Three Rules For Warriorship

I think this may have been preserved in Daily Cross-Swords’ Blogger iteration, but as long as I’m re-sharing 3 Rules posts, this from my brain in 2009.   ~Jenn


Acting’s Magic Three Rules in Warriorship

A while back, I wrote about how the Three Rules from Acting training (objective, tactics, obstacles) served as guidelines for writing strong prose—I renamed them the Three Rules for Protagonists. As I did so, I noticed that the Three Rules also apply to the martial arts. Having recently weeded through a bunch of old MFA musings re: the Three Rules and Mamet’s “Where Do You Put the Camera?” (from On Directing, a book which I highly recommend for theatrical and literary folk) it hit me that his theories of simplicity in filmmaking had everything to do with warriorship and the Three Rules.

Whew. Let me begin my explanation with a Mamet quote (from the abovementioned piece):

As long as the protagonist wants something, the audience will want something. As long as the protagonist is clearly going out and attempting to get that something, the audience will wonder whether or not he’s going to succeed. The moment the protagonist, or the auteur of the movie, stops trying to get something and starts trying to influence someone, the audience will go to sleep.

As long as an action fulfills the protagonist’s objective, then it’s a strong choice. If it’s merely interesting and only interesting, it will not actually be interesting to the viewer. The same holds true for writing: the minute a writer stops writing beautiful, interesting prose and concerns herself with “what do I want” (Rule 1), she will begin to write gripping works of whatever genre. Mamet calls this “uninflected” which I love as a term for this idea of unadorned, simple, compelling work.

How does this relate to warriorship? In the martial arts, it’s so easy to fall into what I call the “coolness” trap; it’s the same trap both actors and writers fall into. It’s irresistible to the ego to write interesting stuff; to be interesting onstage: in other words, to appear cool. The ego doesn’t want to look boring or plain, it wants to look cool. It seems contrary that the least interesting choice is actually the strongest, and that the less information you give a reader/audience, the better they will get into the story. The exact same thing happens to a martial artist: we see so much over-the-top action in films that look so cool: wire-fu, elaborate long fight sequences, sleek catsuits, macho setups for sport fighting like cages. The problem for the artist’s ego is that the really cool-looking stuff of martial arts is in fact the least effective in a real fight. Same for an actor, same for a writer. And now I’m writing this, it occurs to me that we could probably say this for any art form…

Me and Kim S. in her brown belt demo, Boulder Quest Center, 2009. I'm the one doing the no-handed roll.

Me and Kim S. in her brown belt demo, Boulder Quest Center, 2009. I’m the one doing the no-handed roll.

The Three Rules For Warriorship:

1)      What do I want? (Objective) –do I want to attack or defend myself? Do I want to cause harm? What specifically do I want to do, physically? How do I want the fight to end?

2)       What do I do to get what I want? (Tactics) –What actions specifically do I need to achieve my objective? Weak or waffly (or “cool”) choices here will fail, in a much more obvious way than just a mediocre performance or piece of writing. In a martial arts situation, a weak tactic leads to a smack in the head or even a fatality (or a lost match, if we’re talking sport martial arts).

3)      What stands in my way? (Obstacles) –is my opponent’s guard up? Armor or weapons involved? Are there innocents anywhere? Is the law on my side? Is the space restricted, either physically or otherwise?

What’s the conclusion here? That good art should be “uninflected, … requiring no additional gloss” (Mamet again). Keep it simple. Which, of course, is the most difficult thing about mastery.



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