This post is the first of a blog series I’m calling Chivalry First. On (or around) the first of each month, I will discuss the ideals, responsibilities, and examples of Chivalry as I see them. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, one that is perhaps overdue for discussion on this site. Let me just dive in, and hopefully my purpose and timing will become plain in due course.
A law was signed in Texas that goes into effect on September 1, 2017. The law states that blades longer than 5.5 inches — including swords — can now be carried on a person in public settings with limited restrictions as to locations. For example, long blades cannot be carried at government buildings, schools, prisons, hospitals, amusement parks, places of worship, bars, or sporting events. I fully expect cane swords to spike in sales for at least a couple of weeks.
As someone who practices the sword as both a martial art and a moving meditation, and as one who follows a personal Code of Chivalry, I have mixed feelings about this law. Common sense would suggest this law is a bad idea while simultaneously suggesting that blades shorter than 5.5 inches — or no blade at all — can certainly wreak just as much damage. If anything, shorter blades are easier to use and easier to conceal, and if you really know what you’re doing, your average deck of playing cards can be just as lethal.
The spirit of the original ban on long blades as I see it has less to do with function and more to do with psychology. A knife is a common tool. A large knife is threatening to the average person, especially in the hands of a person with malicious intent. A sword? Especially in an era where such things aren’t common? You get the idea. And as we all know, fear itself can be a weapon. If you’ll forgive a Star Wars reference, Master Yoda teaches, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” This can, of course, be applied to guns as well. In the minds of those who carry firearms for protection, that’s the point, to deter others who carry them from using them, and to have them at the ready if that deterrent isn’t enough. It’s the classic balance of power principle, applied to the personal level. If you can see the weapon being carried, you will instill fear or perhaps caution in the minds of others. A sword is sometimes perceived to be the bladed equivalent of carrying a rifle or shotgun. Last I checked, no one walks around with the kind of specialized “trench coat of holding” frequently utilized by Connor and Duncan MacLeod, where swords simply disappeared into thin air beneath their coats until they were needed. Then again, no one in their right mind walks the streets with the intent to take a person’s head either, and sawed-off shotguns have legal restrictions for much the same reasons.
The question most asked by those who don’t carry a weapon is, “Why would you need to carry one?” Answers abound across the spectrums of practicality and maturity. The nature of freedom as expressed in this country is that it sometimes overrides common sense or civic well-being on the idea that everyone is personally responsible for upholding the highest / common good. It’s high-minded, to be certain, and not without obvious risk. The counterargument is that without the freedom to exercise such responsibility, tyranny reigns supreme. The immediate risk to an individual is usually considered in relation to the amount of control that can be seized from a collective, setting legal precedent that can be leveraged in far more dangerous ways down the road. It’s the basis of our Constitution and Bill of Rights as well as the foundation of virtually all political debate in this country. Moments in our history show that full governmental control over a situation is not always the best answer. Indeed, this country’s formation was a result of the desire to be free from such control. Look no further than the prohibition of alcohol in this country from 1920 – 1933 for a prime example of higher morality leading to deadly results. This has led to similar arguments of “If you take away our guns (or drugs, or anything else potentially perceived as a vice to someone with an opposing view), then only the criminals will have them.” Likewise, without some governmental controls (and sometimes in spite of them), individual abuses will happen. Both sides of this argument are brimming with reason and emotion alike. As ever, reality is somewhere in the middle, but most people these days look only at the extremes.
My position is that while the debate rages, the law is still the law, and there will always be people who will either exploit it or circumvent it as they see fit. I see a weapon as a tool, an extension of its user. Its power should be properly understood and respected, and as such, the person who wields that power should likewise be respected. Ideally, such respect is earned through demonstration of responsibility, not freely given just because someone has a weapon. That’s the delusional mistake that causes every would-be punk to want a gun, the idea that with the power, respect automatically follows. If not respect, then certainly fear. They’re not looking for accountability. They’re looking for easy leverage over the world and over their own fear. This is part of why the knight is a powerful image for me as one who has earned the right to bear arms through demonstration of responsibility and takes on that higher responsibility for the collective good as a direct result.
In the United States, we have the Second Amendment to our Constitution which states:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
The debate continues to this day if this extends to individuals who are not a part of a militia, if militias are even warranted in the modern era, etc. There is also the consideration of Federal law vs. State and local law. What is almost universally accepted is that this pertains specifically to firearms. The subject of blades almost never comes up in this context. In Texas, some interpret the state penal code in such a manner that dueling is still legal, albeit with fists, not weapons. Whatever the case, I’m not arguing the law nor its spirit of intent. I leave that to legal minds and philosophers far sharper and more experienced than myself. People will always find a way to justify something in their minds if they want it badly enough. We humans are infinitely malleable and adaptable. It’s why we’re at the top of the evolutionary ladder, insofar as we can tell. That, too, may be misperception that we’ve chosen to believe.
All of this is the springboard behind Chivalry First. My goal with this series is to impose neither my beliefs nor my will upon anyone else. I intend no parapet from which to preach. Quite the reverse, I would invite the consideration of ideals as they’ve been handed down across time and culture, reinterpreted to the modern era. My hope is that discussion will generate new ideas within the reader and within myself, with these blog posts serving only to begin such discussion and consideration. A person must ultimately find their own answers. Ideally, people will follow the laws, and ideally, those laws will be just. Humanity is always a work in progress. A person’s beliefs and a society’s common good are forged over time and consensus, both centered through filters of perception. The more right thought and right action are maintained in such systems, by whatever metric you perceive as “right,” the better a society will function. At least, that’s the idea. If the examples of Chivalry have proven anything on the battlefield of morality and ethics, it’s that there are no hard and fast answers to anything. That means that thought and discussion are warranted in the name of peaceful resolution before it disintegrates into combat. This is typically the standpoint of every martial arts master, regardless of their discipline of study. Such study is about strengthening the defense of one’s character and one’s spirit as much as a defense against bodily harm. “Honor’s not in the weapon; it’s in the man.”
If this sort of thing is what you expect when you hear about such things as honor or chivalry, then you’re probably not alone. The problem with stereotypes is that they often come from somewhere, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it. It’s only by engaging in conversation and confronting those stereotypes that we can push past them to something resembling higher intent. Concepts of honor and chivalry were designed to govern why people fight, how they fight, under what conditions, and ideally to prevent the need from fighting in the first place. The application of these concepts can turn mere thugs and brutes into true warriors, with physical and mental discipline being the defining line between these polar opposites. To my mind, true warriors appreciate peace, fighting primarily to maintain that peace when those brutes opposed to it absolutely will not stop. Accordingly, anyone who has excelled in any martial art will tell you that the fight must be won first in the mind. What unfolds after that is inevitable.
As Sun Tzu teaches, “He will be victorious who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”
I’ll end on that idea for now. Going forward, I hope that this series will invite people to think and to discuss. If this Chivalry First series is of interest, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to comment here or drop me a line via the contact page.