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On November 7, The Warrior-Scholar Ideal Revisited: New Essays on Old Vision, was released by Stairway Press.
I am one of its two authors. The other is retired USMC Lieutenant-Colonel Al Ridenhour, a veteran of multiple tours of duty and dozens of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ridenhour is also a lifelong martial artist and the founder of Warrior Flow Combatives, a system of self-defense in which I am a Senior-Instructor.
As its subtitle clarifies, the point of the book is to acquaint readers with the vision of the Warrior-Scholar, a trans-historical, cross-cultural ideal of manhood that has largely been lost to the contemporary West. This Warrior-Scholar is distinguished on account of his perfection of both the intellectual and soldierly virtues: He is as well-read, as sober and curious a thinker, as he is a peerless combatant.
One will not find wanting thinkers of one sort or another who have advocated on behalf of this ideal over the centuries. Thucydides, a general in the very Peloponnesian wars whose history he was the first to compose, has been credited with allegedly having said that “a society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”
It is, however, to 17th century Japan that we must turn to find the paradigmatic champion of the Warrior-Scholar ideal, to the renowned samurai, Miyamoto Musashi.
Musashi, the victor of over 60 duels and a tireless soldier on the battlefield to boot, opened his own martial art school at the age of 30 and began to write his reflections on the “martial science.” Among his insights is that “the warrior’s is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both.”
In other words, the true martial artist, the Warrior, should be as well versed in the arts of culture as he is in the art of war: “Polish your wisdom; learn public justice, distinguish between good and evil, study the ways of different arts one by one.” Musashi himself practiced calligraphy, sculpting, and painting.
In another place, he was even more to the point: “Become acquainted with every art.”
The present condition of discourse, such as it is, over sex and gender roles, is undeniably complex. What few have considered, however, is that while the term “toxic masculinity” is indeed a rhetorical weapon wielded by ideologues to advance their political interests, it is a mistake to think, as many do think, that it is only a political talking point. “Toxic masculinity,” while inescapably, and by design, imprecise as a label, nevertheless connotes a real phenomenon.
Long before something called “feminism” emerged onto the scene, the Warrior-Scholar ideal, as an ideal of manhood, disintegrated.
Consequently, in the popular cultural imagination, males were expected to either become “tough guys” or “wonks.”
Severed from its scholarly counterpart, the Warrior ideal gives way to the Tough Guy. Conversely, the Scholarly ideal is replaced by the Wonk.
The Tough Guy lacks the virtues of the head. And because he has no share in the intellectual virtues, he lacks as well the excellences of the heart, the character, the will, to stay the course in times of crisis. The Tough Guy’s is a penchant for recklessness, which Aristotle identified as a vice that can often be confused with courage. Yet recklessness is a character deficiency precisely because the reckless person, lacking discernment, is a fool; he knows not what to fear, when to fear it, and to what extent he should fear it.
The Wonk’s physical ineptitude limits his intellectual horizons, for flaccidity of the flesh translates into flaccidity of the mind. Devoid as he is of the Warrior’s spirit, the Wonk lacks the courage to be the “gadfly” to the Powers-That-Be that Socrates prided himself on being. Instead, he takes the course of least resistance and becomes a lapdog, an apologist for prevailing orthodoxies.
It is in vain that one searches for any originality, creativity, or daring in the Wonk.
The Warrior-Scholar Ideal Revisited is our attempt to initiate the process of restoring this lost ideal of manhood, of belying the mind-body dualism that had to take flight when the excellences of the Warrior were disjoined from those of the Scholar.
Interestingly, though, the Warrior-Scholar ideal, while remaining an ideal of manhood, is not only such an ideal, as it can be embodied by women no less than men. Nor, as some may be inclined to think, is this a concession on our part to current political dogmas: Plato himself contended for the inclusion of women among the guardian class of his ideal Republic.
To be sure, given the demonstrable, and demonstrably substantial, differences in physical strength and ability between them and their male counterparts, few females are going to defeat males in a “fight” (whether in a ring or on the streets). That being said, since being a warrior is not a matter of being a tough guy, and since being a warrior is a matter of possessing the skill and the will to achieve victory in mortal combat, a properly trained woman, like a properly trained man, can indeed neutralize, by whatever the means, the physical advantages of male attackers.
In other words, critically injuring, maiming, and killing a human predator—to a properly trained individual—is actually a less formidable task than that of beating an opponent.
Those public figures known for being “conservative” or “libertarian” repeatedly lament government paternalism and what they deem as attacks on masculinity and personal agency. While they tend to advocate on behalf of the Second Amendment, the military, and the police, seldom, if ever, can they be counted upon to call upon citizens to assume responsibility for their own protection by taking up training in a martial art. Indeed, it’s difficult to avoid the inference that they are as beholden to the very “Statism” that they decry as are their political opponents.
In calling for a resurrection of the Warrior-Scholar ideal, we most definitely are not calling upon citizens to join the military or law enforcement. Rather, it is our hope that individuals, today, will begin to make themselves into warriors in their everyday lives through training in a martial art (preferably the art in which we ourselves train). We return once more to Musashi, who declared that the “true science of martial arts means practicing them in such a way that they will be useful at any time, and to teach them in such a way that they will be useful in all things.” And we are most definitely not calling on citizens to enroll in college in order to become scholars.
Psychologically, intellectually, and physically, in mind, body, and soul, we’re inviting people to transform themselves—for themselves.
The Warrior-Scholar Ideal Revisited: New Essays on an Old Vision promises to supply the framework within which those who are interested in accepting the invitation can begin to reframe their own self-conceptions, and can begin seeing their own lives in terms of the odyssey of self-discovery and self-creation upon which they will embark.