Every samurai who is in service must have a supply of weapons suitable to his means. Every feudal house has its military regulations, and the proper banners and flags and helmet insignia, spear mounts, sleeve crests, and marks on the baggage animals as ordered by the lord must be carefully provided in a uniform manner. For if they have to be improvised in a hurry it will be an obvious sign of carelessness and will provoke contempt. Men who from neglect of these insignia have been attacked by their own side and killed and suffered loss are not unknown in military history, so there must be no want of precaution in these things. And some may think that their servants are not likely to have to cut anybody down and so may replace the blades of their swords with wood or bamboo, and neglect to provide them with a loincloth because they think they will not need to gird up their clothes, and find themselves in difficulties owing to their want of foresight. And a samurai who is a cavalier and who receives a considerable stipend and who does not know when he may have to take the field, however peaceful the time may appear to be, is a hundred percent more culpable if he does not provide himself with the proper weapons than the young serving man with a wooden sword or no loincloth. So from fear of being put to public shame he ought to equip himself properly. And here is a piece of advice on the subject. When a small retainer wishes to fit himself out with armor and has, let us say, three pieces of gold to get a suit, the best thing he can do will be to spend two-thirds of it on the body armor and helmet, leaving the remainder to provide all the other things he will need such as underclothes, breeches, coat, under-hakama, upper girdle, surcoat, whip, fan, wallet, cloak, water-bottle, cup, etc., so that he will have every accessory he needs as well as his suit of armor. Then, though he may be young and very strong, it is better to avoid heavy suits of thick iron armor and weighty banners and standards, for the very good reason that, though they may be tolerable while he is young and vigorous, as he grows older they will become too much for him. And even a young man may fall ill or be wounded, and then the lightest iron armor will be a heavy burden and a hindrance. And if a young man gets known for the weight of his banners and standards he will find it difficult to give them up when he becomes older and less able to support them.
I find it an interesting parallel to modern soldiers and law enforcement officers who will spend tons of money on the latest flat-screen or video console but will scrimp on buying a quality holster or flashlight.
There are many people who, by being attached to a martial art and taking apprentices, believe that they have arrived at the full stature of a warrior. But it is a regrettable thing to put forth much effort and in the end become an “artist.” In artistic technique it is good to learn to the extent that you will not be lacking.
An interesting passage…the “stature” is not to be found in simply the practice of skills. Do not be found lacking in skill, but don’t lose your way in pursuing them either.
A Facebook friend of mine mentioned that this month marks the 311th Anniversary of the “Ako Incident”….otherwise known as the night the 47 Ronin carried out their attack on the mansion of Kira Yoshinaka. One noted Japanese scholar has described this tale as being the country’s “national legend.”
What is interesting however…as it always is when separating out historic facts from legend…is that according to the “Bushido Code” of the day the actions of the 47 Ronin were not unanimously viewed as being heroic.
To encapsulate the event. In 1701 two daimyo, Asano and Kamei, were ordered to arrange a fitting reception for the envoys of the Emperor in Edo, during their bi-annualservice to the Shogun. They were to receive instruction in proper etiquette from a powerful court official named Kira. According to the legend, Kira expected a bribe/fee from the diamyo of which Kamei paid and Asano did not. Kira then treated Kamei civilly but continually insulted Asano. Eventually Asano had enough and drew a blade within Edo castle and wounded Kira. This was a grave offense and Asano was ordered to commit seppuku and all of his goods and lands were ordered to be confiscated after his death, his family was to be ruined, and his retainers were to be made ronin (leaderless).
Of Asano’s over three hundred men, forty-seven refused to allow their lord to go unavenged, even though revenge had been prohibited in the case. They banded together, swearing a secret oath to avenge their master by killing Kira, even though they knew they would be severely punished for doing so. Two years latter, the 47 Ronin attacked Kira’s mansion in the early morning hours during a heavy snow killing Kira and most of his retainers. When they had finished, the 47 turned themselves in to the authorities. Eventually all were ordered to commit seppuku.
