LIVING ACCORDING TO "NATURE"
By Jack Hoban
As a former Marine Officer with many years in the martial arts, I recently recognized that there had been something missing in the instruction at least for me. The training I had received has never quite spoken to the reason why I jumped on the warrior path to begin with. Let me explain: Before joining the Marines, I had fantasized about being the Warrior Knight who would save the mothers, sisters, and daughters of America from the godless communists. I evolved, however, from wanting to be that Warrior/Protector into fancying myself as the Killer/Commando who would "kill them all, and let God sort 'em out." Granted, it was my own fault, letting myself get sucked into that, but it had a lot to do with the training and the warrior wannabes who influenced me during my time in the Corps. Now that I look back, of course, I realize that there were a bunch of warriors in the Corps. But they weren't the loud ones the "tough guys" that impress and intimidate a young Marine. And those "tough guys" I came to understand, were a lot tougher "talkin'" than they were "walkin'."
So I got out of the Marines and decided to follow the warrior path on my own terms, holding down a "day job." I have met some great and not-so-great martial arts teachers. Some of them spoke like the "tough guys" I had met in the Marines with even less to back it up. And some have talked like warriors, and were probably real warriors, yet I felt a disconnect between their words and actions. You see, they talked about being protectors and defenders, but their training was all about how to take the other guy out, or at best, it was about self defense. Now there is nothing wrong, under the right circumstances, with taking out a bad guy. And I believe self defense to be more than a right it is a responsibility and obligation. But what happened to my dream about being the Warrior defender of the innocent, the weak, the mothers, sisters and daughters? I began to feel that I needed to think of my training in new and expanded terms. Part of the process required me to clarify my personal warrior philosophy so that I could make sure that my physical training was aligned with and supported my value system.
Last year I wrote an article entitled "The Ninja Life Value." Hatsumi Sensei's admonition that the purpose of Ninpo is to "live," inspired me to write that article. This "Life Value" was the first of the values that I clarified, particularly after studying the Life Value Theory of my University professor and long-time mentor, Robert L. Humphrey. In order for human beings to live a happy life, according to both Hatsumi and Humphrey, they must live according to their nature. For me, therefore, the philosophy of Ninpo seems to have two basic tenets: (1) Hold Life as the most important, superseding value; and (2) Strive to live according to the laws of Nature. On the surface, this seems simple enough. However, in reality, in order to truly understand, and live in confluence with, that philosophy may take a lifetime of study and training. For example, the first tenet: Life is man's most important and superseding value, might seem self-evident. It is not. We humans are killing people all the time. We also kill ourselves with poor diets, alcohol, drugs, tobacco and stress. So the Life Value needs to be activated somehow, or we can make a mistake and start the fighting and killing and self-abusing. One way to activate it is by practicing the art of defending others and noticing the spiritual benefits that accompany the increases in technical skill. More about that in a minute.
The next piece of the "life puzzle," was supplied to me by Professor Humphrey. Humphrey was a Marine Officer on Iwo Jima, a semi-professional boxer, and is warrior/philosopher extraordinaire. He helped me to understand that the Life Value is a dual value self and others. "Others" has a slight edge over "self." Now this, too, seems self-evident. Mothers will protect their children with their lives, a Marine will smother a grenade with his body to protect his buddies, etc. You can probably think of someone for whom you would risk, and if necessary, give your life. Yet, we also say, "self-preservation is the first law of nature." Obviously, that can't be right. But its close. Therein lies the confusion. On the outside we seem like self preservers, but when it becomes a matter of life and death, we humans value the ethic: "women and children first," over the ethic: "every man for himself." Think about this for a second. Both courses of actions can be right, depending on the circumstances. But what do we call the guy who saves himself? We call him a survivor. What do we call the guy who makes sure all the women and children are in the lifeboat before thinking to save himself. We call him a hero, don't we?
The next tenet: Live according to the laws of Nature, also requires deep consideration. What "nature" is referred to? "Mother" Nature or "Human" Nature? Are these the same, or somehow different? If they are not the same, are they contradictory or complimentary? Mother Nature seems to favor "the survival of the fittest." We humans seem to honor, most, those of us who "protect the weak," like the Mother Theresas of the world. We place great value on "protecting the weak." But the Life Value is a dual value self and others. Again, others has a slight edge over self. Actually, it can be argued, therefore, that the Life Value is both man's superseding value and part of his "human nature." The point, as Humphrey makes clear in his book "Values For A New Millennium," is that, we humans seem to place slightly more value on "species-preservation" than on "self-preservation." It is our nature as human beings, particularly the best of us humans, to do so.
