When you type in the query “What is a Warrior” to Google, you get over 25,000,000 results. Yes, that’s twenty-five million.
And yet it is still such a disputed topic.
Many argue about what a warrior is and is not.
Some argue that only a man that has fought in a war and returned is a warrior. Others say a brave child who has fought off cancer is a warrior.
There are many other classifications and strong opinions on what may be allowed to be defined as a warrior and what must not be.
Others profusely despise the term in its entirety. The term has lost all meaning in the 21st century pop culture where young men learn their morales from day time soap operas and shiny movies whilst drinking soft drink and eating fairy floss.
Such people believe the term has been both over romanticized and distilled down into a feel good term that can be attached to anyone who shows basic goodness.
Let's get to the bottom of this...
So What is a Warrior?
Let’s begin by looking at the Dictionary term. And herein lies the first difference...
1. a person engaged or experienced in warfare; soldier.
2. a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness, as in politics or athletics.
Quite a difference.
The first definition is the more traditional meaning of word warrior. The second is more modern. The second definition is quite broad. Almost any professional football player or ice hockey player in the world is therefore a warrior. Then again, anyone who has ever started a fight out the front of a pub could be called a warrior. Especially if they made a big song and dance of it with lots of yelling, chest puffing, veins popping and scene making.
But is that really accurate? Does it even matter? We will get onto that later...
The term warrior was believed to have first been used in the 13th or 14th Century in England or France for “one who wages war”.
That fits in more neatly with the first definition. It is the more traditional. But is that being elitist? Is it fair to ignore everyone who has never been to war?
Steven Pressfield (author of one of my favourite books, Gates of Fire - Amazon link), eloquently talks about the warrior ethos. He is more broad in his acceptance of what a warrior is. Pressfield explains his opinion:
“It’s you and me, as we fight the daily battle against our inner demons of self-sabotage, self-betrayal, self-doubt and so forth—not to mention the real, external foes we must contend with in our art, our businesses, and our personal lives...”
Pressfield does raise numerous interesting questions that delve deeply into the topic. He asks questions such as:
“What ethic does he fight for? Is a code of honour necessary? If so, where are its tenets?How does it arise? Is it something we have to be indoctrinated with by mentors and elders? Or does it arise spontaneously, summoned by the exigencies of the struggle and the imperatives of the human heart?”
Interesting questions. Go and have a look at Pressfield’s writings at the link provided above. They certainly add to the discussion.
In the first example I showcased above of Pressfield’s article on warrior ethos, he includes many aspects of what I feel are simply areas we all struggle with in life in general.
There are some key things missing from Pressfield’s writings as to what a person who goes to ‘war’ experiences. The very real and immediate risk you may be killed. Not just shot but turned into pink mist or have body parts shred away from your body. The very real and immediate risk of your best friend next to you being killed by another human violently is also present.
Life is not easy. Life is hard. We all go through hardships. That much is true. But that does not mean we are all warriors.
We are however, all human.
Those areas Pressfield mentions makes it sound to me that he is describing what humans deal with in this thing called life. Day time television hides the aspects of life that we all struggle with. It hides those dirty and unpleasant areas away. It ignores them. But real struggles remain. That is life.
So I think Pressfield’s thoughts on the warrior ethos are interesting, though misplaced. I feel Pressfield is too generous with the term warrior and that takes away from the meaning of the word. I will explain why I feel that way as this article progresses.
Here is another example of someone who believes that a warrior can be anyone. Here is a sample of their opinions of what a warrior is:
“Military organizations are made up of real warriors. Police and fire organizations are full of them. Many of todays martial artists would qualify for "warrior status".Even though it may seem that I am only equating fighting/military/police with a warrior I am not. Anyone regardless of profession can be one. It is a mindset.”
I disagree completely and I will highlight one key difference for now, more will become clear later in the article.
The mindset of a warrior involves being prepared to actively and consciously kill another human being. To kill efficiently, and as part of a team. Not just for self defence. They need to also be prepared for people who may quite likely choose to actively and consciously kill them.
This is not something anyone regardless of profession needs to deal with. This is an intense, confronting yet necessary aspect of being a warrior. The day may never come, but a warrior must always be prepared for it.
There are many tough and challenging aspects of life that most people deal with that warriors also need to deal with as well. But not everyone needs to deal with the very necessary aspect of being able to kill or be killed. That is unique to the warrior.
A human may stumble across violence from time to time, but a warrior is expected to live in it from time to time.
