"Persuade thyself that imperfection and inconvenience are the natural lot of mortals, and there will be no room for discontent, neither for despair." - Tokugawa Ieyasu, Unifier of Japan, Founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate
I've studied the Sengoku Era of Japanese history a lot. There are so many lessons in it - about courage, about restraint, about going too far, about not going far enough... about honor, about idealism, about pragmatism... about trust and distrust, love and hate, loyalty and betrayal...
It's rare that an era of history has so many unique and varied lessons to teach. The only thing that comes close, in my mind, is the Italian Renaissance. Certainly, there's been eras with a great many lessons to learn from them, but not so many with such a wildly diverse range of views. Sengoku was the crossroads that created Japan. The victors of the era were those who could appeal to tradition while using the most modern advantages - tapping into the samurai culture and spirit, while simultaneously beginning to employ firearms and other newly emergent technologies in war.
Out of Sengoku came Japan's "Three Great Unifiers" - Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. It's a long story and you can read the history article I wrote on Sengoku that I linked if you're curious to see the whole thing.
But the basic idea is, Nobunaga and Hideyoshi were both probably more remarkable and more brilliant men than Ieyasu. But in the end, Ieyasu won and his family and administration ruled Japan for the next 250 years.
I think the key, most critical difference that sets Ieyasu apart from the others is his self-control. It's something I strive for and model, something that's easy to see in the leaders who build enduring success.
Washington had it. Augustus had it. Rockefeller had it. Rothschild had it.
Alexander didn't. Napoleon didn't. Hitler didn't.
You know, the victors - the ones who build the really enduring victories - they're often not the most brilliant or charismatic or brave. They're the ones who are most patient, who are most rational, who have the most self-control. You can win 10,000 battles, but have it all undone in one rash misstep. You could perhaps lose 10,000 battles, but still win at a decisive moment and then consolidate intelligently.
I was originally going to write a slightly different piece than this one, focusing more on mental state than on historical analysis. But this is pretty good.
"Persuade thyself that imperfection and inconvenience are the natural lot of mortals, and there will be no room for discontent, neither for despair." Imperfection and inconvenience are part of the bargain of being human. Do not act rashly or impulsively. There's no reason to feel discontent or despair when things are going wrong.
Things are never perfect. Acknowledge things as they are, always. Discontent and despair don't serve you. When bad feelings come over you, acknowledge them and dismiss them. Thinking, reflection, and self-control reigns. Keep building. Win.
The best version of the 36 strategems that I own is the Wiles of War: 36 Military Strategies from Ancient China by Sun Haichen. It lists the strategies, quotes from various Chinese military sources to reinforce the points and then adds a relevant story from China's long history to illustrate the points. You can try to get it off Amazon. I like it so much I have 2 copies. The other one to come a distant second to this book would be the 36 Secret Strategies of Martial Arts by Hiroshi Moriya and William Scott Wilson.
As for Byzantium, the Nika Riots while threatening to Justinian's regime, was not as catastrophic as the Rise of Islam. That was truly a dark period for Byzantium as it lost much of its territories and nearly became extinct. The later periods around 1080 appeals to me because of the struggles the empire faced against the Turks. I have never regretted reading Byzantine history because it has many classic struggles against incredible odds.
Oh I replied to your email about your request already. Look forward to hearing from you soon. :)
I love the Sengoku Jidai! There is so much to learn from it and from there I branched out to other areas of Japanese history as well. I will probably read about the Taiheiki soon since I have gained a fascination about the Early Hojo Clan thanks to Total War Shogun 2. My favourite clan for TWS2 is the Late Hojo Clan mainly because they are such great builders. I also loved the Byzantines in Age of Empires 2 because of their defensive nature.
I agree that there were many lessons to learn from the Sengoku Jidai, but unlike you, I would say the era that surpasses it is the Three Kingdoms period in Ancient China. It is fascinating to see the Sengoku Daimyos quoting heroes from that period. Like all my interests in history, I learned while I played the games associated with it. It always is more fun to enjoy history that way when it literally comes to life.
Speaking Chinese military history, the 36 strategies of war is one of my favourite books. While Sun Zi spoke of the need for deception in war, nowhere is there a book devoted totally to the use of deception like the 36 strategies. I also love how it incorporates the Book of Changes within it.
When I think of Europe, the other parallel apart from the Italian Renaissance is the Byzantine Empire. There was so much intrigue, pragmatism, idealism, return from the brink of extinction during that period. Even today, the word Byzantine is synonymous with intrigues of a highly complex nature.
Yes it is true that Ieyasu outlasted his two other brilliant rivals because of his superb patience and self-control. I also regard him as one of my heroes because of his very qualities. The whole philosophy of Ieyasu is summed up in that great quote you have chosen, which I also like and refer to from time to time. Given my impatience, Ieyasu has helped me to gain a greater degree of self-control as I wait for my plans to unfold.
Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)
Irving the Vizier
"You know, the victors – the ones who build the really enduring victories – they’re often not the most brilliant or charismatic or brave. They’re the ones who are most patient, who are most rational, who have the most self-control."
As I read that a thought formed around modern culture and patience, rationality and self-control: none of them is very glamorous. In fact you could probably go as far as saying they are stigmatized and thought of as boring. On the other end impulsiveness and ambition are associated with dynamism and I'd argue have an overall positive perception with the large crowds/new generations. I'm wondering if this is leading to larger percentages of early high achievers never reaching their true potential and therefore overall detracting from our societies.
I was describing to friends just this weekend why I wasn't cut out for corporate America despite a number of strengths. I hate glad handing and am prone to allowing emotion to control me; not the characteristics of the Organization Man type person corporate America promotes.
Anyway, thanks for the article as it's something I need to work on/keep in the front of my mind and this helps. Might need to go back and reread some zen/jd salinger stuff again.
Well, I'd sure like to have more self-control (and I'm working on it), but my ambitions and impulsiveness are stronger: I have two things that I must do, instead of choosing the most important one, I say "I can do both! I'll just spend twice the time and effort!" like it's so easy (it's not :-). The thing is, sometimes it works, and I'm amazed at my own work, sometimes I fail and if I have any time left, I go with the task that is more important.
I think the difference between the people you listed with self-control (especially Augustus) and without is that the first succeeded with their ambitions, the others didn't. Alexander, Napoleon, Hitler - they saw how much they have accomplished (after the first victories) and thought they could do more - it was a risk, they took it and they failed. But they could've succeeded, as well!
They were most probably blinded by success and thought they were invincible, and had they had more self-control, they could've maintained control over a smaller territory, but they decided to go all out - higher risk, but the priiize.
Augustus and Ieyasu did the same, and they won. Had the circumstances been slightly different, they could've lost everything. It's more like self-control+skills+luck, but sometimes ambition and impulsiveness can replace the first.
I feel I'm not expressing myself correctly, but I can't find any other way to put it in words...