The Way of the Warrior

I’m doing a weekly Zoom in which I discuss principles and other philosophical aspects of Aikido with several other practitioners. One of the topics we keep coming back to is warriorship.

In the news this past week, I read that a U.S. army sergeant has just been become the first woman to become a Green Beret. I cannot help but be thrilled by that. Women can, of course, succeed in programs that are designed for men, even physical ones.

But while I know that Green Berets and other special forces are intended as elite combat troops and therefore expected to have intense physical skills (ones usually associated with very strong men), our Aikido discussions make me think real warriorship has little to do with that level of physical ability.

Common Japanese words for martial arts are budo (the way of war) or bushido (the way of the warrior). But bu, usually said to mean war, can also be translated “to turn the spear,” which means it has a connotation of protection or defense. That opens up a different way of thinking.

As I began to study martial arts, I found myself drawn to the concept of being a warrior, of being the person who would stand her ground, protect others, fight for those who needed me. And, of course, to be a woman able to walk the streets or travel on her own.

That is, to be a woman who was not afraid of men.

I think I have done a few things for others as a warrior over the years, but I definitely became that last item. I am not afraid of men.

What motivates me these days is to convince other women that they, too, can become people who are not afraid of men; that they, too, can become people who can fight for someone else.

Because there’s nothing particularly exceptional about me. I don’t have any great physical talents. Even if it had been possible back when I was young for a woman to become a Green Beret, I doubt I’d have had the ability. I’ll never be the person who will win all the fights. I’m not a superhero, I’m not special, I just know enough about how to take care of myself and how to resolve a conflict to feel free to walk through the world doing pretty much as I please (at least in non-pandemic times).

And all women are capable of achieving this.

I’m putting this in terms of men and women because learning fighting skills and taking up the path of warriorship is perhaps the most gendered idea out there, except for motherhood. Men in warrior training are called sissies and girls if they don’t fight well. Women must act like men to be marginally accepted in those fields and will still face additional challenges based on gender.

But of course what I’m talking about applies no matter what your gender. The accepted wisdom may say that warriorship is a path reserved for cis men (and not all of them, particularly not gay men), but that is the core lie intended to keep everyone who isn’t a cis man, and a very particular kind of cis man at that, in their place. To the mind of those who think this way, anyone who isn’t a warrior is, essentially, a woman and therefore inferior.

So many of the core skills of the warrior are ones that involve the whole self, body and mind working together. Paying attention. Trusting your intuition. Knowing what the real dangers are. Moving in a way that projects confidence. Developing that level of skill isn’t gendered. It doesn’t require great physical talent or a particular body type.

Warriorship isn’t shouting in others’ faces or threatening people with guns or being the tough guy everyone is afraid of. Those people running around shopping at Target carrying their assault rifles aren’t warriors and neither are those so-called militia groups who keep hassling those fighting for real social justice.

In a time of pandemic, the tough guy idea of the warrior is pretty useless. After all, if warriorship is about turning the spear, about protection, then it’s about taking care of people, not about beating them down.

So while I’m glad to see women continue to break the gender barriers in the military and other places once deemed strictly for certain kinds of men, I do think it’s time for us to rethink what kind of warriors we need as we go forward.

I’d say we need people willing to take a stand a lot more than we need people willing to attack someone deemed to be the enemy. People willing to risk their lives, their health, their livelihoods for the greater good.

I’d like to see a few warriors for public health at the Centers for Disease Control, just for starters.

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