Warriorship As A Lifestyle
by Jack Hoban

In the mid-1980’s I wrote book called "Ninpo: Living And Thinking As AWarrior."  Some of you have read it and have written some very nice things to meabout the book.  I appreciate the gestures; but if you recall the introduction tothat book, I made some pretty clear qualifications about what I had written.  I said,in essence, that my philosophy was "a process."  What I meant was that itwas evolving and that I might change my mind about some things in the future. 

And this has, of course, turned out to be true.

Perhaps I should not say that I have changed my mind as much as that some of myemphases have changed.  I have different priorities now and I have done a heck of alot more research on things that I believe are germane to the warrior lifestyle.  Therefore, I offer this essay as an "update" to my Philosophy ofWarriorship,and, again, make the qualification that I reserve the right to change my mind (oremphasis) as I continue down the path.

A major "change" in the philosophy, I think, can best be summed up as anevolution from the sense of Warriorship as an ideal to the sense of Warriorship inpractice.   This has been a difficult and careful transition in my life, becauseit is so easy to confuse pragmatism and practicality.  Perhaps I had better clarifythose terms, because for me the distinction is very important.  Let's begin by sayingthat the idealized life of the Warrior—defending the weak and innocent against theevil forces of darkness and anti-market forces is a bit over-romanticized (andover-simplified, for that matter).  It is also a bit impractical.  I mean, howdo you make a living and feed your kids doing that?

So what do you do?  There certainly are warrior-type things outthere to be done.  Many are very hard to do and some just can’t bedone—yet, anyway.  Almost none of them are financially lucrative.  One ofthe most common questions I get is from sincere young folks asking me about career pathsthat are consistent with the warrior path.  Being a warrior is not really a job, perse.  It is a lifestyle: a perspective on approaching yourjob, your relationships with others (most especially your family), and the rest of yourlife in general.  It is not an easy lifestyle in this pragmatic world.  There isa real danger, therefore, for the person who calls himself a warrior, to talk the goodgame, but live a very un-warrior-like existence when outside the dojo or seminarsetting.  We all know them and have, at times, been them.

This pragmatic approach, however, is a bit like the "Sunday Christian" whogoes to church, sings in the choir and bows his head to pray with a pious smile on theSabbath—but lies, cheats and steals all through the rest of the week.  Idon’t mean to pick on Christians, they certainly don’t hold a monopoly onpragmatism or hypocrisy, but I use the analogy to make a point.  There is a hugedisconnect, sometimes, between what we "feel" is the right way to live and whatwe "know" we need to do to get by in this society.  Phrases like "if Idon’t do it, someone else will," "screw them before they screw you,""that’s the way of the world," "everyone else is doing it,""if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em," etc. are all too common inthis society.  No one can really blame you if you go along.  With the way thingsare you probably will get by if you "go along."  There is atleast one huge problem with that, however, and that problem is inside you.You will probably end up with a bad feeling about your life.  You might suppress it,you might hide it, but you just won’t feel good—inside.  That’s theproblem with pragmatism.

I heard a funny story.  A man is standing in front of his house in a bathrobe onenight as his house is burning down furiously.  A neighbor runs up and yells,"How can you just stand there and let your house burn down?"  The man turnsto his neighbor incredulously and says, "I’m not letting it burndown; its burning down on its own."  A practical man realizes that there arejust some bad things that you can’t do anything about.  (A pragmatist, by theway, would probably just throw gas on the fire—I mean, why not? Its gonna burn downanyway?).

I find myself becoming a practical man in a world that will never be the way I want itto be.  But I refuse to throw gas on the fire.  I (like many of you who arereading this, I bet) live a kind of dual-existence.  I do my best to live thelife-affirming values of the warrior, but it seems that (paradoxically?) I fail miserablyalmost everyday because I have to make a "living."   And almosteverything you can do to make a living these days seems to violate the warrior values.

That’s a pretty strong statement, I know, but I believe it to be true.  Thereare no good jobs out there for warriors.  Not even the Marines.  Iknow; I was one.  No, the best you can hope for is any job that feeds the family, butone that you can at least approach with the ethos of the warrior. And even that isn'teasy.

It would be convenient if we could just blame it all on the fact that corporations aregreedy, or that people are weak, or that our problems are due to some flaw of humannature. (By the way, if you don’t think that we are having problems, read no furtherand continue throwing gas on that fire).  But that doesn't really solve the problemor make us happy.  But, it is absolutely not in our nature to be this miserable; andwe are miserable, even when we are happy.  So what is the solution?

At the risk of throwing another buzzword into the communal dialogue, I have to say thatit is not our nature that is flawed, but our behavior that is unsustainable.   I willtalk a bit more about this buzzword "unsustainable" in a moment, but the basicmeaning is that our lifestyle (our frenetic pace, our destruction of natural humanconnections like the extended family, our hoggish use of natural resources, our insatiabledesire to reproduce ourselves, etc) cannot be maintained at the present pace.  Inother words, we live as if there is no tomorrow.

But there is a tomorrow.  And our kids have to live there.  And an"unsustainable" lifestyle is, ultimately, in conflict with our deepest lifevalues.  Why?  Because an unsustainable lifestyle, by definition, has to endsometime.  The ramifications of that, if you think about it, arefrightening.  And that’s what is making us unhappy (and, finally) very, verynervous about things like, ecology, pollution, population, terrorist weapons of massdestruction, etc.  We are starting to see that the house really isburning and that we have very few choices: either sit there and watch it burn, or throwour share of the gas on it.  Actually, the choices are fewer than that.  We areall throwing some gas on the fire.   It’s just that some of us areconscious of it and some are not.

