106) The Warrior Spirit: July 2013

The warrior spirit is a term that is talked about in our art in a manner akin to a holograph.  There appears to be substance and upon closer inspection, it lacks any tangible reality.  The warrior spirit is an unmistakeable quality that sometimes emerges in people of character who have had to grow in a particular manner in the face of adversity.

This month’s blog is dedicated to Alexander Charles Berman (5/5/1978- 6/6/2013).  This man’s life exemplified a warrior spirit.  This spirit was honed through the crucibles of adversity and polished by the achievements and accomplishments in the face of adversity.  The celebration of Alex’s life was like listening to a dissertation on the warrior spirit.  Those characteristics that I talk about in this blog were clearly seen in how Alex lived his life.  It has been a profound honor and pleasure to share some of his life moments with him.  Those experiences have been woven into the fabric of my life.  For that, I will be forever thankful.

“A warrior acknowledges his pain but he doesn’t indulge in it.
The mood of the warrior who enters into the unknown is not one of
sadness; on the contrary, he’s joyful because he feels humbled by
his great fortune, confident that his spirit is impeccable, and
above all, fully aware of his efficiency. A warrior’s joyfulness
comes from having accepted his fate, and from having truthfully
assessed what lies ahead of him.”
― Don Juan Matus

“The worst that could happen to us is that we have to die, and
since that is already our unalterable fate, we are free; those who
have lost everything no longer have anything to fear.”
― Don Juan Matus

I took over teaching responsibilities at Connecticut Shin-Budo Kai in 1990.  Alex Berman was one of several teenagers (actually just 12 at that time) in the teen class that I taught. Alex attended class regularly for a couple of years and then, like most teens, became too busy to attend regular classes.   Over the ensuing years, Alex never failed to drop in from time-to-time.  Soon after I started teaching, his father, Jake Berman, an ex-Israeli paratrooper (took part in the Six Day War) was back in town from one of his jobs and came to class to assess who this new teacher was.  It was obvious to me that he was someone with military experience and was here to make sure that I was doing the “right thing.”  Jake and I became friends from the instant we met.  Our families became like extended families over the ensuing years.

When Alex was around 19 years of age, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Friends and family rallied and did what was necessary to see to it that he got the best care possible.  Alex, went on with his life, not willing to cede an inch to the disease.  He graduated college, went on the achieve a master’s degree in education, was a great jazz musician, educator, husband, father and NYC bohemian.  He married another remarkable soul (Brannan Berman) and they had two twin boys (now three years old). He even honored me by bringing his wife to a Saturday class at my dojo in Bedford Hills, New York.  After three stem cell transplants, Alex defeated the cancer.  He could not overcome the consequences of Graft-Versus-Host Disease.  After a very difficult six months of struggles, he made the decision let go and move on, after he was sure that all of his family and friends would be alright.  My wife and I got the call on June 6, 2013 that Alex would likely not make it through the night.  I had one of my senior students take over class, and my wife and I left for the hospital.  We were fortunate to get there before he slipped into unconsciousness.  I asked him what he was doing laying around and that he needed to be on the mats.  We had our last laugh……  Hours later, he was surrounded by friends and family as he took his last breaths and his soul departed his body. There are few experiences during the course of one’s life that can come close to the depth of what we were so honored to take part in… His funeral was a testament to, and a celebration of the life of a warrior spirit, expressed through the words of family and friends.  His fellow musicians played several of the songs that Alex wrote and composed.  His spirit was so profoundly experienced in listening to those songs….

A Warrior Spirit is expressed passionately:

“A warrior does not give up what he loves, he finds the love in what he does”
― Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives

A person with a warrior spirit lives live with a passion.  This person has developed a fine appreciation for the potential gift of the moment. This appreciation is based upon the real awareness of life and death.  The facing of mortality is for many, a critical moment in which the illusion of the “”complacency in a long life” is shattered.  This awareness does nothing to ward off the recognition that we are all meant to die.  In many respects, the love of the moment is a celebration of our temporal nature.  The warrior spirit develops as a direct result of the importance of living and loving in the moment, because the awareness of the fragile gift of time is omnipresent.  This person has a voracious appetite to learn from and experience life.  These people are typically described as “Renaissance” men and women.  Sharing time with such a person is always an intimately intense journey. They leave an indelible mark on all they meet.

