Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What it means to be a Warrior

“A warrior is still a warrior, even if they're naked.”

I honestly can't remember what the title of the book that statement comes from. I do remember that it was a rather unremarkable piece of alternate history fiction where a guy, who happens to be an engineer & ex-military, goes back to Middle Ages Poland & “sets them straight”. The scene in which the above phrase is utters is a gem – the Hero beats up a bunch of knights because....(drum-roll please)...he disarmed them & they couldn't fight without their weapons! Like I said, an unremarkable piece of fiction. But for some reason that phrase stuck in my mind and the more I study Western Martial Arts, the more I realize that it's true. The treatises are full of principles and demonstrations on how to apply those principles across various setups & with various weapons.

The impetus for this installment comes from far too many discussions with customers at the knife shop I work in about what type of sword/knife/gun/[insert weapon here] is better and why. I'm sure you are all familiar with the Knight vs. Samurai threads that pop up on various forums about once a year. The point that I always try to get across is that weapon type does not play that big a role in a fight. Instead, it is the mindset, the intention, that defines someone as a warrior, not their weapon. I'm more afraid of someone with a 2” blade who knows what they're doing than an untrained person with a machete. Yes, the untrained can be trouble for the trained (for instance the panicked thrust that has no martial quality whatsoever & so takes the accomplished duellist by surprise), but I'm not talking about training per se, but mindset. It's about the warrior, not the weapon.

So what is a “warrior”?

A warrior is defined as “1. One who is engaged in or experienced in battle. 2. One who is engaged aggressively or energetically in an activity, cause, or conflict”.

But it can be difficult in our society today to be at ease with the idea of being a warrior, simply because too many people focus on the combative definition of the word. But being a warrior can have very little to do with fighting or combat. In fact, the term I use for myself is "Peaceful Warrior". What the heck is a Peaceful Warrior? Well, the phrase was coined by the author Dan Millman and refers to his philosophy of living. According to Mr. Millman, "I call myself a peaceful warrior because the battles we fight are inside". Another way he phrases this is "Peaceful heart, warrior spirit". Personally, I really like this approach and I feel that it fits the needs of the "modern warrior"; of whom there are far too few.

A warrior needs to cultivate a good "Warrior Mindset". This mindset involves knowing that diplomacy is usually a better tactic than force, but if force is necessary, they can apply it as needed. There is a world of difference between just knowing how to fight and knowing when to fight. One makes you a fighter, the other a warrior. Think of Teddy Roosevelt's famous quote "Speak softly, but carry a big stick". Or from the Boy Scout Law: "A Scout is Brave. A Scout can face danger even if he is afraid. He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at him or threaten him". While the Boy Scouts no longer feature "violent" sports among their activites (much to the detriment of the program in my opinion) in both it's original English form and the American version, the BSA featured a Master at Arms merit badge that included Singesticking, Fencing, Quarterstaff play, Boxing, Wrestling, & Jujitsu.

Fiore dei Liberi discuses these aspects as well. Well, I think he does :D Fiore's segno features four animals (which I won't go into detail about here - see my previous post ) which exemplify the virtues Strength, Quickness, Courage and Judgment. If I may permitted to go a bit esoteric for a moment:

Strength means the physical strength needed for successful fighting, but also the mental and moral strength needed to make NOT fight. Likewise, Judgment refers to all the details of physical combat; observing your opponent, understanding distance & time, etc. but it also means knowing when to use less-than-lethal force or just not fight at all. And courage is... well, courage!

What it means to be a warrior changes in accordance to societal norms, but one thing that remains is that a warrior is willing to fight (physically & verbally) for what they believe is right. If it comes to the need to defend themselves, it doesn't matter whether they are armed with a longsword, katana, messer, folding knife, or a BiC pen - a warrior will always strive to prevail.

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