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Samurai and Old Age

by Alexey R. Basov

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

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. 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.

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

Ueshiba Morihei Art
Ueshiba Morihei

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. When a great master was asked how he accomplished this, he replied, “Because with each breath, I inhale all the best that exists in this world. Exhaling, I try to get rid of all excesses that exist inside me. Inhale the good, exhale the unnecessary. While a person is essential to the Universe, they live. Send emanations of love to the Universe and you will get an answer. It is such joy!”

Even though I am past seventy now, my vitality is ten times as great as when I was thirty or forty ... I find no difficulty in refraining from sleep for two, three, even seven days, without suffering any decline in my mental powers.

A samurai should be constantly learning and perfecting himself on the Way of Ascension until his final moment. Even death is not an obstacle.

A renowned samurai once said, “I am getting older, but I learn all the time!”
This is the Way!
Use every day to your fullest potential!

This is a chapter from
the book Samurai. Spirit of the Warrior by A. R. Basov

avaliable as an e-book (for Windows, Android, iOS)




I will not get lost...
The North Star is shining in the darkness...
The road to Valhalla, straight like a sword, is always in front of me!

Copyright 2000-2021 Alexey R. Basov, Tatiana Basova. All rights reserved.

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