Saturday, September 6, 2014

The 7 Habits of Heroes

The 7 Habits of Heroes
I don’t  have mountains of impeccable research to back this up. I have only my own experience, observation, and a little bit of research.  But based on that, I would postulate the following:
1.     “Heroism” is a universal human capacity – with the exception of psychopaths, of course.  Heroes are NOT rare, exceptional, anomalous people. They are ordinary people who do extraordinary things.
2.     Heroes have certain psychological characteristics or personality traits in common.
3.     These heroic characteristics or traits can be cultivated. That is, heroism can be LEARNED.
According to researchers Franco and Zimbardo (1),  heroes share these closely inter-related characteristics. You could call these the Seven Habits of Heroes
1. People who become heroes tend to be concerned with the well-being of others.
Heroes have a very high degree of empathy and compassion. They genuinely care about the safety and well being of others.

2. Heroes are good at seeing things from the perspective of others.
Heroes aren't just compassionate and caring; they have a keen ability to see things from the perspective of others, to understand the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of others, to put themselves in another’s plce and see through another’s eyes.

3.Heroes are competent and confident.
A mentor once told me, when I was in knee pants: “There are only two kinds of people who rush in where others dare not tread. The first kind is a person who has confidence in himself, his training, his equipment, his team and his leadership.  The other kind is a complete fucking idiot.”
People who perform heroic acts tend to feel confident in themselves and their abilities. When faced with a crisis, they have an intrinsic belief that they are capable of handling the challenge and achieving success no matter what the odds. Some this confidence might stem from above-average coping skills and abilities to manage stress.
I think that believing in one’s competence comes from having demonstrated one’s competence. Here’s where the process of applied behavioral hoplology comes in handy. Every student builds a history of progressive success that contributes to self-confidence.

4. Heroes have a strong moral compass.
Heroes have two essential qualities that set them apart from non-heroes: they live by their values and they are willing to endure personal risk to protect those values.
In the salle d’armes, we value Truth, honesty and honour. The simple act of declaring a touch against oneself, is an act of adhering to a moral code even at one’s own expense. It’s a small thing, perhaps. But you know that they say about acorns and oak trees.  To me, the saddest part about the devolution of the “sport” of fencing, is the total eradication of this element in favor of unbridled narcissism.

5. Having the right skills and training can make a difference.
There’s no question that having the right training or physical ability to deal with a crisis can also be a major factor in whether or not people act heroically.  In situations where would-be rescuers lack the know-how or sheer physical strength to make a difference, people are less likely to help or are more likely to find less direct ways to take action.  People senselessly rushing into a dangerous situation can make the situation worse instead of better.
Here’s where being physically fit and having a wide range of emergency skills comes into play. It’s why we offer classes like CPR, First Aid, and Self-Defense, in addition to swordsmanship.

6. Heroes persist, even in the face of fear.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the conquest of it.
A person who rushes into a burning building to save another person is not just extraordinarily brave; they also have an ability to overcome fear. Researchers suggest that heroic individuals are positive thinkers by nature, which contributes to their ability to look past the immediate danger of a situation and to imagine, or visualize, a positive outcome. In many cases, these individuals may also have a higher tolerance for risk. Plenty of caring and kind people might shrink back in the face of danger. Those who do leap into action are typically more likely to take greater risks in multiple aspects of their lives.
You conquer fear by doing the thing you fear.
Do that often enough, and fear becomes just a feeling that you can put aside, the way you can put aside hunger when it’s not yet time to eat.
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself” may be the most astute phrase ever uttered.

7. Heroes keep working on their goals, even after multiple setbacks.
Persistence is another quality commonly shared by heroes. In one 2010 study, researchers found that people identified as heroes were more likely to put a positive spin on negative events. When faced with a potentially life-threatening illness, people with heroic tendencies might focus on the good that might come from the situation such as a renewed appreciation for life or an increased closeness with loved ones.
Fighters learn from mistakes, and use them to achieve victory. They know that getting knocked down doesn’t matter; it’s getting back up that counts.
Maybe the most important element our training is this: We Never, EVER quit. NEVER.

When we say that the sword is the key we use to unlock the hero in your heart, we’re not being poetic.
It’s the sine qua non of our school.


(1) Franco, Z. & Zimbardo, P. (2006). The banality of heroism. The Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. Retrieved from

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