As part of a balanced martial arts curriculum, therefore, we martial arts teachers should consider teaching the students how to protect others. In order to be true to our nature, this training may even be slightly more important than teaching self-defense. Some of us have done some bodyguard work, etc., yet, martial arts training typically concentrates mostly on defending oneself. I have found, however, that training to protect others can make a tremendous difference in the psychological and spiritual attitudes of the students. Most prefer viewing themselves as a warrior/protector than as some kind of "tough guy" or martial arts "bad-ass." After all, martial arts is for the purpose of preserving and protecting life.
When studying the techniques of Ninjutsu, it is important to recognize the fact that the philosophy of Ninpo is the source of the movement system and must be considered inseparable from it. For me, that means being true to the two tenets, above. If you begin practicing to defend others, however, you may have some difficulties in the beginning, particularly technical ones. The problem lies in the fact that your training, to this point, may have been mostly focused on defending yourself. When defending another, you will find that, even though the techniques may be familiar, the angles and distancing are all unfamiliar. On reflection, of course, that makes sense. You are used to being the one attacked. You are used to having the energy directed at you. All that becomes changed when the attacker is focused on another person, as you will see quickly, even if practicing basic techniques from the kihon happo against an assailant who is attacking another person. There are legal and moral ramifications to becoming involved in defending others, as well. If you were to happen onto the scene of an altercation, you may not truly be able to differentiate the "good guys from the "bad guys." You might find yourself involved in a domestic dispute where both people end up turning on you, the good samaritan. In any case, when a martial artist becomes involved in a physical confrontation of any kind, he or she always runs the risk of being seen as being in the wrong. Such is the current nature of our society and legal system, at least in America. Part of being an aware Ninja is taking the political situation into account. Therefore, one should be very circumspect about revealing martial arts skills unless it is a matter of life and death or grievous bodily harm. There is a guideline that may help one remain true to the human proclivity to protect life, yet, protect oneself from being seen as breaking the law. Remember: The object is not to fight the bad guy; the focus is on defending the victim. It is a subtle difference but an important one. As a defender of Life, the warrior has a moral obligation, commensurate with his skill level, to protect everyone he can. He defends the good guys; but anyone would do that if they could. The warrior protects the bad guys too, if possible and if he is skilled enough. He may only protect them long enough for the police to get there, for the jury to try them, and for the judge to sentence them. Maybe even just long enough for the hangman to hang them. But the warrior has an obligation to try to protect all life. And this sensibility may serve to keep him from incurring legal problems. Remember, warriors are not vigilantes.
When studying techniques to defend others, one should practice with the feeling of defending life rather than "beating up a bad guy." This more enlightened psychological state of mind will help the you artist create a more effective "life protecting" technique in a spontaneous situation. It also "feels" better. The best thing about being a "protector/defender" is that feeling. Consider adopting this warrior's motto: "Wherever I go, everyone is a little safer because I am there; anyone in need has a friend." Living according to this creed can lead one to a higher physical skill level and a higher spiritual level as well. This warrior thing becomes heady stuff. I remember when I was first involved in the martial arts and still in the Marines. I would walk into a dangerous place, say a bar in a tough port overseas, and my first reaction would be to look around and try to figure out how I would fight every person in that bar. I would tick them off, one by one: "I'll knock this guy out with a punch; then I'll kick that other guy over there; then I'll grab that beer bottle and knock out that weasly looking sailor," etc. etc. I'll bet many people who are reading this have done the same thing. Be truthful you have, haven't you? Professor Humphrey, however, suggested that this kind of attitude, while natural, was really not warrior-like. He thought I should try experimenting with a different approach. He suggested that wherever I go, especially in dangerous situations, I should adopt this motto: "Everybody in this place is a little safer because I am here; anyone in need has a friend." I call it the warrior's motto. And I have to tell you, it feels a whole lot better inside. Try it if you don't believe me.
The best thing about being a warrior for me is the feeling I get. Wherever I am: in the park, on the subway, in a store, wherever I am, everyone is just a little bit safer because I'm there. They may not know it, although I believe that at some subconscious level they might. But I know it. And it makes me feel great. I want you to have that feeling; I think its the best feeling there is. So, keep going, keep training. Train in accordance with your nature.