How To Get Into The Zone Like A Samurai Weightlifter
This is going to be an 8-part series consisting of this introduction and each of the 7 virtues in isolation, all applied to your life as a weightlifter, and as a human.
Before we get started, I want you to read (and then reread, 10 times) the following quote from Tsunetomo Yamamoto, the writer of The Hagakure (Book of the Samurai).
“If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the present moment.” – Tsunetomo Yamamoto
Everything I write about, all of the techniques I promote, all of the philosophy I espouse is summed up in that simple statement. Unfortunately, most people take from that idea the OPPOSITE of what is intended. They think it is a justification of hedonism and shortsightedness.
A fool will say, “I live in the moment,” meaning that he has no care about the consequences of his actions. The wiser person will say, “I live in the moment,” precisely because they care about the consequences of the their actions – for themselves and especially for others.
This fundamental Taoist/Zen/Human principle is the opposite of hedonism. It is The Way, the only way to get you to where you want to go. Call it being in the zone and you will have understood it better. Couple that with grocking what the zone IS, and you really have something.
Nothing will force you to deal with your shit more than taking an honest look at what is true in the here and now. You will have no choice but to act, do, be… there is nothing else. (Yoda was right.)
All of life is taking the next step.
- put chalk on your hands
- walk up to the bar
- hook grip
- set yourself
- take a breath
- hold it
Welcome to the world of Zen and the Art of Weightlifting.
What Does The Word “Bushido” Mean?
Bushido is really a compound of three words, and if read from left to right (with a literal English translation) it would sound rather funny.
(bu) Military – (shi) Gentleman – (do) The Way
Thankfully, that isn’t how translation works. Each language has its own (oddball) way of going about making primate communication possible.
Literalism doesn’t do the origin-language any justice (just ask Babelfish).
It is important to note that word order in Japanese is almost the opposite as that of English. They don’t have any equivalent of the word “the”. And while the word “of” in English is explicit, in Japanese it is often implied (as it is here).
And, of course – just as is it in our language – sometimes when you combine two words, you get a totally unique one that is quite different than the sum of its parts. (Like Voltron.)
The three translations I find myself most comfortable with are:
- The way of the warrior
- The way of the samurai
- The code of the samurai
Each of these has appeared in titles of books aiming to get at the heart of Bushido.
Samurai Or Bushi?
Samurai didn’t tend to call themselves “Samurai”. This WAS the class from which they arose – The Samurai Class.(1) But, they tellingly called themselves “bushi” (gentleman soldiers).
The word “Samurai” itself literally means “retainer” – one who waits upon ones master (a servant).
Yet, as seriously as they took such matters as loyalty – to the point of committing suicide if their master died – they also broke that rule so often than they ended up usurping their highest master (the Emperor) and completely taking over the entire country.
Shoguns (samurai generals) were the new – the real – rulers of the land.
Thus the word “Samurai” came to mean almost the opposite of what it had originally meant. The Samurai were now the new masters, and the entire country waited upon the them.
The original Samurai were like a military middle class.
Theirs was not originally a hereditary class. You could become one even if you were poor and born into a farming family, or merchant family. This upward mobility through warfare was a large key to their future domination.
Will The Real Samurai Please Stand Up?
The mythology surrounding the Samurai is not too unlike King Arthur: Part truth, part fiction, full of practical lessons. But make no mistake. The Samurai were real, they were ferocious, and their influence over the entirety of Japanese culture is so profound it is hard for any Westerner to truly grasp it – as we don’t have any equivalent.
The closest thing we have here in America is the Cowboy and the Western – a odd mixture of fact and fiction that plays itself out still today in our world view. But for us, it’s a culture only going back a few hundred years.
For the Japanese, Samurai culture extends back for over one thousand years.(2)
It Wasn’t All Blood And Cherry Blossoms
By the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate (circa 19th century Japan), Bushi didn’t have any fights left. Japan had become a peaceful nation, and the laws regarding the Samurai reflected that. They were essentially “demoted” and tamed so that they could live in our world.
However, the Japanese were not about to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There were many lessons to be learned.
It was this period from which Bushido (The Code Of The Samurai) emerged as a guiding principle – not for warriors, but for the whole of the people.
COMPARE & CONTRAST: The Chinese military manual, The Art Of War was repurposed as a “how to” business manifesto, political treatise, and general self-help book when it had been originally written to be taken LITERALLY.
King Arthur Rocks, And So Do Ninjas
Real-life Samurai were not always as honorable as the stories would make them out to be.
Example: They had every legal right to cut down a commoner who didn’t show them the proper respect. (Imagine the kinds of self-justification and self-aggrandizement that would result from such a law!)
We aren’t interested in being historically accurate. That would be a disservice to our end-goal, which is to utilize the lessons (the point!) from others to make ourselves better weightlifters and people.
That puts us in good company with the Japanese of the 19th century who were looking for a way to live in a modernizing world.(3)
We will focus our efforts on self-betterment with the aid of the principles the Japanese learned from a thousand years of Samurai culture. You will apply them directly and practically to your lifting in the gym, AND to your life as a whole.
Finally, it is imperitive to note that I am against any type of militarism or machismo regarding this material. That would miss the point, and render the lessons meaningless.
What we have to learn from Bushido are 7 virtues that will help to make us all stronger in mind & body, and better able to give back to the world around us.
Next time: Part 1 – Righteousness
Now go lift something heavy,
- Japan was a very classy place for millennia, if you get my meaning. [↩]
- The first mention of the word “Samurai” coming from Kokin Wakashu around AD 900. [↩]
- It is interesting to note that the fall of the Samurai and the creation of a western-style military led directly (though, not necessarily causally) into WWII. After Japan’s defeat, Bushido saw a resurgence in popularity, and along with that came one of the greatest success stories in modern “nation-building/democracy-promoting” history. Rather than Bushido fostering a warlike Japan, the loss of it brought forth their darkest period. Bringing it back coincided with the creation of one of the most impressive 1st world democracies the world has ever known. NOTE: Germany in the 20th century had a shockingly similar set of parallels. [↩]