seeking good companions


Muromachi period samurai, 1538
Image via Wikipedia

In light of some recent events, this post came to my mind so I decided to re-publish it.

If one would seek good companions, he will find them among those with whom he studies Learning and calligraphy. Harmful companions to avoid will be found among those who play go, chess and shakuhachi. There is no shame in not knowing these later amusements. Indeed, they are matters to be taken up only in the stead of wasting ones time completely.

A person’s good and evil are dependent on his companions. When three people are together there will always be an exemplary person among them, and one should choose the good person and follow his example. Looking at the bad person, one should correct his own mistakes.

-Hojo Nagauji (1432-1519 A.D.)

Hojo Nagauji was a “Fighting Samurai” and general of the late Muromachi Period. Some of his writings, namely The Twenty-One Precepts (of which this is a quote), are amongst the foundations of what we know as Bushido.

I find this passage interesting. In it he is advising his retainers to really consider who it is they associate with. He tells them to associate with people who are studious and avoid those who want to spend their time gambling, gaming and carousing. Furthermore he suggests looking for the “good example” in every crowd and avoid being like the bad example.

To apply this to our times does not take much re-contexing, as a matter of fact there are numerous sayings from various cultures that state the same:

Be honorable yourself if you wish to associate with honorable people.
-Welsh Proverb

Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation. It is better be alone than in bad company.
-George Washington

I think this sentiment echoes a few of my previous posts; namely my “magic self-defense formula” and Col. Grossman’s “screw golf” sentiment.

We (including myself) have all been in those situations where we have been out on the town with our friends and gotten a little too drunk, done something too stupid or just made too much of a spectacle of ourselves in public. I do not want to come off as a prude, but too much of that sort of thing leads to nothing but trouble and does nothing but lead one from “the way”. If you associate with people who lead you into those types of situations it is time to consider the value of those people and its time to consider your own reasons for associating with them. I’m not suggesting that one needs to swear off alcohol or “going out” entirely. Even Hojo Nagauji did not say that. But he did say that “playing” was only to be considered over completely wasting ones time. If one desires to be considered a “professional” or a “warrior” then there are numerous things you could be doing to improve your skills and your survivability (“screw golf”) other than idle drinking. If drinking and partying is occupying more of your heart and mind then “the way” is, then I believe that you are living in a fantasy world where you want to “say you are… rather than BE.”

In the end, what I am suggesting is being “mindful” in everything you do. If you want to go out and enjoy yourself every now and then by all means do so. But do so “intentionally”. Likewise consider the people you associate with; are they examples you wish to emulate? Do you want other people to think of you the way they think of them? Are they worthy of respect? Are you?

In my opinion, if you find yourself getting “wasted” as routine entertainment, if you like to associate with criminals and “loser’s”, or if you are consistently acting in an undignified manner in public, you are debasing yourself, asking for trouble, and are far from the path of a “warrior”.

5 thoughts on “seeking good companions”

  1. well said, I think too often people don’t realize what that sort of behavior does to their reputation, even on an inconsitant basis. The people you hang out with can severly affect you as a person and certinly how others view you. It’s important to be a leader among friends, or the “exemplary person” among the three. Trouble is its harder to bring others up than it is to be brought down by the people you associate with. Which only goes to prove the Biblical refrence true “Do not be deceived:”Bad company corrupts good character.” 1st Corinthians 15:33. Its an ideal that I wish more people took stock in.

  2. Absolutely, I do realize that at times it can be difficult “going against the flow” when the rest of your associates want to do something and there is always the issue of “peer pressure” in any social situation. However, if your reputation and honor is not worth standing up for whats right or perhaps loosing the association of someone who is supposed to be a “friend” then you are far from the path of what I would call a “warrior”.

    BTW: That passage is a great one. While I do tend to focus a lot on Japanese texts here its just because I have a hobby interest in them. The Bible can also be a great source for “martial wisdom” if one knows were to look for it.

  3. As you said, most of us have passed through a period of episodic “carousing.” I think the thing to monitor is whether one grows/develops out of it, or the carousing becomes an end in itself.
    Another Welsh proverb(I think): the young man cares nothing for the baby’s rattle, the old man cares nothing for the young man’s whore.
    So, while I agree that one should try to be the positive leader amongst friends (running dogs, as my son would say), the bigger question is are my friends/associates going to help me become better?
    And, since Biblical martial wisdom was mentioned, I’d commend 1 Maccabees. While it’s more about operational UW/insurgency than individual martial values, the gist of the book is a people deciding its worth fighting to maintain the “things worth believing in.” Plus, I think the literal translation of the Book of Maccabee is “The Book of the Hammer.” How cool is that? Uh, biblically speaking…

  4. Beyond alcohol, there are a lot of addictions that can lead to stupid human trick decisions and peer pressure because of the social network (IRL and Internet) that you find yourself in… Even ‘keyboard’ stupid can be something that peer pressure, the false sense of security of distance/anonymity creates and the ‘no consequences’ mentality that the internet isn’t ‘real’ so you can do whatever you want….

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