The Way of the Samurai

Posted on May 17, 2009

“The Way of the Samurai is found in death. It is not particularly difficult, be determined and advance. If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without shame, and he will succeed in his calling. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.”
From The Hagakure -Yamamoto Tsunetomo, 1716 AD

Once, he told me, he had a little puppy . . . one he raised up from newborn. He had him for years and years and was quite attached to the dog, who he called Sailor. Now, Sailor was a faithful and good dog – just given to running and romping at will. Not well disciplined. There was no problem with that for years and years because Sailor tended to stay close to him and was content with that.

After a while, though, the dog took to wandering a bit and was not really ‘socialized’ I imagine. One day a group of boys was walking out and about past his property and Sailor ran up and took to barking at them. At first they paid no mind, then they began to challenge the dog. He retaliated by biting one of them. Nothing earth shaking – no permanent damage, but nonetheless, it required that he be confiscated and impounded until he could be tested. Not a problem – this dog was well cared for and had all its shots. The problem lay in the fact that the judge said that Sailor had to be put down because of biting. This waylaid my friend, I am sure. He had the dog’s puppies, but Sailor was the original and he was loath to part with him. I remember him telling me how he fed the dog well and went out into the woods with him – walking familiar ground for both of them – playing fetch, petting Sailor and letting him more or less have his run of the day. Then, when the dog was exhausted and laid down upon the grass in a patch of shade to rest and cool off, he sat next to him and withdrew his pistol from his pocket – all the while stroking the dog’s head and telling him how much he loved him. Sailor was totally relaxed and trusting him when . . . .

Don’t ask me why – it should not have been any different in his mind, but today I had to remind a man who prides himself on his knowledge of battle strategy in the proper execution of the coup de grace. Surely you are familiar with this term? Quite literally, it means the blow of grace – the one which releases the already-wounded combatant from further and needless pain and suffering. Some look on it as a mercy killing, but there is no mercy in killing anything. I look on it as a healing thing – one must always be forthwith and decisive in finishing what started well but is ending badly. You must never falter when delivering such a blow – the short burst of exquisite pain is nothing compared to indefinite suffering.

At least that is what my master taught this grasshopper all those years ago.

Last edited by katie on May 17, 2009, 11:28 pm

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3 responses to “The Way of the Samurai”

  1. Hagakure is the most chauvinist piece of literature ever written. Advocates religious fundamentalism and revenge killing. I’ve read it. Might as well read the Koran and go train with Al Qaida because the Samurai were all about Jihad, just a bit of a different type. No respect for Hagakure here.

  2. As for the quote – I agree – it’s in letting go of what we are most afraid – death in this case – that we live. It’s not just an epiphany – you have to keep it up. Courage is not the lack of fear – it’s the getting past it. Fierceness is way past it.

    Noooo, don’t agree with all of Hagakure. I was the grasshopper, not the master – his philosphy drummed into me. I’m not the bravest woman in the world, but I don’t see myself as a chickens..t either. I admit, I capitulated.

    You’d be surprised what things someone can make you practice,if they are harsh enough.

    But that is another story . . .

    Sorry if I offended any sensibilities.

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