"Having a perfect body is not nearly as important as learning how to listen to its voice. During a training session, when the rational mind slows down the flow of thoughts, the body begins to disclose its secrets. Consciousness is free to travel from one muscle to the next, and gives access to powers unknown to those who can’t go beyond cerebral activity. For a few minutes or for a few hours, the social identity is left behind. Our names, our professions, our ideas stop having any importance. The only thing that matters is the stream of energy flowing within us. The strength of a mammal, not different from that of a buffalo, a wolf, or a jaguar. A wild being aware of the life-force pulsating in every pore of the skin. This is not just a physical experience. It is spiritual. It transforms the body as well as the character." – Daniele Bolelli, in On the Warrior’s Path
The Many Purposes of Martial Arts
KB: In On the Warrior’s Path you write about how martial arts help develop a keen awareness of your body. Could you explain this?
DB: This is ultimately what Taoism or Buddhism are talking about, but it’s not that there’s something uniquely Buddhist or Taoist about it. Anywhere where there’s life, Buddhism and Taoism are talking about the same things.
You can discover this through many methods. Somebody might discover it through books, somebody might discover it in another way. The specific path is not important but the principle is.
KB: In On the Warrior’s Path you write about what you call the internal martial arts. What was the purpose of these types of martial arts, and more specifically Aikido?
DB: The purpose of them is the same as any other martial art: it’s to hit somebody in a more effective fashion.
Aikido strayed far away from the combat aspect of it. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, it just became more about energy and awareness. Same thing with Tai Chi. If you read some of the early 20th century Tai Chi literature, they write about how it’s too bad that people study Tai Chi only for its combat effectiveness and don’t know about its health benefits. Which is the exact opposite of what you have today.
"Martial arts are not important. What is important is who we are and what we want to become. Important are our dreams, our ideals, our lives, the kind of persons we would like to be. To be truly walking on the warrior’s path, we have to bring our minds back to the time when we were not ashamed of our dreams; when reality had not yet frustrated our ambitions; when our desire was still too strong to be repressed, and our spirit refused to surrender in resignation; when we were not yet doctors, businessmen, or lawyers, but still wanted to be heroes, leaders, bodhisattvas. The first step on the way to being warriors is to get back in touch with our dreams." – Daniele Bolelli, in On the Warrior’s Path
The Warrior Spirit and the Importance of Balance
KB: One of the main ideas in On the Warrior’s Path is developing an unfaltering attitude towards life. You called it the Warrior spirit. What character traits does the Warrior spirit embody?
DB: Willpower. It's the ability to take a lot of punishment and not let that crush you. It doesn’t mean that you’re invincible. It doesn’t mean that you can avoid pain because you are above it. It doesn’t matter how good you get, whether it’s in martial arts or in life—you will be kicked in the balls over and over again. It’s about how you deal with it.
Many people react to difficulties by becoming more cynical, more mean, and less willing to trust. Developing that Warrior spirit is about still being able to enjoy life, being a good human being, being kind to others, doing all the stuff that makes life cool in spite of the fact that you can't avoid having to encounter difficulties over and over again. It's about developing the strength to do that.
"Movies, like martial arts practice itself, could be approached as rituals to get in touch with the heroic qualities we cherish, and help us remember the sacred fire laying dormant within." – Daniele Bolelli, in On the Warrior’s Path
KB: In the sixth chapter of On the Warrior’s Path you talk about martial arts movies and how they embody this warrior spirit. Can art be used as inspiration?
DB: Yup, that’s how it is with everything. It’s about figuring out what lights a fire under you. It might be listening to a certain type of music, watching a movie, reading something, anything that lights that fire.
You may understand those principles intellectually, but reading, watching, and listening are not necessarily intellectual. It’s about giving you that experience again, giving you that feeling and getting you back into contact with it.
KB: Do you re-read passages from books to get yourself back on the right path?
DB: Absolutely. Whatever stimulates me at that particular point in time. Again it’s not because I don’t know it. Knowing stuff is not that difficult. It’s how you bring it back to life.
KB: You write about the importance of balancing the Warrior spirit with the Princess spirit. Could you explain that?
DB: There are lots of people who are way too hard and tough which is great, but then they are mindless assholes with no feelings. Or you have people who are sweet and nice but are scared of everything. Neither one is all that attractive.
I’m too soft by nature so I need to do things like MMA to balance it out. So someone who is hard-core, tough, fearless by nature needs a softer side.
KB: Can you talk about these character traits that balance out the Warrior?
DB: It’s similar to the so-called feminine characteristics. They're nurturing, soft, sensitive, sweet, loving, giving, which is great because it’s what ultimately makes life fun. You want to have emotion. You want to have passion. You want to have heart.
But without the other side, you are weak. You really need both. Because one is about strength and the ability to drive through a wall to get the job done and the other is about the ability to enjoy peace.
KB: How do martial arts help you fulfill your potential?
DB: In a couple of ways. In the simpler practical benefits of martial arts, you have the basic working out intensely which helps to get rid of stress and nervous energy. It lightens you up and makes you more balanced.
On a deeper level, I don’t care who you are, you are going to get your ass kicked over and over again. You have to come to terms with when things don’t go your way. That is invaluable. It builds character.
It’s one thing if someone beats you at a ball game. That kind of experience of difficulty is not quite as primal and raw as having some other guy physically dominate you and pummel you.
KB: I notice that sometimes I go back to this mentality of ‘Okay, I’ll just settle for this.’
DB: In some ways it’s good to tell yourself not to be satisfied with mediocrity and not to accept things that aren’t what you really want. On the other hand, you can drive yourself crazy by spending all of your life saying I’m not going to be happy until I get to this place.
You also need to appreciate and enjoy life. Just enjoy life right now with all of its imperfections.
You need the drive to push you and you need the ability to be satisfied right here and now.