8. But…Does it work? –The “Warrior’s Mind”

The other day I walked past a dojo where a group of earnest karate students were practicing their kicks and punches. They looked pretty good in their nice, white, traditional karategi, but after a few seconds of observation, I surmised that none of them, not even their black belt instructor, had a kick or punch that would keel me over with one “killing blow.” And that’s not saying much, because I’m an aging old geezer over 50 years old.

So…does traditional karate NOT work? Is it true that the only really practical martial arts are the ones where you “rock and roll” and mix it up, like judo or Brazilian jujutsu, or the MMA type stuff?

Well, since it’s my blog and it’s my opinion, I’d say for the majority of people in a dojo like the one I saw, not really. But lest you think Wayne-o has gone over to the Dark Side, I’d say maybe almost the same percentage of practitioners in MMA and other nontraditional martial arts are also incapable of really mixing it up.

Here’s the sad truth, as I see it. Whether it’s MMA modern cage fighting or traditional budo, the majority of students in the United States (I can’t say my observations are any good outside of the US) are probably going to be mediocre when it comes to a high stress, truly combative situation. Will they be better off compared to if they had not had ANY training at all? Perhaps. And that goes for myself. I can’t truly say I’d be the last man standing in a violent confrontation, and I’m not talking a drunken brawl over spilled beer. I’m talking a life-and-death situation.

I would say, however, that all things being equal, MAYBE a judoka or MMA practitioner might have a slightly better chance of survival because of the high level of endurance training they undergo, and that on average active judo, karate and MMA players are younger and more reslient, and being younger they are able to train harder and longer. But take out factors of youth and training time, and I’d say any kind of martial arts training, on average, will give you only a marginally better chance of survival.

UNLESS…(there’s always a caveat with me)…unless you train with real intent. I don’t mean coming at each other with a beer bottle in practice and cracking your partner’s head if he/she fails to properly block your swing. I mean with real focus and mental intensity. In other words, you really, really think about what you are doing when you are practicing, and you don’t waltz around like two contestants in “So You Think You Can Dance.”

If you read books by folk who do real research in survival and combat stress situations (and not books by “wannabe’s” posing with camo pants and short little weenie knives), books by folk like Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (On Combat, at http://www.killology.com) and Ben Sherwood (The Survivors Club), you will note that in many high stress combative and extreme survival situations, the major factor for survival is not physical (although repetitive combat and survival training does help), but mental. You have to have a “survivor’s mind,” or a “warrior’s mind.”

For some illiterate, ignorant nutcases, that means being a stone cold psycho killer one step away from lawlessness. You know, like those bad guys in the old “Karate Kid” movies: “Yes Sensei! No mercy, sensei!” There are, unfortunately, people in our midst who don’t have a mental barrier that keeps them from hurting other people. They have no compunctions when it comes to killing, maiming, stealing or hurting other people. That’s not a warrior’s mind. That’s being a psycho.

But that’s not the case at all when you dissect what writers like Grossman and Sherwood are saying. What they are saying is that through proper training, the mental as well as the physical is conditioned to be prepared and to react properly under duress, without freaking out. Under high stress situations, our body goes through documented physical changes, including the release of hormones that can stimulate our brains in different ways. Our nerves react with either the fight, flight or freeze as stiff as a board impulse, brought on by thousands of years of genetic imprinting. Our breathing gets faster, our vision narrows, our heartbeat speeds up and our blood is flooded with hormones that move us to either run as fast as we can, flail away at our attacker, or freeze in disbelief because “it can’t be happening, it can’t be happening!”

Unsticking our body and minds and then getting them to move in the right way in order to survive a combative or survival situation requires two things: preparation and proper mind set. As far as preparation goes, that can mean proper budo or martial arts training. Whether it’s classical budo or MMA type training, if your body has been properly trained in repetitive combative or semi-combative situations, you should be somewhat physically prepared to do something. Preparation in a survival situation, as Sherwood culls from actual incidents, can be as simple as knowing where the exits are on an airplane before an accident happens, or buckling up your seat belt before you drive on that really accident-prone stretch of highway, or avoiding a darkened alleyway because you heard that it’s frequented by muggers late at night.

Having the proper mind set, what Grossman calls a “warrior mind,” is being able to have some amount of control over your instinctive, subconscious impulses with your cognitive mind, even in the midst of the chaos and “fog of war,” violence or traumatic incident.

