The Path of the Warrior

Hunter Armstrong’s Tsuwamono no Michi: A Different Kind of Warrior,  the original available at Examplar Path, is another take on the parallel development of the modern warrior in terms of character and capability, and the ongoing importance of training. This is derived from Japanese sources, still present in the teaching of some of the oldest classical martial traditions, which Armstrong has practiced.

And incidentally, entirely consistent with the Platonic ideal of Guardianship (the warrior/soldier Guardian). The crux of both is the ethical underpinning, and development of character, of the properly trained warrior. I’ll be addressing the latter in an upcoming piece.


Tsuwamono-no-Michi: A Different Kind of Warrior.

Being / Becoming
For many armed professionals, training and practice in combative skills are approached as necessities of the profession. For them, it is readily apparent that combat is the most difficult arena in which humans engage, and there can be no such thing as too much preparation physically or mentally. For some, however, it’s too easy to become complacent. Reliance on routine, faith in the infallibility of the team, apparent familiarity with a situation are all factors that can degrade one’s awareness and the feeling of need to constantly improve not only combat skills, but, more importantly, the mindset that enables skills to operate. Training and practice have the very obvious benefit of enhancing combat skills, but there is another reason they become even more important over time. It would seem that over time, as our skill improves through training and practice, there should be a corresponding drop in the amount of necessary time and effort on such training. It seems obvious that “the better I get, the less need there is for me to try to get better.” For the professional, however, the opposite is the case.

Aside from the simple enhancement of combative skills, why is training so important? The short answer is that training defines a difference between being and becoming. The fact that we are training is an indication that we are trying to further develop ourselves, become something more than we are now. If we are satisfied with who/what we are now, we wouldn’t need to train, other than to simplypractice skills we already have. Training is forging and polishing, striving to learn more, do more, to achieve a higher level of capability, to become more.

Who or what are we trying to become?
 We are engaged in a combative endeavor that at root should be no different from that of the combat professionals throughout history. In essence, we are part of the martial tradition. However the tradition of the martial encompasses a wide variety of character types from protectors of society to warlords and brigands. The scope for the current age is no different. However, as with any era, the true professional has higher ideals of character and standards of behavior than merely being skillful at combat. In the end, it is character and a high standard of ethical and moral behavior that separates the true warrior from the well trained thug.

We often cite earlier examples of idealized warrior types such as the knight and the samurai as potential role models. And while they provide some traits that are worthy of emulating, we are in a different age, and need to look more closely at our models of behavior.

For example, let’s look at the Japanese samurai. As an historical figure, the samurai (also known as “bushi”) has been around for over 700 hundred years. However the image of the samurai that we’re most familiar with now has his roots in the Sengoku Period, roughly 1490-1600, a time of extensive battlefield warfare. During this period, the bushi’s survival was based on his ability to dominate in battlefield personal combat. It was during this period that the martial skills of the Japanese warrior were stimulated to a peak of development. With the end of battlefield warfare in the early 1600’s, there followed the relatively peaceful period of the Tokugawa era. In spite of the lack of battlefield warfare, the samurai evolved to further meet the needs of the warrior in an age of little battlefield combat, but greater demands in a different type of combat, one that is in some ways more difficult to train for. This was the single combat of professional warriors in a civilian world.

 The single combat that arose was of a nature in which it is all too easy for the ego to become the driving force. Ego is not always a bad thing, and properly applied can be a very useful driving force. Ego drive, when used for unselfish ends (see the hoplological concept of “non-grasping-persona”) can be useful as a force of will achieving remarkable ends. The other side of that coin is the ego of selfish ends (the grasping persona). Here the ego turns one inwards, becoming an inhibitor. In either case, for non-selfish or for selfish ends, for good or bad, the ego can be a lethal determiner. The nature of the martial training during this period was to further polish the effort of will, the unselfish ego of the non-grasping persona, towards just ends. Here we see the development of such concepts as the dichotomy of the “life-giving sword and the death-dealing sword”: the sword of violence being used for the protection of life.

