Yamamoto on Bushido
Selected and edited by M. Divjak
Constant preparation for death
Planning and preparing ahead
Resolution of the moment
One occupation only
No sign of weakness
No unnecessary words
Bear and forebear
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
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".
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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 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
When undertaking a great feat, do not worry about minor
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
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.