The Life Value
by Jack Hoban
One of the great honors of my life was to be asked, by Contemporary Books, to editHatsumi Sensei's book in English, "ESSENCE OF NINJUTSU." As I worked I realizedthat it must have been a difficult job for the original translator, because HatsumiSensei's writing style is very unique: Each sentence, each kanji has many interpretations.
This is Ninja writing.
I was afraid to over-interpret what was written, so I merely helped with grammar andspelling. I left many mysterious passages for the readers to puzzle out for themselves by"reading between the lines." Yet for me, there seemed to be an essence toHatsumi Sensei's teaching. That is that "life" is the most important value forthe Ninja. I think it is significant to note that Sensei does not qualify that value. Inthis context, he does not say, "a life of happiness," or "a life ofsuccess," or "a life of wealth." These secondary values are all relative.He speaks of life in its most elemental and universal sense.
To support this essential viewpoint, he says several other things that we have allheard, such as "I am no country," meaning perhaps, that cultural values obscurethe essence of budo; and "I have no style," which may be an admonition thatstyle obscures the essence of taijutsu.
This issue is literally a matter of life or death, and has always been so. Evenrecently, in the former Yugoslavia, we see this concept of the life value being forsaken.They are obsessed, there, with notions of "country," and "culture" or"style." "Culture" has come to be considered the definitive criterionof human worth. When this occurs, it almost always follows that those not of your culturesomehow have less human worth.
Then comes the "ethnic cleansing." When "culture" is treated withmore importance than life, the killing begins, guaranteed. In a more general sense, thismeans that anyone that puts something above life: culture, money, honor, fame, prestige,etc., will kill too easily. It also means that they can be easily killed by people ofother, "lesser" cultures that they treat with disrespect.
Cultural values are relative: They can be different for different people, depending onthe environment. Even people who are ostensibly of the same culture can easily disagree ontheir values. Are all Americans the same? Are all Japanese the same? Do they think alike?Have the same experiences? No, of course not. Even the cultural or behavioral values ofthe same person can change. In this way, the importance of culture can be thought of as amyth; a creation of the human mind.
Robert L. Humphrey, in the book "Values For A NewMillenium," states, in essence, that the only thing that may be the same about peopleis that they value their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. We are all equal inthis regard (and no other of relative importance), regardless of culture. When this factof human nature collides with the cultural or behavioral caprice of we imperfect humanbeings, conflict and violence result. This is why I believe that it is important to liveas if "I am no country."
This issue is particularly pertinent for thebudoka. We train as Ninja; yet as humanbeings we are susceptible to cultural biases like everyone else. Remember, the goal of ourtraining is to live. Many of us train in the martial arts up to a certain level ofproficiency. We become comfortable there. We "fall in love" with a martial artsstyle of our own creation. Even though we may train for many years after that point, wenever really progress. Style, like culture, is not of importance in matters of life anddeath. We will not progress unless we abandon our style for mu (formlessness).
One might rationalize that it is foolish and dangerous to give up a "tried andtrue" method, our "style," for formlessness. But the fact is that the thingthat kills you is anything except the thing that you have trained for. This is why styleis useless. Again, the purpose of Ninpo is to live. There are no modifiers, no qualifiers.Live, just live. But, as Humphrey also says, this life value is a dual one: our lives andthe lives of others. Protecting one's own life, of course, is self-defense. Protectingothers is warriorship.
It sounds romantic or heroic to imagine ourselves, as warriors, running around theworld protecting the weak and defenseless. But, this is not realistic. To live truly as awarrior, and help make peace, we must set an example of treating all persons, even thosepoorer and richer, dumber and smarter, better or worse, with basic respect. This isdifficult and may take great courage; people who seem different can frighten or disgustus. Yet, if we don't respect the lives of others, even if we don't like or understandtheir behavior, conflict or violence will naturally result. Aren't there richer, smarter,better people than you in the world? Does that make their life worth more than yours? Notto you! All people are the same in this way. Our martial arts skills can give us thecourage and confidence to see the life value in all persons, and support and defend thatvalue.
Life, not culture, color, creed, or behavior, is the most important and universalvalue. Life is worth defending. This is the goal of our training: to protect life.