In Japan, the samurai who did not serve a lord were called ronin, and almost every samurai had been one at some point in his life. Serving a lord was a samurai’s only way to make an income, so while he looked for a new master or waited for his former daimyo to call on him, he was a ronin. Daimyo increased their brigades in wartime and reduced them in the peaceful periods. Hereditary vassals, the descendants of the samurai who had served their lords across generations, formed the core of the brigades. These ‘closest’ vassals stayed beside their masters at all times and were the backbone of the brigades. But maintaining them was expensive because the unwritten law of Bushi-Do said that daimyo had to support the families of deceased vassals; sons received their fathers’ wages until they were ready to serve their lords like their parents and grandparents had.
Ronin were often hired for only a single battle and their valor earned them generous gifts. They would bring their daimyos bags full of enemies’ heads and their reward was based on the rank and fame of the victim. Daimyos were happy to hire such courageous and talented warriors. Sometimes they even arranged for them to marry their daughters for they would do anything to have the strongest fighting for them. However, many great warriors valued their freedom so much that they were unwilling to exchange it for all the gold in the world. They did not offer their services to anyone, fully content with their destinies: samurai without masters; masters of themselves. Miyamoto Musashi was one such wandering knight. He traveled across the country and participated in battles on different sides of warring groups which gave him the opportunity to fight some of that period’s best warriors. He had enjoyed triumphant victories, but had also endured the bloody nightmare of the hardest defeats.
Why did many great warriors believe that a true samurai should live as a ronin for some part of his life? It was a challenging lifestyle that demanded maturity and strength of mind. The ronin path required absolute adherence to the Way of the Warrior and tested his true nobility. Alternately, laymen felt burdened by uncertainty and were willing to sacrifice anything to have ‘safe,’ stable and predictable lives. Like rodents, they hoarded what they needed to survive and lived in constant anxiety. But a ronin was a man of risk; a solitary predator loyal to the samurai moral code for the rest of his life. Even though he had lost his source of income, a true ronin calmly continued following his way of life, like a hunter confident in his power, proudly setting out on a long mysterious journey. He had no one to depend on, no attachments. His strength enabled him to take from life those few things he needed to continue his journey without burden. Absolutely solitary, he follows the way of the lonesome.
A Master is like a hawk: free in his element, Will soaring, watching the world from above. The eyes of a real predator are bright and intense; reflecting pure essence and primeval power. The fullness of their Will and Power are focused forward, leading to a deeper understanding of Power which contains severity towards oneself. The severity of a Master lies in the fact that he sees the essence of things and does not lie to himself. He acts as his own moral Law, and it is the only one he follows. Once one has embarked on the Way, there is no way back.
A step into something greater and unknown is a reward for courage for the Great-Spirited, but who can make a step into an abyss and go until the end? It is a fate and a curse, because only a mortal, free, superhuman god with boundless audacity and disdain towards ‘common sense’ can adhere to this Way. He does not acknowledge limits and though he may bleed to death, he will never be defeated. Ever. When he defies his destiny, looks far beyond, a broad abyss opens in front of him. The Ronin of Spirit, harsh and lonesome, follows the Way of Spiritual Ascension which forges a superhuman will. This brave Way is the privilege of the strong, the only true aristocracy of Warrior-pioneers: the eternal ronin, solitary heroes, Knights of the secret Order on a pilgrimage to a vertical plane of being.
read more about ronin in the book
This is a chapter from Samurai: Ascension by A. R. Basov