Haiku: Useful as a Meditative Aid

As mentioned in this month’s first post, haiku was popular with the Japanese samurai. They were a very literate society and they used haiku not only to express their creativity and love for art, but also to calm themselves before battle. I have stated before that I normally write poetry in the ABAB format, though I do not see how this would be practical to calm oneself before a stressful situation such as a fight due to the complexity and typical length of such poetry. So, this week I decided to learn how to write haiku and see for myself the applicability of it to calming my mind before a high-stress, high-intensity situation. In short, I think it worked quite well, though with some obvious limitations which I will discuss further down.

Two SIRT training pistols
Two SIRT training pistols with laser pointers by Next Level Training

For this exercise, I decided to try writing haiku before running a home defense drill where I quickly get out of bed and grab my SIRT training pistol in place of one of my firearms; rush to three positions in the house; take cover to minimize my exposure to incoming fire; before finally taking aim and shooting at designated targets. The SIRT pistol uses a laser pointer to allow for practice inside the home. Steady pulses of the laser indicate accurate, well-placed shots. Erratic pulses which jump around indicate misplaced shots. There is also a software program which works with a webcam to analyze your performance with the SIRT and point out your errors more closely.

I find that taking a moment to stabilize my shooting stance before firing results in far more accurate shot placement, which is important during home defense to avoid stray shots going off target. Even though time is precious, shot placement and watching your background are too, especially inside the home. Stray shots can go into another room and hit a family member, or into another house. Even shots which are on target may go through the target and hit someone else. Also, taking a split-second to stabilize my stance requires less time than a blink of an eye, and I think it is worth it considering the massive increase in accuracy and the immense importance of being on target in when shooting inside the home.

To help simulate a real home defense situation where I must engage several armed intruders, I also perform some traditional exercises including jumping jacks, push ups, and sit ups to elevate my heart rate before beginning the drill. This is meant to simulate the adrenaline rush and fear one typically feels when faced with life-or-death situations and violent attacks such as a home invasion. I have read physical exercise is used in police academies and in military training where trainees must complete an obstacle course to get to a shooting range and fire a weapon. I also feel that I can more easily get into the mindset of being afraid and having to deal with hesitation when my heart rate is elevated, which I personally feel helps me train to overcome the hesitation I might feel before pulling the trigger with another human being in my sights, especially one who is armed and potentially shooting back at me or threatening my family.

Heart pounding away
My body trembling with fear
It's time to act now

I found that haiku did seem to work for me as the samurai seemed to have intended it to. When my heart was pounding as I lie in bed, waiting for the moment when I sprung into action, my mind was racing at first. I was thinking about where the targets were I had set up. How fast would I get to each position? Would I expose too much of my body from cover? Would I be able to see the targets later in the evening with many of the lights in the house turned off and the sun down? Would my shots be accurate, or wildly off target. A lot was racing through my mind, and I had to focus myself to think about producing a haiku.

Ready for the shot
Am I prepared to destroy?
Whose life will now end?

However, the simple form of haiku made this task easy and effective. The 5-7-5 syllable format with no regard to rhyme was structured enough that it forced me to focus my mind and stop my racing thoughts, but not so complex that I could not do so with my elevated heart rate and the upcoming task. I opened my notes on my phone and wrote down several haiku about what I was feeling and thinking. In that time, my heartrate did slow down and my breathing stilled. Of course, I cannot discount the fact that I was at rest and not in true danger, naturally lowering my heart rate. Yet, I did seem to calm down more than times before when I had run the drill without focusing on producing any haiku or meditating at all, instead opting to go straight into the drill after raising my heart rate with physical exercises.

I must fight for them
Those who cannot themselves fight
Do what must be done

To summarize, I do think haiku worked for me in the way it was used by the samurai. It is simple enough to produce under pressure, yet complex enough to require focus. However, I did mention there are some obvious limitations to the application of haiku for this purpose. Obviously, during a defensive operation, such as home defense against armed intruders, or self defense against an attacker in public, there is no time to meditate or write haiku. The situation happens abruptly and without warning, leaving no time for anything but a reaction. I imagine samurai must have used haiku to calm themselves before offensive operations or mutual combat, such as before a large battle or a one-on-one duel. In such context, I can definitely see its applicability.