Sportive type martial arts advocates often decry “traditional” martial arts practice because they see kata geiko (practice of preset “forms”) as “unrealistic.” However, you could classify a lot of training that modern law enforcement and military units undergo as kata geiko. Running through a simulated urban environment shooting at targets is a form of kata geiko, for example. Repeating evacuation procedures for flight attendants is kata geiko. If, therefore, kata geiko is not any good, why are they still used as a major form of pedagogy in modern systems of combat and survival training?

In budo, kata geiko performs the same function, more or less, as in more modern systems of training. Sans being put in actual danger, kata geiko offers a modicum of safety while the student performs physical movements that may be necessary in high stress situations. By repeating the training over and over, the movements become almost instinctive. Having the movements be instinctive is a good thing, because in actual situations, the cognitive brain can “freeze” or lock up. So if you take too much time thinking, “Well, I’ve got to make a fist. Let’s see, close my fingers together, thumb over other fingers, thrust out the fist, strike the guy with the knuckles of my fist just below his nose…” That’s too much thinking, especially when a part of your brain is screaming, “Oh my God, Oh my God, he’s trying to kill me! I can’t believe it! Let me out of here!”

No. You just have to punch your attacker in the face without having to think about HOW you are going to form a fist and make a strike.

The weakness of kata geiko for classical budo students is that it can become a dance. It can be shorn of their combativeness, their intent, their seriousness. If you don’t practice a karate kata with proper focus and intent, and then you try a half-arsed punch at your attacker and he’s still standing, you are in real deep poo poo.

Lest the MMA and sportive crowd snicker at the kata folk, there is also a danger in too much sportive training done the wrong way. Again, if you treat your training too much like a sport, while you may gain a lot of physical conditioning, you may not gain the proper mindset for a combative or survival event. An actual violent or survival confrontation is not a sport. There are no rules, no out-of-bounds targets, no neutral corners. “Playing” at a martial art like it’s a game doesn’t help in the development of a proper mind set.

That’s why, I suppose, when I was a young judoka, judo was treated a lot differently than it usually is today. I talked about it once with an old-timer judo instructor. We both mused over the differences in intent. In the old days, he said, we never could just amble off the mats to drink water and lie around in between matches. We had to sit up straight and focus on the practice. That was because, I now realize, judo still retained a sense of  budo-ness; it was still trying to develop a warrior mind, not a sports mind.

The judo sensei shrugged his shoulders and commented further. Nowadays, he said, students think nothing of walking off the mat, sucking on Gatorade or water from water bottles, lying on their backs and talking amiably with each other. “Well,” he concluded. “It’s a sport. What can I say? It’s not like the old days. We can’t force them to endure, to do shugyo (severe mental and physical discipline).”

It’s even worse if you talk about the kinds of aerobic exercises that use martial-artsy moves like kicks, punches and blocks. All the examples I’ve seen have not convinced me that they have any shred of real utility in a combative situation. The intent of those exercises is mainly for sheer aerobic exercise. In most cases, I see most of the practitioners executing movements with terrible form, poor kime (focus) and with very little delivery of real force at the point of attack.

One famous movie star testified that after doing a form of aerobic kick-boxing, he felt confident that he could “kick ass.” I don’t think so. He looked pretty good in spandex tights hopping around, but as far as really stopping someone in their tracks with his bare hands…Uh, nope.

Unfortunately, whether it’s classical budo or modern MMA type martial arts, you can’t FORCE someone to develop a “warrior mind.” You can encourage them to focus on training, but it’s hard to outwardly judge intent, focus or mental preparedness. You can only suggest it to others, and prepare your own self, mentally, for such real life situations.

Going back to that karate club with the bad techniques: What I will say is that the members appeared to be trying hard. Some kind of training is better than nothing, and perhaps given where they started from, the members may have come a long way in their physical dexterity. I couldn’t say. So they were crappy. But maybe they are better than if they had done nothing at all. I have to give them that much.

