Four Gates philosophy teaches us that each person is comprised of four selves, or levels of existence: Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual. As warriors, we cannot become complete until we have faced and mastered each aspect of ourselves. A warrior who has mastered his body yet not educated himself or learned compassion is but a thug. One who has mastered the mental yet not applied it to the physical is but a dreamer. One who has not mastered the mental and emotional can never find true spirituality. And so the combinations go. Ironically, mastering each of these elements of our being often includes learning how to submit to them. Returning to the image of the warrior, we must remember that mastering each aspect of our nature does not mean it no longer exists, simply that we accept and acknowledge it. The “perfect warrior” will still feel pain if he is struck, will still feel fear when faced with imposing odds, will still analyze probabilities when deciding on action, and will still pray to the Divine for a little bit of fortune in the face of strife. But he will not buckle to the pain, he will not be paralyzed by the fear, will not hesitate in indecision, and will not rely on or blame the gods for an outcome.
Let us put ourselves in the warrior’s shoes for a moment. For the purposes of this adventure, let us assume that he has mastered his body, becoming a prodigious pugilist, and that he is a brilliant and sharp-witted tactician who has studied the strategies of the ages. This brings us to his emotional self. Like any good story, we need an exciting beginning: Lo! Here is a warrior, standing surrounded by foes, the lone combatant for the side of Good and Light, facing the hordes of darkness who threaten the very spark of Divine Fire that gives life to all humankind…. But before anything happens, he begins to feel, to think, to experience physical changes. He looks around, assessing the strengths of the enemy, searching for a safe method of egress. His adrenal glands begin to pump adrenaline into his bloodstream, causing his heart to speed up, his breathing to speed up, and his perception of time to slow down. He wonders how he is going to get himself out of this mess as he begins to feel the worm of fear for his safety burrow into his guts, and the lust for the thrill of battle boil in his loins! And then it begins.
What happens next in our story depends on whether the warrior is the Master of his emotions, or whether he is leashed by them, slave to the baser passions of his humanity. First of all, our hero must decide whether to fight, and what motivations there are to engage in combat. We don’t know much about the back story leading up to our hero’s dire situation, but if we assume that the evil hordes are truly evil and will not rest until he is dead, fighting seems like a pretty good alternative. But if we skew our star’s motives to something slightly more nefarious (perhaps jealousy or revenge, or maybe he is simply insulted because some poor troll bumped into him and spilled his ale), we can quickly see how his emotions have led him into a pretty bad place. When we engage in combat because we let our emotions flare to the point that we no longer control them, we have not only made a bad decision to fight, but will continue to make bad decisions during the course of the fray.
Emotions Predicate Actions
Aside from simply getting him into a fight, our protagonist’s emotions can cause him trouble as he tries to apply his martial skill. While many have heard of the feats of superhuman strength performed by ancient fighters in the midst of a battle rage (the Norse held their Berserkers in high regard), if our subject continues to allow his passions to escalate, his decisions no longer become his own, and in fact, they almost become predictable to his opponents based on which emotion they can observe in him. An angry, enraged fighter tends to use brutish attacks aimed at his opponents face and head. When we think of someone (go ahead, close your eyes and think of mom, or your boss, or that kid down the road), we tend to picture their face. Chances are, when you think of mom, you do not picture her pinky toe, or her elbow. When a fighter is angry, or offended, he goes after the target of his wrath. We see this in common language in such threats as “I’m gonna punch that twerp right in the kisser” or, “I’m so angry, you’re lucky I don’t knock your teeth down your throat”, and even, “I ought to smack that smile right off your face.” Anger toward an individual is personal, aimed at a person and built up over time (even if that time is very short). Anger must have a focus, and when we focus on a person with whom we are angry, we see their face in our mind’s eye, and thus when we allow anger to drive our attack, we naturally target the face.
