How can we in the martial arts tradition remember our veterans? All those who have served and given of them selves, and in too many cases, given their last?
Perhaps this can begin with something as simple as actually remembering. That is, rather than just looking at November 11th as a Federal holiday where the banks, post offices and other governmental agencies are closed, and as day that is perhaps a bit quieter than other days, to think for a moment or two about the true meaning of the day.
President Woodrow Wilson established this day on November 11th, 1919. He proclaimed: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”
In 1938, it became a legal holiday and has been observed as such since with speeches, parades and other observances eventually in 1954 becoming what we recognize to as Veterans Day with a proclamation by President Eisenhower. It is the time when Americans remember all those who have served our Nation. Memorial Day is the day given to remembering those who have given their lives.
The martial arts, and the martial arts tradition, the Way of the Warrior, are all at the core of this ethos of the warrior tradition, of those who serve. From the earliest recorded history of what would probably today be termed “martial arts,” that of monks defending their temples in China and India, the ideal has always been that those in the martial arts were defenders, not aggressors. They were the ones willing to walk in harm’s way when necessary. They were the protectors of home, family, children and the infirm. And they advanced their societies’ and cultures through statecraft, the encouragement of the arts and learning, insuring that justice protected the weak and downtrodden, and were carriers of the Light of Civilization. Their lives and service was about more than fighting. It was about transmitting something in the present and for the future. Today our service women and men are heirs to this tradition. It is not always successfully transmitted or understood, but never the less it is part of this storied history.
Yet, of equal concern is how we as a Nation care for those who have served. To honor our fallen warriors yet ignore those who have survived the horrors or combat and injury bespeaks a failure of our national conscience. In ancient times, warriors were praised and held places of honor in their communities. In Ancient Greece, great epic poems and hymns were written about the warrior’s journey and return home. Think of Homer’s “Odyssey” as just one example. Warriors were buried with great solemnity and observance. Their final resting places reflecting how highly their fellow citizen held them. In “The Iliad,” Hector’s death is following by nine days of preparation for his burial. Even the a warrior as great Achilles paused to let his rival Hector be so honored.
After remembering, practical steps can be pushing our politicians to not let these women and men slip between the cracks of society. That is, respecting and honoring their service and sacrifice by doing whatever we can to insure they receive all the help, assistance and benefits due them, and more.
And we, who know how to use ki, energy, can direct it tomorrow and in the days that follow towards this goal. We should never forget those who have served. Never.