Zen and the Art of Weightlifting? Squats and Philosophy? Barbells and Meditation?
That’s some weirdo-shit, right there!
Yep. It gets weirder, more fun, and far more interesting than you can imagine.
If you are the kind of person who is interested in self-development, big ideas, and reaching hyper-practical goals, then what follows is for you.
NOTE: for my Youtube show of the same name, Click Here.
- Samurai Strength
- A History Of Forks
- Zen In The Art Of Zen
- Practical Stuff
- Never Finished: Water Flows Like Water
The following is not meant to be comprehensive — in the slightest. It is a fast and dirty introduction to my personal ascetic/aesthetic philosophy — Samurai Strength.
I get asked a lot of questions regarding the ideas presented below, so I figured it made sense to write a one-stop introduction to my thoughts — thoughts that directly influence the training programs I have YOU doing.
This reads more like a collection of thoughts, than an “article”.
That’s on purpose. 🙂 You can jump around. I advise that you read it from front to back, but you don’t have to.
Samurai Strength is an ascetic & aesthetic philosophy — developed by Nick Horton — promoting the following concepts:
- Hard work
It is a fork of Rinzai Zen combined with philosophical concepts derived from the Japanese Samurai most often found in Bushido, the Hagakure, and The Book of Five Rings.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Gandhi
The Samurai Strength Mission is to make the world a stronger place via direct action and example.
A History Of Forks
Monty Python Style
“It’s not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.” — Monty Python.
The quote above is one of my favorites from any Monty Python sketch. It’s from the movie, The Life of Brian, the story of the dude who was born in the manger next door to Jesus.
In this scene, Jesus is giving his sermon on the mount. When he gets to the line, “blessed are the peace makers,” the members of the audience mis-hear him and think he said, “blessed are the cheese makers.”
That kind of mistake is funny precisely because it is exactly how real life works.
Religions and philosophies have a way of transforming through a hilarious game of “Telephone”. Each generation misunderstands the one before it, until it gets so muddled, that the founders would neither recognize it, nor accept it, as their own.
Other times, the break with the traditional path — or original idea — was intentional!
Rather than a misunderstanding, an intentional break with tradition forces a new branch to form: a fork in the road.
Samurai Strength is a fork.
When is a “Fork” Not A Spoon?
The word Fork is a hacker term for derivative work.
That is, if the development of an idea/program/philosophy/system is like a road, a fork in that road can lead to completely different “final” outcomes.
It is intentional. It is meant to break with tradition.
Much of the world of “open source” software functions under this model.
So does science.
So does art.
“If I have seen further, it is because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants.” — Isaac Newton
Shakespeare did NOT invent the Hamlet story. He “forked” it, and created his own version of Hamlet, based upon a story that had been told, and retold, and written down many times in the past.
His version just happens to be the one we know and love. And, rightfully so! It’s the best one out there.
However, what’s important is that he didn’t give a crap about the “accuracy” of his version relative to what came before. That would miss the point. He was not attempting to honor the stories that came before him.
Shakespeare was attempting to do his own thang.
“Take the good, discard the bad, add what is uniquely your own” — Bruce Lee
In a similar way, Samurai Strength is a Fork of Zen.1
Specifically, it is a new way of looking at a particularly ancient form of Zen practiced by the Samurai of Japan and ported over to the modern Western world.
Zen In The Art Of Zen
To say that Samurai Strength is a fork of Zen requires that I explain what I mean by the term Zen.2
Samurai Zen vs Zen
To understand how Zen came about in Japan is impossible without taking seriously the extremely close ties it had with the military class and the rise of the Samurai.
Zen and the Samurai grew up together, and helped to shape an entire country — and shape one another.
The style of Zen practiced by the Samurai was/is called Rinzai.
It is a particularly harsh brand of Zen that flies in the face of what most Westerners associate with Zen.
They are NOT mean! Quite the opposite. They are simply “hard core” in their approach to practice because of a belief that “harshness” will be better for YOU in the long run.
Zen training in this style can be quite intense and more reminiscent of military training than a Western-styled meditation retreat in the mountains with spas and massage and yoga and vegetarian food…
… there is a reason for that.
This was the style of Zen most practiced by Samurai who literally killed for a living. If they weren’t successful in their training — if they failed to get the principles of Zen that underlay their own martial training — they would die.
RESULTS mattered in the deepest mortal sense.
We adopt this practicality in full.
WARNING: Samurai Strength is not pro-violence!!!
That’s missing the point.
Rather, it is:
- Pro living in the real world
- Pro dealing with your shit, whatever that shit may be.
- It is about helping you become stronger, so that you can help others to do the same.
- It is about results
There was — of course — Zen without the Samurai, and Samurai without Zen.
But, Samurai Strength is most closely related — in a historical sense — with that variant of Zen practiced by working, everyday soldiers. Which is why I named it what I did.
Zen, Not Buddhism
Samurai Strength is a fork of Zen, NOT Zen Buddhism. This difference is paramount.
Zen Buddhism (two words!) is the unlikely marriage of Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism, forked from Chinese Ch’an, and ported over to Japan.
- Zen (without Buddhism) is a Fork of Taoism that took on a life of its own — it is not a religion, but a simple ascetic and aesthetic philosophy.
Buddhism (without Zen) is a particular variant of Buddhism called Mahayana Buddhism — it is a full-fledged religion in it’s own right.
What is interesting is that the Taoist roots of Zen are in stark contrast — even diametrically opposed — to much of what makes Mahayana Buddhism what it is.
