Fighting the good fight

The rush of adrenaline and the swift movement of each opponent during a martial arts fight between two experts is gorgeous to see — it is like watching a dance that is both beautiful and deadly. But how did warriors of ancient times view their fights? Did they have deeper philosophical meaning behind them and can these philosophical meanings help us gain deeper understanding of our own lives? In short, yes.

The Ancient Greeks believed that the souls of valiant warriors who died on the battlefield went to the “Happy Isles.” In Norse Mythology, warriors who died in battle ended up in Valhalla, the hall of the warriors, where they could feast and make merry. In Hinduism, it was said that a kshtriya, or he who was of the warrior caste, who died on the battlefield would automatically reach heaven.

Indo-Europeans are all said to be descended from the same people, and so these cultural similarities are not so odd. In fact, many Indo-European cultures felt that a warrior’s death in the battlefield would be an automatic entrance to heaven. Of course, one can argue that governments in each of these cultures had a vested interest in promoting the ideal of dying warriors going to heaven, as this would motivate individuals to be willing to die in battle. However, the warriors of each of these cultures believed that dying while actively engaged in combat on the battlefield equaled entrance to heaven, not merely because they were told so by their individual governments, but because they felt the importance of “fighting the good fight.”

The term “fighting the good fight” shows up often in our popular culture, but its origins in contemporary Western culture can be traced back to the Bible, in 1 Timothy 6:12, which says “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”

What exactly is fighting the “good fight?” Is there any interrelated meaning behind the Christian, the Greek, the Norse and the East Indian viewpoints of “fighting the good fight?”

The book Veronika Decides to Die, by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, in a way, gives an interesting answer to the question. In the story, a young woman named Veronika decides to commit suicide. She is a beautiful woman with a good job and good prospects, but she feels that as she grows older her life will lose all meaning. She feels she can predict what her life will be like — she can get married and have children with a man who will eventually fall out of love with her, and she will work at her current stable government job every day for the rest of her life. She feels that her life will eventually “lose all [its] originality and be transformed into the tragedy of a life in which everything repeats itself and where one day is exactly like another.” So Veronika takes sleeping pills to commit suicide, in order to escape a meaningless existence. But she wakes up in a healthcare facility where a doctor tells her that the suicide attempt has caused so much harm to her body that she has only five days to live. During these five days, Veronika realizes she never took risks in her life, challenged herself or tried to do things that scared her, and as a result, she never really lived her life to the fullest. She regrets her decision to commit suicide. Essentially, Veronika understands she has been missing out on life because she did not “fight the good fight.” In other words, she realizes that she could have fought complacence to make her life worthwhile, but didn’t.

Similarly, the warriors in these ancient Greek, Norse and Indian cultures felt that fighting for one’s life in the heat of battle helped the warrior to experience and exist in the moment all the more.

Fighting the good fight in contemporary times, within our own life means simply putting our hundred percent effort into our day-to-day challenges and battles, as this will allow us to appreciate our lives all the more. After all, aren’t there many good causes — and good fights for us to enjoy?