From a Police Officer’s Perspective
tgace offers his own definition of what a warrior is. tgace is an experienced police officer so his thoughts are from that perspective. Here is tgace’s definition of what a warrior is, summarised:
“I believe a true “Warrior” is someone who fights our enemies and puts his/her ass on the line for something bigger than himself ... Sporting events and dancing around in a dojo, or strutting around a gunrange in your 5.11′s and thigh holster doesn’t count. Many people want all the glory with none of the sacrifice and risk … as in risking your very life ... Just because someone wants to be a Warrior doesn’t make them one IMO ... a person leaping into the fantasy of “being” a warrior who just happens to really be a guy who works at the Best Buy help desk and goes to class 2X a week is a bit lame IMO.”
Fairly hard core and straight down the line. I think one of the keys here in tgaces definition is fighting for “something bigger than himself”. This type of differentiation comes up again and again when talking about a warrior.
It hits on a key point.
Samurai - Warriors
This is perhaps a good time to talk about Samurai. In some circles Warriors and Samurai are spoken of in similar ways. After all, a Samurai is widely accepted as being a warrior. One area that crosses over is one of the ‘higher purpose’. I need to note right here that I am no expert on Samurai. I will attempt to only touch on basics. If I am wrong about any of this, please correct me in the comments below.
Samurai were Warriors who 'Served'
From the earliest times, Samurai felt that their path was the path of the warrior. That path was one of honour, emphasizing duty to ones master, and loyalty until death. We can see that tgace is talking about the same thing here. The actual term, Samurai, roughly translates to “those who serve”. In the Samurai days, this was talking about serving in military forces, under daimyos and emperors. The ultimate purpose of a Samurai was to fight and die for a master. Not just a person calling himself a master who ran a class (like we see today), but heads of armies. This is the ‘higher purpose’ of a Samurai and Warrior.
Knights - Warriors
The purpose of a Knight was also to ‘serve’. A knight was:
“a mounted soldier serving under a feudal superior in the middle ages.”
or (depending on time), was also
“usually of noble birth, who after an apprenticeship as page and squire was raised to honorable military rank and bound to chivalrous conduct.”
There are common themes coming through.
Serving for a higher purpose in a combative element.
Knights were Warriors who 'Served'
Today, “something bigger than the self” could be seen as serving the community through policing or defending a country through military service. This is todays ‘higher purpose’, much like what the Samurai and Knights sought to do.
And this is one key factor that comes up frequently when discussing what a warrior is and is not.
Does this mean that all police officers and military members are warriors? Definitely not.
Police and Military members are motivated by a number of different things and ability varies:
- Some are just incompetent.
- Some are corrupt.
- Some are motivated by the money or the job security.
- Many do not actually do the ‘fighting’.
Anyone who does not actually go out and do the job, on the ground, is automatically not a warrior.
Whilst not all police and military members etc. are warriors, it is still only those few from such groups that can be labelled a warrior, so far from what we have covered. It is only those who serve, who serve for the purpose of serving, and serve well, that are warriors.
What about Mercenaries?
A Mercenary is:
“a person who takes part in an armed conflict based on the promise of material compensation rather than having a direct interest in, or a legal obligation to, the conflict itself. A non-conscript professional member of a regular army is not considered to be a mercenary although he gets monetary reward from his service.”
The Geneva Conventions defines a Mercenary as being:
“motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party”
This is where I feel things get blurry and much emotion can cloud a person’s thinking process. I have some questions.
Person A is in the armed forces of Country A. Person A does not agree with a military campaign that Country A is embarking on. But Person A goes to the campaign anyway because military laws say they must. Are they motivated to serve? No.
Person B is part of a Private Military Company (PMC). Person B believes in his heart that the campaign Country A is embarking on is the right thing to do. Person B is sent to the same campaign as Person A and works there. Are they motivated to serve??? Yes.
Is either Person A or B a warrior? Person A is ‘serving’ but they do not want to. Person B is not ‘serving’ technically but they believe in what they are doing. So is this not really serving? Surely.
So is not person B the real warrior here? Person A may be a soldier but we have seen that not all soldiers are warriors. In many places soldiers are conscripted into service. Are these people warriors? It would depend. There can be no way of generalizing here. Some do it only because they must. Others would greatly enjoy what they do and will stay on for life. Some would be warriors and others would simply be conscripts.
Mercenaries or Warriors?
What about people who join the military for the money???
They are soldiers, they are not mercenaries but are they warriors? Are they actually mercenaries in uniform? They are motivated by money after all. Isn’t this the clear difference in all definitions of mercenaries? Mercenaries are motivated by money. It is almost a loophole that military members cannot be called mercenaries.
This is where I feel that motivations for ‘serving’ become important. A soldier who is not serious about his profession is not a warrior. A mercenary who is serious about ‘serving’ for the right reasons can still be a warrior.
