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For the Cause… whatever it is


In today’s post, we deal with one of the key issues in the Warrior’s life – what to do when faced with institutionalized evil. 

Every single one of us faces this issue at some point in our lives, whether it’s pressure to cover up someone else’s wrong-doing, to act unjustly toward someone because “it’s policy” or simply pressure to say the politically correct thing when it’s a flagrant lie.

Because it’s based on the pursuit of TRUTH on all levels, the Warrior’s life can get pretty uncomfortable in daily life.  Below you’ll find some of the most extreme examples of people abdicating moral responsibility and the rationalizations they used to live with their deeds.  While most of us will never face this extreme level of institutionalized evil, this does underline how vital it is for YOU as a  Warrior to understand your own “lines in the sand” ahead of time:



If you received a progressive education, you probably had the importance of cooperation drilled into you from a young age.  Unfortunately, when it comes to the psychology of mass evil, cooperation becomes the single most devastatingly terrible mode of human existence.

During World War II, the Allies placed captured German officers and men under surveillance.  The recordings of their conversations provide immeasurably valuable insights into the psychology of institutional evil- and the ways in which human beings abdicate moral responsibility for it.  Neitzel and Welzer’s book Soldaten compiles and analyses these sometimes chilling recordings.




Shifting Blame

For a long time, the Wehrmacht, the regular army of Nazi Germany, tried to distance itself from war crimes.  The blame for everything was, they claimed, to be laid squarely at the feet of the SS, the military arm of the Nazi Party.  Even if there weren’t ample evidence of the Wehrmacht’s guilt, these recordings would suffice to condemn many of them out of their own mouths.


Partisans and Civilians

PFC Müller: In a village in Russia there were partisans, and we obviously had to raze the village to the ground, without considering the losses… The order was given that every tenth man in the village was to be shot… the women and children and everyone were shot down; only a few of them were partisans.

This sort of thing, razing villages and killing dozens or hundreds of hostages in reprisal for partisan attacks, sometimes even for the death of a single soldier, occurs many times in the recordings.  Of course, these things didn’t deter partisan attacks- they simply drove a cycle of ever more extreme violence.


Ethnic Cleansing

Many Wehrmacht officers also discuss their involvement with massacres and deportations of Jewish populations.  Many if not most of them approved in principle of some sort of ethnic cleansing of the Jews, even if they were personally repulsed by particular methods used, such as the mass shooting of women and children.

Col. Erwin Josting: No, it isn’t right.  You can do whatever you like with them, but not burn them alive or gas them or heaven knows what else!  They should be imprisoned, and after the war has been won, you can say: ‘This people must disappear.  Put them in a ship!  Sail them wherever you wish, we don’t care where you land.’


Prisoners of War

There were also large bodies of opinion that dismissed crimes against prisoners of war, especially Russians.

Lt. Gen. Maximilian Siry: In the East, I once suggested- thousands of PWs were coming back, without anyone guarding them, because there were no people there to do it… So I said, “That’s no good, we must simply cut off one of their legs, or break a leg, or the right forearm, so that they won’t be able to fight…” At the time, of course, I didn’t really condone it either, but now I think it’s quite right.


Disagreement Actually Doesn’t Help

As Neitzel and Welzer note, it is not that there was any one uniform moral standard in the Wehrmacht or the SS, that there was no critical thinking or that everyone was successfully indoctrinated into the same culture of brutality.  Far from it.  Some people were completely against these crimes.  Many more objected to some extremes of cruelty but not the principles under which they were performed- the execution of civilians to deter partisan activity, the execution of partisans upon capture, the execution of prisoners of war when it was inconvenient to take prisoners, the extermination or expulsion of the Jews.

In the Wehrmacht especially, the people who were, so to speak, ‘thought-leaders’ of cruelty and extreme measures were probably in the minority.  But there were always others willing to go along with them, others still who objected but did not actively resist, and a command structure that didn’t want to hear about it too much.  The variety of moral views didn’t matter.  No one was willing to stand up against it, and only a couple of the German prisoners actually suggested such a thing.

A few refused orders to kill civilians.  Many claim to not have personally participated in whatever activities were beyond their personal ‘red lines’.  But when an officer received an order from higher command to burn a village or execute civilian hostages or kill Jews, for the most part, they did it.  They didn’t know what else to do.


The Culture of Obedience

And that was part of the military mindset.  Obedience was the prime military virtue, and disobedience was unpardonable.  The lengths to which German officers would go in the name of obedience was shown in their reaction to the frequent demand that they fight ‘until the last man and the last bullet’ in untenable positions.