Taoism and Buddhism have their parallels, just as Taoism and Christianity have their parallels — Jesus sounded a hell of a lot like Lao Tzu at times — but, that doesn’t make them the same. Not by a long shot.
There has always been a heavy tension between these two schools of thought trying to live under the same roof: Zen & Buddhism.
It is very interesting to contrast the traditional origin-stories in Zen Buddhism with what most modern historians and anthropologist have to say about it. The contrast is similar to those between the traditional Christian origin-stories with how non-Christian historians/scientists would describe it.
When you take Buddhism out of Zen Buddhism what you have left is a deeply Taoist core with a Samurai-practical bent.
It is THIS side of Zen that I have forked.
Samurai Strength is an umbrella philosophy, underneath which is our physical training style Nemesis, and a simple “philosophy” I call Kaido (or, “The way of the Sea”).
It’s also a lot of other stuff, but the parts that I get asked about are these.
How Jujutsu Became Judo: Monkey-Do
In Japanese, the words “Jutsu” (in America we usually write this “Jitsu”) and “Do” have quite different meanings.
Examples you already know include: Aiki-do; Karate-do; Ju-Jitsu; etc…
While we tend to blend the meanings of these words into one, it helps to be clear about how they have differed — and why a guy like Morihei Ueshiba would change the name of his own martial art from Aiki-jutsu to aiki-do.
Quickly, though not totally accurate, we can define them this way:
- Jutsu = practice
- Do = art, or ‘way’
So an example would be:
- Monkey-Jutsu = The practice of being a monkey
- Monkey-Do = The art of being a monkey3
See the problem?!
The lines are already blurred!
For this reason, even in Japanese, the words can often be interchanged — depending upon the context.
In other words, Jutsu and Do are NOT opposites, or incompatible, but rather compliments that overlap a little bit.
However, let’s focus on where they are not the same:
- Use Jutsu when your aim is more practical and grounded: sports training; trade school; “how to” manuals; military training; etc.
- Use Do when your aim is more philosophical and theoretical: yoga; lifestyles; how to raise your kids; etc.
Jutsu was the word in use by the Samurai to describe their own forms of martial arts — the various JuJutsu’s4 — because they were warriors who had to kill and fight in real-life battles. It was a practical thing.
As the world modernized and the Samurai moved into a world without non-stop fighting, the martial arts they practiced evolved — and got forked — into many that we now know and love: Aikido, Judo…
The purpose of the training in martial arts changed from being hyper-practical — stay alive; kill — to more heady goals like improving your life and staying fit.
Appropriately, the founders of these styles took the Jutsu out and replaced it with Do.
Thus, Jujutsu became Judo.
Nemesis-Jutsu: The Practice Of Ass-Building
Samurai Strength is a Do and it has an associated jutsu called Nemesis.
Nemesis is our martial-art-like or style of barbell training — geared toward competitive athletes & crazy people 🙂
It has very practical goals, and is results based.
- Want a bigger squat?
- Want to snatch more in a contest?
Nemesis is a style of training geared towards practical goals like that.5
Kai-Do: The Way Of The Sea
“Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend.” — Bruce Lee
The concept of being water is an old Taoist concept that many martial artists have adopted. We do as well.
Flow like water. Crash like a Tsunami.
Become the Sea. Do not simply weather the storm, become the most powerful thing in that storm.
Our aim is to teach you how to deal with your REAL life, not to hide away from it.
- Sometimes that requires that you bend, flow, and allow yourself to change directions — without hesitation.
- Other times, that requires that you crash and destroy what stands in your way — without hesitation.
Never Finished: Water Flows Like Water
Samurai Strength is not a “set in stone” philosophy but an ever evolving one. It is — just like Nemesis — in constant development.
We have rather heady-goals, after all!
Because of that, expect that it will flow just as you must to reach its own destination.
Samurai Strength is a fork of Rinzai Zen (without Buddhism), melded together with Samurai-specific philosophical concepts, as well as other stolen ideas from the martial arts, traditional barbell training — along with revived ideas from Taoism, Jesus (ideas, not religion), and even some Martin Luther King and Gandhi.
It manifests itself in our Nemesis physical training style, which is an approach to strength training with hyper-practical and results-based intentions.
It is enhanced by a very specific philosophical concept called Kaido — the way of the sea — which teaches you how to flow like water, and crash like a Tsunami, as the situation requires.
Practitioners are a modern-day group of Samurai bent on making the world a stronger place.
Now go lift something heavy,
PS. Tina Turner is a Samurai.
- Zen is great. I’m not trying to “fix” something that is broken, but rather take the concepts that are applicable to OUR situation, and add/change whatever necessary in order to make sure it works as we need it to. Zen has been forked many times already, this is nothing new. ↩
- A question you might reasonably ask is: Is Samurai Strength a type of Zen? Or something completely different. The answer depends upon your starting position. Do you believe that Zen can’t be forked, can’t be changed and still be considered Zen? Then No. Samurai Strength is something else. OR. Do you believe that Zen CAN be forked, and that what I’m doing is precisely in the spirit of Zen in the first place? Then YES. Samurai Strength is a style of Zen. (I lean towards the latter. I believe this to be right-in-line with how Zen functions anyway.) ↩
- We really need to turn Monkey-Jutsu into a thing! Who’s up for forking Monkey-style Kung Fu and porting it over to comedy? Oh, wait… Jackie Chan already did that! ↩
- Ju in Ju-Jutsu means “gentle”, interestingly enough. ↩
- Nemesis is NOT a program! A program has a beginning and end date. The 21 Day Squat Challenge is a program written in the Nemesis style. But, Nemesis itself is a system of training, a methodology, a language within which you write individual programs. ↩