Danger in my sights
The unknown past every door
I step into fire

Of course, there are many other kinds of stressful situations in which haiku would certainly be useful to help calm the mind. Essentially, any high-stress situation which does allow for a moment to calm oneself before taking action would allow for the individual to meditate, engage in some controlled breathing, or produce a haiku. I can see how it would help in many situations that are very stressful, but less urgent than defending against an attack. For example, to calm one’s nerves before a public speech, bungee jumping, or skydiving. I also found writing haiku to be very enjoyable due to its creative nature and ease of production. I look forward to writing more haiku in the future, and doing so when I am feeling stressed or under pressure.

What do you think of haiku? Have you ever tried using it to calm yourself in stressful situations? How has that worked for you? Feel free to share your thoughts!

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What Is a Warrior Poet?

What exactly is a warrior poet? Most people probably point to the Knights Templar or Japanese samurai as examples of this virute. I suppose the exact meaning of such a concept may be individually determined by each who identifies as such. Nevertheless, there should be some commonalities between the definitions offered by all those who claim such a title as dictated by the meanings behind the two root words: “warrior” and “poet.” To put it simply, a warrior is one who fights; a poet is one who writes; and a warrior poet would be one who does both. Yet, that is certainly too simple an explanation to be satisfactory for most, myself included.

To be more precise, a warrior is an individual who is engaged in or has experience in battle. That begs the question of how to define battle, and battle may be defined as an encounter between opposing forces. So, a warrior is someone who has experience encountering opposition of some kind and engaging with it in a confrontation.

What then is a poet? Well, a poet is one who writes poems. What then are poems? Well, that can be defined many ways. One such would be to say that a poem is a composition of words to convey experiences, ideas, or emotions in a lyrical, suggestive, imaginative, or interpretive way. A poet may also be defined as a “maker of verse” in more historical terms.

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke
A broken statue of the famous knight known as Sir William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke

So then, a “warrior poet” would be one who is experienced with encountering opposing forces; engaging them in battle or confrontation; and conveying their experiences, ideas, and/or emotions in such a way that may be described as poetry. That is quite a long definition which leaves itself open to critique and revision. In truth, that may be unavoidable. Many describe the ideal of the warrior poet with comparisons to historical and existing groups which embodied the ideal in their view, indicative that exactly what constitutes a “warrior poet” is indeed dependent on how the concept is defined by each individual who identifies as such.

Therefore, it would be informative to look at historical groups which have been described as upholding or inspiring the virtue of the warrior poet. No doubt, chief among these are the Knights Templar and the Japanese Samurai. There are many others though. The Spartans and Athenians of Ancient Greece are also noted to have upheld the virtue of the warrior poet, among numerous other groups across human history.

The Knights Templar

The Knights Templar were an elite fighting force of Christians during the Middle Ages who rose up during the First Crusade to liberate areas which had been conquered by Islamic forces during the Muslim Conquests. The Knights Templar protected unarmed pilgrims traveling the Holy Land who a group known as the Seljuk Turks targeted with violence in a campaign of religious persecution. They were raised from a young age as a page before becoming a squire to a knight. They learned about literature, poetry, and virtue, and chivalry before learning how to fight. They were raised to uphold the Knights Templar Code which taught them to be virtuous and fight to defend those who could not defend themselves. While not required, it was expected that knights would be able to produce and recite poetry, and it was certainly required of those who wanted to rise to great prominence and prestige.

The Samurai
Miyamoto Musashi fighting a dragon
An artist depiction of Miyamoto Musashi – a famous samurai – fighting a dragon

The Japanese Samurai were a class of warrior poets in Japan centuries ago which we have discussed on this blog before and will explore further in the future. They were highly skilled in the use of swords and bows, practicing mounted archery and possessing armor designed to mitigate the need for a shield since both of their hands would be occupied with a weapon or the reigns of their horse. They were also raised from a young age to uphold a code of conduct known as the Bushido Code. This code taught them to live with honor; respect and protect others; seek justice; and remain loyal. They also practiced Zen Buddhism and were immersed in art, music, and poetry. The Japanese people have long been a very literate society dating back to the time of the samurai, and these famous warriors were seen as elites not just in the ways of war; but also in their way with words.

