“The Way of the Warrior as a Path to Spiritual Mastery” by Charles A. McCarty

“He finally rebelled from this dark world of pasty-skinned scholarship,
and plunged into daylight in a contest with sun and steel.”

Yukio MIshima (1925-1970)

Those who have known me for long might be astonished to find with what difficulty I have found myself beset in undertaking the actual writing of this thesis. I am generally both prolific and relatively at ease in my writing. My research is done, my thoughts are more or less ordered; and yet a curious reluctance has paralyzed me for months; an unformed dread like a half-remembered bad dream.

I have come to value such apparently sterile plateaus, for they seem to overlay a gestation, or a working through, of concepts subliminally vital to an ongoing work. With the suddenness characteristic of discovery of that which was always underfoot, I have identified the barrier—that of words, and the power they have to form and delimit our existence.

Years ago I read a book by a Japanese novelist, Yukio Mishima, Sun and Steel.(2) I was disturbed by this personal testament, for it expressed an orientation and outcome of martial discipline far removed from the spiritual growth which I envisioned. I set it aside, uncomprehending. I have been drawn back to it in recent weeks. Though still unsympathetic with the personal ideals of Mishima, I found that he had grappled with the same reluctance, the same dread which stilled my pen just when it seemed the task was about to be mastered.

Mishima recognized the corrosive power which words have on our experience. He described them as “white ants” eating away at the structure of reality, weakening and rotting, reducing the whole in order that it may be shared: For all that we share must first be attacked by the white ants of words. Shared meanings of language and culture both carve and shape the nature of individual experience, and limit the transmissibility of experience that has transcended words.(3)

My perspective on the problem, however, is different from that of Mishima. At an early age he sought refuge from the stark realities of post-war Japan in the night-like sanctuary of words. He finally rebelled from this dark world of pasty-skinned scholarship, and plunged into daylight in a contest with sun and steel (weights) in order to validate his personal experience, undiminished by words. I seek to travel in the other direction, and escort my personal experience through the gauntlet of white ants.
Inevitably, words will alter my message, with greatest effect on dogmatic structure. I have chosen, therefore, to work within the malleable elements of mythology, history and life experience, for by such a progressive development it may be possible to express the value of the malleable stuff of life itself. For this dogma will not serve, the words of dogma tending to eat away at experience rather than supporting it, and excluding the validity of the lives of others on parallel but dissimilar paths.
In order to express both concept and execution of a way of being without becoming bound to a particular form, I will utilize mythology as a beginning and anchoring point for discussion, I do not mean “myth” in its popularized usage as a tale full of exaggerations, falsities and non-existent monsters; but rather in the subjective recounting of universal truth, often with some basis in history. The characteristic of myth is that of elements in tension, the interaction of opposites in order to facilitate resolution of the differences. Myth requires understanding on an intuitive rather than a rational level, for meaning is carried by symbol, which can both illuminate and obscure. Literal understanding limits myth to entertainment and fantasy, while deeper levels of understanding are facilitated by symbolic interpretation.(4)

I have chosen to view the major elements of material in this work; the life and background of the founder of Aikido, the role of the warrior’s path in spiritual development, and my own life experiences; as a reflection of myth in order to universalize and subjectivize this basically historical evidence. History and personal experience as purely objective fact become dogmatic, limited and of actual or potential reality only to the author and a few sympathetic or like minded people. As an expression not of inarguably accurate and concrete certainty, but as an example of the ongoing resolution of historical and personal tensions and conflicts, I find mythology to be a part of all that I am attempting here.
It is my hope that, by forgoing the false certainty of righteous assertion (sure to elicit either agreement or attack), I may make my presentation and the material relevant to it more accessible to a broad range of readers, and applicable to the variety of life circumstances in which they find themselves. For me, this is not a mere academic exercise or requirement, but the expression of realizations first felt in the body. Muscle, bone and sinew are perhaps the most appropriate participants in debate of this nature, but to limit spiritual realizations gained through martial endeavor to the arena of the body alone due to apparent somatic origin would be to perpetuate in contrary form the disasters of Western dualism. I despair of adequately and accurately expressing through the written medium what I feel to be true, but there must be a balance to my art, and service as an expression of my commitment. This effort may be viewed as a partial fulfillment of that need.

