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The Wisdom of the Ancient Samurai
How to be Desperate and Insane
submitted by: Doug Williams
A samurai's life is one of complete devotion. It is his duty to plunge headfirst into the realm of death, seize chaos with his hands, slice through the elements of disorder with a sword that could cut through a modern engine block, bring wa to his fiefdom and maintain an orderly domain for his liege lord to rule.
This is the way of the samurai as dictated by Yamamoto Tsunemoto, a loyal retainer of Nabeshima Mitsushige. He lived in what is now Saga Ken. After his master's death in 1700, Yamamoto was prohibited by law from ritually disemboweling himself. This would have been an ultimate and final gesture of devotion to his late master. The utterly disappointed, but not quite gutted, Tsunemoto received permission to shave his head and become a Buddhist priest. He lived in semi-seclusion. Tashiro Tsuramoto, a young samurai, visited Tsunemoto from 1710 to 1716. Tsuramoto transcribed their conversations. He named the collection Hagakure, roughly translated as "Hidden Among the Leaves". The Following sayings are taken from a book of selections from William Scott Wilson's English translation of Hagakure. These sayings depart an old samurai's wisdom on a wide range of matters such as:
- For trifling occasions it is better to accomplish things by yelling.
- Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today.
- Even if one's head were to be suddenly cut off he should be able to perform one more action with certainty.
- 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.
- A real samurai does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death.
- One should search throughout his whole life how best to follow the Way. And he should study, setting his mind to work without putting things off. Within this is the Way.
- There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.
- Lord Naoshige said, "The Way of the Samurai is in desperateness. Ten men or more cannot kill such a man. Common sense will not accomplish great things. Simply become insane and desperate."
- When meeting difficult situations, one should dash forward bravely and with joy. It is the crossing of a single barrier and is like the saying "the more water, the higher the boat."
- It is spiritless to think that you cannot attain to that which you have seen and heard the masters attain.
- If one has not been a ronin at least seven times he will not be a true retainer. Seven times down, eight times up. One should understand that it is something like being a self-righting doll.
- The way of the Samurai is one of immediacy, and it is best to dash in headlong.
- "In just refusing to retreat from something one gains the strength of two people." This is interesting. Something that is not done at that time and at that place will remain unfinished for a lifetime.
- It one's sword is broken, he will strike with his hands. If his hands are cut off he will press the enemy down with his shoulders. If his shoulders are cut away, he will bite through ten or fifteen enemy necks with his teeth. Courage is such a thing.
- When one unexpectedly has to yawn, if he rubs his forehead in an upward direction, the sensations will stop. If that does not work he can lick his lips while keeping his mouth closed, or simply hide it with his hand or his sleeve. It is the same with sneezing.
- If you attach a number of bags of cloves to your body, you will not be affected by inclemency or colds. Furthermore, drinking a decoction of the feces from a doppled horse it the way to stop bleeding from an injury received by falling off a horse.
- If you cut a face lengthwise, urinate on it, and trample on it with straw sandals, it is said that the skin will come off. It is information to be treasured.
- When faced with a crisis, if one puts some spittle on his earlobe and exhales deeply though his nose, he will overcome anything at hand. This is a secret matter.
- When one departs for the front, he should carry rice in a bag. His underwear should be made from the skin of a badger. This way he will not have lice. In a long campaign lice are troublesome.
Personal Hygiene and Etiquette
- Speaking with downcast eyes is carelessness.
- It is carelessness to go about with one's hands inside the slits of his hakama.
- It is said that one should rise at four in the morning, bathe, and arrange his hair daily, eat when the sun comes up, and retire when it becomes dark.
- A samurai will use a toothpick even though he has not eaten.
- It is good to carry some powdered rouge in one's sleeve. It may happen that when one is sobering up or waking from sleep his complexion may be poor. At such a time it is good to take out and apply some powdered rouge.
Thinking 'Outside the Box'
- Everything in this world is but a marionette show.
- Superiority is not just a matter of secret techniques.
- The proper manner of calligraphy is nothing other than not being careless, but in this way one's writing will simply be sluggish and stiff. One should go beyond this and depart from the norm. This principle applies to all things.
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