What of the soldiers who feel very strongly about a campaign that their own country is not doing anything about? What if there is genocide occurring somewhere, the soldier is frustrated at their country not deploying so they discharge and seek to go as a mercenary and do the job that a nations army should be doing? Are they a mercenary? Yes. Is this bad? No. Are they a warrior? Yes.
There is no black or white.
What about the Combat Sports?
Mohammed Ali. Royce Gracie. Are they warriors? Not going by the previous definitions. What are they then? What are people who actually fight others? Surely they are warriors? They DO the action.
I will offer my thoughts on the matter:
What are people who compete in combat sports?
What are those who fight full time as a profession?
What are the best fighters?
These are very accurate terms. They are fair as well. Ask a champion if they ever felt that all of their team mates and themselves may end up dead at any moment. Or that a poor decision could see an entire family (or village, or town, or city or country) ruined. They will probably say no. It is combat yes. No doubt. It can be brutal one on one combat as well.
Fighters not Warriors
But it is still organized sports. Do they do the job day in and day out to serve their country or community? NO. They generally do it to become Champions. It is for their glory and their clubs glory.
And that is not to take anything away from it. They are excellent combat sports athletes. They are tough sports who make tough fighters and champions.
The definitions for what a warrior consists of is becoming clear by now and fighters are not warriors.
Actually to clarify, being a fighter does not make you a warrior. Though a warrior can be a fighter. Make sense?
I can understand why some people feel that they are warriors or would want to be a warrior. It is only natural in young men.
tgace talks about the phenomena of the warrior:
“Many people, mostly male, have that desire to be a “warrior”. To be a “man amongst men”, to be the one that people look to when the chips are down. “Feared by men..loved by women” yadda yadda.”
I think it is only natural that the male species would have some type of deeply felt desire to be ‘combative’ or capable when it comes to inflicting violence on other men. I think it would be unlikely to find any species of animal where this is not the case.
It would likely be evident in any animal species that has survived and evolved for the length of time humans have. I only hope as society changes and these types of things are being ‘bred out’ that we do not lose this trait entirely.
Our species may find itself in trouble otherwise.
What about Cleaning Dogshit?
Police can be Warriors
Rory Miller has written an example of what he thinks a warrior is. It is simple and certainly not romantic. Rory explains in the article:
“Doing dangerous things because they need to be done isn't noble or heroic. It doesn't come from a sense of great passion. It doesn't come from a tortured soul or any of the motivations that writers try to imagine.
It is exactly like cleaning up dogshit.
There's a steaming pile of dogshit in a public place and most people just walk on by, pretending not to see it. A few will get indignant: "Someone should do something." The worst won't even clean up after their own dogs...
But a few, a very few clean up dogshit when they see it. Not because it is noble. Not because it resonates with knights on white horses. Not because it is fun and exciting. Not to save the maiden. Because it needs to be done, and if they don't do it, no one will. And if no one cleans it up, sooner or later the dogshit will get tracked everywhere.”
It is a good example of a definition that does not try to get all mystic. Violence in the world is a problem. Many people know about it and talk about and feel strongly about it. But only a few actually do anything about it.
However, I would say that not everyone who cleans up the dog shit is a warrior. Some are forced to do so otherwise they will lose their jobs. Some do it to look good in the eyes of others. Some do it for the money.
But some do it because they want to do it. That is their place.
They are motivated to clean it up. They may find professional satisfaction at doing it well too. They work towards finding better, simpler, safer and smarter ways to go about cleaning it up. They know it needs to be done, they do it well, but they don’t think they are special for doing it.
What of the Character of a Warrior?
Surely this is an important aspect of a warrior? Yes and No. If a person is serving for the purpose of serving and are intent on doing it well, everything else should fall into place. It is hard to imagine a person who is intent on serving others acting poorly.
The various ‘codes’ for warriors were perhaps more aimed at the poor quality and performing soldiers, samurai and knights etc. to keep them from behaving poorly? Were not the ‘codes’ aimed to control their behaviour? Much like laws do?
Soldiers can be Warriors
I feel that the ‘codes’ of the various warriors of old were a controlling measure for soldiers, samurai and knights etc. who were not true warriors. True warriors who aimed to serve and were motivated to serve would need no ‘codes’ to control them and ensure they behaved appropriately and followed direction.
Perhaps as well as providing control, they could have steered lesser men onto the path. They could provide guidance and inspiration. The ‘codes’ also provide clear direction and control over the warriors. The ‘codes’ were law, direction and basically a set of orders to the warriors.
This allows the leader to direct their warriors how they see fit with few grumblings or questioning. The warrior submits totally to the direction of the leader. It is through following the leader’s commands that the warrior serves the community or country.
