By Richard Burkland
(This article appeared in the SMAA Journal in 2004. It is the official publication of the SMAA. To find out how to join the SMAA, and obtain this quarterly, visit http://www.smaa-hq.com/.)
My recent retirement from the Army precipitated an unexpected existential crisis. It caused me to review my life and ask myself certain fundamental questions. Have I served well? Have I upheld and personified the principles that I hold most dear? Was I a good man? A good soldier? As the object of judo training is to achieve balance, growth, and harmony in life, and because judo is a spiritual and personal discipline, I decided to reflect on where I’d been to better discern where I’m going. I hope that these insights will be of value to others…
In the Beginning . . .
I first read the novel, Once an Eagle, by Anton Myrer, in the summer of 1969. It is the story of an American soldier; a career officer who serves during both war and peace and who personifies the highest martial values. I was both entranced and inspired by it. This book would become the essential road map of my life. I’d join the Army, win World War I, then World War II, and then we’d deal with whoever else needed their butt kicked. I would be the next Sam Damon. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that they’d already done all that without me! Nevertheless, this was my dream.
In the summer of 1970, I found “the Way.” I began my study of judo and found it to be a lifelong joy and the subject of endless fascination. I was fortunate to first learn from a great technician and kind human being, Otaka Shuichi Sensei, at the Northglenn Judo Club in Colorado. In judo I had found a physical activity that inspired and improved me, and which I also found to be intellectually stimulating as well. My study of judo and my inspiration to be a soldier would combine to carry me forward in life. Judo helped make me into the soldier that I became by teaching me balance, perseverance, and flexibility.
Searching for Classical Judo
At that point I began to drift away from the “sport oriented” judo organizations. In some ways this was unfortunate for me because the positive aspects of hard physical training, the development of superior technique through practice, and the honest self-examination offered by participation in randori (“free practice”) and shiai (“competition”) espoused by the sport enthusiasts are worthy features of their practice. I believed that while these were valuable by-products of training, they were not the ultimate goal of training. I further believed that judo was an effective martial way for self-defense and self-perfection, and I stubbornly stuck with this interpretation of judo rather than switching or compromising.
Freedom in Continuous Change
The three pillars of my life have been my family, the Army, and judo. Now, after over 20 years of service, I am retiring from active duty. I find it difficult to accept the fact that I’ll no longer be an “action guy,” particularly when we are still at war. Being a soldier is not just something that you do, it is something that you are. That is why I find it so difficult to let go. This is true of being a judoka as well. I have just undergone major orthopedic surgery for the fourth time in my career. As souvenirs of military service, I have a steel pin in my ankle, torn ligaments in my knee, a torn rotator cuff, and two ruptured discs in my back.
Insights from a Lifetime of Budo
Since it is the duty of old warriors to teach young warriors how to become old warriors themselves, I shall continue to pass on what I’ve learned. And what exactly is that?
Reflecting on the Past, Moving Toward the Future
Being a soldier is a true profession and a way of life. It demands ultimate commitment, and discipline and sacrifice beyond that of ordinary professions. You must develop a “warrior ethos”—a set of values or guiding beliefs. These values should include: Honor and Integrity—doing what is right, ethically, morally, and legally; Courage—overcoming fear, danger, or adversity, both physical and moral; Duty—fulfillment of obligations and acceptance of responsibility for your own actions and those entrusted to your care. The true soldier, guided by a genuine warrior ethos, will dedicate his life to constant study and practice of the skills necessary to wage war. A leader of soldiers will be ever mindful of the awesome responsibility he carries. He must not misuse his soldiers; he must not fail in his mission or in upholding his sacred oath …
About the Author
Richard Burkland Sensei is a longtime member of the SMAA’s judo and jujutsu divisions. A valued and frequent contributor to the SMAA Journal, he recently retired from the army as a Lieutenant Colonel. Burklund Sensei also holds a doctorate in history from Columbia State University.