 Most of us are familiar with the term, samurai and to a lesser extent, bushi, and what attracts most of us to the bushi/samurai is that they trained as individuals in some of the world’s most highly evolved systems of personal combat. At the same time, we tend to ignore the less savory nature of thesamurai’s social position and the behavioral nature of the samurai class status. However, that behavior is important for the modern professional to understand. While the samurai on the one hand had arguably become one of best trained warriors in personal combat, particularly during the height of the Sengoku Period (1490-1600), his code of ethics and morality during that period and evolving further during the following Tokugawa era (1603-1868) would, by today’s standards, leave something to be desired. During his height, the samurai’s duty, loyalty, obligation, responsibility was owed not as a societal protector, but directly and specifically to his lord and only to his lord. The samurai was not the idealized, individual, knight errant, seeking to suppress evil, right wrongs, and protect the weak. He was a retainer, a servant-warrior for his lord and master at whose whim he served. If you look through one of the English translations of a Japanese manual on samurai behavior—AJ Sadler’s The Code of the Samurai (an annotated translation of the writings of Daidoji Shigesuke – 1639-1730) – you’ll see far more instruction on the daily comportment for serving as a dutiful retainer than on the obligations and responsibilities of protector-warrior to society at large.

For most of us this is not the persona we visualize in ourselves or in our own development as modern warriors.

For my part, I prefer a different and earlier concept of Japanese “warriorship.” The term, tsuwamono, is from an earlier period of the Japanese martial history.

 The Japanese character for tsuwamono 兵 is now read as “hei,” as in heihō, generally translated now as “tactics,” “strategy,” “the art of war.” However the older meaning involved a concept of tactics that was rooted in the individual and expanded outward to groups. Importantly, though, that heihō, while rooted in combative skills, also included an aspect that would be best described as “one’s behavior towards others.” The individual who practiced that older heihō was one who followed the tsuwamono no michi, “the warrior’s path.”

 The tsuwamono was the warrior of an earlier Japan, prior to the rise of the “servant” samurai. As with the later samurai, the tsuwamono strived to live up to the ideals of his class, but the tsuwamono’s code of conduct included valor, loyalty, honor, trust, non-desire, and importantly, demeanor or comportment. However, unlike the later samurai, the ethics and morality of the tsuwamono was not aimed at polishing his role as a servant serving a lord-and-master, but towards the greater good of the group within which he served. Compared to the later samurai, the tsuwamono had greater independence, and was often himself an independent land owner. His responsibility was to his family and to the society in which he lived. He might owe fealty to greater powers, but his immediate and primary obligation and responsibility was to those among whom he lived.

 It is at least partly to the this earlier concept of the warrior that I believe we should turn in getting a better understanding of who or what we are training ourselves for.

Tsuwamono – a Modern Warrior Concept
  • The tsuwamono is an individual; he is self-initiated and self-motivated.
  • The tsuwamono is a follower of the warrior path of responsibility and obligation. His following of that path underscores his individuality while stressing the importance of his responsibility as protector in his society.
  • The tsuwamono trains to become ever more capable at combative skills. The foundation of those skills is based in his self-initiative to become more. It is inherent in the tsuwamono that as he gains in capability in and comprehension of the principles intrinsic to the martial path, he will of his own self-initiative, seek to expand the application of those principles beyond any institutional standard. In other words, the tsuwamono is never satisfied to stand still waiting, being, but is constantly looking forward, to becoming.
  • The tsuwamono attempts to conduct his daily life based upon a code of conduct rooted in an innate sense of ethics, integrity, and morality. This code of conduct is not an outwardly enforced expression expected of the tsuwamono by others, but a code of behavior that the tsuwamonoexpects of himself. As with the tsuwamono of old, valor, loyalty, honor, trust, and comportment are values that are inherent. Compassion, an aspect of the “life-giving sword” (an often neglected component of martial behavior), is a vital part of the code.



On Guardianship


Another session of Blue Courage last night and more spirited discussion on the “Guardian vs. Warrior” thing.