Sparta and Athens

The ancient Greek city-states of Sparta and Athens and great leaders of their time are also often extolled as even earlier examples of the virtue of the warrior poet. General Thucydides of Athens once stated: “The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting by fools.” While Sparta is often remembered nowadays for the prowess of its warriors, the Spartans were also renowned and widely-respected across ancient Greece. Great leaders from Sparta like the notorious King Leonidas were said to uphold the warrior poet virtue. In fact, Sparta produced more poetry that was preserved into the modern era than Athens, despite Athens having more of a reputation for literature and poetry in the minds of many average citizens.

The virtue of the warrior poet has taken many forms throughout history and will no doubt continue to do so into the future. For me, as a martial artist and a writer, I strive to uphold this virtue myself. I strive to be competent and capable of defending myself in verbal, written, and physical confrontations. I practice almost every day by reading, writing, exercising, and practicing ways to defend myself. I seek out training from professionals to enhance my skills and ensure I am always thinking ahead about how best to overcome any challenge that life may throw my way. I also strive to pass these virtues onto others as well, as I understand the quote from Thucydides and do not wish for such a society to come to fruition. Should it, I would then do what is possible within my lifetime to reverse the societal decay which fomented such a society.

General Thucydides of Athens
General Thucydides of Athens

What about you? What does the virtue of the warrior poet mean to you? Are you someone who loves to write but has never tried any kind of combat art, or have you been practicing to fight all your life but never gave much thought to literature? I would encourage everyone to look into the history of the concept of the warrior poet and begin thinking about what you can do today to start upholding this virtue. If you already do, feel free to share what you like to do as part of your daily routine to keep your skills sharp and your pencil even sharper!

We will definitely be touching upon this topic and the groups mentioned in greater detail in the future, so stay tuned for more updates!

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How to Write a Poem: My Three-Step Process

When I first started writing poetry, I did not have a step-by-step writing process which I followed from start to finish. As a result, I would spend all day (and sometimes even multiple days) writing a single-page poem with an ABAB rhyme scheme. I tried crafting every line in its final form right from the start, and this was a painstaking process which was woefully inefficient.

Now, I do follow a uniform writing process with three simple steps. I based it off of my normal writing process that I use for most other pieces of writing. The three steps include: planning, drafting, and editing. I will explain what I mean by each of these three steps in detail, and follow each of them with a screenshot of a poem which I wrote with this process step-by-step.

Planning

an outline for a poem
A full outline for an ABAB poem about winter

The first step is planning. For me, this almost always takes the form of an outline. I will open up a document and outline each of the different stanzas and what I want them to express.

I write brief statements that can be sentence fragments or single sentences. In the early iteration of an outline, I may only have one statement for each stanza, although my goal is to write a statement for each line. In this example, I wrote an outline for a poem about winter after I found inspiration in the change of scenery from the other seasons and the tranquility of winter landscapes.

I am just getting started at this point, so I am not sure what to title this poem yet. As such, I just give it a simple descriptor as a working title. As you can also see, each line in the poem has a brief statement corresponding to what the line will express. This process is as simple as putting my thoughts into words and takes only a few minutes.

Drafting

draft of a poem
A rough draft of an ABAB poem which has not yet been made to rhyme

The second part of my writing process is drafting. When it comes to writing ABAB poems, this means taking each of the statements from my outline and turning them into a line. At this point, I am not worried about rhyming, however. I just worry about making cohesive and coherent lines. I will worry about rhyming later. The poem also has to be proofread for errors and other minor changes need to be made.

Often, I will make the first and third lines in a stanza rhyme, since I find this to be easy to accomplish. However, rhyming is totally unnecessary at this point. Nevertheless, the more rhymes we can discern while drafting, the better. Still, the focus at this part of the writing process is on creating coherent lines that make sense and can be easily made to rhyme in the editing phase.

In a way, the drafting phase of writing poetry is a form of editing for me. This is punctuated by the fact that poems are often comprised of brief lines with few words and the original outline of the poem is subsequently getting trimmed down during the drafting phase.

