I gave a speech on “Becoming a Warrior-Poet” somewhere in Michigan on August 22, 2023, so thought I’d share it in written form here. Find Part 1 here. Enjoy!
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Today, at Thermopylae, there’s a stone with a simple inscription: “Go tell the Spartans, strangers passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie.”
Although Sparta is no more, although much of their culture was pagan, although those brave 300 have long been dead, that law they were obedient to—the Warrior ethos—is still the code of conduct a warrior-poet lives by.
It takes precious little effort on anyone’s part these days to stand an inch above those around them. In today’s culture, we can choose to bubble wrap ourselves from every discomfort, until we’re pathetically weak, until we can’t fight even if we had to.
But fight we must, for we all fight wars—with ourselves, with others, with our environment, with ideas.
So let’s stop sabotaging ourselves by our appetites for convenience, comfort, and conventionality. Let’s push and punish ourselves physically and mentally, beyond what’s comfortable, to gain the strength and tenacity to be useful, to be producers instead of just consumers, and to carry the burdens of others.
Now, I’m not telling you to throw yourself into a crowd of 130 people you’ve never met for four days, with a flip phone that doesn’t have cell service and only 11 contacts as your only link to your pervious world. I’m not commanding you to get rid of your mattress (like I did as a April Fool’s joke on myself ealier this year—best decision I made spring of 2023), hike down a mountain barefoot (until family members beg you to put your shoes back on), or eat a diet of snails and dandelions. These aren’t bad ideas tho, speaking from experience. While you don’t have to do the exact same things to build resilience as a warrior-poet, I do submit to you that being a warrior poet isn’t just for Spartans, or guys like John Lovell and Braveheart. It’s an ethos, a way of living and being, an ideal that we must all strive for.
The warrior-poet is more than just a warrior, or just a poet—he is a hundred percent of both. To be deficient in one is to be deficient in both; to be all one without the others is to lose all worth having. Brutes and wimps cannot retain and defend their loved ones, their homes, or their beliefs.
A warrior gets you through a war; a poet lives through life in peace. It’s the essence of what the commonwealth of Venice have insribed in their armory: “Happy is that city which in time of peace thinks of war.” Let that sink in for a moment. It’s why you American have the Second Admendment after the first. It’s why Wing Chun martial artists greet their opponents in friendly matches like this, the palm representing love, beauty, the arts covering the fist, which symbolizes conflict, war, violence. But if I walk up to you and greet you like this—palm open, exposing the fist—you’d better watch out. I’m not just paying my respects, alright.
Because, while the warrior learns to not offend without reason, the poet learns not to cede the battleground. A poet seeks truth and pursues it; the warrior lives out that truth and defends it with action, with his life. As Luther once said, “Peace if possible; but truth at all costs”, being ready to engage in war without desiring it. Dangerous, yet peaceful. Ever noticed how the most dangerous men, the ones who could tear you apart limb by limb, are the kindest, humblest, most unassuming guys (who aren’t necessarily the buffest or fittest)?
The warrior recognizes that the line between good and evil bisects his own heart, and knows the first war he must fight is within—against greed, envy, laziness, selfishness, falsehood, the desire to do harm to his neighbor. Because of this, he shows respect to his enemies, granting them full humanity, and honor to fight as men, knowing that today’s enemies may be tomorrow’s friend.
The warrior poet strives to live a life of integrity, maturity and honor, bringing order and peace from chaos and confusion. He recognizes that humility that begins with “not me, but God” is at the center of morality. He lives not by lies, but spends his life’s breath and blood in the pursuit and defense of truth, peace, and goodness. He lives, fearlessly and fearfully alive, in the face of death.
That is also why a warrior willingly accepts and even embraces hardship, realizing that a life of adversity is a life of freedom. Uncertainty, pain, and the unexperienced are the doors to a less fearful and painful world—if he chooses to walk through them. He is not one to wake up one day to realize he’d traded future liberty for current ease.
The warrior is not some stoic soldier with a heart of stone, however. Warrior poets feel deeply—perhaps more deeply than those around them, for they are aware of what is required of them, aware of their own inadequacies, and must act with the full knowledge that they can never control the future, and yet are responsible for the consequences of their choices. They know themselves to be no more and no less than human.Warrior-poets ache deep inside sometimes, and weep. He who never cries must love
very little—how sad, how weak! They kneel and weep at the grave of a comrade; at other times they yell to the heavens, as Cyrano de Beregac did saying, “I feel too strong to war with mortals—bring me giants!”
The warrior-poet wounds, and he heals. Ancient Chinese Kung Fu masters not only knew how to tear their opponent’s bodies apart, but how to put him back together again—short of ressurecting them. They inflict only the wounds they have either suffered themselves, or are able to heal. The knowledge of both was just the beginning tho; the wisdom of when to apply which is an even more vital part of the warrior-poet’s psyche. Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time for war, and a time for peace, a time to kill
and a time to heal. his tension between opposites and priorities, the dance between the masculine and the feminine, are central to why the warrior must be balanced by the poet.
And the warrior-poet trains. He recognizes that a strong spirit feeds a strong mind, which in turn requires and develops a strong body, and vice versa. The warrior poet doesn’t sacrifice strength in one area at the cost of another, but keeps himself fit in mind, soul, and body. He trains with the tools of his trade—whether that be a literal sword or the pen—until they become an extension of himself. Even when abilities are lost due to injuries, even when the mind is tired, even when the spirit suffers under
life’s unexpected blows, the warrior strives to be of service to those around him, and puts himself through hardship so that he may remain useful.