But the biggest fallacy for any martial arts student is to be smug. Performing kata half-assed or “playing” at randori or groundwork without focus and intention are both detrimental to the development of the “warrior’s mind.” I’m not saying that everything should be stoically, deadly, boringly serious. No, what I’m saying is that practice, whether kata geiko or free “sparring,” should be focused and thoughtful, and one should never be satisfied with what you can do. You should always strive to get better in some way. By striving, the mind is actively engaged in honing the movements, in paying attention to what’s going on. By focusing on practice, you focus on training the mind and body to have the proper movements and reactions “stick” to you mentally and physically, with less and less effort.

That, for me, is to have a “warrior’s mind.” And maybe, just maybe, your techniques MIGHT work.

32 thoughts on “8. But…Does it work? –The “Warrior’s Mind”

  1. A very good and thought provoking article.

    From my own experience the cultivation of a “budo mind” is the cultivation of a clear mind.

    The example I point to took place some 20 years ago when my dad was in the hospital having emergency surger after having a heart attack. It was late at night, everyone was gone, and I was there alone.

    From time to time someone would come out to let me know what was going on (not often enough!) And ask me to make life and death decisions for him.

    With a clear mind forged through Yoshinkan aikido training back then, I kept calm, asked questions, explored my own options and went ahead and made those decisions.

    He died, but not that night; not on my watch.

    I credit the ability to endure that night to my budo training.

    I like your blog a lot. I have become a regular reader.

    1. Rick, thanks for the thoughtful comment. I remember too when my own father passed away. He was already hospitalized and we were sitting around, and then he just stopped breathing and he was gone. It was a very emotional, sad moment. But I credit my training in some small, humble way, which kept me together and asking the right questions of the attendants and nurses. It wasn’t that it made me less feeling. It made me able to control the intense feelings I did have. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I studied psychology in college, and one of the things I found most interesting was how the human works in an emergency. Armed with this knowledge, I figured that when an emergency occurred, I would be prepared to overcome the mental blocks and auto-pilot routines that everyone is prone to.

    To my great consternation, when presented with an actual emergency wherein I was in a position to provide help, I found I was wrong. Despite my intellectual knowledge of how the mind works, I was, and perhaps still am, susceptible to that same brain freeze, and the accompanying body freeze.

    One of the things that has drawn me to the classical tradition that I practice now is that it is very concerned with how the mind operates in crises, and how to break out of that mental freeze. What I really marvel at is how sophisticated this training is, even though it predates modern psychology by some 300 years. In a sense, Lt. Col. Grossman has been re-inventing the wheel, although his work has been extremely valuable.

    All too often, we train the mind, or we train the body. But just as emotions trigger certain physical responses, so can physiological stimuli induce certain emotions. Understanding and training this unity of body and mind is, IMO, essential. Not just for military and LE personnel, but for regular folks. I don’t train my classical sword art so that I may one day deal with a deranged attacker. I train so that I can [i]act[/i] if someone has a heart attack at the table next to mine, or if someone weird and unexpected happens, like a toddler falling down an up escalator.

    A couple of books I highly recommend are “The Body”, and “Body, Self-cultivation, and Ki”, both by Yasuo Yuasa.

    1. Josh,
      One of the really important things that Grossman reveals is how common freezing or inappropriate responses are in stress situations among any random group of people. That alleviates a lot of feeling of guilt or disappointment, somewhat, and that is why I am so noncomittal about the efficacy of martial arts training. It boils down to the individual response, and there’s no telling how any individual will respond to an actual stress situation.

      On the other hand, as LEO and military training show, koryu type training attempts to develop a mind and response action that can function in those situations. So when done properly, I really think that such training, even in sword, staff, or weapons work, can develop a mind that can react properly in a stress situation. Such situations, after all, will not always be a violent grappling or punch-kick altercation. There are all sorts of different stress situations possible in modern day society.
      Thanks, Josh.

  3. Wayne

    Great post. I think you are correct to bring judo and MMA into the mix – they do in their own way develop warrior mindset when trained and applied in the correct manner. Sport training is too often dismissed by so-called “combat” oriented martial artists, modern or traditional. I credit training in both with helping me.

    I would tend toward the Force Science Research Center these days more than Grossman. Grossman bases a lot of his stuff on SLA Marshall’s work, the latter admitted he cooked his data. The FSRC is finding some interesting similar data in some ways however. Among the key critical elements appropos this discussion:

    You must train with emotional intensity that mimics the real thing. Training without such intensity simply cannot prepare you for the experience of having that intensity while still performing technical skills, and keeping your mind clear enough to even begin to strategize. It is for that reason that Force on Force training is so important to modern tactical/officer survival training. It is also an element that I do think combat sports, with the antagonistic/competitive training, has a role.

