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Yamamoto on Bushido

Selected and edited by M. Divjak


Contents

    Constant preparation for death
    Planning and preparing ahead
    Resolution of the moment
    Never-ending training
    One occupation only
    Great self-confidence
    Constant on-guard
    Quick decisions
    No retreat
    No haste
    No sign of weakness
    No unnecessary words
    Bear and forebear   
    Fighting strategy
    Personal grooming
    Public behaviour
    Life pleasures


Constant Preparation for Death

    The Way of the Samurai is death. In a fifty-fifty life or death
    crisis, simply settle it by choosing immediate death… To make
    the correct choice in a fifty-fifty situation is nearly
    impossible. We would all prefer to live. And so it is quite
    natural in such a situation that one should find some excuse
    for living on.

    In order to be a perfect samurai, it is necessary to prepare
    oneself for death morning and evening day and day out. When a
    samurai is constantly prepared for death, he has mastered the
    Way of the Samurai.

    If day and day out a samurai rehearses death in his mind, when
    the time comes, he will be able to die calmly. Since disasters
    are never so formidable as in anticipation, it is utter
    foolishness to spend time worrying about them in advance.

    A samurai who is not prepared to die at any moment will
    inevitably die an unbecoming death. But a samurai who lives his
    life in constant preparation for death – how can he conduct
    himself in despicable manner?

    A calculating man is a coward… To die is a loss, to live is a
    gain, and so one decides not to die. Therefore, one is a
    coward. Similarly, a man of education camouflages with his
    intellect and eloquence the cowardice or greed that is his true
    nature. Many people do not realize this. 

    Absolute loyalty to death must be worked at every day. One
    begins each day in quiet meditation, imagining one's final hour
    and various ways of dying – by bow and arrow, gun, spear, cut
    down by the sword, swallowed up by the sea, jumping into a
    fire, being struck by lightning, crushed in an earthquake,
    falling off a cliff, death from illness, sudden death – and
    begins the day by dying.


Planning and Preparing Ahead

    Truly important problems are few; they occur probably no more
    than twice or thrice in a lifespan… Therefore, it is
    necessary to plan ahead what to do in case of a crisis, and
    then when the time comes, to remember the plan and dispose of
    the problem accordingly. 

    A truly enlightened samurai investigates beforehand all
    possible situations and solutions so that he will be able to
    perform brilliantly when the time comes. 

    It is advisable always to make plans the evening before and
    make a note of the schedule. This is one way of staying a step
    ahead of other people. 


Resolution of the Moment

    In the last analysis, the only thing that matters is the
    resolution of the moment. A samurai makes one resolution after
    another, until they add up to his whole life. Once he realizes
    this, he need never feel impatient, he need seek nothing beyond
    the moment. He merely lives his life concentrating on his
    resolution. 

    Now is the time, and the time is now. We tend to think of
    everyday existence as different from the hour of crisis, and so
    when the time comes to act we are not ready… This goes to
    show that in our minds we separate "the time" and "now".
    

Never-ending Training

    At the lowest level of training, even though you practice, you
    do not seem to improve, you know you are unskillful, and you
    believe the same of others… At the middle level you are aware
    of your deficiencies, and you begin to recognize the
    shortcomings of others. When a samurai attains the highest
    level, he is able to dispose of any situation on the basis of
    his own wisdom so that he no longer need follow the teaching of
    others; he gains confidence in his abilities, rejoices in being
    praised, and laments the failings of others… 

    One who penetrates deep into the Way realizes that there is no
    end to his training, and that the time will never come when he
    may be satisfied with his labors. Therefore, a samurai must
    know his shortcomings well and spend his life in training
    without ever feeling he has done enough. Of course he must
    never be overconfident but neither should he feel inferior to
    others. 

    Saying to himself, "Today I am better than I was yesterday,
    tomorrow I will be still better," a true samurai lives out his
    days in constant effort to improve. That is what training is, a
    process without end. 

    A samurai must pile diligence upon diligence, attaining first
    total mastery over the basic principles and skills, then
    continuing his training so that basic skills will reach
    fruition. A samurai must never relax but pursue his training
    throughout his life. 

    When one learns to recognize the strong points of others,
    anyone may become one's model, anyone may be one's teacher.
    
    What one has not experienced firsthand one cannot know.
    

One Occupation Only

    It is wrong to set one's mind on two things at once. One must
    devote all one's energy to the Way of the Samurai; one must
    seek for nothing more. 

    Anyone who is especially skilled in a particular art is a
    technician, not a samurai. If a certain person wants to be
    considered a samurai, he must realize that any artistic
    accomplishment is detriment to his samurai stature. Only when
    he realizes that this is so will all sorts of accomplishments
    in fact become useful to him. 

    A man who earns a reputation for being skilled at a technical
    art is idiotic. Because of his foolishness in concentrating his
    energies on one thing, he has become good at it by refusing to
    think of anything else. 


Great Self-confidence

    Skill and training are of no use unless one has great
    confidence in oneself. 

    The Golden Mean is greatly valued, but when it comes to the
    martial arts, even in daily practice a samurai must constantly
    feel that his skill surpasses that of everyone else. 

    I am just as much a man as the master, why should I be inferior
    to him? 


Constant On-guard

    The Way of the Samurai requires that he realize that something
    may occur at any moment to test the depth of his resolution,
    and day and night he must sort out his thoughts and prepare a
    line of action. Depending on the circumstances, he may win or
    lose. 

    A samurai must never relax his guard when drinking, so that if
    ever something unexpected should occur he would be able to deal
    with it appropriately. 


Quick Decisions

    Make up your mind within the space of seven breaths. 

