The 13 Principles of the Jewish Warrior
Rabbi Michael Shelomo Bar-Ron
Regardless of how widely the opposite approach may be taught in some ultra-Orthodox circles, expertise in fighting for Torah-observant Jews (beyond basic “self-defense”) is not a vain pursuit to be taken up reluctantly by those who can’t learn Torah all day, but a precious life skill required for the performance of many mitzvot. It in no way contradicts the fact that the greatest side of warriorship to be pursued is mastery over one’s passions, conquest over anger, and the ability to turn foe into friend. Far from an expression of little faith in HaShem‘s miracles, it has been the highest expression of that faith for Torah-faithful warriors since the Torah was given:
from Moshe Rabbenu (peace be upon him) to Major Ro’ie Klein הי”ד (lehavdil),
from Yehoshua bin Nun to Yehoshua Sofer Maatuf-Doḥ (lehavdil),
from Rabbi Aqivah (as armor-bearer to Bar Kokhba) to Rabbi Raphael Halperin ז”ל (lehavdil), …and countless more.
When pursued with the right attitude, warrior training remains a Torah ideal. A few of the many sources from our Rabbis and Sages on this can be found on the front of page of our website, www.torathmoshe.com.
In light of the current rise of terrorism and non-terrorist killing sprees rocking our world, there has been an long-awaited awakening in our holy camp to the need to train in self-defence. This has inspired me to compile a list of fighting principles by which, HaShem-willing, we might save our lives and those of our loved ones. I do so based on my years of experience training in Shotokan Karate, Universal Fighting, and Abir-Qesheth Hebrew Warrior Arts, and my budding familiarity with other systems, such as Taiji-chuan.
It must be stated up front that warrior training as Torah Jews requires our full awareness that even a lifetime of training will not, alone, determine whether or not we will beat any given enemy. Any seasoned fighter knows that a fight scene has too many factors beyond our control for us to feel that our skill alone can deliver us from death and suffering. Victory is in the hands of HaShem alone. However, halakhah (applied Jewish Law) requires us to invest hishtadluth (personal, physical effort) into preserving our lives, let alone the other mitzvot of the Torah that require Jews to be skilled fighters.
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Here are 13 Principles of Fighting to live by:
1. Fight for the sake of Heaven only. Besides the proper intention a Jew must have when getting into a fight, this translates to not getting into a fight to begin with, unless you are forced to. That is, in order to defend your life, the lives of those you love, or your country. Your life is not yours alone to keep or throw away, but a sacred gift on loan for you to use, as best you can, according to HaShem‘s Will. Personal pride (even one’s “Jewish pride”), honor, revenge, possessions (even expensive ones), are not reasons to risk losing that sacred gift, and all that your life means to the people who depend on you, or will hopefully descend from you. To live for HaShem every single day of a long life is a greater service and challenge than to die for HaShem on a single day. Moreover, legal fees can do untold damage to a family’s savings, smashing hopes for the future. If you need to get into such trouble, let it be for the right reasons.
This clearly requires a mastery over one’s middoth (character traits) of anger and pride. While it is rare to find a Torah scholar in that capacity, when choosing a martial arts instructor for one’s children, it is essential to find one who not only respects Torah Judaism, but is a truly decent role-model in his middoth (even if he is a non-Jew) — and even better if his training includes such mussar. While no one is perfect, to my awareness, such instructors are not rare.
2. Make a show of self-confidence and empowerment, except when under attack.
Especially women, children, and the elderly should do their best to walk confidently with a smile, good posture, and a determined stride. Besides boosting your mood and overall well-being, an appearance of strength and empowerment makes you less attractive of a target to potential attackers than one of weakness. Avoid walking alone, especially at night, or through unlit or otherwise dangerous places.
Make a habit of carrying a small weapon or two, such as hot-pepper spray (good for open areas) and/or a small laser flashlight to give you a feeling of confidence. (In closed areas, a laser flash to an attacker’s eyes is preferable to a spray that can get into everyone’s eyes — even your own.) Empower yourself by learning how to carry and fight with everyday objects as weapons, especially a car key, for feeling better in empty and/or unlit places such as parking lots and garages. Unless one is well-trained in knife fighting, carrying a knife is a bad idea, as a trained opponent can kill you with your own weapon.
On the contrary, when faced with an imminent attack, it is important to feign weakness, in order to inflate the aggressor’s ego, lower his defences, and draw him in closer for your pre-emptive attack. Even with a cocked gun held to your head, or a sharp knife held to your throat, getting the attacker to think or process information (either by getting him to listen to your bargaining like a frightened victim, or by getting him to verbally answer or continue speaking) can give you that one opportunity to deflect the weapon and strike.