The military today operates the same way. History and tradition aims to instill esprit de corps. It also aims to steer and modify behaviour to act or conform with a certain way, much like the ‘codes’ of old.
'Codes' of the Warrior
The ‘codes’ of old would also have gone a long way to ensure that the warriors were acting appropriately in public. This would reflect back well on the leaders. This would ensure popular support for the leader.
So while I feel the various ‘codes’ such as Chivalry and Bushido etc. were an aspect of the warriors of old, it was their actions and motivations in combat that made them warriors, not what they were directed to read.
The various ‘codes’ of warriors are the main aspect of the warriors of old that many people feel apply to others. This is the area where people feel that many or even all people can be warriors.
This is not so.
The ‘codes’ were the least important part of being a warrior. It was the actions during combat that counted most. Many people forget about the real life and death combat part of being a warrior. It is very convenient for them.
Following SOME codes (whilst conveniently ignoring others) does not make you a warrior.
People can be good people, have integrity, be honest, be humble, have honour and do good things for people and not be a warrior. They are simply good upstanding people. And good upstanding people are a good thing for society. But these good upstanding people are not warriors because they are good upstanding people.
People who want to be labelled as a warrior have ego issues. They generally act by themselves. They want the credit. They want people to think good of them. They want titles. They do not feel they work with equals. They do not feel they are an integral part of a team.
A warrior does feel they work with equals and that they are an integral part of a team. Those equals are their comrades who will protect their backs and they likewise. It is just another example of people not understanding what a warrior is.
What Do I Feel About the Term Warrior?
Based on what I felt prior to writing this article and then doing the research for it (which hasn’t really changed my thoughts on what a warrior is, though it has clarified my thoughts on the matter), I feel that the term Warrior should only be applied to people who engage in some form of combat against other people.
I also feel it should only be used for those who engage in that combat in order to serve the community in some way on behalf of that community. They also work in groups, not alone. That is where the term originates from and it just makes sense to keep it that way.
Maori were Warriors
That is not to say a cancer survivor (for example) is not a very brave person and deserves respect and accolades. They are and they do. But they are not a warrior. They are not a doctor either. Or a scientist. Or a fire fighter. They are a cancer survivor. Searching for some other term disrespects what a cancer survivor has been through. The term cancer survivor surely is a high enough and worthy title?
So a warrior is someone who engages in combat, on behalf of the community or country as part of a team.
But do these people call themselves warriors?
I don’t think they do. Some do, but most don’t. Generally these people call themselves soldiers or police officers etc. They don’t call themselves warriors. It seems only other people call them that. They let others worry about titles and words.
What does this mean?
Is the term warrior irrelevant then?
Because those the term refers to, do not use it?
But the term warrior is out there. Let’s attempt to clarify what it should mean.
What is my definition of a warrior?
“A Warrior is a title that others use who are not warriors to describe a person in a group that goes out and uses the minimum force necessary for a greater cause. That is, the community or country that they serve. Not the self.”
That is all. Nothing more, nothing less.
Not very romantic is it?
Let’s break down each component so I can explain the reasons behind each aspect...
“A warrior is a title that others use who are not warriors...”
. is a way of saying straight away that warriors do not call themselves warriors. It is just a title, a word.
“...to describe a person in a group...”
is a way of mentioning that a warrior works as part of a cohesive group or team or organization or squadron or battalion etc. They are not loners or individuals. They are not status seekers. They never have been.
“...uses the minimum force necessary...”
is a way to mention that all warriors these days apply force in a strictly controlled manner. Even military forces have strict rules of engagement. They are not savages who slaughter. This section also highlights that police and military members who are not out and closing with the ‘enemy’ are simply not warriors. One needs to be out confronting and cleaning up the ‘dog poop’ in order to be a warrior.
“...for a greater cause. That is, the community or country that they serve’’
is a way of explaining that a warrior acts on behalf of a greater cause than themselves. This could be through policing, peacekeeping or military action etc. It is not because of money or because they were forced to act a certain way under pressure or coercion. It does not automatically include all military members and police. It is due to their own willingness and conscious choice. This transcends whether one is a military member or ‘mercenary’ as well. A certain job does not make one a warrior. It is the intent and motivation.
“... Not the self...”
Obvious. Not motivated by their own glory or status etc.
And that is my humble definition of what a warrior is.
Going by this strict definition I have written here, today I am not a warrior. I am content with that. I will not lose any sleep over it. I do not feel any less of a man. I will not look for excuses or lie. I am not angry for not being able to call myself a warrior. I am who I am.
I hope others will stop thinking of themselves as being warriors when they are not. The term is way overused and is losing its real meaning. Only ego will see people ignore this and keep thinking of themselves as warriors when they are clearly not.
Feel free to blast me or offer your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.