The usual strategy for thesis work proceeds from statement to rationale to supporting evidence, with proof of the statement being the entire object. In superficial form this effort will include such . The intent will not be to prove, however, but to outline how the life of an individual can be transformed into one of paradoxical devotion to the study of the arts most often associated with conflict.

This cannot be approached in the realm of science and objectivity, but must be seen as personal and subjective, historical and mythological. The study of the spiritual potential of martial arts may be oriented within the context of rational and scientific study—however, the validity of the study, and the experience, must be a personal event.

Research gives order and structure, allowing this work to be approached and evaluated by several parameters of accuracy and validity. Mythology and experience will give heart to the project, and in fact provide motivation for its undertaking and completion. Relevance as well will come from the experiential aspect, for if it does not come from my heart and touch the reader’s heart, there can be no value in the time spent here.

There is a parallel danger within the practice of the art itself, for martial skills may be technically perfected without the realization of the human relationship that is its true value. The practice of Aikido as a spiritual path requires more than technique, order and structure—it requires practice from the heart, in the spirit of love and service. Separated from this, it may be no more than a superb system of body mechanics.

That aspect is, in fact, a legitimate expression of the martial arts. I have experienced and will attempt here to communicate the many approaches that can be found in the study of martial ways. Technical perfection and mechanically refined use of the body represent but of the expressions which the path of the warrior can take. They have been, and can again be; a tool for the training of effective soldiers, a set of techniques for effective self-defense, a cathartic event, an art form of incredible beauty, an agent to physical conditioning, a source of self-confidence, a mirror for self-realization and a source of spiritual enlightenment.

The latter and most elusive of these potential goals does not exist apart from or negate all else that the warrior’s craft may be. For this reason I do not attempt to focus on the spiritual alone. But rather on the total impact that martial training may have on an individual’s existence, for it is out of this impact and within the context of the total of the potential that spiritual benefit, if any, will accrue.

A single feat of martial skill and the lifetime achievements of a master can have many possible paradigmatic explanations; physical, mental and spiritual. Each can be valuable in the support offered to the individual rooted in that paradigm. None are valid to the exclusion of the others, for a measure of the validity of an activity such as the martial way is the universality to which such arts, in diverse form and application, may benefit individuals with a wide range of character and interest. I will have succeeded if I can demonstrate my thesis without alienating other practitioners and non-practitioners of the Way of the Warrior.

The pattern I have chosen in my attempt to do this is to move from the general to the specific, from the past to the present, and from the universal to the personal. Mythology itself is examined in the second chapter, establishing the heroic figure as actor and source of inspiration within the context of myth. The three sections contained within the third chapter establish the nature of the spiritual path, the expressions of that path within the martial traditions and the place of the art of Aikido within that context. There is an emphasis here on the general historical background of the traditions of the warrior and the martial artist. The specifics of the personal history of the founder of Aikido, Morihei Uyeshiba, are presented in Chapter Four, while the fifth chapter provides an analysis of the nature and possible influences of the spiritual traditions to which he was exposed in his lifetime.

Chapters Six and Seven look at the framework of ethics characteristic of the martial arts, through an analysis of the methods by which they are traditionally taught, and the unique form of training common to the study of Aikido today. Again, past and current history provide much background for the discussion of ethics and education.

The eighth chapter will attempt to illuminate the paradigmatic orientation peculiar to Aikido, and to relate it to both traditional and newly emerging paradigms in Western society. The current state of this relationship is discussed in Chapter Nine, with a focus on the organizational and institutional aspects of the art.

The final chapter and the epilogue focus on the role of spiritual mastery in our lives and the relevancy of Aikido to such attainments. Completing the development from myth, through history, the concluding pages present my own brief account of five years of study in the art.

(2) Yukio Mishima, Sun and Steel (New York: Grove Press, 1970)
(3) Ibid., pp. 8,9
(4) John Dominic Crossan, The Dark Interval (Niles, Illinois: Argus Communication, 1975), pp. 51-54


  1. Gregory Makuch says:

    I’d love to read your completed thesis. I’m considering a similar exploration for my doctoral dissertation in Humanities.

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