From a military perspective, there was seldom any strategic sense in such orders- a mobile defence is more effective than a fixed one.  From the standpoint of military conduct, this was an innovation- you fought until there was no point in going on, and then you surrendered.  But although many officers disagreed with these orders, many of those who disagreed fought until their units were all but wiped out, in the name of following orders.


Cultivating Cognitive Dissonance

All of this was tied in with carefully-cultivated cognitive dissonance.  The image of the German soldier, and more importantly the German officer, as a skilled professional, was the foremost element of their self-image.  The military values of courage, obedience, discipline and so on were their touchstones.  German prisoners of war competed with stories of their exploits in battle.  But behind that there was the image of Germany as a civilised nation.  “Aren’t we the most civilised people?” one POW asked.  Another argued that Germans were generally too tolerant and incapable of hatred, and so were always being taken advantage of.

What made this sort of cognitive dissonance sustainable was that these people were trained and conditioned to limit their empathy for anyone who was not like them.  Their empathy was first for their peers, then Germans in general, and anyone else came later.  Empathy for the enemy did exist, but it was never so urgent that one had to do anything about it.  It was easy to put distance between oneself and the victims through the overarching bond of military loyalty.

And for those who pulled the trigger themselves, whether on their own initiative or in obedience to orders, the Nazi propaganda machine had a ready-made delusion: they were sacrificing for the fatherland by being willing to get their hands dirty. The same delusion of self-sacrifice has been recycled many times up to the present day.  Nazi propaganda spoke of the need to overcome ‘humane’ instincts by sheer force of will.


A Universal Dynamic

And here comes the painful part.  It may be the Wehrmacht saying these things, but every other power in World War II did the same things- not necessarily the targeted racial violence, but the war crimes, the execution of prisoners when it was inconvenient to take them in, killing of civilians and so on.  Neither the Japanese nor the Americans were noted for humane conduct in the Pacific War.  The British executed German paratroopers on Crete.  All sides bombed civilian population centres, a class of crime that was curiously removed from the level of disapproval a single infantryman killing a single civilian could draw.

And it wasn’t just the global madness of that particular war.  American soldiers in Vietnam saw nothing exceptional about burning villages or killing suspected Viet Cong sympathisers- especially if they got the South Vietnamese Army to do the deed for them.  We could go into Russian war crimes in Afghanistan, the war crimes of both sides in Korea, the war crimes of more recent conflicts, but you get the idea.  Brutality becomes the norm unless a clear line is drawn against it- and ruthlessly enforced.  The category of “War Crime” becomes a function of political and military convenience.


The Institutional Culture Trap

This is the trap of mass psychology, especially within a close-knit institutional culture.  It becomes easy to object to something, yet do nothing about it, because it is the norm, because your superiors don’t want to hear about it, because policy has been made, because it happens all the time, and above all because you don’t want to break your bond to that institution or stick your neck out.  The really sad thing about these recordings is that until defeat seemed inevitable, most of these officers still believed in the war they were fighting and the glory of German arms.

Kenji Tokitsu: Brilliant Insights into the Warrior’s Way


There are two kinds of people who study Warriorship. For lack of better terms, we’ll call them the external warriors and the internal warriors. External warriors are content with the physical and the visible in the disciplines they study. They believe that Warriorship is about proving oneself and dominating one’s opponent. Internal warriors see that there is something far more substantial than that in the warrior’s path.

As a long-time teacher of Karate who has studied the junction between Chinese and Japanese martial arts as it relates to the development of ki energy (qi in Chinese), Kenji Tokitsu is uniquely placed to comment on this distinction. Faced with a situation in which Japanese martial arts are rapidly losing their historical methods for cultivating the inner dimensions of Warriorship, he explores the boundary between the external and the internal in a way that has tremendous relevance not only in a dojo, but in the development of personal strength in every area of life.

Because Tokitsu approaches this question from the perspective of a Japanese martial arts insider, we’ll try to make things simpler by presenting his thinking on Warriorship in three different levels.

Level 1: Gross Technique, Raw Aggression

This is the level that the Western materialist mindset and the competitive sports derived from martial arts love to revel in. At this level of thinking, victory comes down either to superior technique or greater strength and aggression.

This is the level that Tokitsu has so often seen Karate practitioners peak at. At the stage of life where most Karate practitioners practice competitive sparring, they rely on youth, strength, aggression and external technique to win. Without teachers who can familiarise them with ki cultivation and given the extensive damage to their bodies sustained in sparring, they soon have to withdraw from competition, having no way to advance further in their art. Karate then becomes a game of the young, rather than a lifelong path of development.

