Virtue, Liberty, and God: The Morality and Theology of the Martial Art of ‘Warrior Flow’

In past essays, I have urged readers of this publication (and others) to learn to physically defend themselves.  Ours is a world that, while good in countless ways, contains evil as well. It is high time, I argued, that Americans generally, self-styled libertarians and conservatives specifically, assume ownership of their own defense.

To achieve this objective, I further prescribed enrollment in a school that teaches a system designed for the purposes of genuine self-defense and combat—as opposed to studying any of the pugilistic sports or competition-oriented martial arts.  My reasoning is quite simple and was universally endorsed by warriors long before I thought of it.  The United States Army is to the point:

“Remember, you will fight as you train!”

As retired Lieutenant-Colonel USMC, Al Ridenhour, my own Senior-Master Instructor and founder of the combative system, Warrior Flow, has often reminded his students: How you train is how you will fight.

In response to my essay(s) on Warrior Flow, I received several emails from admirers, the inquisitive, and critics alike.  However neglected this topic of self-defense tragically is in contemporary political discourse, it should be of premier importance, particularly for those, like many readers of this site, for whom individual liberty remains the prize of all prizes, a blessing from God whose enemies never sleep. Left of Bang: How the ... Patrick Van Horne, Jas... Best Price: $12.13 Buy New $14.63 (as of 08:15 UTC - Details)

For this reason, and rather than reply to every email individually, I thought it would be more beneficial and less time-consuming for me to state, and address, the queries here. It’s important to note that though they are stated interrogatively, these questions are rhetorical.

That is, they are intended as objections.  As such, they will be followed by my counter-objections.

(1)What’s so unique about Warrior Flow?

This question invites a detailed response.

(1)Warrior Flow belongs to a fundamentally different league than that to which any of the classical, competitive martial arts belong.

So, this being said, those inquirers who have sought to draw analogies between Warrior Flow and any such arts are guilty of drawing a false analogy.  In conception, design, and objective, Warrior Flow, on the one hand, and any of the sportive and contest-oriented martial arts on the other, are two distinct languages.

More specifically, they are incommensurable languages: the terms of the one cannot be translated into those of the other.  

To be clear, sportive and competitive martial arts are activities of much value (I myself am also a student of Tang Soo Do), but insofar as they are sport and contest-oriented, they are akin to a game. In glaring contrast, self-defense combative systems, like Warrior Flow, which are designed to prepare students for life-or-death combat, are patterned on the model of war.  As the legendary veteran teacher of World War II Close Quarter Combatives and founder of American Combato, Professor Bradley Steiner, put it long ago: Real self-defense is “war in microcosm.”

Martial Arts as Game (MAAG) and Martial Arts as War (MAAW)—these are the two models available to us.  The presuppositions of each are diametrically opposed to those of the other.

Practitioners of MAAG train their bodies and, thus, their minds, to accommodate a host of assumptions that no practitioner of MAAW would ever dream of entertaining.  These assumptions consist mostly of rules, the constraints upon conduct in the ring, the cage, or the dojo, but also certain givens such as the number of opponents that they will have to face (always no more than one); the conditions under which they will be squaring off (always a well-lit area, no concrete surfaces, no broken glass or rocks, etc.); and the amount of time that they have to prepare for their confrontation (which is pre-arranged far in advance of its occurrence).

Students of MAAW, on the other hand, assume only that an attack—a potentially lethal attack—can happen anywhere at any time and involve any number of predators who are possibly armed with any number of weapons.  Here the objective is not to force one’s opponent to submit or keep them down until the referee finishes counting to ten.  As in war, so in self-defense, there are no opponents.

There are only enemies.

The objective, hence, is simple:

Incapacitate the enemy by whichever means necessary.

Again, none of this is meant to denigrate any of the traditional martial arts or pugilistic sports.  But the identity of a thing—anything—is derived as much from what it is not as from what it is.  Thus, we must distinguish Warrior Flow from those martial arts with which it can all too easily be confused if we are to become clearer on its identity.

(2)Even within the world of combat/self-defense, Warrior Flow is unique inasmuch its focus is on, not techniques, but, rather, the development of body mastery, which in turn consists in fluency in certain basic physiological principles or concepts.

The objective in Warrior Flow is to enable men and women, irrespectively of their age, body type, degree of athleticism, and/or their peculiar physical contingencies to become sufficiently pliable so that they can do “whatever is within the laws of physics and human physiology,” as Master Al so often says, to fend off an attack as efficiently and quickly as possible.

