Next we will look at the following one of Susan’s questions:
“The samurai class interest me a great deal. These men and women were not simply soldiers as we in America envision soldiers. These people were eventually considered upper class, highly educated and very refined and cultured. On the other hand, they were also fierce fighters who often killed many, many people within their lifetime, often without just cause. At this point I am referring to such men as Miyamoto Musashi who killed 63 people in his life in fights to test fighting ability. I know I have discussed this issue with you before but it still burns inside. I do not fully understand how we can learn from these samurai.”
I will take this as a question although there is no identifiable question queried.
A person is far more complex than just a few isolated events in his/her life. Miyamoto Musashi killed many men. But he learned very valuable lessons as I have explained in the previous essay. We do not want to ignore the teachings of a person when the teachings are extremely valuable because the person has made mistakes, killed or just tried to stay alive in a different culture with different customs. The lessons of Miyamoto Musashi are valuable lessons no matter how violent his life.
To take a more American example I will refer to the First President of the United States of America. His name was George Washington. In the War of Independence he was a general. After independence he was elected President. Why? He was a mass murderer.
In 1754 the French occupied the area around the Mississippi river. They didn’t sell it to the United States until 1803 although it was in the hands of Spain from 1763-98. The colonies in the north and east of the river found a benefit in using the Mississippi river to float goods downstream to be shipped to Europe. The colonies also wanted more control of the river and the right to establish settlements along the river.
To protect its territory and the rich fur trade the French set up garrisons along the river especially at the fork of the Ohio river. Washington took a regimen into the Appalachian wilderness in an effort to establish a road to the fork of the Ohio. He specifically attempted to establish the road through land which he had purchased with hopes of development of a commercial road nearby. After the Mississippi river valley became British through war, Washington knew his land would become far more valuable if the main road passed through his property. So he purposefully cut the road in the direction of his land. One night, some Indians passed by and came to Washington for food. He gave it them and talked with them during supper. They told Washington that some blue-coats (French) were camped a few miles away. That night Washington took his men, now mind you there is no war between France and England at the time, to set up an ambush at the French camp. At first light the colonists and British soldiers under Major Washington massacred the French in their beds. This incident started the war with France known in the new world as the French and Indian War and known in Europe as the Seven Years War.
Washington had murdered without orders, without military reason. It is apparent that Washington had much to gain by winning a war with the French. But the British were not at war, so he started the war with an ambush and massacre. How could we respect this man?
The answer is that we do not respect this incident. It is a flaw in the character of the young Major Washington. We choose to remember Washington as the brilliant General in the American Revolution and the first President of the United States. We choose to ignore his tindering of the French and Indian War by an ambush and massacre. In fact, most American history books do not even mention this incident. They often only refer to the fact that Washington was involved in the first battle of the French and Indian War.
If we are to assume that we can learn nothing from the lessons of the samurai such as Miyamoto Musashi because they were violent murderers then we must also assume that we can learn nothing from President George Washington because he was also a violent murderer.
Perhaps the lessons are greater than we think. The best and the worst of people have taught us valuable lessons. History, which really means inquiry, will allow us to decipher the best and the worst of these lessons. We can grow from either lesson. It is not whether we want to have them teach us because they were violent murders or not. It is whether we are able to discern the lessons for the rectification and enlightenment of our own lives.
Can we learn from the life of George Washington or Miyamoto Musashi? The answer to me is a definite yes. George Washington was uneducated and rose to be the leader of his country. He made many brilliant tactical and strategic decisions in the American Revolutionary War. He led his country thru its infancy, designing it to be a country based on a representative democracy. He had many good ideas and implemented those he could. Among his better decisions was to marry Martha Custis who was a born social director and who got American diplomacy off to a world-acknowledged start. We do not want to ignore the lessons in the life of George Washington (perhaps even the myth of the cherry tree incident) because as Major Washington he had murdered unsuspecting soldiers in their beds. We want to learn lessons from history that give us the chance to choose a path for our own lives based upon the successes and failures which have occurred before us. Or as historians say, “history is prologue.”