In addition to its shortcomings as a method of practice, Tokitsu brings out the unsatisfactory nature of this level as a way of analysing Warriorship. Honest analysis of higher-level martial competition cannot put victory down to superior technique, strength or aggression. Something else is happening.

Level 2: Willpower, Ki and Refining Form

That something else is a contest of ki energy. What is observed particularly in martial arts such as kendo is that by the time the first blow is struck, the match has already been won and lost. The winner is the one who has been able to project the most stable ki into the most useful form without allowing his opponent to disturb his ki. In other words, the ability of the person to control his own mental and energetic state, without the need for rational thought, merely responding to the opponent’s energy and creating whatever form is needed to defeat him without losing inner balance is much more important than any amount of strength or technical perfection.

When the student starts to notice this, the connection between ki and focussed intention becomes obvious. Intention leads ki, causes it to take shape. Therefore, some approaches to developing ki focus on cultivating the will or intention. This carries some danger, especially if, as in some martial arts, the intention being cultivated is animalistic or destructive. This carries the potential to do great damage to the psyche and leaves one no further ahead with regard to the ultimate goal of an immovably serene ki.

Level 3: Serene Ki and the Morality of the Human Organism

Here is where we approach the fundamental paradox of Warriorship which the samurai encountered. The samurai took up Warriorship explicitly in order to kill their enemies. They also realised that the ki and hara arts could help them become better, more focussed, more powerful killing machines. But in order to perfect that line of development and win battles on the level of ki, the mind and emotions had to be serene. Without serenity, there is no inner stability and ki does not flow naturally. To achieve serenity, the ego and its grasping emotions and desires had to be overcome. The same ego that led them to the desire to kill their enemies in the first place.

What they discovered, Tokitsu explains, is that the human organism itself has an inherent functional morality. When it is overcome by anger, greed, fear, when it does something inherently out of harmony with the world, when it is actuated by the defensive ego, physiological symptoms occur that are very noticeable in combat. At high levels of practice, attempting to fight in one of these states, that is, outside of serene awareness, defeat becomes inevitable. Ki no longer flows properly and the body’s movements are disrupted. In the contest of ki, the serene party always prevails, and the distracted party cannot give form to his energy properly. It follows that by experiencing that defeat and finding the source of the symptom that led to it, the practitioner can learn and address that defect.

Everyday Warriorship

This is where ki meets the inner, functional morality of the human being. We are designed so that we thrive by functioning in certain ways, and not in others. The martial development of ki is an excellent indicator to us of what those ways are. This is also where Warriorship meets everyday life. The warrior in daily life is the one who strives to align himself with what confers inner stability and thus, personal effectiveness.

Tokitsu evokes the classic image of a calm river, smooth on the surface but powerfully moving beneath the surface to express the relationship between the serenely clear awareness and the great potential energy of the ki in such a state. An observer would see only the calm, but the practitioner experiences the state as a fiery energy. This is the state that is at the root of the experience many students of high-level masters have, of discovering that their meek and kindly teacher is also, for no apparent reason, invincible, not only in the ring, but in life.

The “Art of War” in YOUR Life

When people think of ancient texts on strategy like Sun Tzu’s Art of War, they often think of their modern-day application to the cutthroat world of corporate strategy, alongside Machiavelli and Bismarck. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the much more subtle level of consideration on which people like Sun Tzu and Zhu-ge Liang operated.

Like Machiavelli, they lived in a fragmented nation at war with itself. Like him, they developed their strategies for the explicit goal of unification under a single ruler. Like him, they understood the depths of ruthlessness.

Unlike Machiavelli, they understood on a very deep level the reasons why rulers resort to ruthlessness and deception, and the long-term consequences for the nation. For that reason, their approach is not just contrary to Machiavelli’s, it is designed to overcome the Princes of the world.

Here are just a few of the principles they taught that translate very well into modern leadership, warriorship and everyday life:

1. The effective leader creates harmony within an organisation through consistency and attention to the human element.

The very first thing Sun Tzu asks in assessing a combatant nation is whether it has a humane and just leadership, a leadership that has the Way. Without this, discord arises. An ancient commentator on The Art of War quotes the saying, “The one who treats me well is my leader; the one who treats me cruelly is my enemy.”

“Leadership,” Sun Tzu writes, “is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage and sternness.” As a commentator explains, “Trustworthiness means to make people sure of punishment or reward.” A leader who is not trustworthy is not trusted. As Zhu-ge Liang likewise emphasises, “It is imperative that rewards and punishments be fair and impartial. When they know rewards are to be given, courageous warriors know what they are dying for; when they know penalties are to be applied, villains know what to fear.”