3. Maintain distance. Never let the aggressor come within striking range. It’s very common for an aggressor to challenge you by coming up close, chest to chest — assuming you will not want to “lose face” by backing down. Before he gets that close, either retreat, if you can flee or de-escalate the situation, or go on the offensive (attack). But do not allow yourself to come into his “firing range”. While he’s in the middle of mouthing off, he can easily surprise you with a head-butt to the face, or a knee to the groin, etc. If he does come that close, let that first attack be your own.
4. Control your angles. If you are being approached by an aggressor while protecting someone, or when facing more than one aggressor, take control of the angles. For example, keep yourself between the aggressor and the one you’re protecting as you try to maneuver, if possible, towards an exit. In a case of more than one aggressor, move so as to keep the main aggressor between you and his friend.
5. Don’t become enraged. For an inspired, righteous Jew or Noahide, fighting is not for the sake of defending his hurt pride or honor, but neutralizing potentially deadly force, if not executing justice. To help ensure you keep your emotions from boiling over, enabling you to think clearly, do not stare at your opponent’s eyes, or listen to his lip.
6. Never underestimate your opponent or the situation. Don’t make assumptions such as “I can easily beat this little guy” or “this fat, out-of-shape sack of potatoes”, etc. Even a very short guy can be super aggressive, super experienced, and totally psycho. He could have spent years fighting in prison for all you know. So look at all opponents as potentially equal, no matter how big or small they may appear. Moreover, do not make assumptions about the scene, such as “Surely he’s alone. His friends are not around. This is a fair fight. He can’t have any weapons.” If a single aggressor is attacking you, there is good reason to assume he is relying on a source of overwhelming force on his side.
7. Strive to maintain maximal, general awareness. In a fight, don’t stare in any one place. While directing an unfocused gaze towards the empty space next to his face, notice through peripheral vision how he’s moving, where his hands are going (reaching for a possible weapon), where his eyes are moving (looking for friends).
We’re also speaking about the critical, deep awareness of HaShem (not active thinking, but awareness). Know that you are not alone, but your Creator and Father is with you.
Awareness begins long before a fight. Wherever you are, be aware of your surroundings:
Note the presence of bystanders who might look suspicious (anyone wearing bulky clothing in pleasant weather, standing around with a large bag, or concealing his hands or his face — i.e. with dark sunglasses and a bandana, or behind a newspaper). Note the presence or absence of police, the location of all nearby exits and entry ways, sand and rocks that can be snatched up and thrown into an attacker’s face, sticks or bars that could be used as clubs, or heavy objects like larger stones, chairs, or even heavy books that could be hurled at an attacker — for lack of anything else.
Note the presence of bystanders who might look suspicious (anyone wearing bulky clothing at in pleasant weather, standing around with a large bag, or hiding his face behind a newspaper). Note the presence or absence of police, the location of all nearby exits and entry ways, sand and rocks that can be snatched up and thrown into an attacker’s face, sticks or bars that could be used as clubs, or heavy objects like larger stones, chairs, or even heavy books that could be hurled at an attacker — for lack of anything else.
Although you should try to avoid crowded areas, when walking through one, “have eyes in the back of your head”, making note of anyone possibly trailing you. When sitting in a crowded room, such as a restaurant, choose a corner seat that gives you a view of the entire room and entrance, preferably near an exit door.
8. Free your mind from fear and mental traps. It is no less than a negative commandment from the Torah to entertain any thoughts that will bring one to be afraid on the battlefield. But how can one control of such emotions?
It is said that F.E.A.R. can be an acronym for “False Evidence Appearing Real”. When there’s no way out of a fight situation, you must see the “evidence” (what you see that scares you) as false. Indeed, the small have oft-overlooked advantages over the strong. Only HaShem knows the outcome of a confrontation, and you must believe that He will see you through. So you do not entertain any thoughts or assumptions about all that your opponent could do to you, what damage he could inflict on you, nor think about your family or loved ones.
To release the paralyzing grip of fear, you must turn fear in to fire — to literally transform it into aggression. Both feelings, fear and aggression, come from the same “flight and fight” instinct, which is rooted in the reptilian brain. Accordingly, we can, through determined willpower, move our state of mind from one to the other. However beyond your control it may seem, it is a matter of conscious choice. Move from, “oy, how dare I?” to “how dare he!”; from “I see my grave before me!” to “I will see him, please God, into the grave he is digging himself!”
