Paradoxical thinking: “Count back from your death and live now”
Many of Shukumine’s ideas and techniques are based on his war experiences. Near the end of World War II, many Japanese were aware of their imminent loss. Also Shukumine was operating on the premise: “I am sure to die soon”, because he had been trained as a member of a submarine suicide bombing unit.
However, on August 15, 1945, the Emperor issued the “Rescript on the End of the War” and the battle between Japan and the United States ended. Japan’s long war ended with its defeat. At that moment, many Japanese citizens lost their energy and even themselves. Even after two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese had been determined to fight the decisive battle on the mainland. Many Japanese thought that being enslaved by the United States was more bitter than death.
Shukumine was also for a time unable to think about his future. He set out to find meaning for life from the premise of “death”, in order to prove that his training experience was not in vain. There was a time when Shukumine was at a loss whether to become a lawyer or a martial artist after the war. However, he saw the current situation of Japan’s devastation and thought that a mental revival of the Japanese was necessary. He chose the way of the martial arts on the basis of his talent for karate since early childhood and his experience of war.
Shukumine’s words that reflect this period include “Count back from your death and live now”.
Ordinary people rejoice in the birth of children and hope for their future. These are the normal, natural feelings of parents and close people. So “to live counting back from one’s death” is an opposite idea to the ordinary. Death is frightening — people strive to avoid it with all their might. But what Shukumine wanted to say is that martial artists are more realistic than anyone. If you first fix “death” after some years, you will see what you have to do now. In other words, “to live counting back from your death” questions how effectively you can live now.
“Hagakure” is a famous book on bushidō. In this book it is written that the goal of bushidō is death.
The author of this book, Yamamoto Jōchō, was a samurai in the Edo period. His words have also been interpreted as “a samurai devotes his life to his lord”. But Yamamoto and Shukumine’s claim is “how to live”, or “live worthily”.
How did the samurai of the Edo period understand the reality of death? Choosing death for a samurai is to take responsibility and to prove his innocence. Samurai children were taught the etiquette of death from a young age. Why were young sons and daughters taught how to die? Because both the samurai and his family considered defeat and slavery to be the greatest shame. In general, Japanese culture is called a “shame culture”. This comes from the thought of the samurai: “Choose death over insult” was an inviolable rule in a samurai family.
A samurai carries two swords. One was a long sword for fighting called daitō. Another was a short sword called wakizashi, to be used on oneself. “Seppuku” is a ceremony in which a samurai cuts his abdomen and dies. Young sons were repeatedly taught the etiquette of seppuku with this short sword. Little daughters also practised cutting their throats with a knife called mamorigatana or himegatana.
Daitō & wakizashi
It would be unthinkable in contemporary Japan, but in the Edo period such things were taught to young children on a daily basis as their education. The samurai taught their children how to die exactly because they wanted them to live worthy lives.
As in Europe “noblesse oblige”, I think that the spirit of self-sacrifice exists in many ethnic groups. But in Japan words such as “noblesse oblige” were not limited to privileged classes such as aristocracy. In Japan, many of the Edo period samurai were eager to educate the general public, partly because the samurai were out of work during the peaceful period of Tokugawa rule. At that time, there were many small schools called “terakoya” in various parts of Japan. Enrolment rate in the Edo period (around 1850) was around 70–86%, and literacy around 50%. As a result, the spirit of bushidō has generalized and still remains at the root of Japanese culture. Since the Edo period, “noblesse oblige” has been shared among ordinary people in Japan and shown in times of national crisis such as the Great East Japan Earthquake.
At least such Japanese historical DNA clearly acted on the Japanese at the time of World War II. As there has been no national religion in Japan since ancient times, the Japanese use of suicide bombers is clearly different from suicide bombing based on religious fundamentalism. Shukumine says the special force trainees were extremely calm and intelligent young people. First, those who gathered there were volunteers, not forced. And above all, they understood analytically that there was something more important than their own life.
The important thing Shukumine has told me is that the young people that gathered there were very bright and lively. They often enjoyed debates with laughter. Certain death was drawing near in front of their eyes. But they had trustworthy friends and satisfying days. For them, death was no longer frightening. Death was the achievement point of self-completion.
Shukumine considered his experiences and sense of elation of this time the most valuable thing in his life.
I say it again. What do the author of “Hagakure” and Shukumine want to say? They wanted to say that people should take an active attitude towards their lives. Accept the reality of death and do not err in your choices. In the words “Count back from your death and live now” Shukumine packed his expectations for modern martial artists. For the Japanese, “way of life” and “way of death” are synonyms.
The title is “Strategic Thinking”,
The last thing Shukumine wanted to talk about was “strategic theory”.
His way of life was strategic itself.
His plans were strategic, so they were never declared to others.
That is because Shukumine himself occupied an important position inside Genseiryu and Taido. He was in a position to think about the organizational interests of Genseiryu and Taido.
So what has changed since his time and after his death?
Doubts have arisen whether Genseiryu and Japanese martial arts really can make an international contribution.
From this time on, the strategy changed to recognize that strategies are not to be hidden but shared.
By “this time” I mean the period from his illness to his death.
His strategic theory took a larger stage and became “grand strategy” and a “vision”. It is trying to really transform Japanese martial arts into a worldwide martial art.
Of course, each country and international companies have big strategies. But these strategies are never shared with the public.
So then is strategic thinking unnecessary for ordinary individuals? It is not.
Shukumine thought that it is the martial artist’s duty to spread strategic thinking to the public.
Many truths are hidden in invisible places. The truth contains many threats. But the threats are cleverly concealed. And finding them is a martial artist’s task and ability.
The essence of battle is the question of life. It is a question of whether to die or to live.
In other words, it is a question of “to kill or be killed”. This is the problem that human beings become most realistic with.
For ordinary people this problem is too heavy a theme.
It is the martial artist who can truly think of it.
Martial artists must have an intuition for crises more than anyone, because martial artists have mastered intuition for critical
situations through training.
Real martial artists, whose main mission is defence, must put their intuition to use.
Many strategies are paradoxical. They have many parts that differ from general common sense.
But martial artists must expose the threats and countermeasures hidden in their daily lives without fearing misunderstandings and counterarguments.
A martial artist should be a realist. Because martial artists are doing simulated killing. At least Shukumine thought of martial arts competitions as “simulated killing”.
But Shukumine says: “To bring the martial artist closer to realism, we have to add a method of competition. A one-to-many battle.”
However, it will probably be difficult for this method to become established. It is because martial arts have changed into sports, and the spirit of sports is fair. But all battles in the real world will never be fair.
Anyway I would like to think strategically about martial artists’ way of life based on Shukumine’s thoughts and accomplishments.
I believe that in this way you can understand why Japan, the land of the samurai, is a pacifist nation.
What I expect from WAMMCO’s website is that it becomes a place for many martial artists and the general public to think. And that this will continue for a long time.
What gives us many hints was Shukumine’s outstanding technique, his words and his way of life. On this site, I would like to define some strategic ideas with reference to Shukumine’s past words and deeds.
I further expect that many private-level strategists gather to discuss on this site.