Editing

completed ABAB poem
A completed ABAB poem

In the official editing phase of my three-step writing process, I go back and make sure all the lines in the poem rhyme according to the rhyme scheme I am applying. I typically use the ABAB rhyme scheme since I like it so much, and that is the rhyme scheme I used with this poem. I also edit any errors and make whatever minor changes are necessary from the draft.

I find that by worrying about making every line work within the ABAB rhyme scheme as the very last step in a process, I alleviate much of the pressure and frustration felt by trying to rhyme everything right from the start. The poem is almost entirely crafted at this point, and all I need to do is edit some of the words to make it fit the appropriate rhyme scheme. The content and the message intended to be expressed are fully formed already.

That’s All There Is to It

By following this three-step process which I use for most forms of writing I engage in, I have found writing poetry comes along much easier for me now. I am able to produce a finished ABAB poem within an hour or so instead of toiling over it all day, or even worse, dragging it out over multiple days.

Of course, my writing process may not be exactly what works for you. Maybe you find an idea web more useful than an outline, or perhaps you like to get straight into the draft. Whatever works best for you is great. If you can find a way to tweak my process and make it even better, that would be wonderful!

So, how do you write poetry? Do you find it difficult, or have you too found a way to make it easy? Please, feel free to share your wisdom, and don’t be afraid to comment any questions you have if there’s more you’d like to know about my writing process.

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Warriors and Artists: Poetry of the Samurai

I am sure many, if not all of us have heard stories of the famous Japanese samurai. This class of renowned warriors was prominent for nearly a thousand years in Japan’s history. The first samurai were said to have emerged in the 1100’s and continued to exist up until 1835. They often served at the behest of the aristocratic Daiymo – the highest class in the Japanese caste system before it was abolished. The word “samurai” literally means “one who serves.”

The samurai were skilled warriors who trained from a young age to be the best combatants on the battlefield. However, Japanese society was very literate, and the samurai were also artists, musicians, and poets. Some famous poems were written by samurai like Minamoto No Yorimasa, such as his death poem in which he expressed his regret for having reached the end of his life without having any children. As a martial artist and writer, I have often admired the samurai for their great skills on the battlefield as well as on paper and in conversation. Their way with words was a sharp as their skills with a sword or bow.

Samurai even participated in public poetry contests which were enjoyed by scholars and commoners alike. This was possible due to the widespread literacy of the Japanese people and the succinct form of poetry known as “haiku” which was popular for its simplicity and brevity. When read aloud, a haiku was easily understood by all who heard it, thus preventing any audience member from being alienated by complex metaphors, idioms, and other nuanced figures of speech common in other forms of poetry.

Samurai poetry contests could not have traditional 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners among a large pool of contestants, however. The judges had to devise a way to critique the poetry of samurai warriors without declaring a small number of winners over a large group of losers. Due to the immense value of honor in samurai society, the shame and dishonor which many felt from losing competitions could motivate them to try to kill the winner. As such, samurai had their poems compared to one other contestant according to a theme, and one was declared the superior poem. This avoided a potential situation in which a large number of samurai might feel the need to attack and kill the one winner of the contest to restore their honor, although some animosity may have subsisted nonetheless.

One might think it absurd that such disciplined warriors would resort to violence and even killing over losing a poetry contest. However, it is important to recognize the impact of the Bushido Code on a samurai’s perspective and worldview. Honor was immensely important to the samurai, and it is said they held honor in a higher regard than life itself. Many have described how the samurai believed it was more important to die an honorable death than to live a long life. Based on their literature and belief system, there is little doubt of this. From what I understand, I think the samurai felt it was more important to live an honorable life than a long life, and under certain circumstances, they might feel it better to die an honorable death than to live on with dishonor.

With that said, it is understandable that samurai could have viewed defeat of any kind as a form of dishonor upon themselves and their clan. It may have been a horse race, a poetry contest, or any other type of friendly competition. Losing weighed heavily on them due to their strict interpretation of the Bushido Code. As such, they might feel it better to risk their life in a sword duel to try and restore their honor than to live with the public defeat. The samurai took honor very seriously.