    FSRC is also finding that one must train “at the speed of the fight,” whatever fight that may be, in order to pattern the proper psycho-motor program for combat. One thing going a long way toward this is direct techniques – as physical technique must be patterened to automaticity to free up the mind to pay attention and adapt to the situation at hand. I think this goes hand in hand with koryu theory, and is a reason why they tend to train short sequences of direct, even simply technique and focus so much on proper weapons handling – you just can’t be thinking about that stuff when under life and death circumstances, just as you shouldn’t have to think about a speed reload or transition drill in the modern sense.

    Josh – they are also finding that even highly trained folks may be caught behind the 8 ball if the situation they are faced with is unexpected and does not square with their previously patterned paradigms. Some of that is a function of training being idealistic over realistic, but some too could be going into the “this can’t be happenening” model, or even the “what the heck is happening?” one, instead of staying outwardly focussed on the event itself.

    So much of what they are doing seems to go toward the concepts such as mushin, zanshin, suki, and fudoshin that it is really just a different vocabulary for the same thing. The warriors of old I don’t think had the scientific research, but probably trained a lot rougher than most non-professional martial artists do today, and I think also had less distractions and fewer layers of “noise” in analyzing what their minds were doing under stress, that they “got” it a little more and tried to pass it on.

    Sorry for the ramble, but I love this stuff.

    1. This brings to mind another book, Rory Miller’s “Meditations on Violence.” I’m not sure if the anecdote came from that book or not, but it talks about a LEO and martial arts person practicing snatching a pistol out of an attacker’s hands. He trained over and over again in this disarming technique. Just by happenstance, he answered a call to check out a possible robbery and was surprised by the robber pointing the pistol a few inches from his head. The police officer reacted instinctively, and thanks to his prior training, he snatched the pistol out of the criminal’s hands.

      Just as instinctively, he GAVE BACK the pistol to the robber, just as he did it (without thinking about zanshin) in his practice. The robber was dumbfounded enough that he didn’t know what to do, and the officer recovered his senses and managed to wrest the firearm away a second time.

      So…intention. It’s great to practice hard and intensely, but if you don’t practice zanshin, you may end up doing something like this…with more dire consequences.

  4. BTW, re: the point on traditional karate: Lyoto Machida seems to make it work in the MMA ring – having never lost even a round. He directly uses karate technique rather than Muay Thai.

    The difference is he has trained against muay Thai and MMA fighters “at the speed and intensity of that fight,” which is what really makes the difference.

    1. I don’t really follow MMA very much, so thanks for the example. I think I’ve seen Machida on the cover of some magazines in regards to his use of Shotokan karate in MMA bouts. Good for him. Again, given the rules of the game, the skill set any stylist brings to those matches are probably dependant upon the intensity of the training and how hard the player tries to adapt his/her system to the situation.

      1. Yep. I keep stressing basics until my students get bored stiff, but unless they have the foundations right, such as proper stance, footwork, application of strength, etc., the fancier stuff won’t work at all.

  5. That story and others have circulated around the LE training community for years. Some claim they are apocryphal, I just read that there is some question as to whether brass was actually found in the pockets of the four killed at Newhall, once again a “training scar” resulting from their dumping the expended casings from their wheelguns into their pockets to avoid having to pick up the range.

    I dunno, I have seen enough “goofy loops” in force on force training to realize that certain things need to be trained to automaticity, and decisiveness and innovative thinking go right out the window if not properly “stress inoculated.” I think it is not a mistake that martial teachings based on a combative base emphasize basics, basics, and more basics.

  6. I have noticed that when I have been training regularly, and something … urgent comes up, I have a perception not so much that time has slowed down, but that I have simply more time. With more time the triggers that come on with surprise fail to go off and I can take care of business more calmly.

    1. Temporal shifts are one of the characteristics of stress situations, I’ve read. Time seems to slow down. The mind does some really strange things in terms of how we perceive reality.