The Soldier and the Citizen: Lessons from Plato and Aristotle, by John P. Hittinger, underscores why the nature of this current debate is bi-polar – in that the Guardian clearly was intended as a model for a military ethos and the training of the soldier class – warrior class if you will – while at the same time emphasizing the obvious intention to  see to it that:“an ethics of virtue is central to military ethics,” and that “we must tie military ethics to the fundamental issues of justice and the value of human life.”

Naturally, the adoption of noble and viable military ethics of the soldier guardian for  police work has caused confusion within a culture that has at the very same time decried militarization and  dismissed an  – albeit notional – concept of Warrior Mindset.

Part of the disconnect perhaps lies here – quoted from The Soldier and the Citizen (emphasis mine):

“The education of guardians and the development courage poses a challenge to society at large, and to modern societies in particular. The formation of soul, the attachment to a particular country, the demand for personal sacrifice run counter to the principles and hopes of liberal enlightenment. Individual rights and desire for material satisfaction are overriding political goals; skepticism and doubt in the service of free thinking predominate in our education; we expect perpetual peace or a withering of the state.

George Grant poses a very stark problematic:

If the avoidance of violent death is our highest end, why should anyone make sacrifices for the common good which entail that possibility? Why should anyone choose to be a soldier or policeman, if Lockian contractualism is the truth about justice? Yet such professions are necessary if any approximation to justice and consent are to be maintained. Within a contractualist belief, why should anyone care about the reign of justice more than their life?25

At first look, these considerations may lead us to consider that a military ethic is anachronistic. The modern account of justice seeks precisely to avoid the questions of metaphysics and hierarchy of good.26 In Hobbes and Locke there is an explicit denial of the existence of a noble good over and above the useful and pleasant.27 The contemporary account, while following a Hobbesian or Lockean contractualist account of justice remains silent about the good life. It posits a “thin theory of the good”: life, liberty and property are goods that anyone needs whatever their plan of life. Justice is viewed as a formal, procedural matter; it is minimalist and universal in scope. It presupposes an individualistic or atomistic view of man and society.28 The focus of such contemporary theories of justice is the autonomous or unencumbered self; its philosophical orientation is finally existentialist or therapeutic insofar as commitment is viewed as repressive. A distinction between a noble and base way of life, or between a better and best, is either declared unintelligible or judgmental. The point of all of this is that military ethics and courage cannot flourish in such a climate.

Some may say, so much the worse for military ethos; but this dilemma also points to the contradictions or shortcomings of the modern liberal moral position.”

(Citations in the original above)

It’s a good read. Vitally important for those serving with an interest in where this is going. These are critical questions at a critical time.


Tim Cartmell BJJ Brick Podcast

tim cartmell

Brazilian Jiujitsu instructor Tim Cartmell is interviewed here at BJJ Brick. 

Tim is the chief instructor at the School of Budo, where I train. We sought him out for his unique approach to BJJ. Though Tim teaches many sport competitors, and coaches MMA fighters out of Ace Jiujitsu, his emphasis on fundamental self defense skills informs his overall approach to BJJ.

Training with Tim offers a unique perspective on BJJ and physical performance, for competition, self defense, and health, borrowing heavily from his training and experience in neijia (Chinese internal arts) and sanda (Chinese kickboxing combining striking and wrestling), and even arts like sumo (“one of the most combative grappling arts out there.”)

This interview offers his perspectives on stand up training, BJJ schools and self defense, and training for different competitions or just to get better.

Embracing Warriorship

We may be seeing a new tack on the whole “Warrior Problem” issue, this from one of the Blue Courage founders, Aurora Illinois Chief Kristen Ziman.

She even subtly references the Art of War…

Remember, the Guardian vs. Warriors “debate” is founded on a false premise. Plato envisioned soldier guardians and ruler guardians….the soldier guardians defended society from enemies without and enforced its laws within.