    I know of no trick to ensure victory. The only wisdom I have is
    that one must jump at every chance, never letting an
    opportunity slip by. 


No Retreat

    Stumble and fall seven times, bounce back eight times… A
    samurai must conceive of himself as a self-righting doll that
    bounces back no matter how many times you knock it down.   

    If the first time things do not proceed as he wish, he must try
    again. For this he needs no special wisdom or skill. The
    stubborn samurai thinks not of victory or defeat but merely
    fights insanely to the death. 


No Haste

    No matter how clever the samurai may be by birth, his abilities
    are not fully developed when he is young and he will not be
    sufficiently accepted by others. When he has reached the age of
    fifty, he must gradually finish his preparation. Behaving in
    such a way that people believe his entering into public life is
    if anything slower than it should be, is actually the true way
    to commit himself to service. 

    Everyone occasionally fails at something important because he
    has been impatient. If one thinks there is still plenty of
    time, one's wishes are apt to be fulfilled more quickly. Let us
    simply say one's time will come. 

    When one rises quickly in the world, many people become
    enemies, and one's early success becomes meaningless in the
    long run. When, on the other hand, one is slow in making a name
    for oneself, many people are on one's side and one may count on
    still more fortune for the future. In the last analysis, it
    matters little whether success comes early or late. 


No Sign of Weakness

    A samurai must proceed unflagging, never tiring or becoming
    despirited, until the task is completed. 

    A true samurai must never seem to flag or loose heart.   

    Sometimes a samurai does not watch his tongue and inadvetently
    makes a remark such as, "I am a coward", or "Ouch." Such words
    must never pass one's lips, not in jest, nor in fun, nor
    asleep, nor by accident, not in any context whatsoever. A
    perceptive person hearing such a remark will discern one's true
    nature. One must always be on one's guard. 

    Even in casual conversation, a samurai must never complain. He
    must constantly be on guard lest he should let slip a word of
    weakness. From a slight remark uttered inadvertently, one's
    true nature may be guessed. 

    When the water rises, so does the boat. In other words, faced
    with hardship, human abilities increase. 

    It is not enough simply to avoid feeling discouraged in the
    face of hardship. When disaster befalls a samurai, he must
    rejoice and leap at the chance to proceed with energy and
    courage. 

    When undertaking a great feat, do not worry about minor
    failures. 


No Unnecessary Words

    The first thing a samurai says on any occasion is extremely
    important. He displays with this one remark all the valor of
    the samurai. In times of peace it is language that manifests
    valor. 

    It is wrong to speak ill of others. It is equally unbecoming to
    give them praise. A samurai should know his own stature, pursue
    his discipline with diligence, and say as little as possible.
    
    The best conduct with regard to speaking is to remain silent.
    At least if you think you can manage without speaking, do not
    speak. What must be said should be said as succintly,
    logically, and clearly as possible. 


Bear and Forebear

    There is something called the "rainstorm attitude"… If from
    the outset one is mentally prepared to get wet, one is not in
    the least discomfited when it actually happens. Such an
    attitude is benefitial in all situations. 

    Anyone who has never known suffering has not fully established
    his character. It is better to know hardship when young.
    
    How can they object to being called loose and slovenly if they
    cannot control their appetites? 


Fighting Strategy

    To win from the beginning is to be a constant victor.
    
    The true way to take revenge is to march right into the enemy
    camp and fight until you are cut down. 


Personal Grooming

    One may be run through at any moment in vigorous battle; to die
    having neglected one's personal grooming is to reveal a general
    sloppiness of habit. 


Public Behavior

    One may be getting along badly with a friend, but showing
    displeasure when one happens to meet him, or making twisted,
    sarcastic remarks, arises from the foolishness of a narrow
    mind. 

    In this fleeting, unpredictable world, one may well end up
    being disliked. That is unavoidable. One must not behave in a
    shallow way calculated to win favor. 

    The way to handle a person's misfortune is to act as though
    nothing has happened, to try to take his mind off their
    troubles, remarking that things have in fact turned out for the
    better in some respects. The person concerned will eventually
    come to understand. In this uncertain world, there is no need
    to take each sorrow deeply to heart. 

    It is lesser men who have no peacefulness in their character,
    who compete for fame and go around knocking each other down.   

    If a samurai's sword is always drawn and he is constantly
    brandishing the naked blade, people will find him
    unapproachable, and he will have no friends. If, on the other
    hand, the sword is never drawn, it will rust, the blade will
    become dull, and people will make light of him. 

    One should listen with gratitude and reverence to the words of
    a man of many years of experience, even if he is saying
    something one already knows. It sometimes happens that after
    hearing the same thing ten or twenty times, one suddenly feels
    a deep, intuitive understanding. 

    It is because one sometimes overlooks details and does not lend
    an ear to minor complaints that these in one's service are able
    to live in peace. 

    A man who seeks criticism from others is already superior to
    most. 

    In making the opponents understand your arguments, you will do
    them a service by teaching them various things, and your
    victory will be even more splendid. This is the reasonable
    method of arguing. 


Life Pleasures

    The best method of preventing illness consists of controlling
    one's appetite for food, drink, and sex. 

    The samurai must do his utmost to discipline himself so that
    his daily thoughts, words, and deeds are all clean and pure.
    
    Since one's stipend belongs not to oneself but to one's lord,
    there is no reason to value it highly or part with it
    reluctantly. 

    Human life lasts but an instant. One should spend it doing what
    one pleases. In this world fleeting as a dream, to live in
    misery doing what one dislikes is foolishness. Since this may
    prove harmful if misinterpreted, it is a trade secret I have
    decided not to pass on to young people. 

M. Divjak