Friday, June 9, 2017


Seven Samurai, written and directed by Akira Kurosawa

I've mentioned on this blog before that I have a passion for Samurai history and Kung-fu films. Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa is my favorite movie of all time, and one of only three DVDs that I own. Typically, I don't buy books/movies or hold onto them after I've enjoyed them. The only material things I like to collect or even keep around are vinyl records, but overall  I'm a clutter-free person. I'm also wildly obsessed with the library. I always try my best to live as close to a public library as possible (currently, less than two blocks). I keep an ongoing list in my phone of every movie or book people recommend to me, and then I go on rapacious ordering sprees on the Seattle library website. I haven't even paid for an internet connection since I graduated from college in 2010. If I really need it beyond looking something up on my phone or shooting off an email, I go to the library. The library has always been my happy place-indoors, at least.

In most Ancient Japanese historical texts, including the seminal Hagakure, you will find a description of Bushido, or the way/code of the Samurai Warrior, as the mastery of seven virtues. In 1899 Author Inazo Nitobe later popularized an eighth virtue, which was Jisei: Self-Control. Certainly an admirable addition to the notion of self mastery but not an inherent part of the original, historical code.

1. Gi-Rectitude (Justice, Moral Righteousness)
2. Yu-Courage
3. Jin-Benevolence (Compassion)
4. Rei-Respect
5. Makoto-Honesty (Sincerity)
6. Meiyo-Honor
7. Chugi-Loyalty (Devotion, Duty)

My first exposure to Samurai history and the concept of Bushido was through Rza, creator and producer of the Wu Tang Clan. He developed the concepts behind the Wu Tang imagery off of Kung Fu characters, plots, and names. Fast forward a couple of years to when I was about 19; My boyfriend at the time had a zealous passion for Kung Fu movies, Japanese manga comics, and the surrounding culture. I was going to the U.W. and came across a course listing for an art class on Kung Fu films. Between that, Juan, and the Wu, I greatly deepened my exposure and knowledge.

The cross-mingling of Samurai artistry and Rap music is epitomized by Rza & the Wu Tang clan. Their debut album was named "36 Chambers of Shaolin", which is inspired by the title of an incredible 1978 film by the movie mogul Shaw Brothers (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, to be exact). I cannot recommend this movie enough. Although it is not as visually stunning as Seven Samurai, the story and message are one of my absolute favorites. The main character levels up through three dozen chambers of physical and mental mastery at a Shaolin training temple.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, from the Shaw Brothers

Over the next couple years I started to intake and absorb as much Japanese history and art as I possibly could. I found myself inherently drawn to everything that came out of this country, like it was speaking to a familiar memory inside of me. Their ancient wisdom and  traditions: Samurai and Bushido, dozens of films, comics like Lone Wolf and Cub, manga, art by substantial masters like Hokusai... The list goes on.

Rza remained a huge influence for me throughout this unraveling of a deep and natural fervor I have for the culture. His dedication to bringing elements of Japanese art and history into main stream rap music was so enlightening and fresh. I guzzled up everything he touched or even talked about. I watched every movie I could that the Wu Tang clan referenced in their songs and promotional interviews. I was not the only one noticing either. In 1999 Jim Jarmusch came out with Ghost Dog, a movie starring Forest Whitaker as a man living by the warrior's code in the hood, with original music by Rza. A few years later, Quentin Tarantino sought him out to compose music for the insanely popular cult classic Kill Bill. He then went on to score all the soundtracks to the incredible TV and film adaptations of the Afro Samurai manga. In 2012 he wrote, directed, and acted in his first full feature martial arts film, The Man with the Iron Fist. He also wrote two books, my favorite being The Tao of Wu; So I literally learned about Toaism for the first time through rap music. I went on to read other books by Lao Tzu as well as The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff, which I highly recommend as a really easy beginners guide.

Afro Samurai

Now, let me rewind back to Bushido. This strict moral code wasn't for the faint of heart, and separated the warrior from the average man. It required adhering to a path of otherworldly discipline and black and white extremes (perhaps why Akira chose to shoot the entirety of Seven Samurai in black and white?). No retreat, no surrender, no fear of death. It was the preservation of honor and integrity over the human body. For a Samurai, their word and their duty reigned above everything. Yet, this concept of honor of self wasn't meant to cast aside those who could or would not take on the rigorous way of the Bushido. As you can see, the third virtue is Benevolence, or compassion, which was not meant to be forgotten in the individual's work towards self mastery.

“The first person you have to resurrect is yourself”-Rza

All in all, Bushido acted as a philosophical and spiritual tempering of the violent life of a Samurai warrior, and as an oracle of wisdom in dark times. It brought necessary duality and humanistic meaning to the Warrior's time on Earth, in these physical and temporary bodies. My goal and daily effort is in transmuting these conceptual extremes from a bygone era into a guiding wisdom for handling the insanity of modern living. I like to practice my own form of Bushido, which I call H.A.I.L. (Honesty Authenticity Integrity Love). Like with everything in our lives, the practice is non linear, with good days and bad; Valleys and peaks.

“A way of life that keeps saying 'Around the next corner, above the next step,' works against the natural order of things and makes it so difficult to be happy and good.”  -Benjamin Hoff

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of the old mountain mantra: You must first save yourself; only then can you be of help to others.
    Nice reviews.


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