I am a big fan of Sun Tzu, Lao Tzu, Miyamoto Musashi and other eastern warrior philosophers. They are a mainstay of martial arts philosophy. Reading these authors’ works will give you a solid understanding of the warrior mindset, which can help you in your martial arts development but more importantly how to handle yourself with honor in life. We may not need to defend ourselves with a katana, but we are “under attack” figuratively if not literally. Having an understanding of how to handle oneself, will make it easier to overcome life’s obstacles. In addition to eastern philosophers, I have found that western warrior philosophers can also help you develop your warrior’s mentality. There are both modern and ancient philosophers that are worth reading. We will be focusing on the ancient philosophers today.
I have a master’s degree in public choice economics which focuses on the interactions between people in groups. While studying the economics of war and the impact of strategic choices, I started researching the philosophy of warriors. This has enriched my martial arts experience and has given me a deeper appreciation of the training. In addition to the eastern philosophy, I delved into Greek and Roman philosophy. There are other philosophies out there as well, but I have not studied them enough to speak about them.
The Spartans are the first group that come to mind when discussing the warrior ethic in Greek history. Don’t stop with them. There are other philosophers both popular and less known that offer thoughts on how to live a life in line with that of the martial artist. These philosophers/leaders/poets include: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Heraclitus, Alexander the Great, and the Stoics. These people’s works give guidance on discipline, training, honor, and excellence. The Greeks developed democracy and many of the values we recognize from modern leadership texts.
The Roman philosophical thinkers include: Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Virgil, and Cicero. Martial Arts relevant themes you can find in Roman philosophy include: freedom, leadership, taking action, good judgement, and the value of learning. From emperors to poets there are many perspectives in Roman literature. You can see the world from the leader, the warrior and the thinker. You will also find connections between the Greeks and Romans. An example of this is the Stoics.
In a review of history, you will find conquest and violent actions. Do not let any distaste you may have for these actions dissuade you from reviewing the philosophy. You can benefit from the lessons learned in antiquity. Many of today’s philosophical writing can be sourced back to the Greeks and Romans. Whether you prefer the modern versions, which you will find to be less sexist and in some cases more tolerant; or the original with an open mind to the social differences from ancient times, reading warrior philosophy will help you with your training. Martial Arts is about mind and body. If you leave the mind out of your training, you might as well jump around hitting things. Even in the dojo the mind is integral in our training. The mind is where your discipline, respect, and attitude reside. Your drills train your mind as much as your body. If you are in a system that uses kata, your kata integrate mind and body. Just as you may use bunkai to expand your understanding of kata, you can use philosophy (eastern and western) to expand your mind and understand your art more deeply (even if you are just reading quotes). Train, study, and learn to live a full, well-rounded martial arts life.