Master Al insists that just because one possesses a first-rate toolbox doesn’t mean that one is a carpenter.  His point is that the technique-oriented training modalities characteristic of the overwhelming majority of martial arts, including some forms of “martial realism,” don’t prepare students as well as they could insofar as while they may teach students how to strike, they neither focus on teaching them how to strike with bone-crushing power from any and every physiologically conceivable position nor on how to avoid being hit themselves while they’re striking.

And this brings us to the next point:

(3)Skill without will is useless when it comes to defending oneself (and others) against the predatory machinations of thugs.  Mindset is essential.  In Warrior Flow, there are three terms used to characterize the frame of mind of the warrior: “ruthless intention,” “perfect clarity,” and “moral certainty.”

For millennia, theologians and philosophers have treated omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence as if they were distinct attributes of God.  Nevertheless, they have always recognized that, because God, being a perfect unity, cannot be a complex of characteristics, these properties that are predicated of God are not actually or really distinct at all.  They are ultimately one and the same.

Similarly, for analytical and linguistic purposes alone, we can treat these names for the Warrior Mind as if they were distinct aspects of it.  The reality, though, is that they all point to one and the same thing.

Ruthless Intention: This is the raw, guttural determination to do whatever it takes to defend the innocent (whether yourself or others) against attackers, to strike with the intention of crushing them into oblivion.

Perfect Clarity: This is the vision, a singularity of vision, held by the warrior when he “stands in that space,” as Master Al refers to that situation in which an otherwise decent human being realizes that unless he acts, some scumbag or set of scumbags will harm innocent people, and, with irrepressible conviction, turns the predator(s) into prey by going on the offensive, by striking with ruthless intention.

Moral Certainty: This can’t be stressed enough: In the last analysis, Warrior Flow, like any and every martial art, is a moral or ethical system in that its end is that of stronger, more virtuous (i.e. “better”) human beings, decent people who possess both the capability and the confidence to defeat the indecent who would target them for harm or worse.

The essential objective of Warrior Flow is the production of good men and women who have both the power and the will to defeat evil men and women.

Moral certainty is the conviction, not actually born of but, rather, indistinguishable from perfect clarity, that it would be wrong—morally wrong—for a person under attack or in the presence of an innocent under attack not to besiege the enemy with a ruthless intention designed to instill the fear of God in him.

Nor is this last remark only hyperbolic.  It provides a point of entry to addressing the next objection that was raised directly to me, indirectly to every practitioner of the warrior arts.

(2)How do you reconcile your endorsement of Warrior Flow with your Christian faith?

There could be more than one assumption behind this challenge.

For as astonishing as it is that anyone with even the slightest acquaintance with the Bible, the Christian theological tradition, and/or the history of Christendom and Christian peoples could so much as think to suggest it, the first assumption could be that Christianity is a form of pacifism, the doctrine that violence of any sort for any reason is abominable.

And since Warrior Flow is a martial art that, as such, encourages the use of violence, it is incompatible with Christianity.

As I just indicated, it is with the greatest of ease that we can put this objection out to pasture.  From its inception, Christians have always recognized that there are legitimate or just exercises of violence, expressions of violence, in fact that are ordained by God, Who Himself not infrequently unleashes violence upon the evil.

So, it’s not just the case that Christianity most definitely does not require pacifism.

It is pacifism—not Warrior Flow or any of the martial arts—that is actually incompatible with Christianity.

There is still another reason why Christianity and Warrior Flow both must be incompatible with pacifism:

Pacifism, ultimately, is a radically incoherent doctrine that, as such distinguished philosophers as Elizabeth Anscombe and others have compellingly argued, actually paves the way for great evils.

Pacifism, in other words, is incompatible with any self-consistent doctrine or system of belief.

The other assumption in the above criticism is not that any and all martial arts systems are incompatible with Christianity, but only such systems, self-defense combative systems, as Warrior Flow, with their categorical imperative to kill the enemy if and when the only other alternative is that innocents will die.

Admittedly, this assumption fares only slightly less unreasonable than the first, for it stretches credibility to the snapping point that anyone with the most basic, intuitive sense of morality, to say nothing of the most basic familiarity with the Bible and the Christian faith, could think that there is anything objectionable about good people using lethal force to prevent evil people—thugs, terrorists, gangsters, serial murderers, abductors, rapists, etc.—from harming good people.

As I mentioned above, Warrior Flow is, at bottom, a system of morality.  Animals use violence against other animals in order to survive.  But there is nothing morally right or morally wrong about this violence, for animals, the vast majority of remotely sane and sensible people still realize, are not moral agents. They lack the resources in rationality, freedom of the will, a self-conception, and conscience to have moral agency.