I first heard the word "sustainable" in this context about 6 years ago when afriend gave me a book called Steady-State Economics, by HermanDaly.  It is a difficult book to read and has some flawed arguments in it, but it setme up to be conscious of the need for sustainability in all our affairs.  If you areunclear about what "sustainability" means in human affairs, let me bring it realclose to home, here, with a pop quiz: What was the very first English phrase that HatsumiSensei learned when he came to America almost 20 years ago? That’s right: "Keepgoing."

Why, ask yourself, is that the most important thing in the martial arts, according toSensei, at least.  Easy, because all of those people who have been involved in theBujinkan martial arts over the years who did not follow a "sustainable" trainingregimen are—gone!  They are just not around.  Where did they go?  Theother day I was going through my file cabinet and I came across a huge folder.  Ilooked inside and I found hundreds of signed training releases.  I mean hundreds.  But if you go to training on a Monday or Wednesday night in my dojo, do you knowhow many people are there typically?  About 12, including me.  What happened?  I don’t know in all cases, of course.  But there has been a consistentpattern over the years that I want to share with you.  I cannot count how many timesa person or little gaggle of persons has come to training and gushed that this is whatthey wanted to do their whole life.  They would swear eternal allegiance to HatsumiSensei, Takamatsu Sensei, Splinter and me.  Then, depending on their energy, theywould come religiously, fanatically, for a week, month, or year (usually notlonger) and then—they would just disappear.  At first it would hurt my feelings,I would wonder what I did wrong, etc.  But I have come to understand that it was notnecessarily me.  However they had set up their life, their training regimen just wasnot sustainable.

OK, do you have what I mean by sustainable?  The point here, however, is that Ithink we need to extrapolate this important concept out to our society as a whole.  Is our use of natural resources and fossil fuels sustainable?  Is our populationgrowth (doubling, now, every 36 years or so) sustainable?  Can we sustain an attackof mass destruction, nuclear, chemical, or biological?  We all ought to think aboutthese things.

All right, let me back up.  What does this really have to do with our martial art?  Well, our particular art comes from a very unique group of people called Ninja.  According to my discussions with Hatsumi Sensei, Ninja lived a sustainablelifestyle.  That is, if you lived as close to nature as the Ninja did, you couldprobably live off the land literally forever.  I imagine it to be an existence notunlike our Native American cultures—a lifestyle lived in accordance with (rather thanin spite of) nature, although we will probably never know for sure.

There are few societies, anywhere in the world, that still live in accordance withnature. Most of us on the planet are involved in lifestyles that require exploitation ofnatural resources at a pace at which they simply cannot regenerate themselves.  As aninterim step, we have turned more and more to technology to make our excessive use ofresources more efficient.  We haven't tried to figure out how to live within naturallimits; we've just tried to stretch the limits.  We have accelerated the emissions of"greenhouse gases" and other pollutants.  We have continued the destructionof our forests, lakes and oceans.  And we have continued the cultivation of andconstruction on land to the point that the limits must break soon, although no one canreally say for sure when the breaking point will come.  My research leads me tobelieve that we are living  a "ponzi" scheme.  We are borrowing fromfuture resources.  Eventually we are going to run out—of land, of naturalresources, of options if something goes wrong.  And most of all, we can’thelp it. 

But we better get aware of it.

I have made some subtle suggestions on reading material, check theLiving Values Virtual Bookstore if you want to know more.  It will be obvious which books I mean.  And there are plenty of others.   I amnot really an expert on "Armageddon" reading material, but I have read enough toknow that some serious thinking is going on about this "sustainability issue,"or, if you prefer, our need, as a human race to be able to "keep going."

One of my observations is that if the Ninja (or aborigines or Native American peoples,etc.) lived a sustainable lifestyle, could there be a lesson in their life philosophiesfor us?  That is why I have stayed interested in this art for so long.  I meanthe techniques are cool and all that, but what was it about the life ways of these Ninjathat we can use today, to improve our lives, perhaps make our lifestyles more sustainable?

We can’t (won’t) go back to living totally as aborigines.  First of all,there are already too many of us in many places on the planet.  It probably justisn't possible, desirable, or even necessary.  But we have to recognize that wecan’t go forward as we have.  We live in a time unique in human history.  We have been going down this path for thousands of years with no limits in plainsight.  But suddenly the limits are obvious; the piper is finally going to have toget paid.  We can't put off thinking about this for much longer.  The changeshave to start now.  Many people are frightened and depressed by or just oblivious tothese facts.  And it does seem like a daunting task to change the direction of awhole civilization.

But we are smart, we humans.  We can probably figure out a new way to live: A waythat draws upon the ethos of the sustainable cultures like the Ninja, but thatincorporates the opportunities provided by modern technology.  The first step is tostart thinking about it; be conscious of it.  That is the point ofthis provocative and imperfect introduction to this subject.

Some people at this point might say: "Hey, you’re right, we gotta dosomething! But what?"   Well the next step, as I said, is to think.   There are probably a thousand ways to live life in accordance with both humannature and mother nature.  The warrior lifestyle may be one of them.  I alsowould like to quote Daniel Quinn (who wrote the book "Ishmael,"also in the Living Values Virtual Bookstore).  He says: "The world willnot be saved by old minds with new programs but by new minds with no programs at all."  So there’s your hint.  Keep going!  Or as my long-time mentor Dr. Bob Humphrey used to say:"Keep punching!"

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Warrior Painting By
Gregory Manchess