Thursday, February 04, 2010


It makes my teeth ache when martial artists try to be “modern samurai” or “American samurai.” Samurai is a really specific thing, a specific class of warrior. In order to be a samurai, one must be born into the buke, the warrior caste. Not possible in modern America unless, I suppose, you descended from one of the recognized buke families of Japan.

The second element is that you were a bushi, a professional warrior. Making war, peace-keeping, policing, guarding—the bushi did them all, so for modern shorthand, you would have to be under a ‘profession of arms’ or what Van Canna calls a “Force Professional.”

And the third element is that you must be in sworn service to a lord.

Born into the right family, doing the job and working for someone else…

Obviously, I wasn’t born into any ancient Japanese families, neither bushi nor heimin nor the other caste (which I can’t remember right now…)

I was talking to K, being introspective. Both relishing the freedom and wrestling with the uncertainty. “I always knew who and what I was. I had my tribe and my status and duties within the tribe. I’m not a part any more.”

“You’re ronin,” she said.

I winced at the word, thinking of some long ago wannabe martial artists.

But, as usual, she hit a piece of the truth. For the first time in my adult life I am not in service. From a sworn officer in my old agency to a representative of a program in Iraq I’ve always been in service to a cause. In sworn service, which is something else. I always took the duties seriously, internalized them. Became, to the best of my abilities, the perfect retainer/representative/operator for the agency that I worked for.

And now…

I don’t miss it, the world is wide open in a way that it hasn’t been for twenty-three years. Yet I do feel something. Not quite an emptiness. A drift. A change in my identity. Things are new. Things are different.

A world to wander. Like a wave.


Rogier said...

Just because you can't own the label Samurai, Zulu, or Gurkha doesn't mean that sometimes concepts from their traditions are entirely off limits. Sometimes we simply lack an appropriate term or idea applicable to a situation and it makes sense to appropriate the concept. That is what makes the wealth of information available across cultural lines so wonderful. It is important though to recognize the root of the idea for us to keep finding value in it.

I wholeheartedly agree though that taking the identity wholesale goes too far.

Steve Perry said...

It would be great if you didn't have to go back and get a Real Job.

Have fun this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Anybody who has ever served for a cause greater than themselves knows how you feel. I remember my last day on active duty brought tears to my eyes, the reality of taking off the uniform and not being held to a higher standrd soon left me feeling empty. The freedom I felt after leaving lasted only so long. Lets see how long it will last with you.

Tiff said...

Interesting, isn't it? A word like "ronin" - stigmatic as it feels - is more than an "otherness" or "nothingness," more than simply defined as the lack of something that once was.

Which begs the question: What do we become when we begin to define ourselves, rather than allow ourselves to be defined by the world around us?

An anonymous quote on a magnet on my fridge reads, "Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about CREATING yourself."

Ann T. said...

Dear Rory,
I think the word represents a stigma still. To be not-affiliated in this world is to travel a strange forest. The difference is, there are so many that want you to join their half-baked enterprises.

Choosing to remain unaffiliated is a constant challenge but it may or may not represent a wise course.

Ann T.

Unknown said...

I tried to give up being a cop. Twice. Didn't work. Always felt like a part of me was missing. Every time I passed cops on a traffic stop (when I wasn't working), I felt like I should be there with them.
I figure my next window for retirement will be when I'm 63. I think that'll be enough. 40 years. And no matter how hard I train, the bad guys are always 22 years old. New crop every year.
Think of yourself as a young Toshiro Mifune.

Justthisguy said...

James, I think of what I tell my kitteh every time he insists on going out at night, though he's 15, and retired.

"Be careful out there; there is an endless supply of Bad Humans." Not to mention dogs, coyotes, raccoons, possums, other kitties. Nonetheless, he really would live free or die.