Fear drives our attacks differently. Even if we overcome the paralysis that is fear’s icy grip and bring the fight to our opponent, a fear driven fighter’s overall goal is to get away. Strikes tend to be driven toward the body. As something moves toward us, we try to push it back. To push it back, we need a firm surface against which to drive our force. An opponent’s chest provides that broad solid surface. Of course, any target of opportunity will be struck, but those strikes will tend to be less effective as they either lack the snap necessary to do real damage, or are too quick, lacking follow through in an effort to swat away the scary attacker.
A person bent on vengeance will be more subtle, looking to cause pain in the softest of areas, just as he has felt pain in his very core. He will direct strikes to the groin, to the throat, to the eyes. His emotional goal is retribution, the doling out of slow agony rather than a quick and clean finish to the fight. A man who seeks revenge on his wife’s lover will surely seek to attack the offending tender bits. A person whose will to live has been sucked from him by some affront will likely seek to do the same to an opponent, sealing off the very life-giving air from his throat.
Because our warrior, in this example, has been ruled by his emotions, whatever they are, he must fight based on the rules those emotions set forth. Not only are his attacks more easily dealt with for their lack of variety, but his defense becomes a matter of reaction rather than response. His emotional goal is to destroy the opponent, and his focus is mostly on offense. When a counter attack is launched, he is ill prepared, and thus he must react with whatever is available, be it an effective block or not. His emotions do not care for the pains of his body; rather they use those discomforts to fuel the burn in his heart. His emotions do not see the lull in the field of battle that beckons him to safety and peace, because they only allow his eyes to see the target before him.
The Other Side of the Coin
The outcome seems bleak. But remember, our hero is not just some thug walking around looking for a fight. We started this story heralding his mastery of mind and body. Even if he has not completely mastered his emotions, he surely must have faced them before with some amount of success to have come so far along his Path. Let’s rewind. Our champion does, indeed, feel anger, but it is anger at having allowed himself to be cornered by the legions of Darkness. It is anger that Darkness still exists in his world. It is an anger born of righteousness in the face of wickedness. This anger fuels his fight, but it is the slow burning, white hot heat of the forge that does not consume him, but tempers his will to continue. He feels fear, but it is not fear of what awaits him, it is the fear of failure that is born of compassion for those he protects. It is not the kind of fear that seizes him in its icy clutches, but the kind of fear that demands his success and sharpens his reflexes. He feels no need for vengeance, but only the need for justice, and realizes that, though they are very similar emotions, justice is complete when it is complete, allowing him to actively seek an exit to the combat when it is necessary to do so, whereas vengeance demands satisfaction, then feeds upon the spoils of its conquests to breed hatred. Our savior is no Berserker, abandoning any sense of humanity in order to slake a blood lust. Rather, he is calm, he is alert, he is watchful, he is ready to respond mindfully and instantly to every threat without being consumed by the highly charged atmosphere of the plains of war. He is at peace, and when the peace is broken, he fights only to return to such a blissful state.
Now, this was all a wonderful story, but there are no orcs or trolls amassing the hosts of evil to attack any one sole protector of humanity. Yet the tale should still hold valuable lessons for the everyday martial artist. We must always be mindful of our actions, of our thoughts, and of our feelings. We do not need to be ascetic monks, punishing our bodies for every impure feeling. We do not need to be Vulcans, completely immersed in logic and devoid of emotion. We need to be human, to realize that these feelings are natural to us, to submit to each so that we can know it, and then dismiss it… or use it for our own higher purposes. We should never seek a fight in anger or vengeance. We should never succumb to fear (of failure or of success, but that is a discussion for different article). In fact, many forms and kata in the various styles of martial arts hold within them the keys to Mastery over our emotions. Higher level forms in some Chinese martial arts even include laughter, or the sounds of weeping. Kung fu – and this is used in the loosest sense of the word, encompassing all arts, martial and otherwise – is all encompassing. It embraces life, enhances life, improves life. It does not hide our humanity, but teaches us about it, and with this knowledge we find peace within. Is there any Warrior more powerful than the one who stands silently in the Void?