Despite their propensity to take poetry contests as a life and death matter, I do greatly admire the samurai for their skill with words. It is said the samurai believed poetry calmed their minds and helped them prepare for battle, death, and other uncertainties in life. I have personally never thought of poetry in this way. I do enjoy writing poetry, and I also enjoy engaging in hand-to-hand combat with another human being.

However, I often follow the ABAB rhyme scheme when writing poetry, and this does not work well for one trying to prepare themselves for any kind of combat in my experience. It is complex, requiring deep thought and concentration which would be better focused on the coming battle. Although, I am not foreign to the idea of using mediation to prepare oneself for conflict, and I suppose haiku with its simplistic format may be used as a meditative aid or technique. I will have to try it someday.

What do you think? Do you have experience with a combat art and writing poetry? Do you ever write poetry as a way to focus and calm your mind before a match, contest, or other stressful situation? I encourage everyone to give it a try and share how the experience worked for you.

This month, we will be talking all about poetry. Next week, I will share the writing process I developed for myself to create poems. It has worked well for me, and follows the ABAB format of poetry. Stay tuned for next week to read all about it!

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History of the Phrase “Come and Take It” and the Gonzales Flag

“Come and take it” is a common phrase used throughout history in multiple different languages and cultures as an expression of defiance against injustice, threats, intimidation, tyranny, and authoritarianism. Some claim King Leonidas I of Sparta made the expression in an exchange with King Xerxes of Persia at the Battle of Thermopylae. It is commonly claimed that Xerxes demanded the Spartans lay down their weapons, to which Leonidas responded, “molon labe.” This translates more literally to “having come, take” in modern English. It can also be loosely translated to the sentiment “come and take [them]” in reference to the weapons of the Spartans.

"Malon Labe" in Greek characters
The phrase “malon labe” written using original Greek characters.

However, it is disputed that Leonidas and Xerxes actually had any verbal exchange at the Battle of Thermopylae. The occurrence of this expression is attributed to a list of common Spartan phrases associated with Leonidas in the Plutarch’s Sayings of the Spartans. If the exchange did occur, it most likely occurred during a written correspondence prior to the famous battle. Although, it has been noted that such a short exchange in writing may have been odd. It could be that the occurrence of the phrase in Sayings of the Spartans and the recorded written correspondences between Leonidas and Xerxes led to the belief in the expression of “molon labe.” Nevertheless, the sentiment of the expression was certainly well-documented between the two kings.

Another famous expression of this sentiment was the creation of the Gonzales Flag during the Texas Revolution in 1835. The Gonzales Flag is a simple, black-and-white banner with a star, a cannon, and the words “Come and Take It.” The Battle of Gonzales was the first armed confrontation between Texian rebels and the Mexican Army.

"Come and Take It" Flag
The Gonzales Flag of 1835 has been commonly reproduced

The Texians in the city of Gonzales had requisitioned a cannon from the Mexican government (Texas was part of Mexico at the time) to serve as a deterrent against raids by the Comanche tribe of Native Americans. Later, relations between the city and the federal government deteriorated due to outrage after a Mexican solider reportedly beat a Texian resident of the city. The Mexican government requested the cannon be returned, and the Texian citizens of Gonzales refused. The Texian rebels took the Mexican soldiers hostage who came to confiscate the cannon, and it was not long before the Mexican Army sent reinforcements to the city of Gonzales.

The Battle of Gonzales occurred on October 2, 1835. The Mexican Army soldiers began arriving earlier to retrieve the cannon, but the Texians used messengers to delay the confiscation with excuses and requests for more time. Simultaneously, support was being drawn from other cities, and more Texians came to the city of Gonzales. On October 1, the Texian rebels decided it was time to attack the Mexican Army camp and drive the soldiers away since they showed no intention of leaving. In the early morning the next day, they advanced and forced the Mexican Army to withdraw after several hours of fighting. The cannon was reportedly used in the battle, loaded with odd metal objects since the Texian rebels lacked cannonballs.