Animals are animated by instinct to survive.  Survival, though, is in and of itself morally-neutral.

Human beings, in stark contrast, though they have the same instinct of self-preservation that is distributed throughout the animal kingdom, don’t act to merely survive.

They choose, they rationally choose, to flourish.

Warrior Flow doesn’t aim to improve the prospects of survival for animals.  It aims to empower human beings, persons, to flourish, to achieve the fulfillment that they ache to achieve.

In other words, unlike animals, who possess no more than a physical or instinctive desire for survival, human beings have a psychic desire, yes, but a rational and, thus, moral desire to not just survive, but to know that they will thrive despite the numerous challenges that life will throw up at them.

And the self-confidence that one will be able to conquer one’s enemies in the event that predatory humanoids should prey upon one or others—the self-confidence for the sake of which Warrior Flow exists as the distinctive art that it is—translates into the confidence in oneself to prevail over all of life’s obstacles.

There’s more.

The system of morality that is Warrior Flow—a system that, mind you, affirms: the objectivity of goodness and evil; the rationality, freedom, and, hence, moral agency of the human being; and the moral life as a quest to cultivate the virtues of both head and heart, including, obviously, the virtues essential to martial prowess—suffers from none of the self-delusions that plague any number of modern moral theories that dispense with God.

Warrior Flow’s vision of morality is anchored in its theology: People should learn to defend themselves against human predators because, being made in the image of a Creator-God, they have a God-endowed right, a natural or moral right, to defend themselves against those who would violate the natural or moral law of God and man.

According to this ultimately Christian theology, the theology upon which America’s Founding Fathers drew, those who would violate the inherent dignity of a person reveal themselves to be enemies, not just of those who they target, but of all humanity and, importantly, God Himself.  The right of a person to live his life unmolested by human vermin entails on the part of all a duty to Man and God to keep one’s hands off of the person and property of others for all reasons other than that of self-defense.

More critically, and although it is a neglected aspect of this rights-philosophy, it is nevertheless true that the right—again, the moral, God-endowed right—of any and all human beings to live in peace engenders at least a prima facie obligation on the part of each and every person to defend not just others, but themselves when that right is under siege.

So, no, not only is Warrior Flow not incompatible with Christianity.  It presupposes a distinctively Christian theological context.

(3)Insofar as Warrior Flow is founded by a retired United States Marine Corp Lieutenant-Colonel, is it not but a subtle form of “Statism?”

This objection I already addressed at length in a previous article, so I will say relatively little in response to it here.

The bottom line is this: That Master Al Ridenhour, who in addition to engaging in numerous combat operations and multiple tours of duty spent his time during his career in the service training other Marines in the ways of armed and unarmed combat, has chosen now to deploy his decades worth of skills and experience to the end of training civilians—civilians!—to become warriors themselves reveals on his part a frame of mind that is the antithesis of Statism.

Master Al unequivocally rejects the prevailing Sheep-Wolf-Sheepdog (SWS) paradigm popularized by Clint Eastwood’s biopic of the late Chris Kyle, American Sniper.  He has made his reasons for rejecting it clear in his own writings: It is SWS (and not Warrior Flow) that legitimizes Statism, for it presupposes that only when violence is exercised by State actors (the Sheepdogs) for the ostensible purposes of protecting the citizenry (the Sheep) from the scumbags of the species (the Wolves) is this violence justifiable.

This model infantilizes American men and women while denying their birthright both as self-governing citizens of the Constitutional Republic bequeathed to them by America’s Founding Fathers as well as rights and duties-bearers of the God Who created them in His image.

From the perspective of Warrior Flow, however, because these rights and duties have their origins in a source—the Source—that transcends human governments and societies, they cannot be revoked by the latter.

This is why Warrior Flow seeks to make people into, as Master Al says, lions, for neither sheepdogs nor wolves dare mess with lions.

Warrior Flow is meant to help people discover their own inner warriors, to make them self-sufficient so that they can defend themselves.

To reiterate: Far from being Statist, this is the stuff of the Statist’s worst nightmares.

(4)Does not Warrior Flow, with its emphasis on teaching people how to “kill the bad guys,” allow for any proportionality in a defender’s response against an attack?

Warrior Flow is meant to supply good people with the ability to choose, given the context, whether to spare a savage attacker’s life.  What this means, though, is that if—given the context, i.e. the circumstances that only someone in those circumstances can know besta person determines that he or she can neutralize the attacker while sparing the guttersnipe’s life, then he or she can choose to do so.

