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What is Warriorship Really? Part 1

Warriorship has been an indispensable perspective for most if not all authentic ancient traditions, and remains the most neglected and perhaps most necessary foundational element of personal development today.  Unfortunately, it’s also one of those concepts that’s been so abused for so long by so many cultures that it needs to be completely rehabilitated before it’s of any use to anyone- and modern popular culture is no exception.

This series presents some of the most critical elements of warriorship through examples from film and television, as well as real life examples, showing where they get it right- and where our cultural ideas of warriorship go tragically wrong.


1. Patience, Humility, Self-Control

Great generals are not warlike

Great warriors do not get angry

Those who are good at defeating enemies do not engage them

Those who are good at managing people lower themselves

This is called the virtue of non-contention

This is called the power of managing people

This is called being harmonious with Heaven

The ultimate principle of the ancients

  • Tao Teh Ching


From Rambo to The Rock and from John Wayne to Jack Bauer, there is a brand of cinematic warrior that is not noted for patience, humility or self-control.  This brand of warrior wants action, now, no matter what, wants to show off, wants to assert control through demonstrations of strength.  This kind of action hero figure, fuelled by testosterone and adrenaline, is prevalent in our culture.

This tendency, however, represents precisely the opposite of authentic warriorship.  The warriorship of cultures with successful traditions of personal development is not only founded upon patience, humility and self-control- they have no concept of warriorship without these three elements.

Consider the Japanese warrior tradition, which defines patience as the restraint of the seven emotions.  Whatever else it may have gotten wrong, and there’s plenty, it was absolutely right in requiring patient self-control as the basic foundation of warriorship.  This quality manifests not only in unwavering endurance, but in constant and unwavering courtesy and control of emotions.  For a samurai to act out of anger if the action was not in harmony with their duty to their clan, or even to be impolite was considered a great failing.

Take Lord Toranaga, from James Clavell’s novel Shogun and the miniseries of the same name.  Toranaga is the most patient man in Japan.  He bides his time serving other warlords, waiting for the right opportunity to unite Japan under his own leadership.  He never reacts impulsively, unless doing so is strategically advantageous.  He curbs and directs the passions of his subordinates so that they do not interfere with the ultimate goal.

Katsumoto, of The Last Samurai, is a more down-to-earth example of self-control.  Whether before battle or in captivity awaiting execution, he remains patient, self-possessed, courteous.


2. Integrity and Alignment with Fundamental Principles

Personal integrity means everything to the warrior.  Integrity means, above all, being true to your own being.  Of course, this is meaningless if you have no idea of what you want to be, if you have no trajectory for self-cultivation, no understanding of your own bedrock principles.  Integrity does not mean simply following the rules.  It implies a deep moral centre, a willingness to stand by your principles, even in the face of opposition from people in authority.  It means that you avoid abusing whatever power and authority you have, and call out such behaviour when you see it.  It means putting principle ahead of personal interest, in some cases even ahead of one’s own life.  Integrity means seeking the truth and a commitment to standing up for it, as explained by Al Pacino in the clip below:


3. Compassion

There have been many codes of behaviour among warrior societies throughout the ages, some better than others.  The mistake common to most of these codes is summarised by Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido:

“The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood. It is not a means to kill and destroy others. Those who seek to compete and batter one another are making a terrible mistake. To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst thing a human being can do. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent such slaughter – it is the Art of Peace, the power of love.” 

  • Morihei Ueshiba

We’ve mentioned principle as the foundation of a warrior’s life, but what principles?  There are some that are indispensible.  Truth is one; compassion is another.   A warrior is one who, in the words of Mr. Miyagi of the Karate Kids movies, has full respect for him or herself and for others, and acts accordingly.

The core values of a spiritual warrior- love, compassion, courage, hope, integrity, truth-seeking, simplicity, and everything that follows from them- are universal values by which everything else has to be measured.  An action is not good or bad because someone says so, but because it advances or inhibits these core values, not as an abstraction but in the living universe and between living beings.  By evaluating things in this way, a warrior not only develops independent moral insight and imagination, but the vision to value people and their actions independently of any institutional structure or goal.


4. Focus and Discipline

The Samurai were famous for using the principles of Buddhist meditation, and the single-pointed mental focus it cultivates, to improve their ability to do everything, from flower arranging and poetry to combat.  This same single-pointed focus, this ability to marshal all your attention in the present moment without unnecessary conscious thought, is exactly the warrior’s approach to every task in life- you will find that gathered attention in the present moment moves forward more incisively than hours of scattered thought.  Warriorship requires a conscious process of personal development in accordance with these principles, and as a result, on a day-to-day basis, purposeful living, purposeful actions, purposeful thinking.  Take, for example, this clip from The Last Samurai:


These principles of warriorship are indispensible for serious self-cultivation.  True, spiritual warriorship is single-minded dedication to life-giving principles.  It cannot coexist with conformity, ideology, undisciplined emotion, violent disposition or the will to dominate.  When you see or hear warriorship portrayed in the media, consider these principles, and decide whether what you are seeing is spiritual warriorship as advocated by all serious traditions of personal development, or a substitute designed to cater to adrenaline-charged emotionalism and provide normative support for some of the less enlightened aspects of our culture.  Tune in next Monday for the continuation of What is Warriorship Really?