There’s a quote that’s been a big part of my life since I was a teenager:
“Fate is in heaven the armour is on the breast success is with the legs. Go to the battlefield fully confident of victory and you will come home with no wounds whatsoever. Engage in combat fully determined to die and you will survive. Wish to survive in the battle and you will surely meet death. When you leave the house have no thought of returning. If you have any thought of returning you will not return. You may not be in the wrong to think that the world is subject to change but the warrior must not entertain this way of thinking for his fate is always determined”
Weighing in at one hundred and eight words it has been a source of inspiration for me since I first discovered it on the Samurai Archives website as a passionate yet sloppy student in year 9 and has stuck with me ever since in one form or another. It now serves as a quote that propels me forward at work and sometimes at home. But I’ve had trouble understanding it in the past.
I applied it when I was a new student at university and collapsed (almost entirely) just after my first term. Too foreboding, too aggressive and too tight a mind-set to live up to meant that I fell short trying to live independently in my first efforts. However despite being scared about bloody minded the quote was and how ruthless you have to beit was useful for focusing in exams of reminding me to hold to that instant to focus totally and do everything that I could to succeed.
And I was also interested by UesugiKenshin the 16th century Japanese Samurai that made the quote himself,who was a renowned Samurai yet also a“would be spoiler” rather than someone who actually carved out significant achievements.
I went to Japan in May last year for around two weeks with my family as part of a self-guided tour from Inside Japan.
I didn’t manage to go to Nagoya and see Kenshins former fortress. However I did go toKyoto, the old capital of Japan and got a guided tour on my second day there seeing some interesting sights in Japans old capital.
For example seeing the Budo (or martial arts school) with all of their fighters in their white gi and different coloured belts denoting their experience practicing together. The school and see martial arts of varying experience with their different belts. All in the same white gi.
There was also a shop that we visited calledTozan Jo. With practice staffs and Samurai Armour which I’m photographed with.With all of the different staffs and practice swords lined up on racks in the wall. All interesting sights.
In the back of the shop though there’s a statue in the far corner which I didn’t expect to see. A statue of Buddha with a sword slaying a dragon.
For a moment I felt uneasy thinking it was about the battle against external enemies. But actually I got it wrong. Kazuko our guide explained that it was about fighting the demons within. Now for me that isn’t autism but it was something that made me think about the demons within myself.
There are Western parallels to Kenshins quote. Murphys law is whatever will be will be or to use a sporting one The Patriot Way of “Do your Job”. Speaking of sporting parallels Pete Carrolls refrain“always compete” in his useful book “Win Forever” come close. But as I found competing for me is not enough. It’s about fighting and navigating through a battlefield, of work and life.
Which is forme the sheer intensity that Kenshins quote and the complexthat it inspires stands out. As it reminds me when I go out to work or to take my next steps etc., I’m in a situation to do battle.
The quote sat next to my desk in my former office at eye level. So I’m aware of it at all times when I’m working to remind myself of the attitude that I need to adopt whatever the world throws at me. And it’s also at home too. In fact maybe I should put it where I’m perched in my new office.
It’s an intense world that we live in. And it’s a world that’s in interesting times that can paralyse even the best of people. Which is why we need Kenshins quote.
However I do disagree with him in a sense.
I think we can determine our fate over the long run but not in the instant, that we have a part to play in shaping our own fate. We do our jobs so that in the end fate can change whether it’s a certain political situation or our own personal lives. Call it part of an equation if you like of the day to day fights and the long strategic haul.But there’s a time to hold to the instant and to have the right frame of mind in that instant.
Because if you come into certain situations like work determined only to survive then you will fail through being too conservative, which is not what’s being asked of you. You’ll tread water and not go into each day with nothing to lose.
Because the quote means do what you have to do. On any given day at any given moment, whatever the world throws at you. And for me that’s an approach that I have to take both in work and sometimes outside in life in order to be the best I can be. Because if you freeze or are afraid of losing then you will lose. And that’s something that’s happened to me a number of times. So you go in determined to do battle and you will come homesatisfied.
I had an excellent time in Japan and it was nice seeing how understated the country actually was compared to the tourist images and magazines that I had read. Who knows assuming the place doesn’t turn into an ultra-nationalist dictatorship under Shinzo Abe (I’ve watched the snap election and am keeping an eye out on developments Abe Sama!) maybe I’ll be able to go back and see Kenshins birth place someday. As that would be fun and a cathartic experience like my own first trip was.
So Kenshinsama, Echigo no Ryu, domoo arigato for providing a critical lesson that has been handed down the ages. A lesson of resilience and of confidence. Always do what you need to do and holding to the instant.
It is a one that I will carry with me and pass on.
-Written with much thanks to Inside Japan Tours and Samurai Archives