The even greater ambiguity lies in the motivation and action of the ronin. They justified the attack as a vendetta (katakiuchi) on behalf of their lord, but in no way did the case fit either the legal or the customary definition of katakiuchi. Kira, after all, was not their master’s murderer: on the contrary, Asano had tried to murder Kira. Nor was there any justification for avenging the death of one’s lord, only that of a family member: the ronin even had to call on a Confucian scholar to come up with a textual basis for their action. Legalities aside, what was the underlying spirit of their act? Was it indeed personal loyalty to their lord, as the mainstream of the Chûshingura tradition would have it? Or was it a protest against the bakufu’s lenient treatment of Kira for his involvement in the incident? Or was it a simple matter of personal honor to carry out their master’s unfinished task? Or, as one school of interpretation would have it, were they impoverished samurai desperate for a new job and trying to prove their credentials?
The operating principle of revenge was based on an ancient Confucian dictum about not living under the same heaven as the killer of one’s father (or in this case, lord). In this case Kira was not the killer of Asano. Furthermore, some Samurai were conflicted on the entire planning and execution process employed. Plotting and careful planning for success was (oddly enough) not “The Way” of the Samurai when it came to situations like this. The Samurai Dazai Shundai (1680 – 1747) summed up this viewpoint in an essay:
“The guest asked: “In that case, what should the warriors of Ako have done?” Shundai said: “Nothing could have been better for them than to die at Ako Castle…. They should have come out of the castle and engaged in battle with the government emissaries (who were coming to seize the Asano goods and lands). Then, retreating into the castle, they should have set fire to it, and everyone should have killed himself. When their corpses had burned up with the castle, it could have been said that the Ako men had done all they could…. “If for some reason it was not possible for them to die at Ako Castle, they should have gone to Edo at once and, with all the troops available, attacked Kira. If they won the engagement, they thereupon should have killed themselves; if they lost, the same. The unifying element should have been death. Through it they would have discharged their responsibility. “Yet Oishi and his men were unable to do either. Instead, they waited leisurely and, employing idle conspiracies and secrecy, tried to kill Kira. What they had in mind was to achieve their aim, establish their reputation, and thereby seek fame and fortune. How unurbane of them! In the circumstances, it was lucky for the Ako warriors that Kira hadn’t died before their attack.”
Yamamoto Tsunetomo, the Samurai who’s statements are claimed to be reproduced in the Hagakure is reported to have said the following about the situation:
A certain person was brought to shame because he did not take revenge. The way of revenge lies in simply forcing one’s way into a place and being cut down. There is no shame in this. By thinking that you must complete the job you will run out of time. By considering things like how many men the enemy has, time piles up; in the end you will give up. No matter if the enemy has thousands of men, there is fulfillment in simply standing them off and being determined to cut them all down, starting from one end. You will finish the greater part of it.
Concerning the night assault of Lord Asano’s ronin, the fact that they did not commit seppuku at the Sengakuji was an error, for there was a long delay between the time their lord was struck down and the time when they struck down the enemy. If Lord Kira had died of illness within that period, it would have been extremely regrettable. Because the men of the Kamigata area have a very clever sort of wisdom, they do well at praiseworthy acts but cannot do things indiscriminately, as was done in the Nagasaki fight.
The second element in debate was the fact that the 47 Ronin turned themselves in after the incident instead of immediately committing seppuku, which would have been truer to the Bushido ideals of the day. Some critics believe that the Ronin were gambling that perhaps through gaining fame, notoriety and public support that they would be able to escape death. Some critics even going so far as to accuse them of trying to leverage their fame into employment with another daimyo.
