There will always be people who only see a sword as a means of ruling over others. They think less of the art of swordplay, and more of the visceral pleasure of watching someone cower before them.

Tyranny is a brutal human disease that we seem to continue to let fester. Martial arts can be a home to the worst of us. Swordplay is no different, but you would think that maybe…perhaps…the slight more implied interest in things historical would give us an eye towards seeing the mistakes of the past and trying to not repeat them.

I grew up in a generation that had a healthy disbelief that any rational, good people could have allowed nazism the power that it had. How could they not see the evil that was brewing, that was so obvious to us now? Couldn’t they feel the hate, the evil? As I got older and gained more perspective, I understood how such things can come about. It was the result of a subtle process of allowing slight preferences to slowly spiral, until momentum was built and the body of the people no longer knew what was right to do.

It was an obvious and easy lesson to learn. Look to the heart of what you are doing, and how you feel about things. Never, even for a moment, let someone else’s opinion or ideas influence without first putting it all to a hard test. Question authority. And recognize who you chose to be an authority in your life, and question them more than anything else. Seek out voices of dissent, voices that you don’t agree with, and seek to understand what they say. As someone I can’t recall said, understand without necessarily accepting.

When we pick up a sword, we pick up an enormous personal responsibility. This is true of any of us who train in a martial art with the intention of becoming a martial artist. You cannot dare to call yourself a warrior if you do not put the good of others ahead of your own welfare. To assume the implied power of martial arts, of warriorhood or knighthood or masterhood or any of the other mantels of those who protect and teach the world of violence, is to also assume a mantle of responsibility. You take up that mantle, you take up the promise to the world that you will hold yourself to a higher moral standard.

There is no room for complacency. There is absolutely no room for hate, not even when it is veiled behind smugness and false camaraderie. A warrior does what she does with a sense that it is right for all, not just for a small group. Evil seeks advantage and status only for the select, and looks to drive down all others. It looks for wedges to drive between groups, so that there can be an us and them.

The rebel warrior is a powerful hero in most cultures. We love those who fight against oppression. We romanticize pirates, assassins and gang members when we imagine them standing up against those who oppress. We want to be the heroes of old. But for all our desires, we feed and support the oppressors.

You allow the bully when he makes you laugh. When he pats you on the shoulder. When she tells you that you are right, and those others are wrong. You love them when they make you feel part of the inside crowd. You make your sword a tool of oppression, with so much ease and willingness.

Courage is in taking the lonely steps, in being apart enough to have some perspective…and a true perspective, not one that is fed into your ears by the whispering voices. It’s never easy. If it feels easy, it’s because you are going downhill. It’s because you are being welled up and carried along by the crowd, blindly waiting to follow not the best leader, but the loudest bray. Press against the tide. Climb the mountain, alone.

You are no warrior until your fingers bleed from the climb.