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by Craig Smith
We hear a lot about "warriors" today.  From military recruiting ads to the latest movie or television show, to the newest dojo on the block, talk of "warriors" or the "warrior spirit" is everywhere.  Athletes are called (or call themselves) "warriors".  Traveling salesmen call themselves "road warriors".  And probably one of the most ludicrous
claims was a recent figure skating competition called "ICE WARS!"  (I was working on the computer when it came on, and had left the remote across the room).  The drums and pounding music were enough to make any red-blooded Celt want to take an enemy's head, and any of the skaters could probably do more damage with their little jumps and spins than most of the "pajama dancers" I see in some of the belt factories around here, but the insipid announcer stating, "Yes, these competitors are indeed warriors!" was enough to make me want to choke out Hans Christian Anderson.
   When did all of this start, this business of everyone being a "warrior"?  I'm not really sure.  But the best I can figure is when Hollywood and the media started making war and warriors fashionable again.  One of the first steps might have been when Charlie Sheen, the drug-dependent son of ultra liberal dove Martin Sheen (who played his own version of a Green Beret playing something else in the war-goes-to-a-rock-concert "Apocalypse Now"), acted like an idiot in the idiotic movie, "NAVY SEALS"  (Charlie or his character would last about 10 seconds with the SEALS I've known  -  less time if he opened his mouth).  Next I noticed that every college guy and insurance saleman was going around with their caps on backward  -  20 million guys trying to look like snipers.
   Sylvester Stallone (whom I personally like) and Jean-Claud Van Damme (whom I personally don't) did more than their share to further "warror chic", as the guy who sat out the Vietnam War coaching a girls soccer team created the borderline-psychotic "Rambo", and the (also drug dependent) "Muscles from Brussels" smiled, sneered and quipped his way through numerous adventures, usually as an ex-Recon, ex-SEAL, ex-Special Forces soldier or ex-French Foreign Legionnaire.  And, of course, we can't forget Steven Seagal (the newly instituted Buddhist "Lama" who will allow you to touch him for money) who always played an ex-something or other as he postured and pranced his way through various bad guys, and who, in one film, actually wore a green beret bearing, if my memory serves me correctly, the patch of the 5th Special Forces Group, while supposedly working "under cover" in the very neighborhood where he had "grown up"  ("Gee, Stevie," might say the  bad guy, "I didn't know I was making a bad-guy deal with you  -  I thought I was making a bad-guy deal with a real Green Beret wearing jeans and a black leather vest!")
   Sadly, we live in a society which has come to celebrate celebrity, where fame is valued over ability, where many children and adults are unable to distinguish  between an actor and the character they play, and in which dressing, talking and acting a certain way is considered the equivalent of being whatever it is you are tryng to dress, talk and act like. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone who thinks they're a "warrior", and conversations from sales meetings to little league soccer games are peppered with phrases like "Good to go!" and "Failure is not an option!"  Wow.
   So what, exactly, is a warrior?  There have been many warriors, philosophers, and warrior-philosophers over the past several millennia who have written on what it means to be a warrior, and many, if not most, were more studied and eloquent than I.  They also lived in simpler times, when personal traits, expectations and position were more closely associated with the societal core, and the challenges of life provided ample opportunities for warriors and non-warriors alike to develop and exhibit the strengths and abilities that earned them their place in society.
   Today, things are more complicated.  Values like honor, courage, integrity nd loyalty are viewed by too many as being "fluid", changing with times and circumstances.  The solid core has become a soft center  -  something loosely contained within the outer shell rather than supporting it.  As such, the only constant is the outer shell, which, if hard, will crack under external pressures, or, if soft, will siimply give way to the pressure, molding itself to that which has  caused its distortion, in a bond that makes it difficult to distinguish between the entity itself and the force acting upon it.  This is true for individuals and societies alike.
