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Warriorship As A Lifestyle

In the mid-1980ís I wrote book called "Ninpo: Living And Thinking As A Warrior." Some of you have read it and have written some very nice things to me about the book. I appreciate the gestures; but if you recall the introduction to that book, I made some pretty clear qualifications about what I had written. I said, in essence, that my philosophy was "a process." What I meant was that it was evolving and that I might change my mind about some things in the future.

And this has, of course, turned out to be true.

Perhaps I should not say that I have changed my mind as much as that some of my emphases have changed. I have different priorities now and I have done a heck of a lot more research on things that I believe are germane to the warrior lifestyle. Therefore, I offer this essay as an "update" to my Philosophy of Warriorship, and, again, make the qualification that I reserve the right to change my mind (or emphasis) as I continue down the path.

A major "change" in the philosophy, I think, can best be summed up as an evolution from the sense of Warriorship as an ideal to the sense of Warriorship in practice. This has been a difficult and careful transition in my life, because it is so easy to confuse pragmatism and practicality. Perhaps I had better clarify those terms, because for me the distinction is very important. Let's begin by saying that the idealized life of the Warrioródefending the weak and innocent against the evil forces of darkness and anti-market forces is a bit over-romanticized (and over-simplified, for that matter). It is also a bit impractical. I mean, how do you make a living and feed your kids doing that?

So what do you do? There certainly are warrior-type things out there to be done. Many are very hard to do and some just canít be doneóyet, anyway. Almost none of them are financially lucrative. One of the most common questions I get is from sincere young folks asking me about career paths that are consistent with the warrior path. Being a warrior is not really a job, per se. It is a lifestyle: a perspective on approaching your job, your relationships with others (most especially your family), and the rest of your life in general. It is not an easy lifestyle in this pragmatic world. There is a real danger, therefore, for the person who calls himself a warrior, to talk the good game, but live a very un-warrior-like existence when outside the dojo or seminar setting. We all know them and have, at times, been them.

This pragmatic approach, however, is a bit like the "Sunday Christian" who goes to church, sings in the choir and bows his head to pray with a pious smile on the Sabbathóbut lies, cheats and steals all through the rest of the week. I donít mean to pick on Christians, they certainly donít hold a monopoly on pragmatism or hypocrisy, but I use the analogy to make a point. There is a huge disconnect, sometimes, between what we "feel" is the right way to live and what we "know" we need to do to get by in this society. Phrases like "if I donít do it, someone else will," "screw them before they screw you," "thatís the way of the world," "everyone else is doing it," "if you canít beat Ďem, join Ďem," etc. are all too common in this society. No one can really blame you if you go along. With the way things are you probably will get by if you "go along." There is at least one huge problem with that, however, and that problem is inside you. You will probably end up with a bad feeling about your life. You might suppress it, you might hide it, but you just wonít feel goodóinside. Thatís the problem with pragmatism.

I heard a funny story. A man is standing in front of his house in a bathrobe one night as his house is burning down furiously. A neighbor runs up and yells, "How can you just stand there and let your house burn down?" The man turns to his neighbor incredulously and says, "Iím not letting it burn down; its burning down on its own." A practical man realizes that there are just some bad things that you canít do anything about. (A pragmatist, by the way, would probably just throw gas on the fireóI mean, why not? Its gonna burn down anyway?).

I find myself becoming a practical man in a world that will never be the way I want it to be. But I refuse to throw gas on the fire. I (like many of you who are reading this, I bet) live a kind of dual-existence. I do my best to live the life-affirming values of the warrior, but it seems that (paradoxically?) I fail miserably almost everyday because I have to make a "living." And almost everything you can do to make a living these days seems to violate the warrior values.

Thatís a pretty strong statement, I know, but I believe it to be true. There are no good jobs out there for warriors. Not even the Marines. I know; I was one. No, the best you can hope for is any job that feeds the family, but one that you can at least approach with the ethos of the warrior. And even that isn't easy.

It would be convenient if we could just blame it all on the fact that corporations are greedy, or that people are weak, or that our problems are due to some flaw of human nature. (By the way, if you donít think that we are having problems, read no further and continue throwing gas on that fire). But that doesn't really solve the problem or make us happy. But, it is absolutely not in our nature to be this miserable; and we are miserable, even when we are happy. So what is the solution?

At the risk of throwing another buzzword into the communal dialogue, I have to say that it is not our nature that is flawed, but our behavior that is unsustainable. I will talk a bit more about this buzzword "unsustainable" in a moment, but the basic meaning is that our lifestyle (our frenetic pace, our destruction of natural human connections like the extended family, our hoggish use of natural resources, our insatiable desire to reproduce ourselves, etc) cannot be maintained at the present pace. In other words, we live as if there is no tomorrow.

But there is a tomorrow. And our kids have to live there. And an "unsustainable" lifestyle is, ultimately, in conflict with our deepest life values. Why? Because an unsustainable lifestyle, by definition, has to end sometime. The ramifications of that, if you think about it, are frightening. And thatís what is making us unhappy (and, finally) very, very nervous about things like, ecology, pollution, population, terrorist weapons of mass destruction, etc. We are starting to see that the house really is burning and that we have very few choices: either sit there and watch it burn, or throw our share of the gas on it. Actually, the choices are fewer than that. We are all throwing some gas on the fire. Itís just that some of us are conscious of it and some are not.

