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  • Annelisa MacBean

Surrendering to Death . . . The Way of the Samurai

Over 30 years ago I participated in The Samurai Game®. Created by Aikido Master and personal growth pioneer, George Leonard, The Samurai Game® presents a series of unpredictable and fascinating scenarios that reflect the pressures and challenges of our fast-paced 21st century lifestyle, including complex systemic dynamics, politics, competition, and everyday family and personal life challenges. It invites participants to honestly observe themselves and reflect on fundamental questions, such as…

  • · To what degree am I willing to act decisively and with integrity to get the results I seek?

  • · Upon what principles and core values do I stake my life and success?

  • · What do I rely on in the face of uncertainty and pressure?

  • · How can I become more effective in dealing with conflict, chaos and change?

The purpose of The Samurai Game® is essentially to enable participants to experience themselves and their habitual reactions to life circumstances more clearly, so that they have greater choice in their lives. The Samurai Game® is designed to:

  • · Place participants in an unfamiliar realm of relationship and governance. From this perspective they can gain clear understandings about their own habitual life patterns.

  • · Establish an experience of intense competition in an atmosphere that demands honor, dignity, and integrity.

  • · Provide circumstances in which individuals and teams may choose to display integrity when no one is watching, support when the going gets tough and rules don’t easily apply, and commitment when there is no certainty of success.

  • · Create a situation in which participants become keenly aware of the vividness and value of life.

  • · Promote the opportunity for participants to deal with loss and recovery.

  • · Promote a deeper awareness of those places inside each participant where they want to stop or are unwilling to be uncomfortable.

  • · Deepen the participants awareness of the total interplay of emotions with beliefs and physical responses.

  • · Push “the envelope” of personal and relationship integrity and commitment by learning when it cracks and when it strengthens.

Participants in The Samurai Game® cross a psychological line and step into the unfamiliar simulated world of the medieval Japanese Samurai. They form two competing samurai armies and engage with their teammates and opponents in symbolic battles that eventually determine the simulation’s finale.


These battles call upon participants to exercise resourcefulness, decisiveness, dignity, integrity, respect and personal commitment. The pace is fast and unpredictable, and the outcomes are highly uncertain. No two productions of the simulation are ever quite the same, making each learning experience unique! While involving no significant physical contact, The Samurai Game® demands much in the way of centeredness and teamwork. Participants are encouraged to summon forth their “warrior” spirit with courage and determination.


Samurai were premodern elite Japanese warriors. A samurai served his daimyo, or feudal lord, with steadfast loyalty. In 1716, Yamamoto Tsunetomo wrote the Samurai Code of Honor in a spiritual guide called Hagakure. The first chapter announces, “The way of the warrior is to be found in dying.”


Instead of surrendering to any enemy, the Samurai vowed to fight until death. Fundamental to the way of the Samurai was a deep and abiding surrender to death at any moment—Through this willingness to completely and absolutely sacrifice life itself for their Lord, the Samurai demonstrated the utmost devotion and faith.


When I first played the game, I was young and naive, but there was no question that, in the role of the Samurai I was assigned, death would come. I fought many battles over the few hours it took to play the game, and in facing each opponent the recognition that death was imminent became evermore real. I wound up being the last surviving warrior . . . when all the Lords and Samurai’s were dead, I was the only Samurai standing. It dawned on me then that the awareness of death and the willingness to surrender to death was the very thing that got me through my battles.


It got me thinking about what it would it be like to surrender to death at any moment in all the circumstances of my everyday life and relationships? I’m still thinking about it to this day . . . !


Even now, I let that question permeate my daily life. I look at my husband and friends sometimes through the filter of “death at any moment . . . death now . . .” They become radiant and beautiful, immediately.


Sometimes, when I sit down for a meal, I remember to contemplate the possibility that this will be the last food I eat. For moments, the meal is quite a bit more delicious!


At night, before falling asleep I occasionally remember to digest the correlation between accepting death and appreciating life. In that moment, every moment matters.


When I was in the Samurai Game, I had no idea what was coming next, what would be asked of me or who my opponents would be. I was afraid of humiliation, shame, failure and death . . . but to master each assignment and battle for my Lord, I had to acknowledge and then sacrifice my attachments to being an inadequate victim of my personal history; I had to lay the sacrifice of my life on the altar of my Lord. . . and then, miraculously, I had nothing to lose.


I began truly living, then, into each challenge and situation. As master of my death, surrendered to the inevitability of death, I discovered no one could take life away from me . . . I had already given it away.







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