"Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death."
-Musashi Miyamoto 1584 - 1645
Many times in the study and practice of martial arts, especially when on the internet, I often hear or see people declare themselves "warriors" because of a particular tradition or mental fantasy they carry. You may define yourself as a warrior but are you? What does it even mean to be a warrior?
Musashi the "Sword Saint" of Japan, arguably it's greatest warrior, says that the way of warrior is found in a "resolute acceptance death." But, what des that really mean? I will address this with two quotes from the Tsunetomo Yamamoto (author of the Hagakure: Book of Falling Leaves)
“Whether people be of high or low birth, rich or poor, old or young, enlightened or confused, they are all alike in that they will one day die.”
“If a warrior is not unattached to life and death, he will be of no use whatsoever. The saying that “All abilities come from one mind” sounds as though it has to do with sentient matters, but it is in fact a matter of being unattached to life and death. With such non-attachment one can accomplish any feat.”
Following both lines of thought we see that they come to the same end. We will all die & accepting that we will die we seek to die well, as opposed to live well. For by accepting a "Good Death" we are able to live in a way where ego, pride & passion are controlled by us as opposed to controlling us. This is the difference between a person who likes to drink and a person who is addicted to alcohol (though this may be true of any drug). Both enjoy the drink but one is willing to suffer going without, while the other is a slave to craving. Being non-attached to whether one suffers or not, lives or dies, one is able to accept the price of one's choices without fear of that price. This is not an easy thing to do in anyway...
“There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to all things.”
Of course the rainstorm is a metaphor for life's conflicts. Being unattached to life; sex, drugs, money, political power, ideas, religion and so on one is free die well. In dying well, we are free to live toward that end. This is where things like honor, courage, self-sacrifice and duty to something beyond one's self is made manifest. Now this is little different from the concept of Christian values, when David (the Jewish Warrior-King) said that "I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his Saints." -Psalms 116:14 & 15.
Now the common theme is a lack of fear toward death and living to serve a higher power then one's self by accept one's death in that service. Granted Japan at the time & even today is mostly a Shinto based nation where the Emperor is considered a Divine Being. Duty to one's lord (who was appointed by the Emperor) in Japan, was service to the Emperor by proxy. In either case, without the fear of death or suffering one is free to "do what is right" without concern for what is popular.
What does this have to do with martial arts and the way of the warrior? The Way of the Warrior is more then tradition, lineage or such and such art. The Way of the Warrior is a mindset, an acceptance of what is (unavoidable death) and the freedom to live with acceptance of what is. The Warrior fights both with his enemy and with himself; the enemy is of course trying to destroy the warrior and the warrior must fight his own fear of losing his life. They say "there are no Atheists in foxholes" but is true of those who are afraid. Before you can conquer your enemy, you must conquer yourself.
To be a warrior you must seek the perfection of yourself but do so facing death, your mortality, which means taking risks and "living dangerously." Yes, this means that soldiers & police officers can be warriors as they face death daily. I say can be warriors because how they face death is more important then the act of facing death alone. Belonging to a warrior tradition literally means that you accept your death and without regard for your life in the service of higher ideas then benefitting yourself. In the Army my old XO Lt. Marshall (probably not a Lt anymore) used to say this was "Doing the hard right over the easy wrong, when no else was looking."
Here in the US and in fact in many/most first world countries martial arts are about socializing, sports, hobbies and even a job. Rarely, do martial arts serve as a combat skillset for life and death situations. A unique trait of my upbringing is that I quite honestly come from a family of criminals, though I spent much of my life rejecting that life style and, it hasn't always been easy. More so, to be honest many criminals are more warriors then those of the martial arts with a rank in a "warrior tradition." They accept the risk occupation and risk to their lives, facing death and imprisonment freely. This isn't to glorify the criminal but, to demonstrate that the warrior can be both "good or bad" in their nature and motives.
Like the terms "Master," "Grandmaster" and "Soke" they mean nothing... Machiavelli once said "Men honor titles, titles do not honor men." I am who I am and my rank in ninjutsu does not define me nor does my rank in Shotokan, Judo, Jujitsu or my non-exist rank in the many arts I've dabbled in. I do not define myself as a warrior either. I understand the way of the warrior but there is difference between knowing the path and walking the path. Whether I walk the path or not is something I will let other's decide about me. I have placed my life in danger many times, sometimes in service to my ideas of honor and duty and sometimes just for the fun of it. However you define me is your definition and I do not care... but let me ask you, how do you define yourself? Are you following the Way of the Warrior or are you merely seeking to claim an empty title for your own self interests?