In reality, however, Warrior Flow eschews principles of proportionality, “humane self-defense,” fair play, and whatever other euphemisms its critics select to conceal the intensity and sheer barbarity of an unprovoked attack.  Given the latter, Warrior Flow counsels its students to take no prisoners in the event that they are imperiled by civilization’s discontents.

Go big or go home. This is how Master Al responded to me when I first asked him about Warrior Flow’s philosophy of self-defense.

Real fights are akin to war—not sport.  And in war, the objective is to crush the enemy.

It’s true that Master Al and all Warrior Flow instructors and practitioners—not unlike Grandmaster John Perkins and the late Grandmaster Tim Carron of Guided Chaos, Professor Bradley Steiner of American Combato, and every other teacher of World War II Close-Quarter-Combatives from the time of the pioneers of this approach (during World War II) to the present day—insist that their students cultivate the “ruthless intention,” as Master Al characterizes it, to unleash the Gates of Hell upon anyone who imperils them or their loved ones.

Kill the bad guys.

How or why any human being whose eyes haven’t been blinded by the rose-colored glasses that he’s too afraid of taking off his head, let alone a practitioner of any martial art, could find fault with this line of reasoning defies imagination:

First, the “bad guys” here are not trash-talking loudmouths at the corner bar looking to engage in a “d**k measuring” contest with someone who would prefer to keep to himself.  Even less are they guys from your dojo, another dojo, another style of martial art, or a colleague in the sport in which you train.

The bad guys are determined, violent, possibly homicidal predators in search of innocent, unsuspecting human beings upon whom to prey.

They are not unlike any of the low-lives who regularly feature on prison documentaries.  They are career criminals and gang members.  They may be terrorists.  They are Humans-In-Name-Only (HINOs) who, at least when the impulse strikes them, have no regard for human life.

And even if their intention is not kill their prey, their subjective intention is irrelevant.  What matters is the intention of the act of besieging a person who did nothing to provoke the attack. This intention, any fool with an IQ above two should be able to understand, is to inflict physical harm.  Moreover, the logic of an act—again, even if not the subjective intention of the person performing it—of physically harming an innocent person points, inexorably, to the death of the person attacked.

This line bears a bit of exposition, for it’s all but a foregone conclusion that more than one person will misunderstand what is and is not being said here:

Every act is distinguished on account of the kind of act that it is.  In other words, every act is differentiated from others according to its own internal logic—independently and irrespectively of the subjective intentions of the agent performing it.  And like the logic of an argument, the logic of the act points to a conclusion, or some possible conclusions, that ultimately define it.

So, it doesn’t matter that the sewage who proceeds to bludgeon a little old lady for her bingo money is not thinking to himself, “I mean to murder her!”  Nor does it matter that the victim didn’t actually die.  Any remotely reasonable observer—no one more so than the little old lady herself—has every reason to assume that the vermin does indeed mean to murder her, for his action points ineluctably to that outcome.

All of this being so, the philosophy of Warrior Flow is the most humane of philosophies, for it aims to help its students cultivate within themselves both the “perfect clarity” and “moral certainty” that they need in order to save their lives and those of other innocents if and when, as Master Al says, they need to “stand in that space” and defeat those who jeopardize them.

It is as stupid as it is immoral to saddle a person who may be physically threatened, or whose children, say, may be physically threatened, with the burden of uncertainty regarding the course of action necessary for thwarting the attack.  Lectures regarding the alleged need for a “proportional” response and the like endanger innocent lives. Permanent Record Snowden, Edward Best Price: $8.52 Buy New $9.85 (as of 07:25 UTC - Details)

And it is unconscionable to castigate a person who has succeeded in relieving “the Earthly burdens” (another Master Al-ism) of a predator for failing to adhere to some principle of “proportionality.”

Second, proportionality requires that the person being attacked fight defensively.  While it’s true, of course, that Warrior Flow (like all martial arts systems) expect of their students that they should only ever engage in violence for purposes of self-defense, the latter is the reason for fighting; defense, however, is never a strategy for prevailing over the enemy after the violent encounter has been initiated.

The best defense, in other words, is a damn good offense.

In conclusion, all human beings, but particularly Americans who self-regard as free men and women endowed by God with inalienable moral rights and duties, need to assume responsibility for their own protection.  Responsibility being essential to liberty, it’s wildly inconsistent—in fact, absurd—for anyone, and that much more for conservatives and libertarians, to insist upon the need for Americans to take responsibility for their bills, speech, voting decisions, and countless other things but not for their own defense.

For those men and women who are God-fearing, liberty-loving, and serious about conducting themselves as, well, free men and women, Warrior Flow is your next stop.

As Master Al often asks:

For what are you waiting?