From a political/historic aspect it is interesting to read that this story really “got legs” and became the “National Legend” during the Meiji Period of Japanese history. The Meiji Restoration was a period when Japan was undergoing “modernization” while still trying to hold onto some form of historic cultural identity. As Henry Smith said at Columbia University states:
For the first half of the Meiji period, Chûshingura survived with no major change in the two great Edo-period lineages of kabuki stage productions and kôdan story-telling. To be sure, the new regime seems to have appreciated the political uses of the 47 Ronin as early as 1868, when the Meiji emperor, on arriving in his new capital of Tokyo, sent an emissary to Sengakuji to place offerings before the graves of the Akô ronin, together with a proclamation addressed to Ôishi and praising him for upholding the principle of the master-follower bond. Yet this did not lead to any particular official manipulation of the legend to foster imperial loyalty: Chûshingura remained in the possession of the people.
The modern transformation of Chûshingura into what amounted to a piece of propaganda on behalf of martial values and selfless sacrifice to the state came, revealingly, only after the way had been paved by the first modern historical studies of the Akô incident. This process began in 1889 with the appearance of The True Story of the Akô Gishi (Akô gishi jitsuwa), an account by Shigeno Yasutsugu (1827-1910), a pioneer of the modern critical method in history. Shigeno insisted on the need to separate out the many counterfeits among the surviving documents of the incident, in an effort to tell the “true story.” The form of the book (which was related orally to a newspaper reporter) was an act-by-act analysis of Kanadehon Chûshingura, indicating what was “true” and what not. This marks the beginning of a new element in the Chûshingura phenomenon, the perception that the historical event constituted a different kind of story to be told, with different tools and methods. The way to a greater historicity may have been paved by the kôdan tradition and its stronger sense of the actual event―particularly in the use of the historical names of the participants―but the line between history and fiction remained one that was never openly contested.
It is in this historic perspective that you can see the foreshadowing of events that led to the Imperial Japanese militarism of WWII. The 47 Ronin, Bushido: The soul of Japan, and the Hagakure were all used as propaganda to reinforce the Samurai heritage of Japanese soldiers.
Now..this is not to imply that you cannot find “Things Worth Believing In” in these works. I will end by quoting myself from another post on the Hagakure:
The Hagakure was written approximately one hundred years after the start of the Tokugawa era, a time of relative peace when Japan was closed to any foreign influence. With no battles left to fight, the samurai class was being transformed into an administrative arm of the government, training and practicing the martial arts but seldom engaging in combat outside of duels and brawls. After his master died, Tsunetomo was forbidden to perform a ritual suicide by an edict of the Tokugawa Shogunate and it is thought that the Hagakure may have been written as a response to the change in tradition and was an effort to define the role of the samurai in this more peaceful society. Several sections refer to the “old days”, and imply a dangerous weakening of the samurai class since that time.
His work represents one approach to the problem of maintaining military preparedness and a proper military mindset in a time when neither has much practical application. The Hagakure remained a fairly obscure work until 1930′s Japan where it played a role in the resurgent militarism of WWII imperial Japan. Illustrating the danger in trying to resurrect modes of thought from times that were vastly different from our own. The student studying these codes needs to remember that the “trick” lays in finding the similarities and consistency in human thought that may have remained over the ages and see how these ancient codes may or may not apply to our times.
The topic of conversation is Jack Hoban’s use of Robert L Humphrey’s “Warrior Creed” in his 1988 book “Ninpo: Living and Thinking As a Warrior”. The creed is:
The Warrior Creed By Dr. Robert L. Humphrey (Iwo Jima Marine)
Wherever I go,
everyone is a little bit safer because I am there.
Wherever I am,
anyone in need has a friend.
Whenever I return home,
everyone is happy I am there.
It’s a better life!
Some readers have interpreted Hoban’s use of the creed to mean that wannabe Ninjas should stalk the streets making everyone safer. I’m giving the author the benefit of the doubt. Take a read and tell me what you think.
