There’s a common saying that it’s better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war. Even though it’s a popular, maybe even overused quote, I still consider it one of the most on-point quotes I’ve ever heard.
In this article I’ll dig into the origin of these words and the story behind them. We’ll also cover the deep meaning of this great quote (beyond its literal interpretation). I’ll also suggest how we can embrace the wisdom of this quote in our everyday lives.
What’s the Origin of the Quote? Who Said It?
The source of the quote is unclear. It’s commonly attributed as a Chinese proverb, a saying in the Chinese or Japanese martial arts, Sun-Tzu’s quote, or even Bruce Lee’s quote. Most sources agree that the most probable origin is a Chinese proverb.
The quote comes from a short story circulating online. It was no doubt adapted to modern times but even if it’s not a direct translation from the source, it’s still a thought-provoking parable.
The story goes that a young apprentice was training the art of sword fighting under a wise, old mentor. He asked his teacher why he needed to learn the ways of the warrior and prepare for war if he was striving to cultivate inner peace.
“Would it not be more tranquil and serene to be a gardener and tend the plants?” the student asked.
“Tending the garden,” the master replied, “is a relaxing pastime, but it does not prepare one for the inevitable battles of life. It is easy to be calm in a serene setting. To be calm and serene when under attack is much more difficult; therefore, I tell you that it is far better to be a warrior tending his garden rather than a gardener at war.”
What Is the Meaning Behind “It’s Better to Be a Warrior in a Garden Than a Gardener at War”?
If we were to take this quote literally, we’d assume that it’s better to be a warrior, someone who takes life, than a gardener, someone who cultivates life.
War and violence have accompanied humans for the entire history. From the survival standpoint, it’s better to have the skills and knowledge how to defend yourself and kill your enemies rather than be a peaceful gardener.
But that would miss the deeper meaning of these words. They would have little application in today’s world where, thankfully, for most people violent incidents are rare (compared to the ancient times where various tribes and cultures clashed with each other regularly).
Lastly, it would also underestimate the incredible lessons and usefulness of gardening skills. One could even argue that tending to plants is a more useful occupation than knowing how to wield a sword (or any other weapon). After all, no humans—including the greatest warriors—can survive without food.
A Warrior in a Garden Is a Symbol
Let’s go a level deeper, beyond the literal interpretation.
The story doesn’t proclaim the path of a warrior as better than the path of a gardener.
It doesn’t suggest that being a peaceful person is wrong, that violence is better, or that gardeners are weak.
It also doesn’t state that there are only two professions in the world or that gardeners can’t be warriors.
It’s just a short story using simplified examples to convey a lesson I’ll explain in detail in this article.
I see the warrior as a symbol of a person prepared for adversity. Warriors may enjoy peaceful lives but they never forget that hard times may be just around the corner.
Meanwhile, a gardener is a symbol of a naive, if not willfully ignorant person. Gardeners are unequipped to deal with violent life blows. They perish when they end up in bad situations nobody taught them how to overcome.
The warrior is equally comfortable fighting in a war as he is tending to his garden. He’s calm and composed because he’s prepared and ready to defend what’s his.
The gardener’s world is limited to his garden. He’s unprepared for the hardships, both mentally and physically. He can succeed as a food grower in peaceful times with no calamities but he has no ability to survive the worst.
And that’s the context in which I’m going to use these words in the rest of this article.
The Warrior Is Always Ready to Protect His Garden
Being a warrior in a garden doesn’t mean that you don’t know how to tend to plants and grow food. It simply means that even as a gardener, you’re always ready for whatever trouble life throws at you. The warrior’s mentality never leaves you. You know that no matter what you achieved, eventually you’ll face hardships. And you’ll be ready for them.
If the situation calls for violence, you’ll be able to defend yourself.
If nature destroys your garden, you have enough self-control to stay calm and figure out how to bounce back.
If nothing works, you still cultivate hope and search for solutions.
Regardless of what shape adversity takes, you’re always prepared to fight and respond to it without succumbing to fear. You’re in control, whether you’re wielding a sword or a rake.
Self-Control Has a Huge Impact on Your Quality of Life
It’s better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war because the skills of a warrior have a huge impact on the level of success you’ll enjoy in life.
One of the key abilities every warrior possesses is self-control. It’s not only self-discipline with daily habits (such as taking care of your health and body) but also the ability to control oneself in a difficult situation.
For example, a warrior can still get things done despite facing fear while a gardener will be paralyzed by it. Warriors master the art of staying in control even when faced with overwhelming uncontrollable circumstances.