I first heard the word "sustainable" in this context about 6 years ago when a friend gave me a book called Steady-State Economics, by Herman Daly. It is a difficult book to read and has some flawed arguments in it, but it set me up to be conscious of the need for sustainability in all our affairs. If you are unclear about what "sustainability" means in human affairs, let me bring it real close to home, here, with a pop quiz: What was the very first English phrase that Hatsumi Sensei learned when he came to America almost 20 years ago? Thatís right: "Keep going."

Why, ask yourself, is that the most important thing in the martial arts, according to Sensei, at least. Easy, because all of those people who have been involved in the Bujinkan martial arts over the years who did not follow a "sustainable" training regimen areógone! They are just not around. Where did they go? The other day I was going through my file cabinet and I came across a huge folder. I looked inside and I found hundreds of signed training releases. I mean hundreds. But if you go to training on a Monday or Wednesday night in my dojo, do you know how many people are there typically? About 12, including me. What happened? I donít know in all cases, of course. But there has been a consistent pattern over the years that I want to share with you. I cannot count how many times a person or little gaggle of persons has come to training and gushed that this is what they wanted to do their whole life. They would swear eternal allegiance to Hatsumi Sensei, Takamatsu Sensei, Splinter and me. Then, depending on their energy, they would come religiously, fanatically, for a week, month, or year (usually not longer) and thenóthey would just disappear. At first it would hurt my feelings, I would wonder what I did wrong, etc. But I have come to understand that it was not necessarily me. However they had set up their life, their training regimen just was not sustainable.

OK, do you have what I mean by sustainable? The point here, however, is that I think we need to extrapolate this important concept out to our society as a whole. Is our use of natural resources and fossil fuels sustainable? Is our population growth (doubling, now, every 36 years or so) sustainable? Can we sustain an attack of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical, or biological? We all ought to think about these things.

All right, let me back up. What does this really have to do with our martial art? Well, our particular art comes from a very unique group of people called Ninja. According to my discussions with Hatsumi Sensei, Ninja lived a sustainable lifestyle. That is, if you lived as close to nature as the Ninja did, you could probably live off the land literally forever. I imagine it to be an existence not unlike our Native American culturesóa lifestyle lived in accordance with (rather than in spite of) nature, although we will probably never know for sure.

There are few societies, anywhere in the world, that still live in accordance with nature. Most of us on the planet are involved in lifestyles that require exploitation of natural resources at a pace at which they simply cannot regenerate themselves. As an interim step, we have turned more and more to technology to make our excessive use of resources more efficient. We haven't tried to figure out how to live within natural limits; we've just tried to stretch the limits. We have accelerated the emissions of "greenhouse gases" and other pollutants. We have continued the destruction of our forests, lakes and oceans. And we have continued the cultivation of and construction on land to the point that the limits must break soon, although no one can really say for sure when the breaking point will come. My research leads me to believe that we are living a "ponzi" scheme. We are borrowing from future resources. Eventually we are going to run outóof land, of natural resources, of options if something goes wrong. And most of all, we canít help it.

But we better get aware of it.

I have made some subtle suggestions on reading material, check the Living Values Virtual Bookstore if you want to know more. It will be obvious which books I mean. And there are plenty of others. I am not really an expert on "Armageddon" reading material, but I have read enough to know that some serious thinking is going on about this "sustainability issue," or, if you prefer, our need, as a human race to be able to "keep going."

One of my observations is that if the Ninja (or aborigines or Native American peoples, etc.) lived a sustainable lifestyle, could there be a lesson in their life philosophies for us? That is why I have stayed interested in this art for so long. I mean the techniques are cool and all that, but what was it about the life ways of these Ninja that we can use today, to improve our lives, perhaps make our lifestyles more sustainable?

We canít (wonít) go back to living totally as aborigines. First of all, there are already too many of us in many places on the planet. It probably just isn't possible, desirable, or even necessary. But we have to recognize that we canít go forward as we have. We live in a time unique in human history. We have been going down this path for thousands of years with no limits in plain sight. But suddenly the limits are obvious; the piper is finally going to have to get paid. We can't put off thinking about this for much longer. The changes have to start now. Many people are frightened and depressed by or just oblivious to these facts. And it does seem like a daunting task to change the direction of a whole civilization.

But we are smart, we humans. We can probably figure out a new way to live: A way that draws upon the ethos of the sustainable cultures like the Ninja, but that incorporates the opportunities provided by modern technology. The first step is to start thinking about it; be conscious of it. That is the point of this provocative and imperfect introduction to this subject.

Some people at this point might say: "Hey, youíre right, we gotta do something! But what?" Well the next step, as I said, is to think. There are probably a thousand ways to live life in accordance with both human nature and mother nature. The warrior lifestyle may be one of them. I also would like to quote Daniel Quinn (who wrote the book "Ishmael," also in the Living Values Virtual Bookstore). He says: "The world will not be saved by old minds with new programs but by new minds with no programs at all." So thereís your hint. Keep going! Or as my long-time mentor Dr. Bob Humphrey used to say: "Keep punching!"