Ruthless Intent” is the term that the combat art of Warrior Flow uses to characterize the mentality that it aims to instill in its students.

Ruthless Intent, to put it simply, is the will to kill.

More exactly, it is the will to kill “the bad guys,” as its founder, USMC Lieutenant-Colonel Al Ridenhour, says.

Given that—unlike classical martial arts and other fighting sports that prepare their practitioners for prearranged matches with opponents—Warrior Flow students view self-defense along the lines of war, “the bad guys,” those who administer their violent machinations upon innocents, are enemies.

The training of Warrior Flow practitioners, like that of warriors from around the world and throughout history, necessarily includes mental as well as physical development.

It necessarily includes the cultivation of Ruthless Intent.

Contrary to what many, including, sadly, most martial artists (and combat artists to boot!) are inclined to think, Ruthless Intent is neither immoral nor amoral.  It is a virtue, a martial virtue, a moral excellence that, intrinsic as it is to the right of self-defense, is inseparable from the affirmation of human life itself.

Ancient and medieval ethicists knew that moral education consisted in learning by example, by emulating, even if not consciously, those who embodied strengths of character.  With an eye toward the end of developing the virtue of Ruthless Intent, we would be well-served to turn our attention to Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645).

A Warrior-Scholar, Musashi was an undefeated swordsman with 61 duels under his belt.  Many of these, particularly in his younger days, ended in the demise of Musashi’s enemies.  At 13, when he engaged in his first confrontation, the young boy charged Arima Kihei, an adult who Musashi would later describe as “a sword adept” of a specific school.   William Scott Wilson, author of The Lone Samurai, explains what happened:

When Musashi’s uncle, Dorin, was pleading with Kihei to call off the duel due to his nephew’s age, Musashi “charged Kihei with a six-foot quarterstaff [a wooden staff] shouting a challenge to Kihei.”  The latter, in turn, “attacked with a wakizashi [a sword]….”  Musashi slammed him on the ground, and when Kihei tried to regain his footing, Musashi blasted him between the eyes and then beat him to death.

Yet an account of another duel in which Musashi engaged later in life, when he was 28, shows that Ruthless Intent is not the same thing as blind rage.  In fact, it precludes rage.  It requires a calmness of mind and spirit.

Sasaki Kojiro was among Japan’s greatest Samurai.  His speed and precision were unsurpassed. His weapon of choice was “a huge no-dachi blade, a curved Japanese sword in the classic style, but with a blade over a meter in length.”  Given its “size and weight,” it was “a brutal, unsubtle weapon [.]”  Nevertheless, Kojiro “had perfected its use to a degree unheard of in all Japan” (see the full account here).

Musashi challenged him to a duel.  Kojiro accepted.  On the morning of April 13, 1612 they were scheduled to meet on a beach.  Kojiro was there earlier with his retinue.  He would periodically interrupt his time in meditation by sipping tea, making small talk, and laughing with his entourage as they all awaited the arrival of the man who they were confident Kojiro would effortlessly decimate.

Yet Kojiro’s demeanor underwent a dramatic change as hour rolled into hour and Musashi failed to show.  Kojiro became agitated.  Then he became enraged.  Musashi was now over three hours late.  This tardiness Kojiro viewed as an offense against his honor.

What neither he nor any of his students and servants who were with him realized, though, is that Musashi had been nearby the entire time. Musashi hired an elderly man with a boat to sail him to just beyond sight of Kojiro.  For hours, he calmly carved one of the man’s spare oars into a bokken, a wooden staff.  Once Musashi had completed his task, he had the man row him over to confront Kojiro.

When Kojiro caught sight of the boat, it took him a few seconds or so to realize that Musashi was in it.  As it drew nearer and Musashi leapt into the water, Kojiro ran toward him.  He was disoriented for a moment as he noticed that Musashi didn’t even have a sword. At that moment, he swung his no-dachi, but Musashi moved just enough—literally centimeters—and avoided being struck.  Kojiro overcommitted, for by the time that he regrouped to bring his blade down upon the skull of Musashi, the latter…disappeared. 

Of course, Musashi did not literally disappear.  Rather, upon having gotten under Kojiro’s guard, he had dashed to the right and blasted Kojiro with his bokken.

The fight had been over before it started, for Musashi had been ahead of Kojiro’s movement from the beginning.  But it was at this particular juncture that Kojiro’s defeat started to unfold.

Once Musashi hit him, Kojiro started to flail, swinging his sword wildly.  Musashi then smashed him in the skull before shattering his ribs.  Kojiro couldn’t breathe as he felt the inside of his chest exploding.

His retinue watched in disbelief as their Master dropped dead on the sands of the beach.

Musashi seemed about ready to engage them.  Instead, he ran back toward the boat in which he arrived and sailed off.  Reportedly, he cried over having ended the life of this Samurai who had earned the distinction that Sasaki Kojiro in fact had earned.  Musashi would continue to teach the art of swordsmanship for the remainder of his life. He would never lose a duel, but he would never again take the lives of any of his opponents.

What this story illustrates is that Musashi showed Ruthless Intent—but no rage.  He didn’t even seem to have any anger at all.

Musashi’s willingness to spare the lives of those of his opponents who he would defeat in the future underscores another feature of Ruthless Intent:  It expands its possessor’s range of options.

While Ruthless Intent is indeed the will to crush the enemy, the person who exercises his will to defeat the enemy need not necessarily destroy him.  He can choose, in accordance with his own practical wisdom, his own knowledge of the specific circumstances in which he finds himself, to allow his enemy to live.

Before closing, it is worthwhile to consider some quotations from this great exemplar of the martial virtue of Ruthless Intent:

“The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means.”

“When you decide to attack, keep calm and dash in quickly, forestalling the enemy…attack with a feeling of constantly crushing the enemy, from first to last.”

“To become the enemy, see yourself as the enemy of the enemy.”

“Approach the enemy with the attitude of defeating him without delay.”

“When the enemy starts to collapse you must pursue him without the chance of letting go. If you fail to take advantage of your enemies’ collapse, they may recover.”

“When you attack the enemy, your spirit must go to the extent of pulling the stakes out of a wall and using them as spears and halberds.”

“Let go of your thoughts and let your spirit direct you. Set your mind at ease and do not think about how to attack, just attack with the spirit of terror and death.  In the span of a single breath, crush your opponent’s courage and cause him to tremble.  Resolve in your heart to win under any circumstances and do not stop until the opponent is lying dead at your feet.”

From Miyamoto Musashi, we can learn much about the life-affirming martial virtue of Ruthless Intent.

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