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Principles of the Scholar Warrior

Principles of the Scholar Warrior
April 13, 1997 

(submitted for publication in Ryukyu Kobujutsu Hozon Shinko Kai 1997 Workshop handbook in South Africa)

What is a martial art? To me, the martial arts denotes the serious study of the techniques, history and philosophy of man's combative element. On the other hand, a martial sport is a recreation, a pastime, and a form of entertainment.

Today most people consider Karate as an empty hand art and Kobujutsu/Kobudo to be just associated with weapons training. The late Hanshi Motokatsu Inoue, founder of Yuishinkai, stated that "Karate and Ryukyu Kobujutsu are quite the same originally". The "Chinese hand" to "empty hand" change in terminology coupled with today's heavy promotion of competition have regressed the original intention of Karatejutsu/Kobujutsu. Under the guise of martial art, many dojos promote martial sport in which people train mainly for point scoring in competition and the promotion of the ego. For obvious reasons, many of the deadly techniques such as eye gouging and the use of weapons have been removed from competition. I believe that competition is necessary to hone one’s skills but with the martial arts, it is a special exception. The intention in actual combat is to be as effective and efficient as possible in the shortest period of time. For this to happen, the quickest and most disabling techniques are going to have to be employed. Competition can lull one into a false sense of self-confidence and is a poor substitute in the preparation for actual combat. Martial sports promotes values that are more oriented towards financial gain, hero worshipping, image presentation and power posturing. This is very apparent when you look at professional sports today. The martial arts is not a game, it has to be respected for what it was designed to do. In 1645, Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s most famous swordsman, wrote in his book Go Rin No Sho (A Book of 5 Rings): "I studied morning and evening searching for the principle, and came to realize the Way of Strategy when I was fifty." He had only understood this when he had already killed more than 30 opponents in combat and towards the end of his combative career was basically clubbing them to death with wooden swords. How many of us today can claim this kind of insight or legacy? Are we so arrogant to assume that we have mastered the martial arts at a level that we can make changes to what we were taught by our teachers? Unfortunately this has been happening too often with the introduction of competition influenced techniques, high kicks, changes by self-appointed masters based on monetary and political requirements, etc. As martial art practitioners, we need to go back and study Kobujutsu or Karatejutsu in its original format which very much includes the use of weapons.

For Karatejutsu/Kobujutsu to survive, we need to develop a higher consciousness in Karatejutsu/Kobujutsu otherwise it will be another brutal activity whose existence will be hard to justify. Concepts such as rei, zanshin, maai, taisabaki, kamae, kime and kokoro which are hardly taught or emphasized anymore, should be the very foundation on which Karatejutsu/Kobujutsu be built. We need to become scholar warriors, higher martial artists, who will ensure that the original traditions of Karatejutsu/Kobujutsu are carried intact into the future.

Expanding further on these concepts ........

Rei (respect). Scholar warriors must respect each other regardless of their skill level. Teachers must respect students as much as students must respect their teachers. However respect does not mean that the student must follow the teacher blindly as much as the teacher should expect the student to follow in his/her path exclusively. Normally out of respect follows trust. You must not have dishonest intentions with your fellow warriors, students or teachers. How can a teacher inspire truth if he/she is not truthful with the student? Trust is easily compromised when there is exploitation of students for sexual gratification, material gain, social prestige, or any other selfish reason. Scholar warriors must respect the martial arts and above all respect the sanctity of life.
“Without courtesy, the essence of Karate-do is lost" 
Gichin Funakoshi

Zanshin (awareness). The scholar warrior must always be aware of possible confrontation and harm at all times so that he/she can take any pre-emptive action in avoidance. In any physical confrontation, you must always be aware of the combative state of your opponent. Be aware of what you can use in your surroundings to your advantage, e.g. natural weapons such as a stick, or an escape route. You have to be on the watch against arrogance which can make you less sensitive to others and your surroundings. This represents reduced awareness. The humbled scholar warrior should always be seeking martial knowledge and a "know it all" attitude is just another form of arrogance.

"The superior man is not self-satisfied or complacent"
Zheng Manqing (Cheng Man-ching)

Maai (distancing). In any physical confrontation, the adjustments you make in the distance between you and your opponent depends very much on the weapons being used or not used. For example, the strike range of the kon (staff) is towards the tip and the defense adjustment in distancing would either be on the inside of the kon or way beyond the ends of the kon. Timing is everything and generally the shorter the distance, the more critical the timing. Scholar warriors must be familiar with the strong points and weak points of various weapons so that they are better able to defend themselves against weapons similar in nature.