  7. Wayne, Nishioka Sensei can (and has done it several times with me some years ago) mess with time in interesting ways. We would do reishiki before kata with him as uchitachi and I would look at him across the dojo and think “here he comes”… and suddenly he would be cutting and I felt foolish because I couldn’t figure out how he got there because he didn’t go “fast” but he got to toma before it seemed possible. He laughed the first time and told me that he was “dueling with the sakki” and in a real battle he would have already won. He was right.

    I’ve been in combat situations on a number of occasions when time seemed to slow down but he can cause it to happen during kata!

    I’ve also experienced the truth that people you wouldn’t expect to freeze often do and if you don’t this time there’s no guarantee that you won’t in the future. Enough experience and proper training makes the odds much better, but it’s no sure thing. Teamwork with really good people makes it easier but every time is different.

  8. Chuck, et al..

    Science is actually demonstrating exactly what veterans of combat situations (and survival situations) know.

    One, we all have “tunnel vision” (“funnel of concentration;” “attentional blindness” “selective attention” and other terms are now used), all the time. It is simply how we are wired. Stress, especially life and death stress, exacerbates that. Depending on what we are attending to in a particular circumstance, even highly trained people can freeze, even if they hadn’t before, simply because of where their head is at during that particular situation – or what their adversary or the event is imposing on them. Its fascinating stuff.

    Training of course helps. Here is where I think combative budo’s rationale and concepts apply: with physical skills being ingrained to automaticity, we don’t have to attend to the basics (mushin) and can pay more attention to the situation at hand, how it changes, and how we can adapt.

    If we can attend to the situation, we can better focus our mind outwardly and on the event and prevent its being “moved” inward or away from the event(fudoshin) or getting stuck on something (suki: Draeger’s wonderful term “mental constipation until your adversary administers the prune juice” comes to mind here)that causes an internal fugue which is lethal in survival situations;

    And in this way our mind remains in the present moment (zanshin)and does not anticipate an outcome that we hope will happen, or does not engage in wishful thinking or denial (“this is not happening to me”), but rather attends to what actually IS happening and how to prevail.

    Just my take, but I think that classical warrior recognized the whole idea of funnel of concentration/attentional tunneling, used their own terminology to describe the psychological phenomena that occurred, and recognized optimal performance states and attempted to inculcate them in themselves and their students.

  9. Kit, here’s a story from 1966 RSVN for you…
    my team and I were hitching a ride on top of an amtrac heading out on a recon patrol. There two or three others along with the crew inside. We hit a landmine and all I knew was I was ass-over-tea kettle turning over/around in the air in slow motion… I could see my M-14 just out of reach slowly turning also…it seemed like it lasted forever in really, really slow motion and then WHAM!! normal time came back abruptly. I hit the mud flat on my back (thank goodness for years of judo ukemi before this) and one of my team came down on the edge of the amtrac and broke his hip. Everyone inside was … gone. I can still remember this and smell and feel it as if it had just happened. I know time is “relative”, but I sure wish I knew what all it is relative to… it gets really interesting to play with it in regards to “target, distance, and timing” in budo action. I grew up as a shooter from age 9 in PAL competition and then also in the Corps did a fair bit of long distance shooting. I find there’s some strange time related stuff that seems to be going on when scoping moving stuff from long distance also. I wish I really knew a lot more about what we don’t know. Interesting discussion subject for sure. Thanks for your posts, I’ve always enjoyed your views.

  10. Thanks Chuck, your perspective as a budoka and vet is a very valuable one for the rest of us.

    You should check out the archives at http://www.force-science.org. They do a lot of stuff related to time, vision, etc. as well as other “perceptual occurrances.” They don’t like to use “distortions,” because as I think you discovered, it happens at other times. Apparently what is really going on is how concentrated we are, and on what. Everyone here has gotten in their car, driven to work or somewhere else, and realized they have no recollection of the drive and “lost” that time. We didn’t, we just weren’t paying attention to it.

    What has been fascinating for me is how some things speed up, some slow down, and things like “tunnel hearing” can be selective within the same event: no ear-pro, and that M-4 in an enclosed area a foot from your ear sounds like a pop-gun, but you can actually hear groans or talk to your partners. And maybe even your ears don’t ring afterward. Try that on the range and OW!

  11. From what I’ve picked up from various sources over the years I think a large part of what we’re talking about is part of our survival/defense mechanisms at the very core of our being. Training desensitizes and then re-sensitizes our surprise reactions.