Unfortunately modern society doesn’t treat self-control as such an important value. In fact, many people prefer to stay weak and not be ready for war (“war” in a metaphorical way: as potential trouble of any kind).
Laziness has infected the minds of countless men who could otherwise serve the world with honor, constantly bettering themselves to contribute to their own little gardens (their partners, families, friends, and communities).
In a World Full of Gardeners, We Need You to Be a Warrior
Warriors search for ways to challenge themselves because they want to continuously create better versions of themselves and master their minds.
This is what we stand for here in the Discomfort Club. We’re students of our minds, always testing how we can push our limits further. We believe that every man should undertake adversity training.
It’s how we can become more valuable human beings and contribute to the world. When we voluntarily train for difficult situations during times of peace, we can resolve them more efficiently when life challenges us with a battle.
To Stay in Control in a Dangerous Situation, Train Martial Arts
One lesson we can take literally from the quote is that it’s valuable to acquire at least a basic level of proficiency in martial arts. It’s not so that we’re able to participate in a literal war but so that we can stay in control when we find ourselves in a dangerous situation.
Self-defense skills are important not specifically for bar brawls or dealing with thugs in dark alleys. Rather, they’re important to build confidence that we can act despite overwhelming stress.
All men can benefit from at least 1-2 years of solid dedication to a single combat sport. I’m personally training MMA but you’ll also learn a lot from jiu-jitsu, muay thai, kickboxing, boxing, or wrestling. In all these sports, you’ll not only strengthen your body but also your mind.
A Warrior Can Adapt at a Moment’s Notice
A warrior tending to his garden doesn’t ever lose his readiness. He’s not paranoid but he’s not ignorant, either. Whenever he spots any signs of potential adversity of any form, he adapts at a moment’s notice.
For example, being a warrior in a relationship means that you’re always aware that relationships need to be tended to in the same way as a garden. A warrior will always prioritize prevention over cure. But if something happens outside of his control and he spots any signs of the relationship deteriorating, he’ll drop his other commitments to fix the situation.
Being a warrior in the context of health means taking care of the basics: having a healthy diet, exercising, sleeping well, and managing stress. But if a warrior notices a potential health problem he had no way of foreseeing, he won’t postpone seeking professional help or making necessary life interventions to address the issue.
Being a warrior in the context of finances means healthy money habits such as saving money, avoiding impulse purchases, and continuous education for career progress. But if a warrior faces unexpected problem that leaves him broke, he’ll figure out how to bounce back as quickly as possible.
To Prepare Yourself for Inevitable Life Blows, Familiarize Themselves With Them in Advance
If there’s one thing about human existence that’s always true is that the world has always created and will always create continuous ups and downs.
For example, whether we like it or not, we will all face the death of a loved one. The vast majority of people ignore this fact and refuse to even think about it. They’re acting like that ignorant gardener, deluding themselves that if they ignore the topic, nobody will ever die.
Until someone does.
To be a warrior in a garden in this context is to familiarize yourself with death before a loved one passes away. You may contemplate death, visualize your own, read a book about the process of grief, or even volunteer in a hospice.
It won’t be pleasant or comfortable. In fact, it may be one of the hardest things you’ll do. But that’s how warriors prepare themselves to handle the worst aspects of life. They voluntarily expose themselves to unpleasant things such as a fear of death (theirs or of a loved one) so that they can be more capable of handling it when they have no control over it.
I’m not saying you can be fully ready for the death of a loved one. It’s impossible. Nobody is capable of handling such a blow calmly. But when a tragedy strikes, at least you’ll have some understanding of what it entails. And maybe you’ll be able to support your loved ones better than if you had no knowledge of this unpleasant topic.
A warrior benefits from this kind of preparation also before he faces such a situation. Visualizing your death or the death of a loved one makes you more appreciative of the time you still have together. Adversity training can thus not only make you more capable of dealing with problems when they happen but also boost your happiness.
Prepare Yourself for Inevitable Battles Instead of Pretending You Can Avoid Them
If there’s only one idea to remember from this article, it’s that it’s always preferable to be prepared rather than ignorant.
Warriors choose to hone their skills in times of peace to survive in times of war. Gardeners may prosper in times of peace but the cost of their ignorance is extremely high in times of violence.
We’re here only because our ancestors were always ready to defend the fruits of their labor against what life threw at them. Whether it was a war, famine, a plague, or any other hardship, it was their ability to adapt that enabled the world in which we live in today.
I wrote this article not merely to talk about a great quote but also to inspire you to honor our ancestors and serve future generations.
You don’t have to be an ancient warrior to lead change. It just takes a bit of discipline to regularly expose yourself to some voluntary suffering—and let it transform you.
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