Similarly, Miyamoto Musashi is not an example of a peaceful person. We can learn from him in multiple directions. His life was filled with vengeance, mortal combat, blood feuds, war, intrigue, ambush and even pedocide. He was on the wrong side of the most significant battle of ancient Japan and hence was a man hunted by those in power. At the same time he delivered a death-blow to the family of his antipathy releasing the cunning devices of stealth and ambush. The lesson here appears vividly in my mind. Musashi became trapped in the challenge-murder-challenge cycle of a fighting reputation. As his fame grew he was challenged more frequently. As his technique improved and his strategy deepened he became more invincible. More fame-seekers challenged him and he killed or maimed them. He could not stop any more than a person falling from a high cliff can stop. The forces operating on him to accept the challengers were too great. The total of individual combat deaths reached 78 with countless others from the midst of war-battle. Do we want to become a Musashi fighting because of our fame?
Even Musashi tells us “NO!!!” Musashi retired to a cave to live the simple life of a hermit. He abandoned culture, comforts, fame and sought escape from the never ending cycle of challenge-murder-challenge. He produced artwork in paper and ink-brush, bronze casting, calligraphy and finally the “Go Rin No Sho.”
What lessons can we learn from this violent man? If there is any there are too many.
I for one do not want to become involved in the challenge-fight-challenge cycle, nor do I want any of the children (or adults) in the dojo to do so either. I do not want to harbor hatred in my heart so viciously that I would murder a 12-year-old child out of vengeance in a blood feud. And on the more positive side of his life, I want to cultivate the ability to express my inner self by artworks. I want to cultivate rusticity and simplicity so that I do not need violence as a means of expression of my anger, hostility, vengeance or hatred. And yet on the other hand I want to develop strategy so that I am free to do what I believe in.
The greatness of Musashi comes in his last two years; his artwork, his writings. The book he wrote became not only a classic in martial strategy but a multiple level allegory which can only be comprehended partially by any person who has not gloried and suffered in the experiences of a 17th century ronin pursued for blood by government and fame-seekers alike. His life was violent but his message clear;
“War is hell, get out of it. Seek peace where peace can be found, even in a damp cave high in the mountains. Experience widely and deeply then teach to others so that they do not have to suffer the agony of warfare but can glory in the ecstasy of life. Express your inner self by artworks which endure beyond the slash of a killing sword-strike. And when the time comes accept the intransigence of this life on earth.
Do not fight the void any more than fight life or living beings. There is no sense to killing; it is void.”
Dear Susan: I feel the pain of Musashi. I want to learn the lesson he hid in the apology of his life, “Go Rin No Sho.” He grew beyond his own violence and he knew I could too. I hear his lesson transmitted through more than 400 years and a language and culture away. I hear him. My effort is to avoid the violence which consumed him and nearly destroyed him. My effort is to seek the peace he found in his last two years of life. The way of my effort is known as Aoinagi Karate-do.
To help you along your way please consider reading about one or more of the following of my favorite historical figures. Each of them, although in widely varied historical and cultural times, places and languages, can give us more than ample valuable lessons. They are sometimes violent, sometimes seductive, sometimes seeking fame, wealth, power, prestige, sometimes defending their God but always offering to the future something which is valuable.
Cyrus the Great of Persia
Queen Necrotis of Bactria
Alexander the Great of Macedonia
Julius Caesar of Rome
Agrippina of Rome
Cleopatra of Alexandria
Pope Leo of Rome (started the First Crusade 1096)
Lady Murasaki of Japan
Roger Bacon of England and the Catholic Church
Tammerlane of Samarkand
Pope Innocent III of Rome and the Catholic Church
Dante Alighieri of Florence
Martin Luther of Germany (actually a state in Germany)
Suleiman the Magnificent of Constantinople
Catherine the Great of Russia
Stonewall Jackson of the Confederate States
Lucretia Mott of America
Elizabeth Cady Stanton of America
Mahatma Gandhi of South Africa and India
Adolph Hitler of Germany
People as diverse as Jesus of Nazareth and Adolph Hitler may teach us valuable lessons. (I really shutter to mention these two names in one sentence. It is by contrast not by comparison that I mention them!) We as a people have in no way begun to incorporate the lessons of Jesus of Nazareth in our learning. Even if we are Jewish, Buddhist, Zoroastrian or any other religious belief, reading of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth is valuable and inspiring.
On the other hand Adolph Hitler has taught the modern world more than it needs to know about its own intolerance, about the Versailles Treaty, about subjection of a defeated people to impossible restrictions and demands, about charisma, about propaganda, about control. Although we never want another Adolph Hitler in the world (at least I don’t) the lessons he taught us should never be ignored.
History is Prologue.
If we don’t learn from Musashi, Sekiun, Washington, Hitler and Himmler we will do the same all over again…….I shudder