Sunday, September 25, 2011

Samurai Code - Civility, Values, Way of Life Combined

Yesterday I published a post I drafted back in January, which put forward the notion that the five affirmations Shotokan karate students recite at the end of each class can be one basis for civility in our society. The origins of these affirmations, as part of the broader Japanese philosophy and teachings of which the martial arts are one component, go back many centuries and are part of the Samurai or warrior tradition.

Those affirmations, and my reflections on their value in the 21st century, can be found here.

I know of the affirmations - or the Dojo Kun as it is known in Japanese - because about a year ago I  joined a Shotokan Karate club. At the end of each class, the Dojun Kun is said in unison. When I went to class this morning, I was thinking about those affirmations, and how they relate to all that we do and are.

Coincidentally, or perhaps serendipitously is a better word, one of the senior black belts for whom I have great respect, asked me before class, "Have you a copy of the Samurai Code?" I said that I hadn't, and so he offered me a copy. It consisted of 20 brief sentences on one sheet of paper - as I read and reread those sentences I am struck by how comprehensively they present ideas which taken together, not only promote civility, but do so on a base of profound values, and that taken all together, they provide for an exemplary way of life. They derive from a centuries old code of chivalry, yet carry much relevance for the here and now.

So here are the 20 points:
  1. I have no relatives; the sky and the Earth are my relatives.
  2. I have no home; my soul is my home.
  3. I have no divine power; honesty is my power.
  4. I have no riches; obedience is my wealth.
  5. I have no magical power; my inner strength is my magic.
  6. I have neither life nor death; eternity is my life and death.
  7. I have no body; courage is my body.
  8. I have no eyes; a flash of lightning, behold my eyes.
  9. I have no ears; compassion is my hearing.
  10. I have no limbs; instantaneous movement: here are my limbs.
  11. I have no law; my own protection is my law.
  12. I have no strategy; free to kill and free to give life anew, this is my strategy.
  13. I have no plans; opportunity is my plan.
  14. I have no miracle; justice is my miracle.
  15. I have no principles; adaptibility to all situations: behold my principles.
  16. I have no tactics; I become empty, I become full: my tactics.
  17. I have no talent, quick wittedness is my talent.
  18. I have no enemy; irresponsibility is my enemy.
  19. I have no armor; goodwill and integrity: my armor.
  20. I have no sword; the state above and beyond thought is my sword.
I do not pretend to understand all of the points in the Samurai Code, or even all that is contained within the points about which I have some understanding. Reflecting, I am aware that some of my understanding is cognitive, some of it is emotional, and some of it derives from the experience of learning a little karate - very little, for karate is nuanced art, incredibly practical and yet elegant; as much as it is physical, it is also a metaphor for so much of what comprises a meaningful and rich life.

I could write more, but no matter how many words, it would add little. For me, these are ideas which require an open mind - both for reflecting directly about them, and also being mindful of how they may arise seemingly of their own accord in the movements of daily life. Like karate itself, this code requires a lifetime of living and of learning.

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