As far back as time itself, there have been those who stand in the face of adversity. Those who stand when others run, not because they lack fear, but because their heart and love is stronger. Ultimately, it is under these circumstances their lives will end, but they do so with conviction and purpose. In recorded history, the earliest examples were recorded by the Greeks, and one such example is Heraclitus, or “The Weeping Philosopher.”
Do not mistake the poet’s tears for weakness, they are an extension of his passion, an expression of his heart, and they drive his strength of will. Heraclitus summed up the rarity of the true Greek warrior,
“Out of every one hundred men that march into combat, ten should not be there, eighty are targets, and nine are true fighters. We are lucky to have them because they make the battle, but ah, the one, the one who is a pure warrior, he will bring the others back home.”
There is a reason humans find such a fascinating connection with an edged weapon. Before them came shaped stones, slings, and the bow and arrow, while the bow is an artful and elegant weapon that requires a skill all its own, the sword is probably the first weapon humans crafted for the specific use of combat. Other weapons served the purpose of hunting to provide food, but the blade was crafted to defend and conquer.
Over the centuries, sword-making became an art unto itself, and the Japanese excelled at it as the sword and its master were taught to become one. Only the ancient Greek Spartans matched this martial philosophy, but their strength was in the unity of their numbers, and while a single Spartan soldier still stands among the greatest of all time, the Samurai cultivated a way of life that still inspires grace, beauty, a centering of the spirit with the mind, and a symbiotic relationship to the blade.
Today, the sword is largely symbolic, and the warrior poet takes many other forms. In our modern reality, the pressure from our jobs, family, relationships, and the world at large can be formidable enemies. Sometimes if it were only as simple as drawing a sword and facing those opponents, life might be easier to decide. Sadly, they are not, but once again the oriental martial philosophy provides strong insight as stated by Bruce Lee’s teacher,
“We all have inner demons to fight. We call these demons anger, fear, and hatred. If you do not conquer them, a life of a hundred years would be a tragedy, but defeat them and a life of single day would be a triumph.”
There are those who are eternal optimists, and those who possess great business savvy, and in many cases these people are successful in all the monetary ways, but in later years they often find themselves surrounded by all their trappings and still alone. The Spartans fought to preserve their way of life, as did the Samurai, and while as a particular race of people they no longer exist, their idealism still survives. As was said in “The Last Samurai,…I will not tell you how he died, I will tell you how he lived.”
An even better example is Katsumoto in the garden of cherry trees, “The perfect blossom is a rare thing, you could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life…But then I come to this place of my ancestors and I remember, like these blossoms, we are all dying. There is life in every breath.”
To know the art of physical war is but a single tool, and one that changes with time, but more important is what we fight to gain, to preserve, and to protect. Those are skills we must employ each day of our lives, and if we do not remind ourselves of those things most important, then we are already defeated.
To find beauty and talent all around us, to soak in the gifts of nature that are fleeting each day, to appreciate the heart of those who are dear to us. All these things can quickly become difficult to juggle, and occasionally we drop the ball on a few things, but few statements sum up direction and priority better than Dr. John Keating, masterfully portrayed by Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society.”
“Medicine, law, business, these are all noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life, but poetry, beauty, romance, love…these are the things we stay alive for! The powerful play of life goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
Dr. Keating was indeed a warrior poet, yet he needed no blade or bow. He challenged life armed with books, spirit, knowledge, and pure heart. To impart his knowledge of life, of beauty, of passion, by teaching and setting the example by which others of his kind might follow. He was indeed the one warrior who lead the hundred men back home, maybe not in the sense of combat, but in the way he told his students the first day,
Rip! Rip! I want to hear nothing but ripping! This is a battle, gentlemen, a war, and the casualties could be your heart and souls.”
Today, the warrior poet can be hard to spot. They can be any gender, tall or short, any race or creed, but in every case they are driven by the things they love more than themselves. They smell the flowers along the way, express themselves in the ways that might enrich others lives, and quietly inspire others to reach to higher goals, even if they never reach those things themselves. They can be found in many walks of life, but in each case they take pride in what they do, however small, and in that way they will never be insignificant.
And maybe, just maybe, they have a ceremonial sword hanging on the wall at home.
-T. August Green