What is a Martial Artist; Warrior?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: martial arts
27 Nov 2009


I have been reading with interest when martial artists are equated with being a modern day warrior. Say you are walking through a dark alley on the way to your favorite watering hole. All of a sudden you hear a noise behind you and see a couple of menicaning thugs approaching fast from behind!


What would you do? Does the fact that you are a 2nd dan black belt mean that you have mentally prepared for this moment? What is a marital artist in the context of our society. Here is what used to be thought of as warriors from Versus TV.



Most people think of a warrior as a Viking, Samurai, Spartan or such in the ancient world. In the context of history, a warrior was a person that trained for war. He (mostly he but sometimes she too) would become an expert at a weapon and some hand to hand combat.

Often times warriors were part of a standing army for protection of some type of soventy but sometimes marauding groups were also considered warriors as they attacked and pillaged villages.

I would guess that ordinary folk often times had to double as a warrior at times if a standing army was not available to protect their village.

Modern warriors today are the standing armies of nations for the most part. Here in the US we do have some civilian warriors called the National Guard. These warriors traditionally have trained some weekends and for a couple of weeks a year. But due to America’s current war effort and no more draft, the National Guard has been called up to fight with the regular military.

In the US we have a strong standing military that includes the Marines, Army, Navy, and Air Force. My dad was in the Marines; I had one Uncle in the Navy and another Uncle in the Army. In this world modern warriors are still needed to protect nation’s interests. Here is a video of the United States Marines (real warriors).

So what is a martial artist in the context of a warrior? I think plenty of police and military use martial arts in their training for hand to hand combat. I would not think too many marital arts weapons are used in modern warfare other than a knife.

What about a citizen warrior other than the National Guard or police? In America it does not exist. There are plenty of schools that teach martial art’s hand to hand combat and a lot teach ancient weaponry (that would still work to a point today), but are the students considered warriors?

Before we tackle that question, lets examine who is taking martial arts. Back when I owned a school, I used to sign up kids, women and men. Some people wanted to learn how to fight. Some wanted purely self-defense with some ancillary fitness benefits. Still others liked the showy stuff in movies and wanted to learn the flashy kicks.

I did teach some police and military folks and I am sure they were better warriors for the extra training.

I would say that a martial artist in today’s context is normally not a warrior. Not that a martial artist cannot be a warrior but normally a student’s day job is not any type of warfare.

So if a black belt is not considered a warrior, what is he or she? That grasshopper should be the correct question.

A black belt today is one that has the presence of mind to prepare him or herself for a life of peace. While it is true that one may have to defend one’s self at times in life, the main goal for a martial artist should be to enrich his or her life!

Think about it for a moment. For those of you that were in the scouts as a child, I seem to remember something about always being prepared.

As a martial artist we hope for the best and train for the worst. That way martial artists can live a life of peace and protect ones family.

The martial artist in the story realized he made a mistake by taking the short cut and ran to the street light ahead. The bad guys gave chace and he pulled out his Western belt (with a heavy belt buckle) and split open the first attackers face! The other guy ran after our martial artist did a body fake. Our martial artists called for help while restraining the first bad guy in the prone position.

A true martial artist today does not start fights but often times may end up finishing them. While he/she is not a warrior per se, he/she can protect their loved ones if the occasion presents itself!

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11 Responses to “What is a Martial Artist; Warrior?”

  1. Neal Martin Says:

    Hi John. There seems to be some debate going on at present on this topic. In particular, Tgace has been taking exception to people who call themselves warriors when they have no fighting experience. Given his profession, I can see where he is coming from. Anyone in the armed or security forces is obvioulsy going to turn their nose up at anyone who dares to call themselves a warrior when the only experince they have ever get of fighting is a bit of light sparring down the dojo once a month. And in that case, they would be right in their disdain.

    But as I wrote in my blog a while ago, being a warrior does not nessecarily mean spilling the blood of another. Being a warrior can also be a mindset. Battling to overcome one’s fears and shortcomings can make one a warrior, as far as I’m concerned, but obvioulsy not in the traditional sense of the word. I think (as you said) peaceful warrior would be a better description of such people.

    I consider myself a warrior in my own mind because it helps me move along the particular path I am on. I don’t tell people this though. I don’t refer to myself as a warrior in conversation with others, that would just invite ridicule born out of misunderstanding. At the end of the day, I train almost every day, I fight hard, I do battle with myself constantly, that makes me a warrior of sorts. I think it is about integrity, more than anything, being true to the path you are on. Certain people will always take exception though.

    Good post,John. Your blog is one that I always come back to and enjoy reading. Keep up the good work.

