What does it mean to be a warrior?
Older readers will know I’m a practitioner of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. My fascination with the martial arts started at an early age, before Taijutsu I was doing Wing Chun.
Looking back at why I picked up the martial arts, I think it was a combination of wanting to know I could take care of myself if things ever got rough, and even take care of my loved ones if it ever came down to it.
Now I don’t know if I could, but I hope it never has to happen.
Lately, I’ve been wondering about what it means to be a warrior versus someone who practices a martial art. To find out, I read Jack Hoban’s Living Values articles; Jack is one of the most senior Bujinkan members and an ex-Marine. I thought if anyone would know what it means to be a warrior it would be him.
The Warrior’s Creed
Wherever I go,
everyone is a little bit safer because I am there.
Wherever I am,
anyone in need has a friend.
Whenever I return home,
everyone is happy I am there.
It’s a better life!
To Hoban, the essence of warriorship is found in the Warrior’s Creed, which was taught to him by Dr. Robert L. Humphrey. Hoban was taking his master’s degree and met Dr. Humphrey when he had to attend a course called ‘Cross-Cultural Relations in Business’ taught by Dr. Humphrey.
At first, he wondered if it was going to be any use at all, and felt quite hostile towards this compulsory course. But he was won over by Dr. Humphrey’s demeanor, and eventually discovered the man’s history; Dr. Humphrey had a law degree from Harvard, had taught at the Fletcher School, MIT, and had fought on Iwo Jima in World War 2.
Wherever I Go, Everyone is a Little Bit Safer Because I am There
Hoban says that the Warrior Creed wasn’t passed on to him in just one lesson, but over the course of 16 years. The first part, ‘wherever I go, everyone is a little bit safer because I am there’, came at a time when Hoban was 25 years old and liked to strut around like a tough, no-nonsense Marine. He would go into a bar, and then mentally pick off everyone in there, making sure they knew not to mess with him.
(I think every martial artist has had a grandiose movie-like fantasy of beating down every badass in the room. Heck, I know I’ve had a few.)
Dr. Humphrey, however, advised Hoban; instead of looking like he wanted to kick everyone’s butt in the bar, why doesn’t he try being there and telling himself that ‘everybody in this place is a little safer because I am here’.
And Hoban did, and he realized that it made him feel better about himself. It also made him remember why he became a Marine in the first place, not to go out and be a bad ass, but to be a protector and defender. And the more he practiced this new philosophy, the more he realized it helped him become part of a solution, instead of a problem.
Whenever I Return Home, Everyone is Happy I am There
Hoban says the last piece of the Warrior’s Creed fell into place 16 years later. He had had a bad day at work and was caught in a traffic jam in the sleet for 2 and a half hours.
When he reached home, he opened the door and saw his family and Dr. Humphrey having a good time inside. Seeing everyone else happy and feeling miserable himself pissed him off, and the moment Dr. Humphrey saw the expression on his face he told Hoban to ‘get out!’
Hoban replied; ‘wait a minute, this is my house,’ to which Dr. Humphrey shouted ‘Get out!‘
Hoban walked out the door, and Dr. Humphrey came out, looking sternly at him, and then kindly said:
Jack, do you know what was going on in this house before you walked in the door? Everybody was sitting here for the last hour and a half in joyous anticipation of you coming home. Couldn’t wait for you to get home, because we were all going to have dinner and be together and enjoy the evening. And you walked in looking like that. Don’t do that. You broke everybody’s heart in that house doing that. If you have to sit in that car for 45 minutes, don’t walk in the house ever again looking like that.
Hoban felt ashamed, and he realized to be a warrior meant that these were the people he had to protect the most, not just physically, but also emotionally. That was when the final piece of the Warrior’s Creed fell into place, and that night Jack wrote the complete Warrior’s Creed down for the first time.
The Difference Between a Fighter and a Warrior
Hoban uses two pictures to show the difference between someone training in martial arts and warriorship.