This is consistency. Humaneness and the Way are more demanding.

One who spies out treachery and disaster, who wins the allegiance of others, is the leader of ten men.

One whose humanitarian care extends to all under his command, whose trustworthiness and justice win the allegiance of neighboring nations, who understands the signs of the sky above, the patterns of the earth below, and the affairs of humanity in between, and who regards all people as his family, is a world-class leader, one who cannot be opposed.

These are the low and high ends of Zhu-ge Liang’s classification of leadership. In his world, Machiavelli’s Prince merits only the leadership of ten men. Thus, he also writes,

Good generals of ancient times took care of their people as one might take care of a beloved child… When there was difficulty they would face it first themselves, and when something was achieved they would defer to others. They would sacrifice themselves to feed the hungry and remove their own garments to clothe the cold. They honored the wise and provided for their living; they rewarded and encouraged the brave. If generals can be like this, they can take over anywhere they go.

The upshot of all this is that the leader who cares is the leader who is willingly followed. “Look upon your soldiers as beloved children,” Sun Tzu writes, “and they will willingly die with you.”

2. Fear and anger have no place in decision-making.

For Sun Tzu, anger is a vulnerability to be used to throw the opponent into confusion, or that can cause a general to make disastrous mistakes. As Zhu-ge Liang says,

If you put victory first, you will surely get beaten later; if you start out with anger, you will surely regret it later. One day’s anger can destroy your whole life. Therefore a superior man is stern but not ferocious; he may get angry, but not furious; he may worry, but does not fear; he may rejoice, but not beyond sense.

This is the virtue of patience. Impatient people make decisions out of anger that destroy the basis of their success. Fearful people make “tough decisions” that may seem effective in the short term but ultimately destroy people’s trust.

3. Never fight anyone you don’t have to. Warfare, and by extension any wasteful conflict, is failure.

“To win without fighting is the epitome of skill,” Master Sun says. But it is better not to be in conflict at all, because that carries with it great risk and exertion for everyone. Zhu-ge Liang warns, “Have no hard feelings for anyone who has not shown you enmity, do not fight with anyone who does not oppose you.”

And speaking of things we ought to have figured out by now, Sun Tzu also points out that “It is never beneficial to a nation to have a military operation continue for a long time. Those who use the military skilfully do not raise troops twice.” A quote that should be required reading for every Western head of government…

Even when you have to fight, “Those who win every battle are not really skillful- those who render enemy armies helpless without fighting are best of all.”

4. Emptiness and Fullness.

Attack and defence operate on the Taoist principle also used in Tai Chi- give way to the enemy’s strength to draw him in, while you move into the enemy’s weakness. “Preparedness everywhere means lack everywhere.” If you are dispersed trying to do everything at once, you are much weaker than someone who keeps their forces and energy concentrated. Sun Tzu makes an extensive study of this sort of dynamic.

Sun Tzu focuses on making sure the enemy has to take substantive action first. He recognises that launching a major attack is the moment of greatest vulnerability, both for your supply lines and the areas you leave unattended, and that long campaigns deplete armies. He therefore suggests drawing the enemy toward you, forcing him to move by threatening key vulnerabilities, forcing him to reveal his strengths and weaknesses, and generally tiring himself out. By making the enemy move first and denying battle until you’re in a position to ensure victory, you risk little and gain everything. If you don’t show what you intend to do, if you keep your capabilities obscure, you become “the director of the opponent’s fate.”

This is in a sense a passive, humble strategy, with Sun Tzu comparing a victorious army to water, fluidly adapting and responding to the opponent.

Victory From Within

To ensure the strength of your own position means to attend to your own character and humanity. To conserve your strength means to be patient and not let events throw you into knee-jerk reactions. Real victory is to make conflict unnecessary, or, as a last resort, to put an end to conflict in the most economical way possible. The one who is humble and formless and lets his enemy posture and run around while flowing around him preserves his own strength and wins without effort. These are principles that apply equally well to war, to business, and to everyday life.

For a taste of these strategies in their original context, the epic film Red Cliff, set during the life of Zhu-ge Liang, does an excellent job of portraying both leadership and strategy dynamics from these texts.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Warriorship: Historical Archery


You may have seen this guy on Youtube. Lars has clearly spent years of dedicated practice developing a very particular set of historical archery skills- those used for rapid fire and at relatively close ranges. There is only one way to develop skills like this- correct practice and constant repetition. The “correct practice” part came from reading sources on combat archery to come up with something distinctly more realistic than the sport archery of today.

