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The Path of the Warrior – Tsuwamono-no-michi: A Different Kind of Warrior


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.

Tsuwamono  
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.

 

 

 

 

 

This entry was posted in Capability, Character, Consciousness and tagged , , on by .

About Hunter B. Armstrong

As Director of the International Hoplology Society (established in 1976 by Donn Draeger), Hunter Armstrong is professionally engaged in the research and development of hoplology – the study of human combative behavior and performance. In his efforts to gain a broader perspective on hoplology, he has spent considerable time on field research in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India, researching the training and fighting arts of those areas. Starting in karate in the early 1960’s, he has been training consistently for the past fifty plus years. Now, primarily concentrating on classical Japanese battlefield martial arts, he has also trained in a number of Chinese combative arts. In addition to Asian weapons and fighting systems, Armstrong has researched and studied classical European weapons and fighting systems and the relationship of biomechanics to the development of weapons use. In particular, he has concentrated on the principles of efficient behavior in combat, especially as expressed in traditional martial cultures.

5 thoughts on “The Path of the Warrior – Tsuwamono-no-michi: A Different Kind of Warrior

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  • Ymarsakar

    The Sword of the Stranger movie as well as Akira’s biography http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akira_Kurosawa taught me several things.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/After_the_Rain_(film) and Sword of the Stranger were interesting modern Japanese lookbacks at the warrior culture of their nation.

    After the Rain, for the sword that gives life, at the highest level of excellence.

    Miyamoto Musashi’s life during the decisive battle of the civil West vs East war. How Ronins appeared differently than samurai to businessmen and aristocratic zaibatsu clans in modern Japan.

    A knight errant would be much closer to a ronin, a mercenary, or one of Akira’s Seven Samurai. It depends on if a person obeys Authority for the sake of loyalty and obedience, or whether that person obeys his own integral code and beliefs.

    I did not truly understand the core message in Sword of the Stranger until later, when I learned lethal force level outputs. The moral message I didn’t even comprehend much of, until I read and reflected on the novel On Killing. The payment exacted on a person’s conscience for Obeying Authority merely because of fear of Authority.

    “Cause pain before you injure. Injure before you maim. Maim before you kill. And if you must kill, make it a clean kill. Squeeze every drop of life from the opponent. Because life is so precious, it cannot be wasted, even in death.”

    “Let him cut your skin, and you cut his flesh. Let him cut your flesh, and you cut his bones. Let him cut your bones, and you cut off his life.”

    Exerting enough will and self discipline to take a mutual cut or death scenario, was an obvious first goal but not the last. Modern civilians complain of being hungry for 30 minutes. Interesting contrast, is it not.

    Recently, the youth of Japan are receiving a slightly different message.

    “Achieve your mission with all your might.
    Despair not until your last breath.
    Make your death count!” – Motto of

    “To be honest I do not think whether they live or die is the matter at hand. Life is not always better than death. It is not that simple. Living and being made to live are very different things. What matters is what the person chooses of their own free will: whether or not it can be achieved nor how difficult it is.

    I want you to consider this: imagine if what matters most to you was taken away against your will. If that is indeed worth less than your life”-

    I cannot help but wonder if Japan knows that rearming is the only secure way into the future, given current strategic global affairs.

    What you of the CHOAM directorate seem unable to understand is that you seldom find real loyalties in commerce. When did you last hear of a clerk giving his life for the company? Perhaps your deficiency rests in the false assumption that you can order men to think and cooperate. This has been a failure of everything from religions to general staffs throughout history. General staffs have a long record of destroying their own nations. As to religions, I recommend a rereading of Thomas Aquinas. As to you of CHOAM, what nonsense you believe! Men must want to do things out of their own innermost drives. People, not commercial organizations or chains of command, are what make great civilizations work. Every civilization depends upon the quality of the individuals it produces. If you over-organize humans, over-legalize them, suppress their urge to greatness — they cannot work and their civilization collapses.
    -A letter to CHOAM, Attributed to The Preacher

    I would rather die having spoken in my manner, than speak in your manner and live. For neither in war nor yet in law ought any man use every way of escaping death. For often in battle there is no doubt that if a man will throw away his arms, and fall on his knees before his pursuers, he may escape death, if a man is willing to say or do anything. The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding unrighteousness; for that runs deeper than death.-Socrates before the Athenian death panel

    Authorities, that is what they do when they have the power, but what gives them the right except for people’s willingness to kneel down and obey? For they fear Death above all else.

    ” Y’all got on this boat for different reasons, but y’all come to the same place. So now I’m asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything, I know this – they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people… better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin’. I aim to misbehave.

    Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) Serenity”

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