BUSHIDO – Part I

Aug 11, 2011 | 05:55pm  

AUGUST, 1995

Steve and I were a little drunk and the late morning, Hawaiian sun was promising fierce judgment. Kalakaua Avenue was lightly trodden for a Tuesday morning, mostly Japanese tourists, since it was cheaper for them to fly to Hawaii for events like weddings and parties than it was to host them in Japan, because of the price of real estate apparently. We took a brief rest by the statue of Duke Kahanamoku and got back out on the boulevard.

An elderly Japanese couple, seventy or so, I guess, stopped us as they crossed our path. With heads bowed they avoided eye contact as they asked “So sorry, may you help us find the USS Arizona?”

The Arizona was a ship sunk in the Pearl Harbor bombing. Unlike the rest of the fleet, she was left on the bottom of Pearl Harbor bay to be a memorial for my shipmates who made that warm water their graves. It was a popular spot for all visitors to the island. I knew the spot well. I’d marked a hundred navigation charts for sailing in and out of the harbor. Unlike typical navigation hazards (marked with an “x” or a “>”), the Arizona was always marked with tear drop. All Navy men pause soberly at the mention of that glorious ship and her fierce crew… except for my friend Steve.

The Southern Comfort and sweat got the better of his New York judgment that day and he barked back without hesitation “It’s right where you fucking left it!”

The old man’s posture straitened and he stepped slightly in front of the beautiful, aging porcelain woman. Maybe he was protecting her. I think he saw the anchor tattooed on my left forearm and knew that even fifty years later and two generations apart, the loss was fresh for us. He bowed rigidly, with pain and fury. He never raised his head.

“So… sorry!” His voice was a feeble mask for regret and strength.

As they disappeared down the street Steve turned and hurled back “That’s all you have to say?”

I grabbed his shoulder. “I think that’s what they call bushido.”

SEPTEMBER, 2002

My corner man, Joe (a Canadian gangster that grew up in orphanages and loved marijuana and guns) helped carry me back to the dressing room for the doctor to stitch me up. The fight had been a grinding affair. I barely had the strength to stand. A Mexican named Javier took me into the third round, slicing my face to pieces with elbows and fracturing my jaw with a knee.

I lay on my back on a wooden bench as the Doc fed me Demerol and laced my eyebrow back together with a thin needle. Brennan was on a mat next to me warming up for his fight. He was decent fellow, a grappler from Mission Viejo. We had trained together a few times and I knew he was tough. Neither of us had fought in Japan before, and we relished the experience, though we knew the local fighters were “karate-types” that wouldn’t survive long in the unforgiving spectacle of the cage. His opponent was one of those laughable local martial artists, a kid named Gomi. Gomi was in for a bloody lesson.

I showered and dressed and took another Demerol. I made it out to cage side just as Brennan started his fight. A shot, a slam, and heavy right hand… Gomi is on his back catching 1800 pounds per square inch of American terror. The referee should stop this. Six minutes go by with no change. More blood. More desperation. Is Gomi alive under there? Then it happened. Brennan arched upward and jumped to his feet. Gomi had an arm tucked between his legs and the whole coliseum could hear Brennan scream and the crunching of his elbow joint. There were no cheers of triumph from the Japanese crowd. The home town boy had come back from the seventh level of Hades to snatch a story book victory. But all was silent. Brennan was carried on a stretcher out of the cage. Gomi bowed rigidly. His silk shorts were so blood stained I could barely read the white script embroidered in the waist band, “bushido”.

MARCH, 2011

I reclined in my leather couch in rural Ohio. I had the house to myself and I wanted to write at least 2000 words that day. I like to re-type pieces of great literature put my mind in a place to create something meaningful. I like the way the keyboard sounds as you’re pounding out Ginsberg’s “Howl”, or Hemingway’s ‘Kilimanjaro’. It helps to have some noise in the background so you’re not too focused on the conscious mind. Find something deep. Find something visceral.

There was a scene playing out on the television. I thought for a moment I’d tuned in to a nature documentary. It was live news, the coast of Japan. Muddy torrents were crashing over retaining walls, tossing cars, felling buildings. I’d met the ocean in her angrier moments, but never witnessed fury like this. Streets were subsumed, lives swept away right in front of me, a culture drowned in the foamy abyss. There were some that tried feebly to run, most froze. The news camera panned to a bridge crossing the churning water. Another wave. The camera followed it in from the horizon, ignoring the stopping cars on the bridge, ignoring the real story. In the lower, right corner of my television there it was, a Japanese teenager stepping out of his car and facing the oncoming water. Nowhere to run. No shelter. No grace. He stiffened his posture. I was heartbroken and captivated, all the while my fingers kept moving across the keyboard. I cried. He raised his chin. Time paused for moment before impact, at least that’s how I dream it now. There was no triumphant sound, no Hollywood ending. In the last moment he bowed rigidly and was swept away to rest in the crowded annals of human tragedy.

When the wave dissipated I looked down at my screen. No Hemingway, just “BUSHIDOBUSHIDOBUSHIDOBUSHIDO”.


Today, 76 years ago in 1935, Gandhi published a beautiful summary of his philosophy of non-violence in the context of bravery in the Indian newspaper Harijan. He had sent the below paragraph in several letters to friends days before the publication, and it made me think of your post. I can not stop thinking about the notion of Bushido in his words, belief and actions. I believe one can call it heroic courage, the element that combines the two angles represented by Gandhi’s non-violence and Bushido:

“No matter how weak a person is in body, if it is a shame to flee he will stand his ground and die at his post. This would be non- violence and bravery. No matter how weak he is, he will use what strength he has in inflicting injury on his opponent and die in the attempt. This is bravery but n o t non-violence. If when his duty is to face danger, he flees, it is cowardice. In the first case man will have love or charity in him. In the second and third cases there would be dislike or distrust and fear.“

Gandhi, in “Harijan”, 17-8-1935

Thanks Heriberto. I really enjoyed writing it.

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