   I've known a good number of warriors.  And I've known a good number of soldiers, cops, fighters, and other assorted groups who make their living in an environment of anticipated or manifested violence. Some were warriors, and some weren't. What is the difference? What makes a warrior? In my opinion, it comes down to this; I have never known or read of a warrior who did not have, at his core, a guiding philosophy which directed his decisions, drove his actions, and provided a standard by which all thoughts and actions, his and others', were measured. For some, this philosophy includes, or is a part of, a religious belief. For others, it does, or is, not. But in either cse, the warrior's philosophical core guides his actions during life, determines his attitude toward death, and blends the two in a seamless, integrated life-journey.
   Although a warrior may ally himself with others, or occasionally even place himself under the direction or command of another warrior, every true warrior remains essentially alone, directed only by his guiding philosophy and system of beliefs. His cooperation with, or service to, any cause, group or individual is dependent on the cause, group or individual remaining consistent with the purpose, course or principles to which the warrior originally committed himself. A changing pressure which presses the soft-centered to new shapes and sizes pushes the solid-cored warrior to a position outside of it, and a shifting wind which blows the soft-centerd to new positions of social or political popularity or expediency reveals the warrior to be maintaining his original position, often standing alone, regardless of the cost. A warrior is always, in the final analysis, a leader, whether actively or potentially, and never a blind follower, for a blind follower is a slave.
   The guiding principles of a warrior stem from, and are imbedded in, his view of death, because a warrior knows that his own death experience is the culmination and eternal marker of his life experience, and that death is not to be feared except by those who have reason to be ashamed of their life, as eternal shame, whether in this world or the next, is the only thing to be truly feared. A warrior's vie of death is necesarily based in his prsonal knowledge and understanding of it. Without an intimate knowledge of death, it is impossible to be  warrior.  That is why most warrior societies throughout history hae designed initiative rights of passage for young men (and occasionally young women) preparing to enter the warrior class. In most cases, these tasks were meant to be performed alone, so that fears which could either obstruct or illuminate the path to the warrior plane of understanding would not be diminished by the outside support or spiritual "noise" of others. And in most cases, such tasks involved the risk of the initiate's life, thereby focusing the initiate's attention to the life/death dichotomy necessary to transcend to such an understanding.
   Having successfully transcended to the warrior plane, whether through formal initiation or practical necessity (combat), the initiate becomes a warrior as a result of both his expanded understanding of life and death, and his acceptance of the responsibilities that accompany that understanding.  It is through the focus of this new understanding and responsibility that the warrior forevermore sees and deals with the world around him.
   The modern world does not demand the warrior transcendency that many past societies did.  In fact, a large segment of our society is suspicious and fearful of a mentality or system of beliefs that is solid in its expectations of personal behavior and responsibiity. Today, it is possible for a person to live their entire life without ever having to take a stand for or agaist anything, let alone put their life on the line for survival or a matter of principle. Yet, in the back of many minds and hearts lurks a warrior's soul in need of a warrior's challenge, and for them the road can be found if they look for it, and do not settle for the false "warrior trappiings" that are so prevalent today.
   The road to the warrior plane goes through many challenges, including fear, doubt, solitude (spiritual, if not physical) and, finally, understanding and acceptance of the realities of the world and his proper place in it. His knowledge of the constant possibility of death removes confusion from his mind, and his understanding of death as a culmination of life removes his fear of it.  Consequently, he views things with a clear understanding of causes and effects, and lives the life he chooses, rather than performing in a life chosen by others.
   Many call themselves warriors today, having no idea what it means, nor the cost of being one. And if they knew the true cost, most would be unwilling to pay it. To those, I would say that it is better to be what you are than try to act like what you are not, because claiming to be something you are not is saying that what you are is of no value.
   To those who do want to pursue a warrior's path, I would suggest that they find a warrior to train under, develop a solid belief system through study, deep thought and inner reflection, and prepare for years, perhaps a lifetime, of challenge, pain, sacrifice, aloneness and attack from those of lesser abiity and commitment  -  except, of course, when they need you. However, you will have the respect and brotherhood of other warriors, which is beyond measure.
   Is it worth it?  That is up to each individual to decide for themselves.  But whatever a person chooses, the path of the warrior or the life of a non-warrior, the choice and the life should be theirs, and it should be real.
What Makes A Warrior?
Columns by Craig Smith