Friday, December 11, 2015

The Ways of a Warrior

Thought for the day:  Think lightly of yourself, and deeply of the world. [Miyamoto Musashi]

This time of year, most battles usually involve fighting for breathing space in the midst of shopping mall crowds, or trying to find a parking place within the same zip code as the store you want to enter, but I never enjoyed playing the role of shopping warrior, even on an uncrowded day. No, I prefer something a little more... exciting. More educational. More historic and romantic. I prefer another kind of warrior altogether: the Samurai.

So this past Saturday, given the choice of going shopping, writing out Christmas cards, or going to the Georgia Art Museum at the University of Georgia to see a samurai exhibit, which do you think I chose? Wasn't a hard choice at all...

The samurai were members of a powerful military caste in feudal Japan. They were provincial warriors in the beginning, and then rose to power in the 12th century under the Shogunate, the first military dictatorship, and dominated Japanese government and society until the end of the feudal system in 1868. However, the traditional samurai code of honor, discipline, and honor, known as bushido, was revived, and became the basic code of conduct for much of Japanese society.




Sheaths were things of beauty, and were uniquely designed for each warrior. The ornamentation on the sheath in the foreground depicts numerous insects.







Samurai philosophy:

I Choose
To live by choice, not by chance,
To be motivated, not manipulated,
To be useful, not used,
To make change, not excuses,
To excel, not compete.

I choose self-esteem, not self-pity,
I choose to listen to my inner voice, not the the random opinions of others.

I choose to do the things that you won't do so I can continue to do the things you can't.


The frontal ornament, or maedate, on this helmet, or kabuto, depicts a turtle-like creature called a minogame. He has fantastical tusks, pointed ears, a dragon-like snout, and a flowing tail of seaweed.




This frontal ornament, made of wood and lacquered in gold, depicts a shachihoto, a creature with the head of a tiger, body of a fish, and sharp spikes on its spine. Legend has it that when a shachihoto sees flames, it extinguishes them by either summoning rain or spraying water from its mouth. Many structures in Japan still have shachihoto ornaments on their roofs to protect them from fire.


 This helmet features a birdlike tengu demon. In some ancient Buddhist stories, the tengu personified evil in the form of passions and desires that hinder enlightenment. In other stories, it was a positive creature, fighting evil, guarding sacred mountains, and endowing humans with superhuman powers. I suspect the latter description is what inspired a warrior to feature a tengu on his kabuto.


This helmet, fashioned after a creature called an oni, was made with actual water buffalo horns, and features a mane made of horsehair. The oni are multi-faceted creatures that reside in Buddhist hell, but bring good fortune to humans. They can be malevolent tricksters or loyal protectors. Protectors is a good way to describe the Samurai.

By protecting others, you save yourself. If you only think of yourself, you'll only destroy yourself.  [from the 1954 movie Seven Samurai, upon which the later movie The Magnificent Seven, was based]

You may have seen helmets like this before. They seem to be worn by Samurai warriors, as depicted in most movies.

What does it mean to be Samurai? To devote yourself utterly to a set of moral principles. To seek a stillness of your mind. And to master the way of the sword.  [Algren- The Last Samurai]



Isn't this a cool-looking helmet? Too bad I didn't take any notes about it. (Sorry.)



Believe it or not, this picture shows a saddle and stirrups. Made of hardwood, and decorated in gold. Beautiful to look at, but I don't think that saddle (or any of the others in the museum) were particularly comfortable. They must have covered them with some thick blankets. I hope so, anyway. Not that comfort was a high priority for Samurai:

My life is simple, my food is plain, and my quarters are uncluttered. In all things, I have sought clarity. I face the troubles and problems of life and death willingly. Virtue, integrity, and courage are my priorities. I can be approached, but never pushed; befriended, but never coerced; killed, but never shamed. [Admiral Yi Sun-shin]

Here are a couple of short swords. There were many samurai weapons on display, and many of them were quite beautiful. One bow was reeeeeeeally long, and I can't imagine how one person could have possible wielded it. The arrows still looked lethally sharp, and quivers were magnificently decorated, and still brightly colored. The sheaths, hilts, and blades were genuine works of art. Most amazing to me, though, is how well all of these items have lasted through the centuries. Quite an experience to see in person, but in pictures? Not so much, so I won't bore you with any more of them. (You're welcome.)

To any fellow Georgian reading this, this exhibit will only be at the UGA museum until January third. If you have a chance to go see it, go for it! (Much more enjoyable than playing shopping warrior!)






In addition to this temporary exhibit, the museum contains many other permanent exhibits, as well, all worth seeing. This painted canvas screen especially captured my imagination. The curator told me it shows a scene inside of the Paris metro.

Oh, and did you know Samuel B.F. Morse was also an artist? I had no idea until I saw some one of his paintings at this museum. (And you don't even have to understand code to appreciate it.)



                                       Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

56 comments:

  1. I would have been along with you to that exhibition in a heart beat.
    And would probably have been hard to drag away.
    I think a one word summary of the Samurai code has to be integrity.
    And while luxury didn't drive them, efficient beauty certainly did.
    Thank you for this snapshot.

