Those were days like any other. For a long time, I had been going through this process of getting to better know myself in order to make all the beauty of my soul blossom and, only then, enjoy the wonders of life. I studied the texts left by the wise ancestors and endeavoured to understand how they could be applied in everyday life as tools for transforming the good life. I managed to overcome some cycles, but I also had the clear perception that, from a certain moment on, something had stopped the flow of this development. I had no idea what it was. In the middle of the night, I would wake up plagued by unpleasant memories, either of situations in which I was uncomfortable because of my choices in the past, or because of acts that someone had done to me. In the morning, I would say a prayer, meditate and do exercises to harmonise myself internally, with the commitment to take advantage of the countless opportunities offered each day to advance on my evolutionary journey. I was fine, but soon a situation would arise to throw me off balance. The phase of emotional outbursts was behind me and I no longer fought with others. I realised that in order to live according to my truth, I didn’t need to convince anyone of it. Nor did I take offence at other people’s opinions. However, constantly, even without new facts, I was enveloped by unpleasant thoughts and dense emotions that robbed me of the valuable lightness of the hours of my day. I tried to deny this reality until the weight became too great to ignore. Finally, despite all the effort and searching, there was a clear feeling that I was being less than I could be. Something was getting in my way without me being able to identify where it was or who the tormentor was. More seriously, I realised that this had been a reality for a long time.
In those days, I was walking down the street when I spotted Antônio, a very dear friend of mine, a retired chemistry professor from a university in Rio de Janeiro. He was a man of pleasant conviviality, with enormous culture and a simple way of being. Serene, with a gentle nature and a peculiar way of life. Among other attributes, he showed a sincere interest in welcoming people. Everyone felt valued when talking to Antônio. Because of an accident when he was young, he walked with the aid of a cane. He didn’t see when I waved and, to my surprise, walked into a jiu-jitsu gym. I realised he was carrying a rolled-up kimono on his shoulder for training. It didn’t make sense that a cultured, spiritual man like him would be into martial arts. I hesitated for a few moments and went to check it out. In disbelief, I watched him practice the application of blows, both attack and defence. I left without Antonio seeing me.
A few weeks later, I went to a series of lectures on the increasingly close correlation between science and spirituality. Antônio gave one of the talks. Because of his unique way of thinking, the lecture was marvellous. And disconcerting. I had the feeling, like most of those present, that a lot of content had been offered, but only some of it had been understood. Many of his words needed time to find their proper place in the mind and heart. I had no doubt that he was a man ahead of his time.
However, there was a contradiction in that man, a lover of his own sublime way of being and living, and his inexplicable taste for martial arts. I wanted to understand. I invited him for a coffee, which Antônio readily accepted. Once we were seated at a table in a nearby café, after sincerely praising his lecture, I expressed my admiration for him. I then commented on the fact that he trained in jiu-jitsu, which I thought was inconsistent. Antônio listened to me with his usual serenity and then began to tell me a story: “Many years ago, a young man at university was a lover of martial arts. The fact that he knew how to fight and defeat his opponents, each time with greater mastery, made him feel powerful and in control of himself. In love with a beautiful girl, he had irrevocable plans for happiness with her. However, life has a bias and doesn’t always accommodate our desires.” He paused, his eyes seemed to be travelling to distant lands, and continued: “It’s perfect that it should be like this. Calm days, with blue skies and winds blowing in the sails, although desirable and indispensable, can lead us to the wrong harbour, a place where peace is an illusion. True peace is only possible when we learn to handle the boat and sail through the most terrible storms, and even then, we manage to enjoy the journey”. He paused again and added: “No strength comes from the feeling of superiority over others; this is arrogance, pride and vanity, all these shadows are daughters of the fear of discovering that, at the core of our being, although we don’t admit it even to ourselves, we realise the fragility that we don’t accept. True strength emerges as we get closer to the Light. A subtle, peaceful power that doesn’t make any noise or hype, but is invincible. Nothing in the world can rob us of this power or cool us down. There is no other safe harbour. You don’t get there by chance. Nor will anyone reach it until they understand who needs to be in charge of the boat.”
