My name is Joseph Hall
- Its fair to ask what makes me think I know so damn much. I’m not a Samurai, obviously, or a Ksatriya, or a Knight of The Temple. I’m not a priest. I’m not a monk. I’m not even a former Navy SEAL sniper assassin with over 3,000 kills.
- But I’ve always been interested in spiritual things and had that intense interest in violence that comes natural to boys. I grew up in a small town in Mississippi that had no martial arts schools in the seventies. But we had Kung Fu movies and the TV series of that name starring David Carradine. Every episode of that show exposed me (and my first training partners, my sisters Kathy and Karen) to the flying side kick and the full lotus position.
- As a result, spirituality and meditation were always intrinsic aspects of being really, really bad ass in my mind.
- In high school, I read Lawrence Leshan’s book about meditation. I don’t remember where it came from and I didn’t develop a real practice, but I began to understand intellectually what Kwai Chang Caine was doing when he sat on a rock minding his own business.
- I wouldn’t actually train in a martial art until 1983 when I began my studies of jujitsu while in college. Its an important detail that this college was administrated by the Order of Cistercians and home to one of their abbeys. My first exposure to martial arts training coincided with my first exposure to men devoted to a spiritual, contemplative life.
- Back then, jujitsu was still a Japanese martial art. I read Inazo Nitobe’s book BUSHIDO: THE SOUL OF JAPAN and a bunch of big books by Stephen Hayes about the Ninja. All while digesting Plato and Aristotle, the ILIAD and the ODYSSEY at the insistence of my professors.
- I also read BLACK ELK SPEAKS that first year in college and, for some reason, things began to coalesce for me. As Black Elk asserted that among his people, the Lakota, spirituality and a type of contemplation were essential for the warriors, I rediscovered Leshan, and re-read his work trying to get more from those few minutes of meditation we performed at the beginning and end of every jujitsu class.
- Again and again I was exposed to the idea that war was the province of the contemplative man and that spirituality was the province of the warrior. This was true for the Samurai, the Lakota, the Ksatriya, and the hoplite in the Athenian Phalanx. Just as it was universal in those days that the warrior study the spear and the lance, it was universal that the best of them studied also a code, a way, a dharma, and lived lives of introspection and deep thought.
- When did we forfeit the idea that the warrior, the poet, and the mystic were were the same man?
- As those of you who read my first book already know, after two years of this, on the solid advice of Plato (a great philosopher and infantryman who was the student of Socrates, also a great philosopher and infantryman), I dropped out of the university and enlisted in the US Army as an infantryman. I lived at Ft Benning for three years and fourteen weeks (which is about 1,000 years in a peacetime army), and I spent many of my weekends at a Cistercian Monastery in Conyers, GA, and some of what you’ll find in this blog, I learned there. Many of these gentle monks had been warriors in their youth in Europe and Burma and SouthEast Asia.
- Training with the Army Marksmanship Unit, I learned a breathing exercise designed to relax the shooter to increase his accuracy at long distance. That’ll be in here eventually. But in actual “meditation as meditation”, I was mostly untrained and untutored simply doing what I could figure out on my own and from the insane new age books coming out including the works of Thomas Merton, OCSO.
- I did establish then what would be the cornerstone of the meditation and mindfulness techniques I teach now. “Sit still and be quiet.” That’s it. After thirty years, that is still the goal and the method. You can still follow the blog if you want, but the rest is mere detail.
- Things changed when I returned to college after my first enlistment.
- I resumed my studies of jujitsu and lived, for a while, at a Hindu Ashram. Since I had just gotten out of the army, the priests and students there were eager to tell me the stories of their great warriors, the Ksatriyas.
- The Ksatriyas are/were India/Hinduism’s warrior caste. It is a mistake to study the Buddha or the life of Bodhidharma without recognizing they were Ksatriyas; they spent their childhoods and youths learning the bow and the arts of war, not preparing to be priests and founders of religions.
- Anyway, at that time, I had my first real teachers, those men of whom I could ask questions and discuss difficulties. Some of my teachers were Hindu, some Buddhist. One was a Christian priest.
- But most of all, what I know of spirituality and the Dharma and the way of the warrior, I learned from my fellow warriors interested in these things when I returned to the Army, during the years I spent in the Border Patrol and as an Air Marshal, or rolling on dojo floors.
- I’m not going to name my teachers here. Most of them (possibly all of them) you’ve never heard of anyway. And no one ever told me, “You are now enlightened, Grasshopper. Go forth and teach the way.” So none of my teachers are to blame for any of what follows in this blog.
- And, to be honest, many of them would shake their heads and say, “If this is what you gained during your time with me, you’re a failure.”
What’s It All Mean?
The ways of the Philosopher, Poet, Monk, and Warrior aren’t 4 ways. They’re one way.