violence of aggression and how well one survives it. Getting out ahead of such violence through awareness and avoidance, or adapting effectively to the least necessary outcome based upon one's conditions and context, this alone marks such a major difference between training methods and perception of those methods that in itself is enough to settle the stark difference.

It becomes quite difficult to equivocate martial sport and warrior art in these aspects of manner, degree, and outcome even for their overlapping principles. Take competitive shooting here in the United States. Targeting contests vary in the extreme for manner, degree, and outcome when compared to personal-protection training for concealed carry of a firearm and for the most basic of reasons: no one ever expects the target to shoot back in a contest. Even the practice of primitive skills survival differs tremendously from its life-protecting, defending role of the Scout, which in manner, degree, and outcome must still survive, flourish even, through the lens of stealth and invisibility.

On the surface, there is always much in common between long-time actors of the martial ways. We are all of us engaged in a process that changes us fundamentally and hopefully for the better. But if we dig into the details of our respective backgrounds, we will inevitably find many examples of differences in our training values. These differences ought not be compared ad nauseum, but celebrated! 

We ought to revel in the ability, sheer will, and technical expertise required to overcome such advanced levels of pure martial ideal. And we should treat with all sacredness the wisdom and clarity that the ancient touchstone of humanity's protector ethic imbues upon us to temper ourselves to stand up for, save, and defend the lives of self and others in the crucible of human conflict.

Let's - all of us - "keep going!"

We'll make it!

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