Embrace Warriorship

*A letter to the officers of the Aurora Police Department:


I attended training in Bloomington-Normal this week put on by the Illinois Law-Enforcement Training and Standards Board Executive Institute. On the 2nd day of the conference, I sat on a Chief’s panel and was asked a question about police perception and if police actually need to improve or if we simply need to work at altering the public’s perception of us.

The answer is both. There is a reason we are getting slammed in the headlines and although the media is slanted in the anti-police direction (understatement), there are officers out there who are making all of us look bad. Period.

The Aurora Police Department is not in the news. Our excellent training division incorporates deescalation and restraint into mandatory training and because “you play like you practice”, we don’t have officers shooting people in the back as they run away.

We as a profession have to be able to police ourselves and sometimes that means looking at the actions of other police officers and acknowledging that a bad outcome was the result of poor decision-making. Policing is as much of an art as it is a science. That means using all the tools given to you (including your human influence) to achieve the best possible outcome. Identifying and predicting human behavior patterns and choosing a course of action within the confines of the United States Constitution is not easy. It’s the opposite of easy. But you do it with excellence every day.

Despite the Aurora Police Department not making the headlines, we are still painted with a broad brush and the actions of one bad cop tarnishes all of our badges. Although it is unfair, the negative perception is real so we must commit to building trust with our citizens one contact at a time. You didn’t cause this mess, but you have the power to change hearts and minds by engaging our citizens.

There is a big debate going on in law enforcement about guardians versus warriors and how the latter adds to the negative public perception. I was asked about it on the panel and want to share my viewpoint with you.

You will spend the majority of your shift acting as guardians to the City of Aurora. You will solve problems and you will enforce laws so there is order in our neighborhoods and our citizens can live peacefully. Most of you have learned by now that it’s a waste of time and energy to demand respect and instead have figured out that by giving respect freely, you earn it naturally. Respect is earned by looking at people and not down on them.

Throughout your tour of duty, there is no doubt that you will show empathy and compassion to many individuals and those acts of altruism will never make headlines. But you will do it anyway.

So make no mistake — you are guardians.

However, there will be moments where you will have no choice but to transform into a warrior. You are the first line of defense in our city and when there is someone who threatens the peace and safety of our citizens, you must embrace the warrior mindset and run towards the gunfire. You will put yourself in harm’s way and risk your own life because you are police officer.

The warrior mindset is what sets you apart from those who don’t wear a uniform and without it, there would be no one to fight the evil that exists. Being a warrior is not a bad thing as long as those skills are applied with good purpose. We cannot shy away from the notion that there will be times where we have to use force to subdue a person whose intent is to harm others. As long as force is applied within the parameters of the law and without excess, you won’t find yourself standing alone.

A true warrior fights only to protect and the greatest skill of all is to subdue the offender without violence. That should always be our goal. But I refuse to pander to the negative perception of warriorship and deny that side of us because there have to be people willing to go where others will not.

The answer is that we are both guardians and warriors so embrace and hone the skills of both.

Boyd’s Be or Do


In teaching others, especially the trainees I sometimes share a car with, I consistently revisit this from John Boyd, as it is applicable to law enforcement as in the military.

Here following biographer Robert Coram and as quoted at Art of Manliness..

Boyd said (emphasis mine):

“one day you will come to a fork in the road…

And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go..If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.

Or you can go that way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do someting. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision.

To Be or to Do?

Which way will you go?”

Recently I had the pleasure of training with a man who exemplified this. As he told his story, I reflected on an experience of mine that was similar, but his – and his decision – was more final, asking more of him than what mine did of me.

These are the people I consider leaders. Rank has nothing to do with leadership – it may require deference, but it cannot command respect. What you do – consistently, over many years and under repeated tests – defines who you are far more than any position or promotion.

The Wild Boar and the Fox


 The Wild Boar and the Fox 

  A WILD BOAR stood under a tree and rubbed his tusks against the
trunk.  A Fox passing by asked him why he thus sharpened his
teeth when there was no danger threatening from either huntsman
or hound.  He replied, "I do it advisedly; for it would never do
to have to sharpen my weapons just at the time I ought to be
using them."