Interview with Daniele Bolelli, Author of On the Warrior's Path and its recent Second Edition
Your upcoming book is a second edition release of On the Warrior’s Path. Can you describe the main objectives and concepts of the first edition? The added chapters in the second edition focus primarily on spirituality and your own journey. How do these two topics compliment or amplify the topics discussed in the first edition?
On the Warrior’s Path is about philosophy and martial arts. It’s about using martial arts as a tool to forge our spirits. Every chapter in the book begins with martial arts practice, but ultimately takes us to face the essential issues shaping who we are. Plenty of people who couldn’t care less about martial arts have enjoyed the book. In the second edition, I touch on a couple of topics that were either not discussed or discussed only in a marginal way in the first edition. The new chapters are intensely personal and very much essential to my whole philosophy. I have very much enjoyed writing the first edition, but I’m even happier with the new material.
Your book is set apart from other martial arts titles by its focus on the warrior. Do you believe an understanding of the warrior to be the most important element in mastering martial arts?
The warrior ideal is about developing a certain spirit, an attitude toward life. This is not just the most important element in martial arts. It’s the most important thing in life. Some people will develop this without ever doing martial arts, while others will spend a lifetime training without ever getting there.
One thing that you focus on in your book is the counter-intuitive way in which martial arts training allows the warrior to renounce violence. Why is this possible? Is this one of the main objectives that warriors strive to achieve?
You can only renounce what you are able to do. Peace is a choice only for those who are able to do battle. Otherwise, it’s the desperate pleading of someone who has no alternatives. Unless you are a mean, violent bastard with murderous tendencies to begin with, renouncing violence probably is not to the main thing on your mind when you pick up martial arts. Renouncing violence, anger, and aggression is a by-product of growing as a human being, of becoming more confident and secure in yourself. Once you are confident enough, you can afford to be sweet and open up emotionally to others because you are no longer afraid. Ultimately, mastering combat is a path to face one’s fears and, at least partially, overcome them. Abandoning violent tendencies is only one of many transformations that take place when fear lessens its hold on us.
In the introduction, you describe the “beautiful qualities” of a warrior: “a willpower that can’t be broken, the discipline to transform dreams into reality, the ability to get up with one’s confidence unshaken after being knocked down countless times, the commitment to fight not just for one’s personal goals but for everything and everyone deserving help.” Is the potential to possess these qualities—and to become a warrior—present in everyone? Is it present only in some? Is it innate or learned?
Aah… the age-old nature or nurture question. Clearly, no one knows for sure. If I am to guess, both play a role. Some people seem to have a fire burning in their eyes from day one, and developing certain qualities is much easier for them than for others. But at the same time, I think potentially everyone can work on it, at least to some degree. When you look around, it’s obvious that not everyone will achieve it, but I don’t believe this is due to some innate predisposition.
Is there a definable moment at which a person becomes a warrior? Is one’s journey toward being a warrior ever complete?
If you want the simple answer: no. If you are not into monosyllabic responses, I’ll try to be less lazy and actually explain myself. In my mind, being a warrior is a choice to take full responsibility for everything in your experience, and to constantly do battle against your weaknesses. It’s about developing the qualities necessary to knock down the obstacles standing in the way of a more fulfilling life. Most people are constantly busy looking for excuses, searching for someone to blame for whatever is wrong in their lives. Being a warrior to me means acknowledging the impact of external events but not letting them determine the direction of our lives. Things will always happen beyond our control. There’s not much we can do about that. A whiner will spend his/her time complaining about the injustices of life, a warrior fights to prevent these circumstances from changing his or her attitude toward living. Just making this choice and doing one’s best to live up to it on a daily basis is what makes one a warrior. In the same way as you have to sweep the floor regularly to prevent the accumulation of dust, you need to make this choice again and again, every day of your life. Some days are easier than others. Everyone at some point is going to fail. It happens. No big deal. Just get up and try again.
In the seventh chapter you describe six warrior archetypes, their energies, they ways in which they face conflict, and the gifts that they offer to the warrior. Do you believe every warrior needs to possess aspects of each of these six archetypes? Do you understand yourself to be more like one of these archetypes than another?
These archetypes are different energies that exist within all of us. Depending on our mood, or on external circumstances, at any given moment anyone of us is going to embody some of these energies more than others. Their relative importance may also change at different phases in our lives. Personally, I find it healthier not to get stuck in a single way of doing things. Being able to call on different energies keeps us flexible, unpredictable, and alert.
In what areas of your life outside of your work in the martial arts do you consider yourself to be a warrior?
There are no areas of my life. There’s my life and that’s it. The principles I live by are the same regardless of which context I find myself in, or what activity I’m engaged in.
You encourage martial arts to be “an extension of our way of living.” Your approach discourages duality and boundaries between the martial arts and the rest of the world. Perhaps one example of this is the fact that you have been praised for your humorous writing on a seemingly serious subject. Do you consider martial arts to be a serious practice? What do you consider the relationship to be between martial arts and humor?
It’s interesting you mention this since the relationship between humor and seriousness is a chapter in a new book I’m working on. The more we hold something sacred, the more we need to be able to laugh about it. Humor is needed precisely when we tackle serious business. Being overly serious is the first step toward rigidity and dogmatism. It’s too easy to become fanatical about the things we love—and martial arts are no exception. I’ve always been interested in humor—and I don’t mean just humor for the hell of it (even though, it can still be enjoyable). I am talking about the ability to be extremely profound and having fun in the same sentence. One of my all time heroes, Tom Robbins, calls this quality “crazy wisdom”—a wisdom that doesn’t allow all the heaviness and drama of existence to spoil its good mood. As Zen Buddhism indicates, laughter reminds that life is greater and more enjoyable than any theory, than any model, than any specific experience. Laughter shakes us out of our sense of self-righteousness, and reminds us that life is play.
Martial arts and the philosophies behind them are ancient and yet there are still many books being written on the subject. How is this area still evolving?
Life evolves. Martial arts are no different. Certain eternal truths always apply, but just like in any other field, there’s always room for more insights and new connections. Music is ancient and yet new songs are composed every day.
What path did you follow between the two editions of this book? Did that time influence the changes and additions you made to the second edition of On the Warrior’s Path?
I’m becoming more of a barbarian day by day. My values haven’t really changed, but I have less patience for armchair spirituality, and for an overly romantic approach to the martial arts (and to life in general, for that matter). I’m less interested in abstract theories and more in action. I’ve spent too much time around people who can give a beautiful talk but can’t live up to it in practice. So now, I’m more about sweating and less about talking. Paradoxically, this attitude has helped me to write better, for I find my style is now more immediate and direct.
You touched briefly on this above, but can you tell us any more about your next project?
I’m currently writing a book about religions, more specifically about the key questions of human life that all religions have to tackle, one way or another—from ideas on the afterlife to attitudes about sex, from gender roles to how we view the earth. I’m right in the middle of it so it’s hard to talk about it. I’m a little too involved at the moment. But let’s just say I’m putting every last drop of my energy in it, so I expect great things to come out of it.
Do you foresee the writing of a third edition of On the Warrior’s Path at some point in the future?
Honestly, my psychic powers must really suck because I didn’t foresee the second edition either. The second edition was the result of prodding by Anastasia McGhee, my former editor, and the realization I still had a few things left to say on the topic that hadn’t made their way into the first edition. I’m glad it happened because one of the two new chapters is by far the piece of writing I am most proud of. About a third edition… who knows.