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Anatomy of a Warrior Spirit

by John Loupos, M.S., H.S.E., December 24, 2018

Martial artists are, by definition, warriors. True warriors have warrior spirit.

In martial arts, as in life, there are some people who are successful, and some people who are not. The most successful people are imbued with a warrior spirit, known in the Chinese tradition as Yi. Warrior spirit has nothing to do with fighting or aggression, even though skilled fighters often have a well-developed warrior spirit. On the contrary, warrior spirit is about having the wherewithal to resolve conflict or avoid it altogether, and most of all to muster the internal fortitude requisite to the process of mastering yourself.

Conflict from Within

Conflict is usually thought of as occurring between two or more persons or parties. While the multi-party aspect is also true, the greatest conflicts of personal significance tend to come from within. These are “inner conflicts.” Inner conflicts often reside beneath the level of conscious awareness. In fact, many conflicts between people are actually due to one or both party’s respective unresolved inner conflicts. Because of the unconscious nature of inner conflicts, those who harbor them may be poorly equipped, first to recognize their conflicts for what they are, and consequently to affect meaningful intrapersonal resolution on their own. People with inner conflicts may be prone, instead, to misdirect, i.e. project, their feelings outward onto others (see * for elaboration). As you might expect, unresolved inner conflicts are not conducive to a fully evolved warrior spirit and are unlikely to contribute to a positive outcome.

Let’s look at some of the features, or ingredients, that comprise warrior spirit, starting with clarity and resolve. When you yourself live with clarity and resolve you are much less likely to experience inner conflicts, or to be drawn as a victim into the conflicts of others. Clarity – meaning your ability to see things clearly for what they really are, and resolve – meaning your ability to hold fast to a given truth, are two very important aspects of warrior spirit. Still, there’s more. To truly attain a warrior spirit requires other attendant features as well.

Also important is attention, of which there are two kinds apropos of this topic. Spotlight attention, common amongst adults, and what we usually think of as attention, was first identified by William James who is widely regarded as the father of modern psychology. Spotlight attention refers to your ability to filter out the superfluous and keep yourself clearly focused on a task or an issue without getting distracted.

A second kind of attention, more recently identified by Alison Gopnik is lantern attention. (Gopnik is a developmental psychologist at UC Berkeley and author of The Philosophical Baby). Lantern attention refers to the ability to absorb information in a more diffuse, childlike manner. Most people outgrow their capacity for lantern attention as they mature into adulthood, but I believe mindful practices like tai chi can create an internal milieu that is conducive to more diffuse attentional abilities. Both spotlight attention and lantern attention can help us to take in information and knowledge that facilitates warrior spirit.

Intention and Expectation

In addition to attention you need to have intention. Attention first, then intention. If you don’t have focused (spotlight) attention first you won’t be able to maintain your intention. Attention leads to and supports intention, which is perhaps the most important ingredient of all. Let’s think about this word, intention. I’ve given a good bit of thought to what intention means. I was surprised in my reflections to discover that, though intention is an easy word to use in conversation, it is quite a challenging word to define. What does it mean to have intention?

In its simplest guise intention is what you plan to do, though it is a bit more complex than just that. I believe intention is closely associated with expectation and belief. When you have an intention you must also have an expectation that something can and will transpire. You can’t have an intention without also having some expectation of a hoped for outcome. If you have an expectation about something, then you must then also have a belief in a given possibility to accompany that expectation. Importantly, intention is also a precursor to action. Your intention is what makes things happen.

While tai chi can create an internal milieu conducive to warrior spirit and then serve to reinforce such a spirit once acquired, every individual has to do his or her own work to take full advantage of that milieu. It is a fusion of these several qualities – clarity, resolve, attention, intention, expectation and belief – in combination that makes for warrior spirit. Together these make for a powerful Yi. This is warrior spirit.

If you can attain a warrior spirit, you also can be successful. What does it mean to be successful? I don’t measure success in money, or power, or material possessions, or influence over others (again, see *). I define “successful” as accomplishing what you have set out to do in life, while comporting yourself in such a manner as to be regarded by others as having made a considerable contribution to the general welfare. To me success means you have lived a good life, that you have lived with integrity, that you have been true to yourself, and that you have made the world a better place for your time in it. This is the role of a true warrior.

* To clarify my earlier comments about what is not success I will invoke a familiar public figure, Donald Trump, to illustrate my point. By most people’s standards Trump would be considered as highly successful. He has more money than most people can imagine. He has all the trappings not only wealth, but of extravagance. And against all odds, he is President of the United States. According to prevailing cultural standards Trump has reached the pinnacle of success.

However, by my way of thinking Donald Trump has not been successful. Far from it, he has as a tendency to “react” to the world around him. He seems at his happiest and most alive when he is in conflict with or attempting to control other people. And in direct contrast to the wise counsel offered by the Taoist sages of old that emperors and rulers guide their constituents with humility and compassion, Trump seems quite out of touch with the general welfare and wholly devoid of warrior spirit as I have described it here. Donald Trump is often at war, yet by my way of thinking he is the opposite of successful and the antithesis of a true warrior.

This is an original article authored by John Loupos, M.S., H.S.E.



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