  2. Zara Says:

    I agree with Neal on this one: being a warrior is more about having a certain mindset, ideals and putting in the work developping martial skills than it is about enlisting in the military or killing a man with your bare hands. In the classical sense there are almost no true warriors anymore since being a warrior meant a) actually having fought in a war and b) killing people face to face which is quite rare in modern warfare with all the longe-range weaponry used nowadays. Being a soldier is not the same as being a warrior: for one alot of soldiers never see actual combat (for every fighting man there are at least 2 people working in logistics keeping him fed and healthy and providing combat-units with fuel, ammo and other supplies) and those who do almost never engage in close-quarter battle where they have to engage the enemy with bladed or impactweapons. All the respect in the world for soldiers and cops but a soldier who is a mechanic working on planes or a suburban cop who’s primary function is delegating traffic and giving out fines is no more a warrior than me training my ass off in genuine warrior-arts (taking pain, fatigue and punishment in order to get better), perhaps even less so. Technically you’d have to at least have killed a man in warfare to call yourself a warrior, how many of us can actually claim they have? If you train hard, respect warrior-traditions and are not afraid and able to fight with skill for your ideals, safety and on behalf of the weak then you have every right to consider yourself a warrior although it wouldn’t exactly be wise to go public with it.

    I realise there’s plenty more to be said about this topic but that’s my two cents for now. With respect to the notion of the peaceful warrior (in the sense of the Shaolin-monks) which might seem like a contradiction in terms: there’s a famous Roman saying that is very applicable here; “Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum”. He that wants peace prepares for war…

  3. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Neil,

    Whatever a martial artist calls him/herself, the end result should be the same, a person trained to respond to attacks with force in kind.

    I pondered whether or not to write this post but what usually happens is I write about whatever strikes me most when I sit down at the keyboard. I was thinking about the Deadliest Warrior series as I was starting out how none of those old guys could hang with a warrior today.

    Much like the WW1 bi-planes could even know what a predator drown was before it shot him down. Modern warfare is something to be feared and hopefully I will never have to deal with that. If so my hand to hand combat should be ok but I’d have a steep learning curve in modern warfare.

    Soon the best robotic manufacturer will have the most feared armies… hopefully I won’t be around for that. :)

  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Zara,

    Unfortunately the US has plenty of warriors as we are fighting on two fronts right now although Iraq is scaling down.

    I don’t agree that just being trained as a modern warrior but not actually engaging means a person is not actually a warrior. I think it means the warrior is just untested.

    Semitics mostly frames the debate about what is a warrior, one I hoped not to enter by pointing out the differences between the two.

    I would call myself a martial artist. I think that says it all because in this day and age, to prepare for the worst and hope for the best is the mark of a wise person.

    I view warrior as a lifestyle such as my dad chose when he joined the Marines. In modern warfare one does not always know if he/she killed anyone.

    My dad was on patrol in Vietnam and engaged in a firefight at night. When it was over each side retreated to safety. By your definition how would one know if he had become a warrior?

    I like that saying: “Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum”. It goes to show you that things have not changed much but luckily in many countries, one can leave the war training to the standing military and just deal with self-defense.

  5. Neal Martin Says:

    I thinks it probably just best to refer to oneself as a martial artist. Though I hate labels, being a martial artist in the truest sense means you have warrior attributes and more besides.

  6. TheMartialArtsReporter Says:

    John, could you extend my gratitude to your Dad for his service. Semper Fi!
    In my humble opinion, U.S. Marines fit the definition of warriors. Ever since 1775 (?)

  7. Matt Says:

    I actually asked Major Forrest Morgan, author of Living the Martial Way, about this subject – http://www.ikigaiway.com/2009/interview-forrest-morgan-author-living-the-martial-way-part-2/

    Check it out. His opinion definitely carries more weight than my own.
    .-= Matt´s last blog ..Steven Seagal is……Lawman =-.

  8. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Matt, I remember reading that interview. I like how well though out and how he articulated that position.

    I’ll have to disagree with him as I am the type of person that does not like “feel good” words like “warrior” or “hero” if it is not actually the case.

    But again it is probably more of a matter or perspective.

    To some people any military deployed to war is a hero. To me a hero is a Medal of Honor recipient that goes above the call of duty, risking life or limb to save another (not generically our country).

    Thanks for your insight as always Matt. Understanding various positions helps me to re-evaluate my positions – update or validate them.

  9. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Tiger,

    Thanks, yes the few, the proud, the Marines as well as the other branches of our armed forces have kept our country safe and allow us to live a good lifestyle in the face of adversity.

  10. Matt Klein Says:

    Hi John, appreciate your including mine under your Interesting Blogs section. My current post about Jessica Watson, the Aussie girl, embodies what it takes to have the “warrior” mindset. It’s at: http://karate-kids.com.au/blog/. In the days of the Samurai, a warrior was expected to do battle, write moving poetry, create beautiful calligraphy, and do a proper tea service–all in one day. Now that’s what I call a warrior!
    .-= Matt Klein´s last blog ..Karate Kids and the Jessica Watson Story =-.

  11. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Interesting Matt!

    I read your post and noted some new about what was really around the world? That seemed kind of funny… who cares if she traveled the same miles at the equator or not.

    Sure takes a can-do mindset.