“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.” -Tecumseh
“As one looks back through the ages, all the great men are men of faith: the Newtons, Faradays, Darwins, Marconis, men with faith which they confirmed by experiment. Luther and Garibaldi, Washington and Lincoln, men of action as well as thought, were primarily men of faith. But infinitely above all, Jesus himself is the supreme example of a man of faith. Even on his cross he was absolutely confident, though as far as any human eye could see then, his faith, judged by results, was ‘unreasonable.’ The same is absolutely true of social life. The men who are really great and loved in social life are those who have faith in the meaning of life. Faith is the main factor in achieving the loftiest goal in any department of life.”
Every so often I get into philosophical debates over “moral relativism”, the philosophized notion that right and wrong are not absolute values, but are personalized according to the individual and his or her circumstances or cultural orientation. My belief is that as a philosophy for living, relativism is simply an easy excuse to avoid taking a stand on anything at best and a rationalization for evil at worst. I just found this quote that sums up the idea that relativism is simply a thought game that leaves one with nothing to lay a hold of to help one to live a life of value.
“But the new rebel is a Skeptic and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”
This is my shield. I bear it before me into battle, but it is not mine alone. It protects my brother on my left. It protects my city. I will never let my brother out of its shadow, nor my city out of its shelter. I will die with my shield before me facing the enemy. ~Spartan Creed
In light of some recent events, this post came to my mind so I decided to re-publish it.
If one would seek good companions, he will find them among those with whom he studies Learning and calligraphy. Harmful companions to avoid will be found among those who play go, chess and shakuhachi. There is no shame in not knowing these later amusements. Indeed, they are matters to be taken up only in the stead of wasting ones time completely.
A person’s good and evil are dependent on his companions. When three people are together there will always be an exemplary person among them, and one should choose the good person and follow his example. Looking at the bad person, one should correct his own mistakes.
-Hojo Nagauji (1432-1519 A.D.)
Hojo Nagauji was a “Fighting Samurai” and general of the late Muromachi Period. Some of his writings, namely The Twenty-One Precepts (of which this is a quote), are amongst the foundations of what we know as Bushido.
I find this passage interesting. In it he is advising his retainers to really consider who it is they associate with. He tells them to associate with people who are studious and avoid those who want to spend their time gambling, gaming and carousing. Furthermore he suggests looking for the “good example” in every crowd and avoid being like the bad example.
To apply this to our times does not take much re-contexing, as a matter of fact there are numerous sayings from various cultures that state the same:
Be honorable yourself if you wish to associate with honorable people.
Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation. It is better be alone than in bad company.
We (including myself) have all been in those situations where we have been out on the town with our friends and gotten a little too drunk, done something too stupid or just made too much of a spectacle of ourselves in public. I do not want to come off as a prude, but too much of that sort of thing leads to nothing but trouble and does nothing but lead one from “the way”. If you associate with people who lead you into those types of situations it is time to consider the value of those people and its time to consider your own reasons for associating with them. I’m not suggesting that one needs to swear off alcohol or “going out” entirely. Even Hojo Nagauji did not say that. But he did say that “playing” was only to be considered over completely wasting ones time. If one desires to be considered a “professional” or a “warrior” then there are numerous things you could be doing to improve your skills and your survivability (“screw golf”) other than idle drinking. If drinking and partying is occupying more of your heart and mind then “the way” is, then I believe that you are living in a fantasy world where you want to “say you are… rather than BE.”
In the end, what I am suggesting is being “mindful” in everything you do. If you want to go out and enjoy yourself every now and then by all means do so. But do so “intentionally”. Likewise consider the people you associate with; are they examples you wish to emulate? Do you want other people to think of you the way they think of them? Are they worthy of respect? Are you?
In my opinion, if you find yourself getting “wasted” as routine entertainment, if you like to associate with criminals and “loser’s”, or if you are consistently acting in an undignified manner in public, you are debasing yourself, asking for trouble, and are far from the path of a “warrior”.