The beauty of a flower

Samurai II: Spirit of the Warrior

by A. R. Berg

  • moonlit peony art

    Like it or not, we will all grow old and perish. Every passing day drains our strength and reveals our feebleness. It is best to die the way you want, as often warriors opted to do. Many chose to end their lives during their life’s flowering, arriving to the gods in all their youthful glory. For them, old age was shameful. It was proof of a cowardly and sheltered way of living. But the samurai tradition of a magnificent death in a most glorious moment is a triumph, a celebration.

    Among the ingrained human convictions, there is a belief that old people are always ugly, and youth is always beautiful. Wisdom of the old is always dark, and the actions of the young are always transparent. The longer people live, the worse they become. In other words, a human life is nothing but the chaotic process of movement from decline to complete death.
    Mishima Yukio

    old samurai
    Old Samurai (woodblock print)

    Here Yukio repeats the samurai principle that the shorter a life is, the nobler it is. Indeed, it was one of the central themes of his writings, albeit, to a fault. As one of his friends once remarked, “He hurried too much.” This is profound because it makes us consider that extremism often leads to mistakes. Here is a more reasonable approach: although your body will age, keep your spirit youthful and strong. Only the samurai were able to achieve this. Years are powerless over a samurai because he remains true to his Way. He is not afraid of old age or the withering of the body.

    Mas Oyama art by T. Berg

    An outstanding example is Oyama Masutatsu. Mortally ill, he was committed to living his remaining days purposefully, and passed away in style. He joked and smiled through pain, sang, and conducted final training sessions with his students for the welfare of all people. In his farewell speech he spoke about staying true to the Way of the Samurai as tears welled up in the eyes of his disciples.


    When Yamamoto Jin’emon was eighty years old, he became ill. At one point, he seemed to be on the verge of groaning, and someone said to him, “You’ll feel better if you groan. Go ahead.” But he replied, “Such is not the case. The name of Yamamoto Jin’emon is known by everyone, and I have shown up well throughout a whole lifetime. To let people hear my groaning voice in my last moments would never do.”
    Yamamoto Tsunetomo

    It is said that Tokunaga Kichizaemon repeatedly complained, “I’ve grown so old that now, even if there were to be a battle, I would’t be able to do anything. Still, I would like to die by galloping into the midst of the enemy and being struck down and killed. It would be a shame to do nothing more than to die in on’s bed.”
    Yamamoto Tsunetomo

    An old Master felt old age starting to take its toll. He decided not to wait until his strength eroded completely and end his life by his own hand. He gathered his closest disciples, gave them farewell instructions, and celebrated all night. At sunrise, the Master happily departed to a better world by committing seppuku. In his youth, he had killed a tiger with a single blow.

    Living for him is like
    Drifting in the current.
    Dying for him is like
    Going for a rest…
    Jia Yi

    Trying to control nature is futile. If you age prematurely, it is because you are not living correctly. A master is vigorous even in his eighties... Read further in Samurai: Spirit of the Warrior

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    This an abstract from the chapter "The Cult of Ancestors" from Spirit of the Warrior by A. R. Berg

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