Reflections on the "Peaceful Warrior"

From the archives, an old post to the "CyberDojo" mailing list.

From: Tom Swiss <xxxxxx@xxxxxxxxx.com>
To: "karate@xxxxx.xx.xxxxx.edu" <karate@xxxxx.xx.xxxxx.edu>
Subject: Reflections on the "Peaceful Warrior"
Date: Fri, 11 Apr 1997 18:07:45 -0400

This lags behind discussion on the list. It's also a bit long,
rambling, and personal. You have been warned...

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the "peaceful warrior"
concept. Wild Bill recently forwarded a message from Dale Seago which
quotes Ambrose Hollingworth Redmoon's "There Are No Peaceful Warriors". Mr.
Redmoon says he finds the term "peaceful warrior" "offensive, trivializing,
and insulting...far more than a contradiction in terms... foul insult to
all those who have placed themselves between innocence and evil and
attacked the evil."

I disagree most strongly. My ideal is to be a peaceful warrior. What
is a peaceful warrior? What is a warrior? There's a nice, safe,
non-controversial topic, eh?

Traditionally, in tribal or even feudal societies, the warriors were
those who, well, made war, on other tribes or kingdoms. At the behest of
their chieftain or lord, they would go forth and kill the warriors of other
tribes or kingdoms, and maybe the civilians too, in order to steal their
resources, enslave the populace, or just carry out a ruler's whim; and they
would fight against the warriors of the other tribes or kingdoms when those
warriors came to do the same to them.

Mr. Redmoon holds that "The warrior protects the innocent, weak, and
vulnerable; the home; the sovereignty of the individual; the Mother." I'm
afraid that's a bit romanticized; in most societies, the job of the warrior
has been to carry out the will of the tribe's leaders by force.

I have no interest in being that sort of warrior. First, my life is my
own; I do not give it to any chieftain, king, lord, president, senator,
emperor, shogun, regent, or other leader to use in his or her disputes with
other tribes. Nor do I approve of settling differences within the tribe, or
with the other tribes, villages, cities, nations, or continent-states, by
killing people. I will neither kill nor die at the order of another.

But, somewhere along the way, something else began to come into the
picture. Honor. Chivalry. Bushido. It seems that most every culture
develops a code of ethics around this violence. How and why does this
happen? A most interesting question! Perhaps it's something as simple as a
recognition that uncontrolled killing is bad for your own tribe as well as
the "enemy". Perhaps it was a recognition by the warriors that they had
more in common with the other tribes' warriors than with the rulers sending
them into combat. Whatever the reason, these codes exist and, it seems to
me, have a remarkable amount in common.

In _Karate: Technique and Spirit_, Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura provides a
list of the ethical values of the samurai that come down to us karateka
today:

- Rectitude (Gi)
- Heroism (Yu)
- Universal love and compassion (Jin)
- Courtesy (Rei)
- Truthfulness (Makato)
- Loyalty (Chugo)

But what do these values mean? To the samurai, loyalty meant absolute
obedience to their lord - again, killing or dying on command.

The traditional, tribal warrior fought other tribes with spears and
swords. But humanity has, I hope, grown since then; and so must the
warrior. The peaceful warrior's enemy is not the tribe over the hill; it is
ignorance, prejudice, fear, and violence. His or her loyalty is to freedom
and knowledge, "Peace, love, and understanding," as the song says.

For the tribal warrior, heroism was shown in battle. But there are
other sorts of heroism; heroism is risking one's one safety for the benefit
of others. Consider firefighters, or Red Cross workers in war-torn areas,
or those who engage in non-violent resistance in the manner of Gandhi or
King; they're heroes to me.

I do not mean that the peaceful warrior never uses force. I've stepped
in several times to use force or the threat of force to prevent greater
violence. (Some of you may recall a little story I posted in October about
breaking up a drunken brawl; it turns out, I find out months later, that I
may actually have separated my shoulder during that episode. I'm now in PT
for it.) But I don't see the aggressor I'm stopping as "evil", something to
be destroyed, throat torn out, body burned, remains buried, and the ground
salted. (At least, I _try_ not to. Visions like that _were_ going through
my head when a friend of mine was threatened recently.) He must be stopped
forcefully, maybe even - regretfully - by lethal force, or greater harm
will result. But he is still a fellow human. Lao Tzu said it well:
(http://www.ece.wvu.edu/~cycat/tao/tao31.html)

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn't wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.

(though I would reword the beginning to say that all decent men detest the
_use_ of weapons; I rather like my bo, personally, and I'm hoping to get
this shoulder healed soon so I can work with it! B-> I would, though,
detest having to smash someone's skull with it.)

I know that, had things gone differently in my own life, I could be a
broken, violent human being that someone else would have to stop. I
remember an adolescent fight, a complete loss of temper, chasing a kid who
had insulted me (not even _hit_ me, for Chrissake!) across a field,
throwing him to the ground, my hands at his throat and a picture inside my
head of squeezing until he stopped moving...I don't know what would have
happened if someone hadn't pulled me off of him. When I got home, I cried
all night.

My compassion for the victim compels me to act, to stop the violence;
but I am not without compassion for the aggressor. I see myself in there. I
wasn't so badly broken that I couldn't be put together into a halfway
decent human being; I have hope that the aggressor can be healed, too.

"The best way to destroy your enemy is to make him your friend."
-- Lincoln

=Tom Swiss/tswiss@normandev.com==http://mail.bcpl.lib.md.us/~tms="Born to die"=
"What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?" - Nick Lowe
"...all of this was for nothing unless we go to the stars."
-- Cmdr. Sinclair, _Babylon 5_

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Note: comments will be held for moderation, and may be deleted or edited to remove spam links; comments whose only purpose is link farming will not be published.

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.