The Samurai have lived in their home of Japan for hundreds of years but what they created there is still seen as invaluable today. They created several martial arts, elevated virtues such as honor to a new level, and taught us the principle of staying ready before you have to get ready.
The Samurai especially seems to connect within the masculine sphere. Everyone uses quotes about the samurai, and everybody seems to admire them. Why is that?
Is it simply because they are so capable of violence, that they have a history of war and battle? Or is it because they emphasize knowledge and elegance a lot? Most of them wrote poetry, and they wrote down a lot of their knowledge about life, but there is no sole reason that the Samurai resonate with men.
I believe the reason men resonate so much with Samurai, especially today, is because they portray the perfect combination of violence and elegance. They can fight, and they can fight really well, and they look magnificent and pay attention to their appearance and their minds. They are the ideal combination of barbarians and stoics, with all the best qualities of each combined into one.
So how exactly have the samurai become the symbol of masculine virtue, and why do we think so highly of them? Let’s explore this today by looking at the 3 aspects of the Samurai: Virtue, elegance, and violence:
1-The importance of honor:
Honor is an aspect of masculinity that is important in every single culture. Every man respects an honorable man. Honor is of course not the same in every culture, it all depends on what the norms of the group are and what is considered as respectable behavior. The same goes for the Samurai, who have taken their code of honor to the next level. They are so extreme that you sometimes have to commit seppuku (suicide by ripping out your own guts with your sword) to maintain your honor, so literally dying to maintain your honor. Though we believe that this is cruel, unnecessary, and simply revolting, it does make you respect the Samurai for going to such extremes for the sake of honor, and thus taking it very seriously.
Honor is something that is respected in every single society. But what is honor exactly, and how can you become honorable? We all have a vague notion of what honor means in our heads, we know it when we see it, but we can’t define it. So here is the best definition I can give you:
An honorable man, is someone who is good at being a man, and a good man at the same time. What a good man is, and what you need to do to be good at being a man varies in every culture, but this is the basic definition of honor: a good man, and good at being one. Now let’s expand on that. What makes you a good man?
In every culture, what makes you a good man is having good morals, caring for and helping others, being compassionate, and being friendly towards others from your group.
What makes someone good at being a man is his competence, his courage, and his strength of body and mind. These are in essence the four masculine virtues as described in the book ‘The Way of Men’, which include honor as a virtue as well. But without the virtue of honor, all the other virtues are practically worthless. You want to be good at being a man to get validated by the group, to earn the respect of others, and yourself. If you’re good at being a man, but if you're a shitty person, you won’t get this validation, which means all the work you put in to acquire the other virtues will have been for nothing.
Besides the Samurai being very competent fighters, they looked good when they fought. Their fighting styles, which you can still see in martial arts, are elegant, efficient, and effective. They look good while you’re doing them, and they are useful as well. They’ve perfectly combined effectiveness with elegance. When you see how much effort they spent on how they looked you'll be amazed. The beautiful swords they had with them, the magnificent Samurai armor they wore, even how they groomed themselves was meticulous.
This elegance was mostly based on the premise that a Samurai could be killed at any moment, and when he got killed, he had to make a stylish exit. A Samurai could not look bad when he was killed, that would have meant a blemish on his honor. And you may think, what would it matter what happened to his honor, he’s dead anyway. That’s not how they thought. In their culture, dishonorable behavior from you meant dishonor for your entire family. Now you’ve ruined your family's life even when you got killed simply because your beard wasn’t trimmed right. Not being elegant could literally bring dishonor upon families for decades.
You can’t die like a hobo and bring dishonor to your family's name. The Samurai didn't swing that way.
For us it essentially works the same way as with the Samurai then: not looking good can make people think you are not an honorable person. This is because of the power of the halo effect, which states that when you show one positive quality, people will immediately ascribe other positive qualities to you. And the same works for the negative qualities. So when you look like a homeless person, not groomed, bad clothing, bad hygiene, when people first meet you, they will ascribe all sorts of other negative qualities to you. This is stupid and simply not necessary. It’s not that difficult to take care of your appearance, to just shave, smell good, and wear clothes that fit, and the benefits you’ll get from this are actually immense. For such a little thing as taking care of yourself, people will like you more, first impressions are way better, and you’ll get more opportunities.
Plus when you die on the spot, you at least won’t bring shame on your family’s name because you didn’t take care of yourself.
3-Warrior in a garden:
There’s a saying that applies to the samurai: It's better to be a warrior in a garden, than a gardener in a war. It means that you can better be capable of violence and never have to use it, than to not have the capability but find yourself in circumstances where you may need it. Everyone is going to be in a war sometime, some physical altercation, someone coming up to you because you looked at him, and some will be so insane that they're going to fight you over it. When this happens it is much better to be a warrior and capable of violence, than a gardener. You’ll be fine anywhere if you have the capability for violence and never have to use it, but you won’t be when you don’t have that capability when you need it.
The Samurai really exemplify this. They do not fight a lot, some probably never even fight, but they train all day. Why do that when you don’t plan to fight? Well, it’s because of the good old principle of staying ready, instead of getting ready. When someone walks up to you in a bar wanting to fight you, you won’t get the time to train the punches that will knock him out, you need to have done that beforehand, you need to stay ready at all times. If you need to get ready when the battle already has begun, you’re too late, and you’ll definitely lose. But when you’ve prepared yourself beforehand for such a situation, if you’re always ready, then when the situation comes you can just do what you’ve been trained to do. Even if you’re chances of winning are not certain, they will be a lot higher than when you’ve not prepared yourself.
Violence in itself is a virtue. It is not inherently evil, nor is it inherently good. It’s neutral, so it all depends on how you use it. You can see violence as a kitchen knife. You could use it to stab people, take their watches, and let them bleed to death. That is an option. But you can also use it to cook meals for hungry orphaned children at your local orphanage. It’s the same knife, but the way it is used is very different.
The same goes for violence. You can use your capability for violence to harm other people without reason, or smack them in the face and steal their stuff. You can also use it to protect yourself from people who want to do you harm. Hell, even more important, you can use it to protect other people, such as your family and your loved ones, or simply a woman or child walking down the street, who is under attack. The way you use violence is totally in your hands.
With the knowledge that bad people are going to use violence, you need to realize that having this capability yourself is crucial. You can only combat violence, with violence. When someone attacks you on the street, you’re not going to give him a hug and hope that he feels better. No, you’re going to smack him in the face, put him in a chokehold, kick him in the balls, whatever is necessary for you to get home safe. When violence occurs, the only way you’re going to stop it is with violence of your own.
Because the world is not such a safe and beautiful place all the time as we’d like to believe, we need to understand that bad people are out there, and they may want to hurt you. You’re only going to protect yourself from them by knowing how to use violence.