While seemingly small and insignificant, the Battle of Gonzales inspired many Texians to rise up in revolt against the Mexican federal government. A coordinated effort arose among the Texians to fight for independence and cooperate as a unified force. The battle also inspired the creation of the iconic Gonzales Flag. It is said that on the day of the battle, when a lieutenant of the Mexican Army requested the cannon be returned, a Texian pointed to the cannon where it was stationed and exclaimed, “There it is. Come and take it.”

In modern times, the ancient expression and the Gonzales Flag of 1835 have taken on many forms, while the original sentiment remains intact. The cannon has commonly been replaced with an AR-15 and AK-47. One of my favorite interpretations of the Gonzales Flag features a turkey in place of the cannon. This comical expression was produced as an Internet meme in reference to the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020 and the government restrictions issued on Thanksgiving Day gatherings which were infamously ignored by government officials who issued said restrictions.

Come and Take It Turkey
A meme that arose from the 2020 lockdowns around Thanksgiving Day

To me, the historic expression “come and take it” and the numerous interpretations of the Gonzales Flag which came from it are important and inspiring pieces of human history. It fills me with hope and encouragement whenever I see that symbolism or hear those words. It reminds me of the courage and bravery we have in all of us to stand up for what is right. I know oftentimes it is hard to do so, but I just remember how our ancestors stood against insurmountable odds with no real hope of success at so many points throughout the history of our species, not knowing if they would see tomorrow. It reminds me how even a loss in defense of freedom, liberty, and justice can still inspire others to stand and defend what is right in the end. Sometimes, we have to stand up for what is right regardless of what might happen to us because what we are standing for collectively is more important than anything we stand to lose individually.

What does the expression “come and take it” mean to you? What is your favorite interpretation of the Gonzales Flag? Please, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, and share this post with others who you think would enjoy it!

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History and Symbolism of the Original Gadsden Flag

The Gadsden Flag is an important symbol of freedom, liberty, and justice in modern history. It represents the defense of civil liberties, individualism, and standing up for what is right. The Gadsden Flag has its origins in the American Revolutionary War. It was originally created by Christopher Gadsden for Esek Hopkins. Gadsden was a South Carolina Congressman and who served in the Continental Army. Hopkins was the first Commander-in-Chief of the United States Navy and flew the famous flag aboard the USS Alfred. As such, the Gadsden Flag has also historically been referred to as the Hopkins Flag. However, in modern times, the namesake of the flag is more commonly attributed to its creator, Christopher Gadsden.

The iconic imagery of the Gadsden Flag traces back to Benjamin Franklin’s writings in the Pennsylvania Journal. In 1775, Franklin described the rattlesnake as symbolic of the original Thirteen Colonies and their will to defend themselves from invasion by the British Empire. The flag embodied their desire to be left alone and live in peace, as well as their unwillingness to be the aggressors in the conflict and strike out on British soil. Benjamin Franklin’s writing inspired the Continental Congress to adopt an image of a rattlesnake on the Seal of the War Office. Originally, the phrase accompanying the snake was, “This We’ll Defend,” as it appeared on the official seal.

Seal of the War Office
The original Seal of the War Office with the iconic rattlesnake

The rattlesnake was used extensively in newspapers, pamphlets, and uniforms throughout the Continental Army and Navy during the American Revolution. Some of the earliest uses of the words “Don’t Tread on Me” alongside the imagery of the rattlesnake include the U.S. Navy flag called the “1st Continental Navy Jack.” The symbolism of the Gadsden Flag was also used by the United States Marine Corps during that same time period. The Marines reportedly had drums painted yellow and featuring a rattlesnake with the words “Don’t Tread on Me.” The people of the original Thirteen Colonies rallied around the symbolism of the rattlesnake and how it warned approaching threats of the intent to defend itself and avert conflict, without being outright averse to conflict altogether.

First Navy Jack
The “1st Continental Navy Jack” or “First Navy Jack”

Before the final version of the iconic Gadsden Flag came into existence that we all know and love, there was the Culpeper Flag. This was an earlier version of the flag used by the Culpeper Minutemen. They were part of the First Virginia Regiment under the command and Patrick Henry. The Culpeper Flag sported their name as well as the words “Liberty or Death” – part of Patrick Henry’s famous quote, “give me liberty or give me death” – in addition to “Don’t Tread on Me” and the rattlesnake. Christopher Gadsden reportedly made the iconic flag for Esek Hopkins distinct from the flag he made for Patrick Henry and the Culpeper Minutemen as he felt it necessary for Hopkins to have his own unique flag flying aboard the USS Alfred.

