25 August 2009

Men: The Appeal of Warrior Culture

By Jeannie Lin

I've always been fascinated by warrior culture and the social rules that tie them together. There is something exciting and sexy about an elite group of fighting men. Modern day warriors within the armed forces carry on these traditions and their influence continues to resonate with us.

It makes me wonder, what elements do these groups have in common that pique our interest? And it's not all about big swords and cutting off heads.

The Warrior Code

"Come home with your shield or on it."

Every warrior culture adheres to its own code of conduct which values honor, loyalty and courage. In effect, every group has its own "Man Rules".

The Japanese samurai called it Bushido. Chinese swordsmen called it the code of the xia. The US Marine Corps sums up their code in their motto "Semper Fi". In medieval Europe, knights followed the code of chivalry.

Whatever the code may be called, the principle was the same. Death before dishonor. A warrior would die for this brothers. He understands the meaning of sacrifice and honor. In some unfathomable way, these men are bonded together and belong to something greater than themselves.

Few Against Many

We love cheering for the underdog, especially if the underdog is a magnificent fighting machine. Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than how King Leonidas led a force of 300 Spartans (and 700 Thespians) held off a Persian army a million strong at Thermopylae.

What about a small, highly specialized unit, trained to get in, accomplish the mission impossible, and then get out? Modern day Navy SEALs and SWAT teams are well-known for their specialized training. I went to search for a historical equivalent--perhaps the specialized units of the Knights Templar that were dispatched to fight in the Holy Land, surrounding by hostile territory?

On the other side of the world, the Shinobi were Japanese warriors trained in covert tactics. The samurai were all about displays of honor, but the shinobi were all about stealth. They were the Black Ops of medieval Japan. Or perhaps such special tactics groups were so covert that there were plenty throughout time that we've never even heard about. Which leads into my last point.

The Mystery

"The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is, you DO NOT talk about Fight Club."

The brotherhood is a tight society only open to those who have proven themselves. This secrecy lends an air of the mystery around these groups. These are warriors with a hidden past, one that can never truly be revealed.

The poster child for this has to be the Knights Templar, famous for their secret codes, security measures and ancient rituals. What were these secret relics they hid so carefully and where are they now? A secret treasure trove, the bones of saints, the Holy Grail?

For other groups, there may not be an explicit vow of secrecy, but the existence of the group itself creates the mystery. There is a darkness to being a soldier and a warrior. These men are forced to make choices between life and death. They are protectors as well as destroyers.

Only these bands of warriors can truly understand what they've been through. It's a secret handshake, an unspoken bond of fighting men. The rest of us seek to uncover these secrets, even centuries later--forever on the outside, looking in.