The person on the left has just won a competitive martial arts fight, while the person on the right is Lance Corporal Tyler Troyer, who was killed by a sniper as he was defending that kid’s village.
In his opinion, fighters fight for themselves; warriors fight to protect others.
The Life Value
Hoban also likes to tell The Story of The Japanese Prisoner, which Dr. Humphrey describes as his proudest moment.
Most Marines know the story of Iwo Jima. One of the ‘dirty little secrets’ of that battle was that the Japanese did not believe in taking prisoners, as surrendering — even when wounded– was considered a violation of the warrior code of Bushido. (This is an over-simplification and skewing of the true Bushido concept, by the way; and this fact is just another example of how a relative value can ‘misfire’ and become rationalized and disconnected from the Life Value.) Unfortunately, some Marines began to follow suit with the killing of wounded or surrendering Japanese soldiers.
One day on patrol, Humphrey and his men came upon a young Japanese soldier emerging from a cave waving a white flag. This, in and of itself was unusual, as Japanese soldiers rarely surrendered. One of the Marines on the patrol, not trusting that this wasn’t some kind of trick, raised his rifle to his shoulder to kill the Japanese boy. Humphrey found himself ordering the Marine to put down his weapon. A short, intense confrontation occurred between Humphrey and the Marine. But good order and discipline prevailed and the Marine lowered his weapon. It turned out that the Japanese soldier’s surrender was genuine and he was taken safely to the rear. It even turned out that he was of some small intelligence value.
Humphrey thought little of the incident at the time. Yet nearly fifty years later, when asked to name his proudest achievement, he cited this incident. He explained with words to the effect that: “On Iwo Jima it was life or death every minute of every day. There was unavoidable killing every day. When I saw that Japanese boy trying to surrender and understood that this was perhaps the only time that I didn’t have to kill, I took the opportunity. I believe that action saved my humanity. Like most veterans of Iwo that survived, I was deeply affected by the experience. Yet, I never suffered the profound depression and shell-shock (PTSD) that some of the others did. I attribute it to saving that boy’s life. Protecting my enemy, if you will.” Adapted from the book Values For A New Millennium by Robert L. Humphrey
The Story of the Japanese Solider helps illustrate the importance of what Hoban calls ‘the Life Value’. Cultural and individual values are relative, but above all life is the most important value for a warrior. Without any need to qualify it, like ‘a wealthy life’, or ‘a successful life’, but simply life, even if it’s your enemy’s life:
There are no modifiers, no qualifiers. Live, just live. But, as Humphrey also says, this life value is a dual one: our lives and the lives of others. Protecting one’s own life, of course, is self-defense. Protecting others is warriorship.
It sounds romantic or heroic to imagine ourselves, as warriors, running around the world protecting the weak and defenseless. But, this is not realistic. To live truly as a warrior, and help make peace, we must set an example of treating all persons, even those poorer and richer, dumber and smarter, better or worse, with basic respect. This is difficult and may take great courage; people who seem different can frighten or disgust us. Yet, if we don’t respect the lives of others, even if we don’t like or understand their behavior, conflict or violence will naturally result. Aren’t there richer, smarter, better people than you in the world? Does that make their life worth more than yours? Not to you! All people are the same in this way. Our martial arts skills can give us the courage and confidence to see the life value in all persons, and support and defend that value.
Life, not culture, color, creed, or behavior, is the most important and universal value. Life is worth defending. This is the goal of our training: to protect life.
I hope this summary helps you understand better what it means to be a warrior, reading Hoban’s articles certainly helped me. I share it here because I believe we can all apply the Warrior’s Creed, whether we are martial artists, or soldiers, or not, to make people feel safer because of us, to be a friend to anyone in need, and to make sure that when we return home, everyone there is glad.
These words from Hoban serve as the closing thoughts for this post.
25 years into my training, all of the talking and philosophizing has really all come down to this:
1. Be a defender of life.
2. Keep going.