HAGAKURE: There is Always Room for Improvement
I have heard that a certain master swordsman, having reached old age, made the following statement:
“A samurai’s training lasts a lifetime, and there is a proper order to it. At the lowest level of training, even though you practice, you do not seem to improve, you know you are unskillful, and you believe the same of others. At this point, needless to say, you are of no use in the service of the daimyo. At the middle level you are still of no use, but you are aware of your deficiencies, and you begin to recognize the shortcomings of others. When a samurai attains the highest level, he is able to dispose of any situation on the basis of his own wisdom so that he no longer need follow the teachings of others; he gains confidence in his abilities, rejoices in being praised, and laments the failings of others. Such a samurai, may we well say, is useful in the service of the daimyo.
Ignorance and incompetence
Even above this level, there are those whose facial expressions never reveal what they are thinking, nor do they make an exhibition of their skill –in fact, they feign ignorance and incompetence. What is more, they respect the skill of others. In most cases I suppose this is the best that can be aspired to.
A samurai must know his shortcomings
But on a still higher level there is an extreme realm that transcends the skill of ordinary mortals. One who penetrates deep into the Way of this realm realizes that there is no end to his training, and that the time will never come when he may be satisfied with his labors. Therefore, a samurai must know his shortcomings well end spend his life in training without ever feeling he has done enough. Of course, he must never be overconfident, but neither should he feel inferior to others.”
Effort to improve or Hagakure
Yagyū, a teacher of kendo to the Tokugawa shoguns, is quoted as having said, “I do not know to excel others. All I know is how to excel myself.” Saying to himself, “Today I am better than I was yesterday, tomorrow I will be still better,” a true samurai lives out his days in constant effort to improve. That is what training is, a process without end.
Illustration: Lone Wolf and Cub (子連れ狼, Kozure Ōkami) Kazuo Koike, Goseki Kojima. Japanese manga 1970-1976.