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    1. Now that you mention it, I WAS kinda hard to drag away. :)

      Integrity is a great word to describe the Samurai. And so is loyalty. Their loyalty to the masters they served was absolutely unwavering.

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  2. Susan, You are a true Samurai Warrior with courage, strength and determination. You're also a writing Samurai who stays true to her characters, and protects them with pen in hand. I hope that Smarticus posed as Spartacus, and fun was had by all. Great helmets too!

    Julie

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    1. Aw, shucks. That's all nice to say, but with as clumsy as I am, it'd be best not to entrust me with a sharp sword. Besides, the helmet would be so heavy, I wouldn't be able to hold my head up for long. Oh, and don't even get me started about those saddles! Ain't no way... :)

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  3. I'm so envious! I would have loved to be there with you. I wonder if that exhibit will get to Australia?
    Samurais fascinate me. I haven't done any research or anything, but I remember them in the TV mini-series Shogun. And ever since have wished my kitchen knives could be as sharp as their swords.

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    1. I dunno. Most of the artifacts came from the Stibbert Museum in Italy, so we know it's traveling internationally. Might be headed your way...

      That was a great mini-series! Thanks to Smarticus, my knives are plenty sharp, but I don't know if I want them to be as sharp as a samurai sword. Especially if I'm cooking with wine... (Gotta sample a little to make sure it's good!)

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  4. Hi Susan - gosh I'd love to visit that exhibition - what an incredible display of wonderful artefacts relating to the Samurai. You've given us a wonderful overview ... and reminded us of their principles - excellent values for this time of year.

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. Hi, Hilary. You're right! I hadn't really thought about it, but the Samurai principles are especially fitting for this time of year. (And the rest of the year, too...)

      Cheers back atcha!

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  5. Excellent and informative post! You've struck a chord. 25 years ago, a dear friend retrieved his family sword from Japan. He invited me to hold it. In the 60s, I fenced in competition and was familiar with foil and epee but never had I held a sword which by curve and balance assumed attack position mainly on its own. I respectfully returned it to my friend and mentally vowed never to touch such a blade again. I had not the skill, education, wisdom or need to make use of it --and it scared the bejeebies outta me. The armor is cool though, and I can see why they needed it.

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    1. Thanks, dude. I'm glad you liked it. Very cool to hear you were a competitive fencer. (If you have one, how's about sharing a geared-up pic of yourself from those days on your blog sometime?)

      It must have been something to hold your friend's family sword, if only for a little while. I'm sure you felt a certain amount of reverence for it, along with the fear.

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    2. Thank you! I can't believe you remembered... :)

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  6. I love to go to museums and learn about something that is foreign to me. I can tell you had fun there and your mind was filled with interesting facts which is definitely better than emptying your purse at the mall.

    This post reminded me of the TV serial, Shogun, one of my favorite mini series of (I think) the 80's. Richard Chamberlain played the lead, and my, was he a beautiful man.

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    1. Yes, absolutely! Filling up the head is much more enjoyable than emptying out the wallet. (And as Smarticus would probably point out, there's LOTS of empty space in my head that needs filling...)

      Shogun was great, but I liked Chamberlain in an earlier show, too, where he played Dr. Kildaire. (And sang its sappy theme song, too... "Three Stars Will Shine Tonight"...) Definitely pleasing to the eyes, no matter what role he played.

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  7. Beats a crammed mall any day. Those helmets sure had to be anything but comfortable. Scare the bad guys away though, especially the horn one.

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    1. Just about anything beats a day spent at a crammed mall. (I'm afraid when the shopping gene was handed out, I must have been standing in a different line... probably the one for inappropriate humor...)

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  8. that looks like an exhibit I saw in Ft.Worth - I wonder if it traveled to GA. Glad you could see it - quite fascinating and interesting way of life back in that time in Japan. I love museums........you reminded me, I need to get to one stat. Have a great weekend

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    1. I don't know. This is a traveling exhibit, so it could have been in Ft. Worth. All I know for sure is that most of the artifacts are on loan from a museum in Florence, Italy. (the Stibbert Museum)

      Yes! Get thee to a museum, woman!

      You have a super weekend, too.

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  9. Arrigato gozaimos (Japanese for thank you very much) for this post!!

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  10. Another fascinating and informative post, Susan. I LOVE the Samurai philosophy - - they are words to remember.

    Do we have a birthday coming up??
    I hope yours will be warm, wonderful, and joyous - filled with every blessing.
    I plan on forgetting mine......

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    1. Thanks, Jon. I'm glad you liked the post. We could all learn a lot from the Samurai. On philosophy, that is. It's best not to trust most of us with razor-sharp blades. :)

      Yep, we sure do. I'm not gonna forget your birthday. I hope it's a happy one. No rain, no snow or heavy frost, no heavy winds, no catastrophes. Just a pleasant day. Play something beautiful on the piano. Have a glass of wine or other preferred adult beverage. Read a book. Chill. Enjoy.

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  11. Fabulous! And do you see the similarities in other, ancient cultures?
    Sorry to shoot you down, but...you might want to go back and edit that note about "The Dirty Dozen" film.I think you mean "The Magnificent Seven."
    Now, I'm going back for another wallow...