    I was attending a lecture in 1973 in Toronto by Dr. Hans Selye about his studies on “fight or flight” response. He asked if anyone had any personal observations and I, of course, (tout jours l’audace..) raised my hand. I told him that I disagreed due to long, and serious budo practice had come to the conclusion there were not two responses but three… fight. flight, and freeze (or a better word I think is fibrillation). He thought about it for a moment and then agreed. In my mind, that is the worst thing.

    1. Great minds think alike, Chuck. (Ha!) I always thought there were three responses myself, based on budo and personal experiences (I’ve experienced all three reactions.) The scary thing is that sometimes we may react to “normal” situations in a similar way, rather than take control of our reactions and do things that make the most sense. Anyhooos…

  12. Thanks to everyone for this discussion. I have ordered Sherwood’s book from the library and appreciate it greatly when people share good resources like this.

    Kit, I hope that someday you put together a reading list on mindset!

  13. Hey, Al!

    Force Science is a good start, but you should try forcescience.org instead of the hyphenated link I posted up there.

    There are others from both modern and classical perspectives – I’ve posted some before on E-budo and TPI, I’ll have to collect a list of them and post them somewhere.

  14. I just watched a video from the Philadelphia SEPTA hammer attack. The Philadelphia Police spokesman commented that most people simply freeze up when they are confronted with what appears to be “unbelievable” circumstances; which explains why so many people just passed by ignoring or stepping around it. I was pretty shocked at the “City of Brotherly Love’s” apathy for the man being attacked.
    It seems to me that in our society, we are actually influencing that type of behavior. The bigger the city gets, the more numb it seems we are getting. Maybe I am drawing blanket conclusions, but I certainly have seen different in the USA and in Japan.

    Being from a small town, I really don’t believed that attack would have happened in my town.

    For example, back in the ’80s a bunch of Skinheads showed up at a popular riverside area and started pushing and punching some black teenagers around for swimming up river from them. This quickly drew a crowd that literally consumed the skinheads and beat them senseless. When the police showed up some 10 minutes later, the skinheads were arrested as they were trying to limp up the rocky cliff to the parking lot. I don’t think this would have happened in a bigger city. Although the people at the river were not familiar with one another, they stepped in and stopped these idiots from trouncing a couple teenage kids.

    Looking back on this I am also wondering if I had a glimpse of a community that simply does not exist anymore. Where the fear of retaliation from the law, the fear of further violence and troubles enacted upon them are now hard wired to the “flight” mechanism of the body. In other words, we are training ourselves to be apathetic to situations like this for the sake of survival. The freezing mechanism that Chuck spoke about seems to be augmenting this behavior.

    1. Russ,
      What has me bothered is a case here in Honolulu. A young girl was visiting as a tourist, the trip a gift from her parents. The facts seem to be that she and her brother met up with a shady looking guy who admitted to them that he had just gotten out of prison for assault, theft, armed robbery, etc. They went and bought some alcohol, hung out together, went to the beach, smoked some dope…typical teenage behavior. The brother left his sister (!!!) with the ex-con. Right on the beach (at night), in front of a major hotel, he assaulted her. She struggled, he choked her. Repeatedly.
      Hotel workers, days later, admitted seeing a woman struggling with a man but “decided not to get involved.” What they saw wasn’t just a spat or a slap or two. They admitted being able to see the guy on top of the woman choking her over and over and punching her. Yet they didn’t even report it to the police.
      The next morning, they found the nude body of the woman on the beach. It took a few more days to catch the guy (apparently physical evidence was all over the place), and a few more days for the hotel workers to own up to the fact that they could have stopped the murder.
      Lots of red flags went up when I read the sorry news. First, what the heck was the brother doing leaving his sister alone on a dark beach with an admitted criminal who just got out of jail, whose first day was spent looking for booze, dope and two young, easily manipulated teens? Then there’s the lack of any sense of warning signs on their part of hanging out with a guy whose mug shots made him look like a real scuzz bag, and then there’s the denial of the workers to take any responsibility for the assault they witnessed.
      This happened, too, just a few weeks after the whole community supposedly went up in arms because a 19-year old girl was raped and beaten to death by a different assailant in a dark alley. The Honolulu community staged rallies and marches against violence against women. So much for that helping any. Honolulu has become a typical problem American city behind a dangerous facade of being a “tropical paradise.” It’s still pretty, but criminals infest any large city and you can’t let your guard down.