"You win in battles with the timing in the Void  
born of timing of cunning by knowing the enemies' timing, 
and thus using a timing which the enemy does not expect"
Miyamoto Musashi

Taisabaki (body movement). It takes less energy to deflect a force than to stop a force directly. Thus it will be much more expedient to move out of the way of a attack than to confront it head on, especially if your opponent is bigger and stronger than you. Remember the power of most defensive or offensive techniques comes from the hips, so at times you must learn to think with your hips. Additionally counter striking at the same time while evading your opponent's attack, allows you to use your opponent's momentum to your advantage. The scholar warrior must also understand that the best taisabaki is no taisabaki at all when he/she has totally avoided a physical confrontation. Attacks can also be done on an emotional level through verbal abuse, criticisms and eye contact. The scholar warrior can best blunt the intended effects of these emotional attacks by ignoring them or not reacting in the expected emotional manner.

"Dodge your opponent not by power, 
but by your body and place yourself in the best position"
Motokatsu Inoue

Kamae (posture). The scholar warrior must be mentally and physically ready for defense and be on the offensive when the need arises. Every defensive posture entices a certain type of attack. However once an attack is committed, the warrior must use the defensive posture as a launch for a counter attack. Showing a cowering attitude or posture is an invitation to be preyed by bullies and the unscrupulous. It is natural to be scared, and courage can only be summoned in the face of fear. If fearless, the scholar warrior must be vigilant against being complacent about possible danger and taking unnecessary risks.

"Study the function of each posture 
carefully and with deliberation" 
Unknown author 
(Song of the Thirteen Postures)

Kime (power). Since contact is discouraged at all times during training especially more so with the use of weapons, the scholar warrior must learn to control his/her power and not lose focus on intent. In other words, if you can control your strikes to a couple of inches in front of the intended target with power, you must be able to do same a couple of inches beyond the target. If the scholar warrior is not controlling his/her power, then the power is controlling the warrior.

"The control that comes from such inner strength 
eventually becomes ingrained in the personality. 
In the case of the warrior, 
it is expressed through movement" 
Deng Ming-Dao

Kokoro (mind/spirit). The scholar warrior must persevere in his/her martial arts training because it is the practice of the martial arts that is central to the way of the warrior. It is not the final achievement of one's martial hopes and dreams but the pursuit of these hopes and dreams that gives meaning to the martial arts itself. The martial arts nurture the human spirit through the positive development of self-confidence, self-esteem and self-discipline. It is out of discipline that the scholar warrior obtains freedom from indecisiveness and procrastination. The disciplined warrior must be spontaneous in his/her thoughts or actions with no room for hesitation.

"No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try."
Yoda, master Jedi
(The Empire Strikes Back)

Today the senseless glorification of violence as portrayed in the media (movies, TV, video games, UFC) is spawning a generation of people who are much more prone to the use of violence as a solution to their problems. They are becoming more and more insensitive to the realities of the effects of violence. Scholar warriors do not use violence as a means to an end but only as an absolute last resort. We, as scholar warriors, must strive through dedicated training to become warriors whose prime qualities should be humility, compassion, tolerance, honesty, courage, and perseverance. The ultimate aim in the martial arts is not to fight, the ultimate aim in the martial arts is to learn emotional, mental and physical survival .... and the development of the self is an integral part of this process.

"Knowing others is wisdom;
Knowing the self is enlightenment.
Mastering others requires force;
Mastering the self needs strength."
Lao Tzu
(Daodejing/Tao Te Ching)


1. Motokatsu Inoue. Bo, Sai, Tonfa and Nunchaku: Ancient Martial Arts of the Ryukyu Islands. Vol. 1. Toyko, Japan. Seitohsha Co., Ltd. 1987. 

2. Miyamoto Musashi. A Book of Five Rings. Trans. by Victor Harris. Woodstock, New York, USA. The Overlook Press. 1974. 

3. Gichin Funakoshi. Karate-do Kyohan. Trans. by Tsutomu Ohshima. London, UL. Ward Lock Ltd. 1974. 

4. Cheng Manching. Thirteen Chapters on Tai Chi Chuan. Trans. by Douglas Wile. Brooklyn, New York, USA. Sweet Chi Press. 1982. 

5. Lo, Inn, Amacker and Foe. The Essence of Tai Chi Chuan: the Literary Tradition. San Francisco, California, USA. North Atlantic Books. 1983. 

6. Deng Ming-Dao. Scholar Warrior: an Introduction to the Tao in Everyday Life. New York, USA. HarperCollins Publishers. 1990. 

7. The Renaissance Man. The Teachings of Yoda. Http:// 

8. Lao Tsu. Tao Te Ching. Trans. by Giafu Feng and Jane English. London, UK. Wildwood House Ltd. 1972.

The author Colman Fink who has been involved with the martial arts for over 40 years, teaches Tai Chi (Taiji), Qigong, Daoyin, Ryukyu Kobujutsu (Kobudo) and Karate Jutsu in Wareham, Middleborough and Plymouth.  He is the Chief Instructor at Yuishinkai Kobujutsu USA, and a Branch Chief in USA for Yuishinkai and Ryukyu Kobujutsu Hozon Shinko Kai, both of which are based in Tokyo, Japan.  You also can follow his martial arts postings on his Google+ page Martial Arts with Colman.