He took a sip of coffee and returned to the story: “One day, this young man was surprised by his fiancée’s decision to end their engagement. Honestly, she declared that she was in love with another man. Almost everyone has experienced the pain of separation. It’s heartbreaking, especially when we’re still emotionally immature and don’t know the greatness of love. It was no different with that young man. Days like this make us imagine that there will be no more sunny mornings. Thoughts and emotions conflicted and confused him. He knew that the girl had the right to leave whenever she wanted. On the other hand, he was plagued by thoughts that reminded him of how much love he had devoted to that engagement and, in the end, she had left for another man she had only recently met. He spent days caught up in this whirlwind of emotions and ideas, between darkness and clarity. He didn’t realise that he was caught up in a downward spiral of shadows which, with each passing hour, diminished his capacity to think clearly and feel serenely because he was under the increasing influence of jealousy and victimhood. Until he learnt that the man the girl had fallen in love with was a fighter from a rival gym, whom he had beaten in a recent tournament. He imagined the taunts he would receive, like he won the championship but lost his wife, common to souls that are still to loud, scandalous, deranged and lost. He convinced himself that a beating to the girl’s new boyfriend, as well as a gesture of justice, would restore his honour, silence his detractors and relieve his pain. At this stage of evolution, people don’t know the difference between pride and honour. Seized by a fury he could no longer control, he got on his motorbike and went after an absurd settling of scores. Haste and hatred meant that a reckless overtaking caused a serious accident. One of the fractures, that of the femur, left him with permanent sequelae. The forced period of quiet and solitude to which he was subjected, unable to leave his house, made him look inside himself and review many of the concepts that guided his life. So he decided to become a samurai.”
I looked at the cane resting on the table and then into his eyes. Antônio nodded in agreement.
Antônio asked me: “In a short space of time, I mean a matter of a few minutes, have you ever swung between bright thoughts and dark ideas? Have you wavered between subtle feelings and dense emotions?” I confessed that this was my routine these days. He wanted to know who usually won the fight and determined my choices. I honestly admitted that it seemed like a duel with no winner and no end. Antonio shook his head and clarified: “When we don’t know who won the fight, there’s no doubt about it, the shadows won it. On a personal scale, it’s the real battle between good and evil for control of a kingdom. When the shadows win, it means you’ve lost. Far from the Light, far from the essence that identifies you.”
“We often lose control of ourselves. If I don’t own myself, what good come from anything else in life?”.
“Every day we fight this intrinsic battle, with damaging consequences. As long as we exist, there will be suffering. However, the biggest problem is not doubt, because it is part of our process of transition, from the shadows to the light, and subsequent maturing. The danger is when we believe that evil doesn’t exist within us and use malice as a supposed instrument of justice, when in fact it’s nothing more than personal satisfaction. We don’t know who we are, but we delude ourselves in the certainty that we know others.
I argued that the reasoning was very interesting, but I was curious to understand how martial arts participated in this process of self-knowledge and evolution. Antonio explained: “In the tradition of the ancient samurai, there is a code of conduct called Bushido. Honour is the guiding principle of their attitudes. However, as we’ve just said, honour has nothing to do with pride and vanity, as many people believe. Honour is the externalisation of internal dignity. An immature soul is like a kingdom in ruins. Dignity is expressed in the maturity of the being and is summarised in the treatment offered to all people in communion with the care we would like to receive if we were in their place. Consequently, light is indispensable for dignity to exist. In darkness, I can’t even see myself accurately. Therefore, I lack the clarity to see anyone else.” He took another sip of coffee and added: “Contrary to what has been propagated in the West, in Bushido victory is not characterised by defeating the opponent, but by overcoming oneself, overcoming one’s own difficulties, becoming a different and better person every day. It’s about doing whatever good you can. This is impossible without conforming to the truth already achieved by the samurai. This coherence between knowing and living forms the being and is called honour, as an external movement, or dignity, as an internal force.” He emptied his cup and said: “The samurai doesn’t fear death because he knows that life goes beyond existence, but he also knows that in order to reach the highest level of Bushido, he will have to make his mind and heart unite in the same purpose with the Light and become the only sword. His sword.
He suggested we order more coffee. I accepted immediately. He went on to explain: “I come to jiu-jitsu training for a few good reasons. It’s a way of keeping my body agile and strong, within the limits of my age, without any exaggeration. Physical activity helps me ward off laziness, an enemy of time. I don’t make time an adversary; it would be stupid trying to defeat what cannot be defeated. I make it an ally. Time offers me the raw material of the days so that I can win my duel.”
