To Be or To Do: The Price of Virtue

Over the weekend I had an opportunity to listen to The Art of Manliness’ newest podcast episode on John Boyd, more specifically with Robert Coram who wrote the biography Boyd: The Fighter Pilot who Changed the Art of War.  In our Sayoc and Atienza training we have often referenced one of Boyd’s contributions to strategy, the OODA Loop and this interview was a nice introduction (for me) as to who John Boyd was, and his impact in military strategy.

In a prior post on John Boyd, The Art of Manliness had already referenced a talk that Boyd would often give to young soldiers and mentees.  He would tell them:

“One day you will come to a fork in the road… And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.  If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.  Or you can go that way and you can do something — something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?”

According to Robert Coram many of his students would vow to do something, or try and make change when given opportunities to make a difference.  Our nation’s military academies place a priority on instilling virtues in their prospective military leadership, however as Coram notes they often do not tell their cadets that there is always a price for doing the right thing; there is a price for virtue.  Sometimes the price is very high.  It takes fortitude and discipline to not only do the right thing, but stay true to your beliefs, adhere to your morals and champion your virtues.

One of the greatest benefits of martial arts training is the potential for good people to become empowered with physical ability, mental clarity and personal conviction to do just that.  In our Monday night Sayoc and Atienza class we often frame techniques or drills in scenarios.  We place them in context to fuel them with meaning and significance.  Learning Sayoc Transition Drills or Atienza Evolutions give us a sound foundation for technical skills with and without knives.  But they also contain the structure and framework for us to live powerful lives, so that when the day comes when we are offered the chance to do the right thing, to live our virtues, we have strengthened our spirit through our bodies and minds.  And we are prepared to pay the price.

To be somebody or do something.  To be or to do?  Which way will you go?

More commentary, analysis and actual pieces of John Boyd’s contributions can also be found at

One thought on “To Be or To Do: The Price of Virtue

  1. A fantastic piece! This is a reality most people never consider as we have been conditioned to seek approval from our “authority” figures. Quite often this approval comes at the expense of our personal morals or ethics. Strength of character means not always being the “yes man” and thinking or acting for yourself. This is how you preserve your virtue. Great piece Guro!

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