Robert Moore, a psychologist and theologian, emphasized that for men the warrior spirit was “hard wired.” Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were warriors. As warriors they where required to defend themselves to survive. They had to defend their family and tribe. This was necessary for the lineage and succession of family to carry on.
While most of us in the Western world no longer traverse the plains of the Savannah’s, the primitive responses of flight and fight of our male hunter-gatherer counterparts have not left use. The problem we find today is that many men have lost their ability to express the evolutionary adaptation of their fight and fight response in appropriate ways.
Today 90 percent of convicted violent acts will be perpetrated by men. 70 percent of the victims of those violent acts will be men (Australian Bureu of Statistics). Men are fighting men on all fronts. Addiction, suicides, accidents and premature death are all dominated by men.
Men seem to be losing their way. We have lost connection to one another and a sense of brotherhood. Not too long ago in our distant past, as we ran freely on the Savannahs, we would be together as men. A band of brothers. Together we would hunt, give each other courage, and inspire each other to overcome our inner shadows. In doing so, we would learn to trust each other. We would have the opportunity to express the positive masculine energies of valor, honor, and courage. At night we would sit around a campfire, retelling the stories of the hunt, playing drums, and symbolically reenacting the day. When called upon to protect the tribe, we would do so without hesitation, rising up as warriors in the service of something greater than ourselves.
This uniquely male right of passage has been for the most part rubbed out in the Western world. As men, we still hear the faint voice of adventure calling us; we hear the voice of what Robert Bly, author of the classic bestseller Iron John, calls the ‘Wild Man’, screaming at us to get back in touch with our male spirit. But we are too busy, too distracted, only noticing it when one more man commits a crime against another. As Bly states, “But now he has two Toyotas and a mortgage, maybe a wife and a child. How can he let the Wild Man out of the cage?”
While today there may be several ways available to the modern man to get in touch with his ‘Wild Man,’ one way that brings together many of the forgotten masculine energies of the male hunter gatherers is martial arts.
Martial arts, if coached correctly, are a wonderful vehicle for the positive expression of masculinity and the warrior archetype. Most people who train martial arts are men, which serves as a unique opportunity to create a tribe of brothers who are once again able to be reunited, metaphorically expressing the ‘hunt’ for the masculine energies of courage, tenacity and grit. Through the symbolic enactment of the ‘martial’ process, men are able to redirect their destructive energies and impulses, allowing them to work through conflict creatively as well as changing their perceptions of the issue itself.
The expression of martial art movement can therefore become a field of ‘play’ upon which men are able to safely project their responses and relive some of the disturbing situations they may have experienced in their life. The process of martial arts enactment can be a way of identifying, reflecting on, and changing a man’s conditioning, allowing him to rediscover his masculine energy.
Martial arts training with an emphasis on playfulness, challenge, connection, and brotherhood are not too dissimilar to the rough and tumble play most boys experienced with their friends and siblings growing up. In a way, as little boys we were closer to our hunter-gatherer ancestors then most of us are now as adults.
The National Institute of Play, for example, points to scientific research showing that rough and tumble play in animals and humans “has been shown to be necessary for the development and maintenance of social awareness, cooperation, fairness, and altruism. Its nature and importance are generally unappreciated, particularly by early (preschool) teachers, who often see normal rough and tumble play behaviour such as hitting, diving, wrestling, (all done with a smile, between friends who stay friends), not as a state of play, but one of anarchy that must be controlled.”
As men we have always instinctively known that the rough and tumble play amongst boys has always been vital for the growth of the male spirit. As Paul Whyte, a leader of the men’s movement in Australia, proclaimed at a seminar in Hobart in 1993, “If you want to get along well with your boys, you have to learn to wrestle.” In his book, Manhood, author Steve Biddulph explains how a father wrestling with his boys teaches him how to play fight without hurting. It teaches the boy how to control and harness his natural physical masculine expression. Later on in life that lesson will stand him in good stead. Now as a father himself and as a husband the lessons of wrestling with his father would have taught him to “debate, take criticism, experience strong emotions, and at the same time, never use his physical strength to hurt or dominate those weaker than him.” As further outlined by the National Institute of Play, boys who have “a l