Besides fearful thoughts, you must free your mind, in a fight situation, from other deep thoughts and imaginative assumptions. Don’t busy your mind with clever assumptions that the aggressor will or will not make a particular move, or that you will make a particular move in response. You cannot really know what he will do, nor how you might choose to react. In a situation where a single second can spell life or death, it can take seconds (plural) to process such thoughts. Meanwhile, you could be struck unawares with deadly force from a direction you were unprepared for. Remain present, aware, and feel how to act and react, when to go on the offensive, or how to defend with a winning offense.
Besides readying you for quick surprises, such freeing the mind in a fight situation will help to keep you calm enough to fight smart and win.
9. Train, train, train. A novice might think: If, in the fight situation, I shouldn’t be busy plotting the aggressor’s possible moves or my own possible moves (see #8 above), how will I decide how to move?! The answer: training. The reason why all students of all fighting styles are drilled consistently in ordered responses to pre-determined attacks, and most are made to master “katas” or “forms” (sets of ordered defensive and offensive movements) is so that they can develop the ability to fight instinctively. So that, in the moment of truth, the mind will be free to judge the immediate situation, remaining completely present. To train more real-life situations, we need to spar with training partners — and ideally with minimal padding. Different situations should be simulated, such as darkness with a blindfold. In Krav Maga, with proper padding, students train being mobbed by a swarm of attackers (their classmates). Clearly, there is a real need for exercises that condition the body to handle pain. Ideally, any student of other fighting forms would do well to take at least a few classes in Thai kickboxing to learn how to handle getting hit.
Training includes developing a warrior mentality outside the dojo (training center): Where you might be, envision, when you have space of mind, how you might handle different scenarios erupting. Familiarize yourself with all sorts of simple weapons, and get a gun license and a sidearm, if possible. How many terrorist attacks have been stopped by a passerby who happened to be armed with a pistol? Considering how street fights commonly require a good deal of endurance, the need for endurance/cardio-vascular exercise is real. This can be achieved even by a simple, daily 10-minute cardio routine.
Training includes not only the use of actual weapons, but the use of everyday objects as weapons. Punching with a key held in a fist, protruding between the fingers, can pierce the enemy’s face all the way to the bone. A tightly rolled-up and folded magazine becomes as hard as stone, and is easy to grasp and strike with. One need not be strong to deal a mortal blow to an attacker with a “magazine-strike” to his throat. These are just two of many more examples.
As you get stronger, tougher, and more confident, you should build up your courage by taking a bit of calculated risk — such as taking walks without a friend, through less lit areas, or together with a friend through an less friendly part of town.
Finally, beyond our regular obligation to train in Torah, learn the ancient sources of our People with an eye out for lessons from our righteous warrior forebears, prophets, and leaders, and the fighting tactics they employed.
10. Breathe continually and properly during a fight in order to stay sufficiently oxygenated and calm. Holding your breath when striking will get you winded very fast. That can be deadly in street fights, which commonly require good endurance (as stated above). To keep from hyperventilating, taking quick but shallow breaths. This needs to be demonstrated and practiced. This is taught in Systema, the Russian martial art, and Abir-Qesheth.
11. “Be like water, my friend”: This is not original wisdom from Bruce Lee, but ancient wisdom common to more than one ancient fighting form. Keep your body loose, not rigid, and moving continually. This will help you to not only move more quickly, fluidly, and unpredictably, but prevent injury when struck. Remember: it is HaShem‘s power moving through you — not “your own strength and the might of your hand”. Make yourself into a loose conduit of HaShem‘s force. Remain calm, moving continually and unpredictably side to side, frequently reversing your stance and torso angle, faking and feinting.
12. Expose yourself as little as possible. Keep your arms in front of you (continually moving, but never close to your face) with the torso turned an angle, and your chin kept slightly downwards. Exposing your chin can invite a blow that could both knock you out and break your jaw.
13. Don’t expect to be able to aim well, and don’t invest too much in a particular strike: In a fight situation, a normal person’s heart-rate approaches 200 beats per minute! In that condition, your ability to think clearly and aim well is severely compromised. Therefore, open-handed strikes are generally far better than fists, and you must throw as many strikes as you can, and as hard, fast, and unpredictably as you can.
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Whatever fighting form you might be training in or choose to train in; so long as it is for the sake of Heaven, may it be that in the merit of your training, and your striving to observe all of HaShem‘s Commandments with joy and goodness of heart, that HaShem bless you and yours with peace, health, long life, and protection, such that your skills will never need to put to the test. And should you be given such a test, may HaShem deliver you from the hand of your enemy.
Indeed, may HaShem bring all the enemies of Israel and of righteous gentiles to utter defeat, and bless us with a complete Redemption, speedily in our days — Amen.
.יְהוָה עֹז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן יְהוָה יְבָרֵךְ אֶת עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם
(Psalms 29:11 ,תהילים כט:יא)