  15. Generally, I think this a good post. My one issue is the unequivocal separation drawn between the ‘violent’ mindset and the ‘warrior’ mindset, the first being dismissed as entirely immature. I really dislike the thug mentality that you sometimes see in martial arts, but when stories of historical warriors shows us something about their mindset that does not entirely jibe with the modern ideal of a gentle martial artist. Samurai and knights frequently did live as if they were a law unto themselves. Men like Miyamoto Musashi killed without remorse or regret, often for purely personal reasons, and he was not unique in this. The code of chivalry was propagated by court chaplains in Europe in order to curb noble violence. The psychology of a warrior class raises men from birth with the expectation that they will kill for a living, and thus breeds a mindset that is too often whitewashed by modern martial artists. We can admire aspects of these mens’ spirit, but we can’t simply ignore the fact that many of them would be classified as sociopaths in the modern day. Their mindset made sense in their time and place, but it is only acceptable in the modern world under the most extreme of circumstances.

    1. Jack,
      Nice note. Let me elucidate further (and probably piss off even more people)…The legends of Musashi are just that….legends. Talk to someone like Colin Hyakutake or anyone else in the Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu and they will give you a different perspective on Musashi. Read Eiji Yoshikawa’s “Musashi” and you will see a more sympathetic portrayal of Musashi. Or, if by chance, the negative portrayal of him is true, then in actuality, he was quite an anomaly, according to most koryu teachers I’ve talked to. So he’s not a good example of the nature of the classical warrior. Nor, however, were they “gentle martial artists” a la a lot of New Agey type folk. Yes, Musashi as depicted in many popular descriptions would have been considered a pretty twisted sociopath, even (as noted in some descriptions in his own day), but that only shows how extreme his popular image was even to warriors of his day. Better if one read something like the “Gikeiki” or Yoshikawa’s translated “Tale of the Heike” to get a better idea of the ideals of the warrior. And I won’t even go near Nitobe’s “Bushido”, the “Hagakure” or Mishima, all post facto idiosyncratic personal interpretations, in my opinion.

      Wayne Muromoto

      1. Thanks for the comment. Some of the terms I used overstepped my point. I was hesitant to use the word ‘sociopath’ because it denotes mental illness, something that I do not think is appropriate to the situation. However, I do think that one of the diagnostic aspects of a warrior culture is that the value of human life is less emphasized, if only because the warrior has to be able to take the lives of others and risk their own with no hesitation. I agree that Musashi was not the best example, I chose him because he was the most well known, and, honestly, because I had just reread The Book of Five Rings and felt fresh enough that I didn’t have to go back digging up sources.
        I do want to mention, however, that the ‘warrior ideal’ that is described in literature is sometimes less well grounded than we would like. Stories of chivalry are my favorite example. After the idea spread, some knights changed their behavior for the better. Others took the tales in stride in a different way, and began, for want of another term, live action role playing. They went out, pretending to be characters from chivalric ballads on glorious quests, all the while ransacking the countryside. My point is that often what you find described in most of the literature is the absolute best you could hope to find, and that the worst was very, very much worse.
        I will look over the texts you recommended, but it will take some time. Thanks again for your insight.

      2. Jack,
        Thanks for your comments. You make some very valid points that are well taken. I hope I didn’t sound like I disagreed with you entirely. As in tales of chivalry in Europe, “warrior tales” of Japan were often meant to encourage the warriors to live up to lofty ideals. I.e., many of them needed a great deal of encouragement to do so. We do, however, have to be careful that what we tend to see of a “classical warrior ethos” in modern budo, popular literature, books, and movies (even coming from Japan) are heavily colored by the personalities and cultural times in which they existed. Hence, the totalitarian government of Imperial Japan during World War II of course emphasized individual sacrifice for one’s country blindly and recklessly and hearkened back to a mythical “bushido” spirit of a divine race. When you look back at many koryu heiho or many older warrior writings, no such recklessness was espoused. Likewise, the whole “Musashi as a Lone Gunslinger” wandering the countryside fits right into current pop cultural icons of being a romantic loner, but we forget that Musashi ended up deeply devoted to the Hosokawa daimyo family at the end of his life. And so on. Anyway, thank you Jack. Good discussion!!!

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