“The new moves I learn in training take me back to the infinite possibilities of understanding who I am and how I will get through life. They remind me that inside me there is a struggle, a real duel, between light and shadows. This will define whether I am in charge of myself, whether I am the true master of my conscience or a mere puppet following the herd effect that moves the world. You only become a samurai when you can wield your sword and cut the strings with which the shadows manipulate you.”
“Even more importantly, it is essential that I keep myself free from the shadows every day, because at the slightest carelessness they will entangle me in their malicious webs of twisted reasoning and demeaning emotions, with the intention of making me avoid the good fight and stubbornly blame the world for my bitterness. So when I step on the mat, I remind myself where the real arena is and who are the real opponents that I have to face. Only this makes a samurai go through Bushido”.
I pointed out that every day we fight new and old battles. Antônio agreed. I asked him how he knew when he was winning or losing one of these fights. The samurai clarified: “When I feel bitter, sad or aggressive, these are signs of defeat. The joy, serenity and lightness of the days mean clear progress. When I win, I allow myself to be enveloped in happiness at the achievement. When I lose, I’m encouraged by the happiness of never giving up looking for my Light”.
I commented that, although it was interesting, it was very difficult to become a samurai. Antônio told me a secret: “There’s one move that every samurai needs to know if they want to continue in Bushido. Forgiveness. It’s not easy to apply, but it’s indispensable. The secret lies in remembering dignity, the central axis on which the warrior walks. Dignity consists of treating others in the same way you would like to be treated if the positions were reversed. My imperfections, mistakes and misunderstandings need to be forgiven. So there’s no way I can deny equal treatment to the world; everyone needs forgiveness. I can’t demand perfection from anyone that I don’t have to offer. To forgive requires humility in the initial gesture and compassion in the next moment. Acts full of wisdom and love. Without forgiveness, no one will know freedom, because they will remain tied up in the webs of sorrow, victimisation or guilt. You will live like a puppet manipulated by the shadows of bitterness and suffering. You will never become master of yourself or know all the power that exists in your own conscience.”
“In short, you will be your cruelest enemy and you will also make time an opponent.”
I thought it was a very complex duel. Antonio agreed, using another of his baffling arguments. “The virtue that makes it possible to understand each step is simplicity. However, simplicity is almost never easy. It requires the maturity of someone who has already gone to the heart of themselves to remove the masks and undress the fantasies that conceal their essence. It, the essence, defines and identifies you, so you need to be in the arena to fight for improvement, which is impossible if you use subterfuge and play the character of someone you’re not.”
“Simplicity removes the fragile shields we create to avoid facing reality. These are attributes and characteristics we don’t possess, which only deceive ourselves, blur or divert our gaze from the truth we don’t want to see. But as long as we don’t face reality in a virtuous way that is coherent with the truth we have reached, it will be impossible to move forward. Unpleasant thoughts and dense emotions that plague us on a recurring basis usually signify the ties that exist in our consciousness, which imprison us and need to be loosened. This is the duel that exists within each person. You need help from the samurai who inhabits you. Otherwise, the kingdom will be left to the shadows.”
“Another importance of simplicity is the knowledge needed to deal with the world, which is impossible when I don’t know who I am. Everything around me, as well as everything inside me, is in constant dialogue with my essence. However, not everything adds value, nor can it remain within me, at the risk of hindering my evolution. To remove or add, I need a free and clear gaze, without undue interference or conditioning. It’s the simple gaze of a naked and authentic conscience, in other words, one that can already deal with its own truth, even with all the difficulties that will come with this new reality, in an absolutely sincere and courageous way.”
Antônio frowned and asked: “Do you know the power of a simple look?”. At that moment all his words came together in the same meaning and it was impossible not to remember one of the most important teachings contained in the Sermon on the Mount and I whispered: Every time there is simplicity in your gaze, life will manifest itself in Light.
He arched his lips in a slight smile of joy. It was the celebration of a transforming encounter, a true communion.
That conversation with Antônio was a watershed for me. It was when I understood the art of battle for a samurai. I wanted to be one of them. In short, to duel with myself in order to become the master of my conscience. Then, to serve the Light. Bushido!
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.