Monday, May 30, 2011


The mind must always be in the state of "flowing," for when it stops anywhere that means the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of the swordsman, it means death. When the swordsman stands against his opponent, he is not to think of the opponent, nor of himself, nor of his enemy's sword movements. He just stands there with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The man has effaced himself as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man's subconscious that strikes.

— Takuan Sōhō, The Unfettered Mind

There is a tradition within Bushidō, the ancient Japanese way of the samurai, which states that a warrior must always be prepared for death; in fact, that a true warrior should always act in combat as if he is already dead. Only in this way does he have a chance of attaining mushin no shin, mind without mind, without which he cannot hope for success.

On this Memorial Day, I would ask each of you to reflect on this thought—forged in a culture and society in which combat was usually conducted at close range, with edged weapons, between combatants who could normally see each other's eyes—in the context of modern, mechanized warfare. Where death or incapacitation is more likely to come

  • without warning
  • from a distance
  • from an unseen opponent
  • in the form of splintered, searing metal which shatters limbs and tears flesh.

Then ask yourself who is more courageous: a professional warrior, raised from birth in a tradition of service and self-abnegation, facing a known opponent at arms length, or an 18-year old Specialist, fresh off the boat from America, driving a Humvee through the IED-riddled streets of Ramadi.

Then, please, do me a favor: Say a prayer of thanks, and protection, for all our young men and women in harm's way. They deserve it.

Happy Memorial Day.

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