The Culpeper Flag
The “Culpeper Flag” of the Culpeper Minutemen

Today, the Gadsden Flag that originally flew aboard the USS Alfred has become a symbol freedom, liberty, and individualism. It means a great many things to a great many people. To me, it is a symbol of hope and bravery. It symbolizes the courage it takes to stand up for what is right against those who would do wrong. It symbolizes the freedom and liberty, yes. However, to me, it also represents the personal conviction necessary to stand in defense of those things. Freedom is easy to lose and hard to gain back. It must be defended by all of us, and to do so takes the courage and bravery to stand up without fear against those who threaten to take freedom and liberty away. To me, the Gadsden Flag represents the strength to stand against authoritarianism in all its forms.

What does the Gadsden Flag mean to you? Do you own a Gadsden Flag? What do you think about the history of this inspiring symbol? Please share your thoughts on this important piece of history.

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Heroes From History: Thomas Paine

This week was the 245th anniversary of the publication of Common Sense by Thomas Paine. Thomas Paine was a philosopher and author in the 18th Century who became prolific for his literary works surrounding the revolutionary movements of his time in the American Colonies and France. Paine was well-connected with prominent figures from the American Revolution. Benjamin Franklin is said to have convinced Paine to emigrate from England to the American Colonies where he began work as a journalist in Philadelphia. Paine also knew George Washington, Samuel Adams, James Madison, and was spoken highly of by many of these respected figures. It is even said that James Monroe once helped break Thomas Paine out of prison in France, a story we will no doubt look at in greater detail at another time.

Thomas Paine often wrote about justice, liberty, and the human rights. Due to the unpopular nature of such ideas, he often wrote under aliases to try and conceal himself from critics. For example, when he criticized slavery during his time in the American colonies, he published his work under the name “Justice and Humanity” to protect himself. His anti-authoritarian rhetoric would of course draw ire from the powerful authorities at work in the world. Taking a stand against authoritarianism was, is, and likely always will be a dangerous endeavor. Nevertheless, Thomas Paine stood strong in his convictions about the imperative nature of freedom and continued to express his ideas, despite being persecuted at times and even sent to prison.

Thomas Paine
Photographic reproduction from the Library of Congress of a painting of Thomas Paine by Bass Otis

Thomas Paine was praised as a skilled writer for communicating his ideas using plain language which spoke to commoners and intellectuals alike. His most famous and influential pieces of writing were Common Sense, The Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason. Some other notable works of his include The Case of the Officers of Excise and The American Crisis. In Common Sense, Paine argued in favor of American independence and of the importance of the rebellion against the British Empire. His eloquent way with words helped convince many of the commoners in the Colonies why the cause was important and why they should support it. Paine was credited with using biblical references which were understood by all instead of complex, philosophical language which may have alienated non-scholars at the time.

Not all of Paine’s ideas worked out so well – as some have pointed out – and some of his ideas even became corrupted into detrimental systems later on in history. For example, Paine advocated for ideas like progressive taxation and public education. While great in theory, some argue such ideas have become more harmful than beneficial in practice, something which Paine failed to foresee. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, so to speak. As mentioned, Paine’s ideas are good in theory. It is how they have been put into practice and become corrupted which is the problem, and perhaps these ideas have merely gone astray from there they should have veered. Perhaps they are not inherently misguided. Who is to say, and how are they to know for certain of what they say when considering the winds of change and how time moves ideas in new directions never foreseen? It is hard to know what the future holds, and even harder to foretell how corruption will twist our ideas and institutions. Perhaps one small change may have prevented such issues, and we have no one knowing what that small change may have been.

