Tag Archives: samurai

Already Dead: The Samurai and Fear of Death

If there is a single factor for why the samurai were such incredible warriors, it is probably the fact that they viewed themselves as already dead.

As it is written in the Hagakure, Book 1:

“The way of the Samurai is found in death…This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.”

Without the burden of thoughts of self-preservation, assuming one’s self as already dead allowed the samurai to dedicate themselves single-mindedly to the task at hand. As soldiers for hire, that task was martial skills in service of their lord.

Christians, too are called to take up the instrument of their execution daily and to die to themselves. Whoever seeks his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will find it. This sentiment is not found in just one place in the Gospels, but rather repeated throughout all four in several places. Finally, there is the example of our Lord, who laid down His life for His friends, His sheep.

Why then are samurai so widely regarded, with so many tales of their bloody feats of service told and and retold to this day, while exemplary Christian examples seem to be relatively few – despite the fact that there are millions of us acting in Christ’s name?

If you are a Christian, you cannot be living for yourself. The best servants of their lord live as though they were dead. If the samurai can do it, so can today’s Christians.

Seven Times Down, Eight Times Up


There is a Japanese proverb that simply states “Seven times down, eight times up.” The source, as far as I can tell, is in the ancient book of samurai wisdom, the Hagakure:

If one has not been a ronin at least seven times, he will not be a true retainer. Seven times down, eight times up.’ Men like Narutomi Hyogo have been ronin seven times. One should understand that it is something like being a self- righting doll. The master is also apt to give such orders as a test.

Samurai were servant-mercenaries. Their entire livelihood depended on a master to provide food, housing, and their wages. Totally dependent upon a lord, as we Christians ought to be upon our Lord.

At times, the samurai were ordered to be ronin, or masterless. Or their master would die, or they would be dishonorably discharged. The name ronin meant “wave man,” and in such a state a samurai – no longer “one who serves” would drift about as a wave in the ocean.

We all have times like this, when we feel like we are drifting helplessly in life. Unemployment, a spiritual dry spell, a stubborn temptation, or a personal tragedy are all ways we can feel like we are cast down by God.

In these times, the advice for us is just as it was for the samurai – get back up. Be like a self-righting doll. Cast down seven times, raised up eight times.

There are other interpretations of the phrase. There is even a Christian band called 7th Time Down that cites II Kings 5:14 as the source of their name – the 7 times that Naaman went down into the Jordan to be healed. Other people cite it as being knocked down seven times, and getting back up.

So whether you feel that God has somehow withheld sustenance from you, or you get knocked down by sin, the devil or a practice sword, get back on your feet – seven times down, eight times up.

Special thanks for Craig Shimahara, currently working on the Christian samurai film Masterless, for inspiring this post today by a post on his Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of David Howard via Flickr.