Historical archery is enjoying a revival, especially in places like Hungary, which have particularly distinguished archery traditions. Their method of practicing rapid-fire horse archery, also using a sheaf of arrows held in the hand, is particularly noteworthy. This practice takes them through a 180 degree arc, from virtually straight ahead to the so-called “Parthian shot” at a target behind them.


Where these practices focus on speed, Japanese Kyudo, or Zen archery, takes another approach. Rather than developing speed through practicing fast, they develop speed, power and accuracy by practicing slowly. This method is common to a number of Asian martial arts- the more slowly you practice, the more deeply whatever you are doing sinks into your muscle memory, and the faster you will be when speed is required. But more importantly, this method emphasises Hara, the complete single-pointed focus and total alignment of the body’s energy behind each shot. The objective of Zen archery is to hold the bow at the point of highest tension with an empty mind and absolute focus on oneness with the target. When it is time to shoot, it is not the volition of the archer that should loose the arrow. Even though this practice seems monotonous to Westerners, Japanese archers in feudal times were renowned for the power of their bows, the accuracy of their shots and their rapid rate of fire.


Correct practice, constant repetition and single-pointed focus are the skills that unite historical archery with the warrior approach to mastering ANY skill, whether in the ancient world or in the modern one. And you can use this same approach to master ANY aspect of life that you wish…

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Warrior Culture at Peace

“I can teach you to fight with the Green Destiny, but first you must learn to hold it in stillness.”
– Li Mu Bai, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

When we talk about warriorship on this site, we’re referring to the ancient traditions of spiritual warriorship. Warriorship, much like athletic contest, was an apt metaphor for spiritual endeavour and personal development which took on a life of its own in many authentic ancient traditions. Sometimes, as with the Shaolin Temple or the Japanese Ninja, the spiritual and physical realms of warriorship intersected.

But more often, the popular warriorship of a culture had no clue. That’s why the ultimate test of the spiritual value of any warrior culture is not how it deals with war, but how it deals with peace.

The Ninja, or Shinobi, were despised by the official Samurai warrior class because they did not offer absolute obedience to a feudal overlord or conform to the rigid social order of the period. Instead, the Ninja were loyal only to their families, and would fight to protect them. Rather than fighting and dying on the battlefield by the thousands as the samurai did, they would endeavour to find the single weak spot of the enemy, perhaps one person who could be removed to prevent a fight.

That’s why Stephen Hayes, disciple of the last living Ninja grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi, writes that to follow the spiritual warriorship of the Ninja in this time does not simply mean learning their ancient martial arts. It means learning to integrate effectively and peacefully into society. For the Ninja, war was never the goal. To be left in peace by the authorities was. Because of their spiritually-grounded understanding of warriorship, the Ninja can happily adapt themselves to more peaceful external circumstances.

A far cry from the Samurai, for whom death in service to their lord was the very purpose of life, and who even in peacetime were legally obliged to kill commoners under certain circumstances.

Similarly, the Shaolin monks did not merely train themselves to be deadly and resilient warriors, they also prepared themselves to be resilient people, through their emphasis on the inner cultivation of gongfu, the quality of peaceful inner power that underlies all of the truly spiritual martial arts. The 72 Arts of the Shaolin, the great pre-Revolutionary compilation of Shaolin training methods, says:

“The pugilistic arts are like fire, while Gong Fu gives a stable ground for shaping a man.”

When undertaking these methods, “the main point is peace of mind and concentration. It is necessary to give up extraneous thoughts.” There are very detailed requirements for the mindset and way of life of the practitioner, without which health benefits and skills will not materialize.

When we consider the warrior cultures which did not assimilate this quality and were therefore unable to make peace either within themselves or with the rest of the world, we can see a pattern. The Spartans defeated the Athenians, but made themselves intolerable to the rest of Greece. Athens was left standing out of respect for its cultural achievements. Sparta was wiped off the map.

Similarly, the warriorship of the samurai resulted in hundreds of years of civil war, and ultimately, the leveling of most of Japan’s major cities in the Second World War.

Discerning Worthwhile Warrior Traditions

It is important for us to understand that the goal of spiritual warriorship in physical conflict is to seek to create peace whenever possible, and to pass through the storms of war not with the idea of vanquishing the enemy, but with the idea of avoiding his force and bringing the conflict to a close as decisively as possible, so as to minimise suffering. To try to prove one’s warriorship by seeking combat is like trying to prove the strength of your skull by hitting it against harder and harder objects- eventually, you will find the one that cracks you open, and long before that, you will have killed so many brain cells that it really won’t matter anyway.

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