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Friday, October 16, 2009

The Way of the Warrior and Its Relevancy

It's been a couple of years since I posted "The Aeneid, 4,000 and Time to Own Up" and with every problem I face today, it all seems more and more relevant. All of this pushes me to believe in The Way more than ever. It began 25 years ago, when I discovered for the first time a small volume of practical entries on how the warrior should behave. I was a young U.S. Marine, and direction was not something I had an abundance of (if I had any sense of direction back then, I wouldn't have joined). Then in 1995, while living in Japan, I immersed myself completely in the Way. The Way has been with me for that long, and the lessons I have learned from it echo in the walls of every single one of my life experiences today. In its most basic premises, the Way of the Warrior postulates the idea that when given a choice to live or die, death is the better option: "The Way of the Warrior is found in death. When it comes to either/or, there is only the quick choice of death. It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance. To say that dying without reaching one's aim is to die a dog's death is the frivolous way of sophisticates. When pressed with the choice of life or death, it is not necessary to gain one's aim. We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. But not having attained our aim and continuing to live is cowardice. This is a thin and dangerous line. To die without gaining one's aim is a dog's death and fanaticism. But there is no shame in this. This is the substance of the Way of the Warrior. If by setting one's heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling." I don't believe in the entire literal dictum of the Way, but the parts that I have highlighted here are constant in my life and have been for a long, long time. For as irrational as this passage sound, there's a sense of qualification to the statement. This is particularly seen in, "We all want to live," and "This is a thin and dangerous line." The anthologist (the entries are part of Japanese history and folklore and are, in large part, apocrypha), Yamamoto Tsunetomo is clear in telling that the Way is not for everyone.

Now, does the Way mean we live a morbid life, awaiting every day the certainty of death and in that way ruining our lives? Of course not. One must apply these principles in a series of metaphors and analogies, and only call on them in moments of desperation. It is in those crucial moments when the Way is most relevant: "The Way of the Warrior is in desperateness. Ten men or more cannot kill such a man. Common sense will not accomplish great things. Simply become insane and desperate. In the Way of the Warrior, if one uses discrimination, he will fall behind. One needs neither loyalty nor devotion, but simply to become desperate in the Way. Loyalty and devotion are of themselves within desperation." Again, the key is to interpret all of this in some way that it applies to life in metaphorical ways--to take it literally is suicide. By desperateness the author refers to the idea of not thinking how to proceed. If faced with such a crucial moment, it is better to clear one's mind of judgment and charge as in an act of madness. Again, the idea of desperateness comes clearly through here: "For a warrior, a single word is important no matter where he may be. By just one single word valor can be made apparent. In peaceful times words do not show valor. In trouble times, one knows that by a single word his strength or cowardice can be seen. This single word is the flower of one's heart. It is not something said simply with one's mouth."
This is the other critical part of living out the Way. In many ways, this is not different from Christianity. It is written that Judgment Day (or death) will come like a thief in the night. The Way explores the same principle by means of a code for living; a Ten Commandments, if you will (but instead of just ten, there are hundreds of little apocrypha).

There are by far too many of these kernels of truth I could post here, but it isn't necessary. The real way of experiencing the Way is somewhat archaic and at the same time absolutely present in today's world. Imagine going on patrol in one of the streets of any major city in Iraq and not knowing whether the next step you take will be your final. Or perhaps finding that the GPS equipment they gave you was not working properly and now you are in some obscure Taliban-infested ravine in Afghanistan and the only way out is to FIGHT your way out. The Way of the Warrior does not only apply to this type of situation. All of life is at its core.

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