Part 2: Yuuki – How To Handle Any Situation At Any Time
To see the index for this 8-part series, go HERE.
The Samurai embraced the soldiers-paradox: If you fear death, you will die.
They were brave, as all warriors must be. The basic neurological fact that fear causes your brain to shut down your ability to do parasympathetic tasks (like complex sword fighting techniques, or snatching) was intuitively understood by ancient Samurai.(1) However, they weren’t just interested in surviving.
Bravery and Courage are not the same thing.
To be brave is to do something despite the fact that you are frightened. To show courage is to do something that scares you precisely because you know you must – because it is the right thing to do. So, courage is a kind of bravery, but not always the other way around.
What makes the Samurai a particularly unique brand of warrior was their sense of total righteousness (as explained in Part One of this series) and how that impacted their sense of courage.
The soldiers-paradox, when correctly understood and applied, will keep you alive (or will – at least – make that more likely). But, how do you explain Seppuku (ritual suicide), an act ubiquitous with Samurai?
Today we’re going to look beyond survival and the mental fortitude it takes to stay alive, into the courage it takes to die for the right reasons – where that comes from – and how to apply it to your weightlifting.
Definition Of Yuuki
In Japanese, the 2nd code of Bushido is “Yuuki”.(2)
There are two kanji characters that make up this word, and it helps to understand it by first breaking them apart, then putting them back together again.
The first kanji is yuu which means “bravery” or “heroism”, and can even mean “to be in high spirits” or “cheer up”.
It is used in closely related words like:
The second kanji is ki which means “spirit” or mind and has found its way into one of Japan’s most enduring exports: the martial art, Aikido.
Putting yuu and ki back together, then, gives us “bravery of spirit”, which is how I am defining courage in this context.
Seppuku: A Short History Of Ritual Samurai Suicide
“Today is a good day to die” – Crazy Horse, the great Sioux Chief(5)
Samurai considered seppuku(6) to be among the most honorable ways to die. However, that doesn’t take away it’s brutality or its disconnect from our modern way of thinking about life – and by extension – death.
Seppuku WAS brutal.
The ritual required that you stab yourself in the stomach, then slice yourself open from left-to-right. If for some reason you were unable to carry this out, don’t worry, your best friend was standing behind you and would slice your head off to ensure your honor was maintained.(7)
In other words, you were not simply killing yourself. You were killing yourself in a horribly painful way.
Seppuku was a right, a privilege – Samurai could only commit ritual suicide with permission.(8) Being forced to die in a dishonorable way was unthinkable, and considered a far worse fate.
The first recorded act of seppuku was carried out by Minamoto no Yorimasa, a Samurai general in 1180, during the battle of Uji. Over the course of the next milenia, the ritual became codified, and extremely formalized.
Unless you were committing seppuku on the battlefield, you would normally be bathed, dressed in white ceremonial robes, fed your favorite meal, all before carrying it out in front of an audience.
After their meal, a tanto (knife)(9) would be placed upon the Samurai’s plate. The warrior would then write a death poem.
As soon as the warrior made his cut across his abdomen, his second would slice his head off in one cut – leaving just a bit of skin attached so that the head would fall forward, still attached, to appear as though it was being held.
That’s Some Messed Up Shit…
No doubt about it – as is true with many of our applications of Samurai principles to our modern peaceful lives – we should NOT mimic the Samurai literally!
Seppuku was a barbaric act carried out by medieval warriors who lived a hard, violent, brutal life, and were deeply concerned with maintaining honor at all costs – a very specific brand of “honor” that doesn’t always mesh well with our sense of morality.
But there in lies the POINT.
Courage Is The Light That Shines From Righteousness
Courage is an OUTGROWTH of commitment.
“Live when it is right to live, die only when it is right to die.”
The first principle of Bushido is Righteousness, and it is the most important. However, righteousness is a conceptual framework, a way to view the world in the right way so that you can then take action without hesitation.
Greatness requires the COURAGE to take righteous action.
You can’t have a righteous belief system and mindset without the courage to really ACT upon it, that would be worthless.
Like righteousness, courage is not – itself – an ACTION. It isn’t something you DO. But it is the next step in taking action. It is the willingness to take action based upon your sense of what must be done.
The Courageous Snatch
In weightlifting you are faced with a battle on every rep.
Your enemy is your own mind – not the barbell!(10) Fear will destroy you and leave you wimpy and whimpering.
Your sense of righteousness – the rightness of your decision(11) – is the source from which your success will come.
Your courage to do what must be done regardless of your fear is what will enable you to carry it out.
You need both.
The Samurai believed in surviving when it was right to survive, and dying when it was right to die… and they had the courage to do what they believed was right, despite the natural fear they (clearly) must have experienced.
You are not facing death. You are facing a heavy snatch. You have even less reason to let fear overtake you.
However, courage is not “acting without fear”. Courage is a type of bravery, and we already know that bravery is acting in spite of your fear.
It doesn’t matter how much fear you have – it may be a lot. What matters is that you ACT anyway – and that you do so righteously!
THAT is courage, and that is how you lift the big weights.
Next time, we will find balance in benevolence – How to use your powers for good, not evil.(12)
Now go lift something heavy,
- The Samurai were hardly unique in this respect. The Spartans, the Romans, the Aztecs, the Celts, the Mongolians, and loads of other remarkable warrior societies were forced to embrace this paradox as well. [↩]
- pronounced you-key [↩]
- remember that bu means “martial”, so this is a particular brand of bravery applicable to soldiers as discussed above [↩]
- shin means “honest” or “true”, so this word for courage hints at a similar meaning to the one we are searching for.)
- banyuu = foolhardiness ((I find it funny that this word sounds so similar to the Spanish banyo = “bathroom”. [↩]
- It is likely that Crazy Horse didn’t actually say that, precisely, but that’s the common English translation. What he (and other Sioux warriors) often DID say was “Nake nula wauŋ welo!”, which means “I am ready for whatever comes”. However, as I have mentioned on many occasions, literal translations often miss the POINT. And so the English version is much more useful. [↩]
- literally, “stomach cutting”. The word hara-kiri is more commonly used in speech, but means the same thing. Seppuku is the formal – Chinese originating – term, and is what is used generally in writing. [↩]
- this assistant, called a second, ensured you died quickly. (Your second wasn’t always a friend, they could be appointed.) Much better to get your head chopped off, then to bleed out and die slowly. [↩]
- It was also used as a punishment. [↩]
- sometimes a short sword, called a wakizashi would be used [↩]
- The barbell is your sword – it is but a tool to be used for awesomeness! [↩]
- to smack that damned bar off your hip like your life depends on it, and lock it out at all costs [↩]
- In other words, how to have the righteousness of Gandhi, rather than that bullshit masquerading as such as seen by the Conquistadors, all terrorists, the Spanish Inquisition… this list could go forever, and apply to every culture, ever! The Samurai, themselves, got this wrong nearly all the time. Alas, Bushido is a concept/code/guide, not a historical description. Our goal is to be among those precious few who actually put it into action – in full. [↩]