Being / Becoming
For many armed professionals, training and practice in combative skills are approached as necessities of the profession. For them, it is readily apparent that combat is the most difficult arena in which humans engage, and there can be no such thing as too much preparation physically or mentally. For some, however, it’s too easy to become complacent. Reliance on routine, faith in the infallibility of the team, apparent familiarity with a situation are all factors that can degrade one’s awareness and the feeling of need to constantly improve not only combat skills, but, more importantly, the mindset that enables skills to operate. Training and practice have the very obvious benefit of enhancing combat skills, but there is another reason they become even more important over time. It would seem that over time, as our skill improves through training and practice, there should be a corresponding drop in the amount of necessary time and effort on such training. It seems obvious that “the better I get, the less need there is for me to try to get better.” For the professional, however, the opposite is the case.
Aside from the simple enhancement of combative skills, why is training so important? The short answer is that training defines a difference between being and becoming. The fact that we are training is an indication that we are trying to further develop ourselves, become something more than we are now. If we are satisfied with who/what we are now, we wouldn’t need to train, other than to simply practice skills we already have. Training is forging and polishing, striving to learn more, do more, to achieve a higher level of capability, to become more.
Who or what are we trying to become?
We are engaged in a combative endeavor that at root should be no different from that of the combat professionals throughout history. In essence, we are part of the martial tradition. However the tradition of the martial encompasses a wide variety of character types from protectors of society to warlords and brigands. The scope for the current age is no different. However, as with any era, the true professional has higher ideals of character and standards of behavior than merely being skillful at combat. In the end, it is character and a high standard of ethical and moral behavior that separates the true warrior from the well trained thug.
We often cite earlier examples of idealized warrior types such as the knight and the samurai as potential role models. And while they provide some traits that are worthy of emulating, we are in a different age, and need to look more closely at our models of behavior.
For example, let’s look at the Japanese samurai. As an historical figure, the samurai (also known as “bushi”) has been around for over 700 hundred years. However the image of the samurai that we’re most familiar with now has his roots in the Sengoku Period, roughly 1490-1600, a time of extensive battlefield warfare. During this period, the bushi’s survival was based on his ability to dominate in battlefield personal combat. It was during this period that the martial skills of the Japanese warrior were stimulated to a peak of development. With the end of battlefield warfare in the early 1600’s, there followed the relatively peaceful period of the Tokugawa era. In spite of the lack of battlefield warfare, the samurai evolved to further meet the needs of the warrior in an age of little battlefield combat, but greater demands in a different type of combat, one that is in some ways more difficult to train for. This was the single combat of professional warriors in a civilian world.
The single combat that arose was of a nature in which it is all too easy for the ego to become the driving force. Ego is not always a bad thing, and properly applied can be a very useful driving force. Ego drive, when used for unselfish ends (see the hoplological concept of “non-grasping-persona”) can be useful as a force of will achieving remarkable ends. The other side of that coin is the ego of selfish ends (the grasping persona). Here the ego turns one inwards, becoming an inhibitor. In either case, for non-selfish or for selfish ends, for good or bad, the ego can be a lethal determiner. The nature of the martial training during this period was to further polish the effort of will, the unselfish ego of the non-grasping persona, towards just ends. Here we see the development of such concepts as the dichotomy of the “life-giving sword and the death-dealing sword”: the sword of violence being used for the protection of life.
Most of us are familiar with the term, samurai and to a lesser extent, bushi, and what attracts most of us to the bushi/samurai is that they trained as individuals in some of the world’s most highly evolved systems of personal combat. At the same time, we tend to ignore the less savory nature of the samurai’s social position and the behavioral nature of the samurai class status. However, that behavior is important for the modern professional to understand. While the samurai on the one hand had arguably become one of best trained warriors in personal combat, particularly during the height of the Sengoku Period (1490-1600), his code of ethics and morality during that period and evolving further during the following Tokugawa era (1603-1868) would, by today’s standards, leave something to be desired. During his height, the samurai’s duty, loyalty, obligation, responsibility was owed not as a societal protector, but directly and specifically to his lord and only to his lord. The samurai was not the idealized, individual, knight errant, seeking to suppress evil, right wrongs, and protect the weak. He was a retainer, a servant-warrior for his lord and master at whose whim he served. If you look through one of the English translations of a Japanese manual on samurai behavior—AJ Sadler’s The Code of the Samurai (an annotated translation of the writings of Daidoji Shigesuke – 1639-1730) – you’ll see far more instruction on the daily comportment for serving as a dutiful retainer than on the obligations and responsibilities of protector-warrior to society at large.
For most of us this is not the persona we visualize in ourselves or in our own development as modern warriors.
For my part, I prefer a different and earlier concept of Japanese “warriorship.” The term, tsuwamono, is from an earlier period of the Japanese martial history.
The Japanese character for tsuwamono 兵 is now read as “hei,” as in heihō, generally translated now as “tactics,” “strategy,” “the art of war.” However the older meaning involved a concept of tactics that was rooted in the individual and expanded outward to groups. Importantly, though, that heihō, while rooted in combative skills, also included an aspect that would be best described as “one’s behavior towards others.” The individual who practiced that older heihō was one who followed the tsuwamono no michi, “the warrior’s path.”
The tsuwamono was the warrior of an earlier Japan, prior to the rise of the “servant” samurai. As with the later samurai, the tsuwamono strived to live up to the ideals of his class, but the tsuwamono’s code of conduct included valor, loyalty, honor, trust, non-desire, and importantly, demeanor or comportment. However, unlike the later samurai, the ethics and morality of the tsuwamono was not aimed at polishing his role as a servant serving a lord-and-master, but towards the greater good of the group within which he served. Compared to the later samurai, the tsuwamono had greater independence, and was often himself an independent land owner. His responsibility was to his family and to the society in which he lived. He might owe fealty to greater powers, but his immediate and primary obligation and responsibility was to those among whom he lived.
It is at least partly to the this earlier concept of the warrior that I believe we should turn in getting a better understanding of who or what we are training ourselves for.
Tsuwamono – a Modern Warrior Concept
- The tsuwamono is an individual; he is self-initiated and self-motivated.
- The tsuwamono is a follower of the warrior path of responsibility and obligation. His following of that path underscores his individuality while stressing the importance of his responsibility as protector in his society.
- The tsuwamono trains to become ever more capable at combative skills. The foundation of those skills is based in his self-initiative to become more. It is inherent in the tsuwamono that as he gains in capability in and comprehension of the principles intrinsic to the martial path, he will of his own self-initiative, seek to expand the application of those principles beyond any institutional standard. In other words, the tsuwamono is never satisfied to stand still waiting, being, but is constantly looking forward, to becoming.
- The tsuwamono attempts to conduct his daily life based upon a code of conduct rooted in an innate sense of ethics, integrity, and morality. This code of conduct is not an outwardly enforced expression expected of the tsuwamono by others, but a code of behavior that the tsuwamono expects of himself. As with the tsuwamono of old, valor, loyalty, honor, trust, and comportment are values that are inherent. Compassion, an aspect of the “life-giving sword” (an often neglected component of martial behavior), is a vital part of the code.