Plaque dedicated to Thomas Paine
A plaque dedicated to Thomas Paine at the White Hart Hotel in England

Still, Thomas Paine’s works were instrumental to inspiring the American Revolution against the British Empire. There is also much we can learn from Paine about the effectiveness of his writings. He recognized that the dense language of scholars did not tend to appeal to the masses so easily. He also recognized the need to convince people of all walks of life of the importance of supporting George Washington and the Continental Army, and that the language he chose to convey this message was just as important as the message itself. For any writer seeking to deliver a message with their words, it is always important to consider the audience and how best to connect with them.

As a writer and an advocate for freedom, liberty, and justice, I find there is much to learn from the life of Thomas Paine. We can learn not just from his words, but from his actions as well. Paine was smart enough to realize the importance of appealing to one’s audience with the correct language. Just as it is vital to know what one wants to say, so too it is to know how best to say it. In this sense, Paine embodies the core value of creativity by finding the right words to say what he needed to say. Also, I find Paine to be inspiring for his embodiment of courage and commitment in standing firm against authoritarianism, despite it costing him his own liberty when the powers he criticized came for him. Thomas Paine is a great teacher to us all, and a figure from history whose life we will certainly explore at greater length in the future.

What do you think of Thomas Paine? Do you find him to be an inspiring writer and defender of freedom? Do you have a different perspective? Also, is there anything you would like to add that should be admired about the life of this important figure? Please, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments and share this post with others to get their perspective too.

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The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword: History and Meaning

The phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword” is most often attributed to the playwriter, Edward Bulwer-Lytton. He used these words in 1839 in his historical play Cardinal Richelieu. The character Richelieu is a priest who discovers a plot against his life but feels he cannot take up a sword to defend himself. Nevertheless, he is determined to overcome the threat against him by using his words and his writing to move the minds of the people and gain support.

However, some have claimed to note even earlier uses of the phrase. The words may have been first used in a newspaper from Ireland, The Northern Whig a few years earlier in 1832. There are even earlier expressions of the same sentiment as well from centuries prior. Thomas Jefferson, William Shakespeare, and others are noted to have expressed the sentiment in different terms. Nevertheless, it was Bulwer-Lytton and his famous play which no doubt popularized the phrase and led it to become a common idiom in the minds of future generations. The phrase went onto be used in numerous publications for its relevance to the power of the media and newspapers over force and armies.

There is much truth to this old adage. It is understood in a modern context that the “pen” and “sword” are metaphorical. The pen represents words, speech, or the ability to convince and persuade others. The sword represents physical force or different forms of violence used to coerce, intimidate, or pressure others. The context in which both tools are applied is in the pursuant of gaining power, support, resources, or other goals.

With that said, the pen is mightier than the sword as a greater instrument of change. It is widely understood that convincing people to support a cause by appealing to them is more productive and also more successful than trying to force them to do something through violence or coercion. The pen inspires cooperation or friendly competition whereas the sword instills animosity and fierce resistance. It also takes more time and effort to build than it does to destroy, so finding peaceful and harmonious solutions to get people to work together is beneficial to everyone involved, especially long-term.

While few would contest the truth in the phrase, there are some who do, and I would be remiss not to share some insight from the other side of the spectrum. Firstly, it is often those who wield the pen exclusively who subscribe to its mightiness. It is all they know, for they cannot or do not know how to wield the metaphorical sword. Of course pen-wielders would say the pen is mightier and would defend that sentiment most ardently, crafting grandiose narratives to endorse it and convince themselves of it more so than others. Secondly, there is the issue of the pen not having much affect against the techniques of the sword when push comes to shove, so to speak. Sword-wielders tend to be in power, and they can have pen-wielders under them who operate at their behest.

What do I think? Well, I think the truth, as it often is, lies closer to the middle. I do understand the points from both side, which is why I try to explain that the strengths of the pen and sword are different. As such, they are not always directly comparable. However, there may be a greater tendency of the pen to have might if the message is delivered successfully. This is why I advocate for knowledge to wield both the metaphorical pen and sword, as is the namesake of this blog. It is better to be able to wield both than one or the other. Foolish is the writer who thinks their pen will always save them, as is the warrior who thinks their sword is all they need.

What do you think? Do you agree with the common perspective, or do you feel more inclined to believe the sword is actually mightier? Feel free to share your thoughts. Also, please share and stay tuned for next week’s post.

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All posts by The Pen and Sword are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.