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    1. Yes, now that you mention it, there are some similarities in other ancient civilizations. Good point.

      You go, girl! You are abso-doggone-lutely right about the movie being "The Magnificent Seven." But you knew that. Sheesh... what was I thinking? Thanks so much for calling me on it. I appreciate it, and will correct it right away. (I love both of those movies...)

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  12. Sounds like it was an interesting exhibit. Yikes, that tengu demon is scary-looking!

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    1. It really WAS interesting. And the tengu dragon looked like a critter it'd be much better to have as a friend than as a foe.

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  13. I love the Samurai philosophy... I think we all should take on at least some of those philosophies... the sound like very giving people who think more of others.

    I'm glad you had a great time Susan... I know how much you enjoy museums... Have a really fun weekend ♡ xox

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    1. For sure, we could all better ourselves by adhering to some of their philosophies.

      You have a super weekend, too. :)

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  14. Can you imagine the hours and dedication it must have taken to fashion those helmets and sheaths?
    Might try to get one of those helmets for a friend's wedding. Do away with the tradition wedding hat. As for the Samurai philosophy, what a world it would be if we all lived by such words.

    A fascinating post as always Susan.

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    1. I know! The intricate workmanship is those items boggles the mind, not to mention how many years they've lasted. (Unlike the short-lived stuff that's mass produced today.)

      Hmmm, a helmet might be a good idea for a wedding, especially when it's time for the bride to toss the bouquet. Some of those gals fighting for it get pretty feisty...)

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  15. This brings back so many memories from my childhood. I was into samurais, kung-fu and the whole Far east culture and history back in the day. Thanks, I really enjoyed this post.

    Greetings from London.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. It seems a lot of people are/were fascinated by the whole culture of the Samurai warriors.

      Greetings back atcha.

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  16. Beautiful photographs, Susan. Exquisite helmets. Sigh. So many museums, so little time. I wonder if it’s too late for me to adopt the Samurai philosophy? Secret: as a closet Highlander fan, I’ve always wanted a katana of my own.

    VR Barkowski

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    1. The helmets were unbelievably exquisite. Nah, never too late to adopt a new philosophy... which I suspect is already pretty close to the one you already have.

      I'll keep your secret. When you make it big as an author, you can splurge on your very own special made-to-order katana. (Might as well start designing it now...)

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  17. Museums definitely win out over shopping malls! I guess I didn't know how philosophical the Samurai were. Quite interesting! I googled to see if the exhibit would make it to Florida - and it will be in Sarasota in January. Hmmmm...I'll have to see.

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    1. Yeah, there's no contest between going shopping and going to a museum. It's way cool that the exhibit is gonna be in Sarasota next month. I hope you guys get a chance to see it.

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  18. Looks and sounds like a fascinating exhibit! Thanks for sharing. :)
    ~Jess

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  19. Interesting and definitely a winner for me.

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    1. Cool! It was a winner of an exhibit for me, too.

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  20. I spent a week touring Japan about ten years ago. Funny, I don't remember learning much about the Samurai.

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    1. Well, darn, I guess you'll just have to go back, eh? :)

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  21. Samurais - what a cool topic. I wish our museum had an exhibit like this. Oh, but we have plenty of stuffed wildlife behind glass and an entire wing devoted to rocks. Yeah, I'm jealous. Excuse me while I go commit seppuku.

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    1. HA! Hey, no need to be hasty. Who knows? This is a traveling exhibit, so maybe it'll make its way to your local museum. (It could happen!)

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  22. I have gained some knowledge from this informative post. Enjoyed reading it. Instead of fighting for breathing space in the midst of shopping mall crowds, your choice was wonderful.

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    1. Yes, the breathing is always much more pleasant in a museum. :)

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  23. An excellent choice of how to spend your day. There is much to be admired in the Samurai philosophy. Plus, the swords are Really Cool.

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    1. Thanks. We thought so! Yes, Really Cool, all the way around. (Worthy of capitalization, even.)

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  24. Interesting stuff. I've been to many museums, but can't recall if I've seen a warrior exhibit. I love the canvas screen. I'd like to have my own if I had a bigger place.

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    1. That canvas screen was gorgeous. And the scene was so realistic looking, it was like being there in the Metro station.

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  25. Looks interesting. I Would love to learn more about this warrior...different types of warrior stuff.

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    1. Those warriors may have lived a long time ago, but they still have a lot to teach us, if we're willing to learn. (Except for the hacking people up with swords... I'd just as soon skip that part...)

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  26. Bushido: Code of the Samurai was the theme for my daughter's marching band/color guard show last fall!

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    1. Very cool! That must have been a terrific show. And they looked very "sharp," I'm sure. :)

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  27. A samurai exhibit? How cool! No wonder you couldn't resist checking that out. The pictures alone are amazing--I especially loved the tengu helmet--so I can only imagine how much more impressive it was to see all this in person...

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    1. Yes, it was totally cool. The tengu helmet was my favorite, too. I'm sorry the pictures are so dark and difficult to see, but I couldn't use a flash in the museum. :(

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