9 Tips for Would-Be Warriors

I write a lot of these posts for my sons – that’s the simple truth of this blog. Especially when it comes to martial arts and various other unorthodox subject matter. The thing I love about the Internet is that posts like these will – barring some catastrophic event – be around for years after I am worm food. And so I write these posts with them in mind. Here is another.

You’ll meet a lot of people who talk about being a warrior. It’s a term they’ll bandy about and use to describe themselves. In some cases, it will be appropriate. In others, not so much. Some people who use the term “warrior” are really nothing but bullies or wanna-be tough guys. The true warriors possess many similar characteristics and if you want to follow the path of a warrior, you’ll need to incorporate these into your life. Otherwise, you won’t be a warrior as much as a joke.

1. Never Stop Learning – This is critical to your personal evolution. The moment you think “I’ve got this,” is the exact moment you stop evolving. A true warrior never thinks they know it all, because they don’t. A true warrior understands that the lessons in life are constant and continuous, although they may not look like lessons at first. You are never beyond learning unless you put yourself on some pedestal and believe that you know it all. You don’t reach a point or an age or a number of years of experience and then get to say, “I’m a master.” True warriors aspire to mastery, but know they will never reach it in one lifetime. The aspiration and pursuit of mastery are more important than reaching it.

2. Always Train with Someone Better Than You – After a certain number of years, you will inevitably reach a point where you want to test yourself. That’s natural and healthy. In feudal Japan, these were called musha shugyo – or wandering quests. The idea was for the student to take the lessons they’d learned and put them to the test in the real world. So, too, will you aspire to challenge yourself and be tested in the crucible of real world scenarios. And you should. Because all the training in the world is no substitute for real world experience. However, take care that you don’t stray too long from a teacher. Stay away too long and your ego will begin to delude you with thoughts that you have all the knowledge you need; that you are a master now because you have a certain grade or certain experience; that it’s too difficult to get with your teacher for one reason or another. You should always find someone better than you to train with so you keep learning and evolving. If you can’t find anyone better than you, then you are either deluded about your own ability, or you aren’t trying hard enough to find someone better than you. The reality is there is always someone better than you. There is always someone who has trained longer or harder or better than you. Don’t ever believe your own invincibility because the universe will undoubtedly step in and show you just how vulnerable you actually are. That’s not a fun lesson.

3. Your Ego Is Your Best Friend & Your Worst Enemy – Everyone needs ego. It gives us confidence to try new things, to appreciate the skills we have, and to believe in ourselves when no one else does. But ego is also the enabler of delusion. It is the most skilled and subtle opponent you will ever face. It will lead you astray and off the path with insidious little thoughts that will put down the roots of a dandelion before you even see the danger. When you look into the mirror, you must see things as they truly are – not as you wish them to be. The ability of a warrior to discern truth – to know the reality, no matter how potentially unpleasant – from falsehood is one of your most potent weapons and skills. My teacher warned all of his senior students many years ago to guard against the traps that ego puts forth to waylay even the hardiest of souls. It is a tough thing to come to grips with, but comes to grip with it you must. There are too many who espouse lessons without ever following the principles themselves. If you talk the talk, make sure you also walk the walk.

4. Make Sure You Have People Who Are Truthful Around You – As you grow and become skillful, you will attract people of lower rank who idolize you or worship your ability in some way. You are more advanced than they are; you have some skill they wish to have. Because of this, they will become friendly with you. They will do their best to get on your good side or otherwise ingratiate themselves into your inner circle. Perhaps they will whisper gossip into your ear or play upon your suspicions or fears in order to make themselves seem trustworthy, loyal, or an ally. Their motivations may be innocuous or they may be suspect; they may come from friends or even the person closest to your heart. But just as you guard against inner ego, so too must you guard against exterior influences like these. Real friends will call you on your bullshit. They will tell you your crap stinks. Beware of those who only bolster your pride, only agree with your proclamations, and regurgitate the things you say to reinforce bad assumptions and mistaken ideas. You may love hearing them say these things; you may love the way it makes you feel, but they are surely leading you even further away from the path, rather than checking you and challenging you when you need it most. Those who truly love you will tell you when you are screwing up just as they will tell you when you are doing a great job. Life is a balance and if you are only seeking positive reinforcement then you are not walking the path of a warrior.

5. Never Stop Challenging Yourself – Real warriors always seek our challenge, no matter if it is in your realm of specialization or not. They are adventurers and pioneers, risk takers and explorers, those who dare and dare all the time. If they are truly committed to the ideal of Tatsujin – a complete human being – then they are always seeking new places to explore, new things to learn, new ways to get better. Beware those “warriors” who talk a good game, but never push their personal boundaries or leave the comfort of their fantasy world.

6. Discomfort is a Sure Sign That You Are Doing Something Right – To go along with #5, if you are uncomfortable in an environment or with a certain new skill, then you are daring to more, aspiring to greater heights, and risking something – even if it is your ego. By putting yourself into situations that don’t feel good, you are learning about your fears, confronting the personal demons that inhabit the furthest reaches of your mind, and exploring yourself. You will become a stronger warrior each time you do this.

7. Don’t Preach Dogma – As you gather skill and experience, you will also acquire a set of beliefs about how you have done things. This set of beliefs will color your perception of the world around you – especially if you choose to pass your teachings on to a new generation. Beware of an inflexible mind for it will put these beliefs in a rigid framework that is not open to discussion or evolution. Just because things worked one way for you does not mean they will work that way for everyone else. Each individual is just that – a individual. Life is as varied as each cell in our bodies and there will be no one path that is right for everyone. If you choose to teach, you must ensure that your own mind is not fixed on some ancient ideal or stubborn theory or romantic memory, but rather is always questing for new ways and methods that will help others, rather than simply reinforcing your egotistical assumptions of what is right.

8. Don’t Believe The Hype – You may be praised by others; you may be worshipped; you may gather about you a flock of followers who treasure everything you do and their time with you – all of this is incredibly dangerous. It’s subtle and addictive. And your ego will lap it up and greedily beg for more. Feed this beast and it will only become stronger and more demanding. Believe your own hype at grave peril, because it is surely not true. You may do great things; you may become heroic, but don’t ever fail to remember your own humble beginnings. Humility keeps you rooted in reality when ego wants to take you on a trip to the stars. Real warriors are mild-mannered and unassuming; they are quietly confident about what they are capable of and simultaneously not too proud to admit when they don’t have a clue. Beware those who seem to have an answer for everything, for surely they do not.

9. Help Others – Always. Warriors are protectors of the good and the just. They are keepers of the flow of positivity in the universe and challengers to the negative energy of evil. Warriors help those who are not yet strong enough to help themselves. They show the path that is possible and do so by leading by example. They serve as inspiration and through their actions show others what a human being is truly capable of. Generating positive energy is hard and demanding, which is why it is a precious resource. Generating negative energy is easy and takes little discipline or effort – negativity is the lazy person’s lifeline. Shun negativity and embrace positivity if you hope to help make the universe a better place. Let the way you lead your life be the example that will draw others to the path and lead them to the better place we are all capable of reaching if we try hard enough.

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