The Warrior Spirit Moves Beyond Political Correctness:
“If you are a warrior, decency means that you are not cheating anybody at all. You are not even about to cheat anybody. There is a sense of straightforwardness and simplicity. With setting-sun vision, or vision based on cowardice, straightforwardness is always a problem. If people have some story or news to tell somebody else, first of all they are either excited or disappointed. Then they begin to figure out how to tell their news. They develop a plan, which leads them completely away from simply telling it. By the time a person hears the news, it is not news at all, but opinion. It becomes a message of some kind, rather than fresh, straightforward news. Decency is the absence of strategy. It is of utmost importance to realize that the warrior’s approach should be simple-minded sometimes, very simple and straightforward. That makes it very beautiful: you having nothing up your sleeve; therefore a sense of genuineness comes through. That is decency.”
― Chögyam Trungpa

The warrior spirit is reflected in the statement “do not ask me a question if you are not really open to hearing my answer.”  We have become such a “PC (politically correct) society, that genuine honesty is many times frowned upon.  People are asked to think more about how others may react to their words rather than the honesty of the words themselves.  We have become so detached from physical violence in our lives, that words have erroneously taken on the “impact” of physical violence.  Have we so forgotten the childhood poem “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me”? Words can be caring, honest, compassionate, loving, empathic, crude, harsh, cruel, uncaring expressions that need to be listened to and dealt with based upon the recognition that they represent another person’s experiences, beliefs, opinions, desires, proposed actions, etc. 

The person with the warrior spirit does not mistake words for actions, and does not let the passion of the words lead to errant actions and emotional outbursts.  The person with the warrior spirit recognizes that he/she maintains the absolute power over how much credence one should place upon the words spoken by others.  In recognizing that, the more important task is to speak one’s mind with honesty and sincerity.  That honesty and sincerity is carried out in how that person lives his/her life.

The Warrior Spirit is Fierce:
“The main courtyard was filled with warriors – mermen with fish tails from the waist down and human bodies from the waist up, except their skin was blue, which I’d never known before.Some were tending the wounded. Some were sharpening spears and swords. One passed us, swimming in a hurry. His eyes were bright green, like that stuff they put in glo-sticks, and his teeth were shark teeth. They don’t show you stuff like that in “The Little Mermaid.”
― Rick Riordan, The Last Olympian

“Anger has its place, but it will not serve you here, the way of the warrior is the way of knowing. Of that knowledge requires you to use anger, then you use anger, but you cannot wrest forth knowledge by losing your temper.”
― Christopher Paolini, Inheritance

Do not engage a person with a warrior spirit unless you are willing to put it all on the line.  The person with the warrior spirit has no problem confronting conditions in a fierce, indomitable manner.  It is amusing to see how people cower from this presence when they have to face it.  The most awesome sight is when two people with this indomitable spirit engage in a spirited debate!  At the end of the fierce attacks, the two people typically celebrate the ability to put it all on the line and still agree to disagree.  For the person with the warrior spirit, it is all about fighting the fight, in the face of the awareness that at one point in time, we all lose the ultimate war we call “life”. This person does not errantly and indiscriminately engage in reckless battles, but has the presence of mind to select carefully when putting it all on the line. Each battle won or lost is learned from for future encounters. It is immaterial to the warrior spirit that the ultimate war of life will be lost, only how one comports oneself while in battle and afterwards.

Your training in martial arts or any other arena will not guarantee that you will develop a warrior spirit.  Many people who face serious adversities do not develop the warrior spirit.  The real mettle and character of a person becomes revealed during times of adversity.  During these periods, the person can forge the warrior spirit out of the these crucible experiences.  The manner that this person then lives one’s life hones the spirit.  Our Aikido practice can allow us to explore this potential within us.  It can allow us to hone what we have developed.  It can allow us to better utilize the next adversity that we face so that we can better forge the warrior spirit within.  Then again, none of this can happen under the same circumstance.  Certainly, the choice is ours as to how we face and live life.

Marc Abrams Sensei

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