Self Defense Martial Arts ‘The Awakened Warrior’

The Awakened Warrior:  Living with Courage, Compassion & Discipline by Rick Fields, ed. (1994)

The warrior by definition is a fighter, a man or woman of action, who meets and resolves the challenges of life.  But the warrior is also more than a fighter.  Like the thorn on the rose. The warrior is pledged to protect whatever is lovely, vulnerable, and truly precious.  This may include the warrior’s own life, but it does not stop with self-interest.  The warrior’s care and protections extend outward in an ever-widening circle, from family, tribe, leader, nation, and now to the earth itself.

In order to meet this challenge, warriors throughout the world always have cultivated certain qualities and values:  courage and bravery in facing both life and death; discipline in training both body and mind; strategy in keeping and restoring peace, as well as in battle; knowledge of one’s own weakness and strength, as well as of the opponent’s; and loyalty to comrades, as well as to a transcendent value.

These noble ideals are part of the warrior spirit that is our evolutionary heritage.  This warrior spirit is one of the patterns of our deep psychic structure, archetypal and innate. As William James wrote, “Ancestral evolution has made us all warriors.”

This archetypal warrior energy is one of the most powerful forces of the human psyche.  When it goes astray, it can cause tremendous destruction and suffering.  But when it is properly honored, honed, and disciplined, when we know how to work with it, the warrior within can be the source of tremendous good.  Without a well-developed warrior spirit, it is difficult to accomplish anything worthwhile.

There is, in fact, an ancient tradition, a lineage of “awakened warriors” who serve rather than ravage humanity and the earth.  The awakened warrior follows the Buddha, who taught that “the person who conquers himself or herself is the greatest of conquerors.”  For this reason, as Buddhist scholar Lobsang Lhalungpa tells us, the way of the bodhisattva, an “awakened being: dedicated to helping others, is popularly called in Tibetan ‘the way of the warrior,’ since a practicing bodhisattva conquers formidable enemies—egoistic delusions and all its forces—and then seeks to liberate others enslaved by similar adversaries.

The awakened warrior is not a person who makes war, but a person who relates to herself or himself and to the world with courage in order to end war and violence.  “The key to warriorship,” says Chögyam Trungpa, “ is not being afraid of who you are. Ultimately, that is the definition of bravery:  not being afraid of yourself.”  Such bravery involves discipline and training, of course, but it also involves being kind and vulnerable, both to ourselves and to others.

The path of the awakened warrior has existed in many cultures and traditions and taken many different forms – self-defense martial arts.  Among the Sioux, for example, as elder Matthew King tells us, “The warrior only fights to protect the people.  The warrior is always the first to help and the last to eat.”  In feudal Europe, the knights vowed to protect widows and children.  In Taoist China, the great general Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War: “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill.  To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”  And in Japan, the martial arts evolved into a spiritual training leading to, in the words of the founder of aikido, “ a life of loving protection of all beings with a spirit of reconciliation.”

Now more than ever, we need the fierce compassion of the awakened warrior to inspire and guide us in our daily lives, as well as in our social and environmental struggles.  We also need the bravery and determination of the warrior in our spiritual search.  For the struggle which informs all our other battles is to wake up to the precious life that is ours to live, to serve, to protect, and—if need be—to defend as well.

The ancient and varied lineage of the awakened warrior is very much alive today.  In fact, as is clear to us, we are in the midst of both a re-visioning and a renewal of this enduring ideal.

[Accept the challenge—I dare you!]

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