Hagakure, written by Yamamoto Tsunetomo in the 17th century, is a collection of commentaries on bushido, the way of the samurai. It posits that if a samurai accepts that they may die, they will never be afraid of acting in the moment.

I first came across the book when I watched Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai in the early 200s. Aside from being a great movie with an excellent soundtrack (produced by the RZA), the movie features snippets from Hagakure. Little maxims that, to be honest, I’ve used to help me through moments of struggle in the past.

The one that helped the most was this:

In his book of maxims, O-Kabegaki (“Wall writings”), Lord Naoshige wrote: “Deliberate lightly when deciding on weighty matters.” Ishida Ittei added a note to this axiom: “Be meticulous when deciding on affairs of minor importance.”

Here’s some more cuttings from the book. I’ll add to this page as I carry on reading. Hopefully these maxims will help you some day.


On being a generalist

No particular talent is needed. In a word, all that is required is the fortitude to declare that you alone will shoulder the burden of responsibility.

Therefore, if one seeks to resolve a problem, let it sit for a while, take time to think about the “Four Oaths” and subdue any self-centered thoughts, and then you will be able to proceed without faltering.

On mentors

When it is difficult to invoke true wisdom unimpeded by selfish motivations, consult a man with insight. He will be able to offer selfless and candid advice as the matter is of no concern to him personally, and he will thus be able make rational judgments. Such recourse will be viewed by others as being firmly-rooted and prudent. It is akin to an enormous tree with many roots; by contrast, the self-centered wisdom of one man is like a small tree precariously placed in the ground.

If we discard our own prejudices and invoke the maxims of our forebears, or consult with others on such matters, we can proceed without impediment and not wane into iniquity.

There is no better way than to talk with others if you are keen to know your flaws. Listening to men and reading books helps complement your own good sense with the wisdom of the ancients.

On giving and receiving feedback

In offering one’s opinion, one must first ascertain whether or not the recipient is in the right frame of mind to receive counsel.

Being convivial and cooperating with one’s companions to rectify each other’s inadequacies to be of better use to the lord is what constitutes genuinely compassionate service.

It is important to commend young warriors if they perform their duties well in order to motivate them, even if it was only a trifling achievement.

On organisation and planning

Master Jōchō pondered tasks for the coming day and wrote them down. Being organized keeps you a step ahead of others.

The unprepared warrior lacks foresight, and even if he succeeds in solving a problem, it is merely through good fortune rather than good planning. A warrior who doesn’t think things through beforehand will be ill-equipped.

It is prudent to prepare for serious matters ahead of time so that they can be dealt with expediently. It is difficult to make quick decisions without planning in advance.

On meetings

When scheduled to meet somebody the following day, make a careful assessment the night before, contemplating appropriate greetings, topics of conversation, and points of etiquette.

It is good practice to think things through when going to visit somebody. This is to ensure that harmony prevails.

On product sense

Knowing the Way is to know your own faults. Discovering your imperfections with endless introspection and to remedy them by spending your life training body and mind (shugyō), that is the Way.

I do not know how to defeat others. All I know is the path to defeat myself. Today one must be better than yesterday, and tomorrow better than today. The pursuit of perfection is a lifelong quest that has no end.

The prepared warrior is not only able to solve problems in a quick and commendable fashion by virtue of his life experience, but he can react appropriately through his comprehension of measures to meet any scenario.