A Philosphy of Arms

In a heart that is one with nature though the body contends, there is no violence. And in the heart that is not one with nature, though the body be at rest, there is always violence. Be, therefore, like the prow of a boat, it cleaves the water yet it leaves in its wake water unbroken.
-Master Po, Kung Fu (1972)

The image of the Warrior Scholar is a pervasive one.  There is the Bushido code of the Samurai, there are the Shaolin Monks of china and the Chivalric code of Knights.  There seems an idea that having a “code” makes you a better warrior.  Does it, though?  Or is it all some mystic bull crap?

Many martial traditions from around the world hold surprisingly similar ideals when it comes to the Warrior Class.  Justice, for example, is an ideal almost universally valued in those trained to fight, as is Discipline.  I think the “why” is fairly clear; people trained to kill should also be given good reason not to.  Thus the question becomes, “is the Code important to training?”  Giving people a reason not to kill is slightly obsolete.  As this article tells it, the harder part is teaching people that it is okay to defend yourself.  These days people who turn to violence seldom require any kind of martial training.

I would argue that despite not being central to martial arts training, having a philosophy behind you is essential.  It wont make you a better fighter, but it may give you a framework for training.  Thus you can train your mind as you train your body.  If nothing else, it can make you think beyond the physical actions.

For me, my guiding philosophy is Stoicism.  I try to practice the stoic virtues, even as I learn to fight.  Prudence tells me when to attack and when to defend, Temperance governs which techniques to use and how hard to go, Fortitude drives me not to give up and Justice ensures I act in the proper way.  Or so goes the theory anyway.  It’s my feeling that philosophy and martial training are an essential pairing.

One thought on “A Philosphy of Arms

  1. I think it’s interesting that all the warrior codes and forms of martial meditation that you mentioned were not created by the dread soldier classes that adopted them.

    The concepts of justice, benevolence and the holy order of man were in all three cases dreampt up by peasants and monastics to curb the military elite’s tenancies for oppression, sadism and wonton murder.

    Bushido – Zen monastics preached a type of Buddhism that their overmongers (the perfect term for samurai, thought it up on the spot!) would understand to keep them from their ceaseless, seriously ceaseless (you gotta dig Japanese middle-class record keeping) absolutely ceaseless oppression, rape, and murder during the feudal period.

    Shaolin Kung-Fu – Ruling class won’t patronize your temple enough, the bandits start sniffing around. Time for monks to somehow rationalize their non-violent lifestyle with a need for survival against armed invaders.

    Chivalry – C’mon guys, the “Song Of Roland” would have been a hard sell to early medieval knights who were, basically thugs. Warlords took over land and their mercenary “knights” crushed the people into near-slavery with threats of violence and rape cause, well… They were the only one with breeding, time and money enough to learn how to swing a sword. There were no surfs in Camelot, but there sure were in medieval Europe. Chivalry was the perfect tool to mould the minds of these armoured killbots into a better, more humane (and sometimes more malleable) class of people. Popes learned to use some of these same tactics during Crusader petitions.

    All of these martial philosophies are monuments of thought. They are the bridge and the yolk of people throughout history… Kill versus think.

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